Random Tables in RPGs

The Basics of Random Tables in Roleplaying Games

Duncan Thomson

Talking about the basics of random tables for roleplaying games

Articles on Random Tables

Today I'm starting a new series of articles, posted when they are ready.

When I started the blog I hoped to eventually start talking about the mechanics of tables and how gens and tables get used at the RPG table (virtual or face-to-face). That time has come. Building gens has started with Potions (which needs finishing). There have been many interviews and generator guides. And many random tables.

Now it's time to talk about the mechanics of random tables.

It's on the structure of random tables. Ways to build them and ways to use them for roleplaying games. This is a brief overview to see where it goes.

Random Tables versus Random Generators.

Why would you use random tables? When you can push a button and it gives a result?

  • Well you might enjoy rolling dice.
  • Use the random table for inspiration
  • Use the random table as a list (I mean a table is a randomised list, sometimes weighted)
  • You may like something that can be used away from a screen

A Simple Glossary

A work in progress with terms for random tables and generators

  • dice notations: 1d6 = one six-sided die, 2d6 = two six-sided dice, 3d10 = three ten-sided dice
  • random table: A single table of numbers where rolling a result gives specified result
  • random generator: a series of random tables (or an algorithm) that produces a more complicated result . Such as a forest, D&D character or city map
  • bell curve: the spread of results caused by multiple dice instead of a single die. A d6 has a linear spread with each result having a 1 in 6 chance. 2d6 has a different spread with a 1 in 6 chance of a "7" and a 1 in 36 chance of a "2"
  • subtable: a random table tied to another "parent" table. Such as a potion container for a random potion table or a type of beast for a random encounter table that gives a beast result.

The Basic Table Using a 1d6

About as simple a tables as you can get is the 1d6 table.

Why a d6?

  • it's the most basic of dice. Non-gamers know what a d6 is and they can easily be found. Even if it's in a board game.
  • it has enough entries to have variety but also to be easily remembered
  • many roleplaying games use d6s somewhere in the game. For shortsword damage, a rating for skill value or for resolution.

Instead of using a d6 we could use 2d6 (for 11 results with different rarities), 3d6 (with 16 results with different rarities), a d6 with 1-6 subtables such as percussion instruments. Or d66 for 36 results.

Possible Follow-Up Articles (in no particular order)

  • One or more articles on historic (and my favourite) random tables from RPGs
  • talking about bell-curves of multiple dice versus using one dice
  • tips and tricks for building random tables
  • making random tables look pretty
  • re-rolls, special results, different dice sizes
  • random table resources

More Random Tables

For a link take a look at a newfound appreciation of the 2d6 table

Any ideas for articles on random tables? Any random tables that have impressed you?

I have a discord for discussing random tools and tables and I'm also on instagram as rpg_generators with random tables and gens.