"Do you know those children's books split into three vertical sections that allow you to make weird people, monsters, and stuff...?"
"...I created a 3 Line NPC generator along similar lines for my Campaign Logger GMing app."
Returning with our Creator Interviews is Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips
Q&A with Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips
How did you get into creating random generators?
In 1983 I took a course on spreadsheets using Lotus 1-2-3. I learned about the random function and created a sheet for generating the six D&D ability scores.
I generated 10,000 scores for NPCs and printed them using the school's dot matrix printer and perforated printer paper with tractor feed holes along each side. I used the heck out of this generator for AD&D.
What generators are you most proud of creating and why?
Do you know those children's books split into three vertical sections that allow you to make weird people, monsters, and stuff? Flip the head section until you get a head you like. Then flip through the body parts and choose. Then do the legs and feet. This gets you a mix and match kind of creation. Fun stuff.
So I created a 3 Line NPC generator along similar lines for my Campaign Logger GMing app.
While a simple generator, it used 500+ entries submitted by Roleplaying Tips GMs and the 3 Line NPC method I invented.
It was awesome seeing all the interesting ideas from readers brought to life into a generator that allowed partial re-rolls to swap out any of the lines until you were satisfied with the NPC.
You could then click the Log This button to have the NPC added to your Campaign Log ready to GM.
It was a fun generator because of all the possible and interesting combinations you could create, like in those old mix and match books.
What is the most fun thing about creating generators?
Lately I've been into Mad Libs. Searching for cool generator patterns and inventing my own. I like those style generators because a winning Mad Lib pattern makes GMing so much easier.
I also love brainstorming data and content for generators.
Campaign Logger has a visual GUI for building generators, but you can also hand code complex ones with various logic and commands. So I am enjoying learning and doing a little light coding for some generators, as well.
What are the most painful lessons you've learnt from creating generators?
Back up your data.
Make your generators future-proof. When an app stops being supported, and then can't load due to OS updates, and all my ideas and notes are stuck in some binary file...that's worth a table flip.
Create a Minimum Viable Generator first using a spreadsheet. Create your pattern and add a couple items to each variable. Then run the generator a few times to test your pattern out.
I've spend hours working on a pattern, the data, and smoothing the data out before running the generator for the first time, only to realize there's a flaw in the pattern or data formatting.
Quick tests throughout reveal flaws you can fix before wasting time.
How do you use random generators yourself?
I'm running three campaigns right now in a homebrew world I've just started designing.
My campaign builds are a combo of Core Story + Sandbox + Hexcrawl.
I can't GM with adventure scripts. Something always goes awry. What plan survives contact with the players, right?
And I prefer to spend all my energy creating forward things in my games instead of trying to get the party to follow some track or get them back on track.
So I build a central plot arc, many sites of interest, lots of factions, and plenty of unexplored areas. Players decide what to do, knowing there'll be consequences if they ignore impending dooms.
Therefore, I'm using and building generators to help me speed up prep and do more improv during sessions. I use/build generators for names, NPCs, items, locations, hooks, seeds, factions, etc. The more sandbox and hexcrawl stuff I can automate, the better I'm armed for GMing.
I think of it like an investment. I could take time to write something up, but then I've got only that thing. Or, I could spend time on generators, and then I've got things that build all the future things.
What are your next big projects (generators or otherwise) that you can talk about?
I'm hoping to join in on your next generator challenge!
I'm also working on a new version of my Adventure Building course, my Faster Combat course, and some cool new perks for Roleplaying Tips Patrons.
For generators, I'm building an NPC generator specific to my new world, and some faction generators for my upcoming guide on building and running factions for sandbox games.
Where can people find you on social media?
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Can I mention that I'm giving away my latest book for free?
It's the Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons. 317 pages of dungeon-building tips and designs. It costs zero cents:
Also, I love the idea of your Generator Challenge. It's a cool way to inspire creative work with a deadline to help us busy GMs focus. And sharing all the entries after each challenge is a fantastic way to discover new generators to help my GMing, or to give us new ideas for new generators. Thank you for running the challenge!