I'm seeking some major input on a Convention game I plan on running next month. My goal is to run an old school crawl 100% randomly, complete with characters (we're using the LotFP generator on "Save vs Party Kill" website), traps, encounters by dungeon level, and treasure.
I'm hoping to find an effective way to just sit down, roll some dice, and move forward with minimal GM-Side table clutter, and likewise minimal page-flipping to get to the goods.
So my questions! I'm right now picking and cutting individual pages from your "Tricks" and "Treasures" pdfs, to assemble a GM screen. My hope is to not have to use anything aside from that custom GM screen, a rules reference book, and a monster book. Maybe you know some useful shortcuts and tips from your experience with this subject?Oh boy.
One of my former players (only former because he moved away from our face to face game by going to a state far to the north) had a fantasy of a complete random campaign generator that takes input and drills it down to whatever level of specificity you need to run a game*. I maintain the same opinion now that I did then.
On-the-fly random generation for a group doesn't work.
I'm saying that as a human being who has played solo Dungeons and Dragons with my wife using Ruins of the Undercity, an excellent book specifically designed to create a certain campaign style setting using random generation. It's fun to do solo, but not for a group of players.
Explicitly the tables in most of my books are designed for preparatory work. This is evidenced by their design. Zak S. of D&D with Porn Stars fame noted that you could take all the room entries and place them in a single d100 table, which makes it more useful for in media res use, because it reduces the dice rolls from two to one.
All hope is not lost!
Part of the problem with random generation is that, well, it's random, and ergo meaningless. This means, that for most players it's unengaging. Unintentionally, wizards of the coast proved this exact point in a video ad in an attempt to be funny.
The inability to obscure what's random (and therefore without meaning) and what's off the top of your head (and therefore not impartial) combines in the course of an entirely randomly generated session to remove agency from the players.
This isn't true of localized randomness. A random magical item is exciting, as is a random encounter—because the tables themselves aren't random, but meaningful selections from a larger whole, when then adds a sense of discovery for all players (including the Dungeon Master) to the game.
That is the importance of randomness in combat, encounters, personalities and treasure in a game. It turns it from a boardgame, into a method to auger the actual reality of a foreign realm for entertainment. Who knows what will happen? Not even the Dungeon Master! That's a large part of the charm.
How to make In Media Res Random Generation useful
So what do you do?
Generating what's actually down a hallway and what's in each room is very time and attention consuming, removing your ability to play. There are several different pieces of advice and options that I can suggest.
- Avoid using multi-roll tables. Have tables that are die drop, roll all the dice, or single roll tables for use during play.
- If you've ever actually generated a "random dungeon" using 1e style generation, it's very time consuming, which is not fun for the players at the table.
- Part of what I mean by this is instead of using treasure and taking 14 rolls to generate an art object, try rolling on a table like 50 Interesting Pieces of Treasure, which in one roll, will give you something unique.
- If the point in randomness is for you to explore the environment at the same time as the players, you can use the most excellent resource Wizarddawn to randomly generate a hex and then randomly generate all the sites within the hex. (World Adventure, under Basic Dungeons and Dragons is what you are looking for)
- Otherwise, you should spend your time creating meaningful random tables. What this means is not a table of what's behind that door, but a table of different dungeon modules with a theme that fits together and various options for how the players could interact with the modules as the explore the dungeon.
- Design the tables with an eye towards a meaningful unit. Hallway width and door type are not that. Complete descriptions of single rooms may be. A large part of how this plays out is kind of dependent on the real reason you want to try a complete random campaign.
I hope some of the above suggestions address what you're looking for in randomness from games, and maybe make the convention experience a bit more fun. Feel free to talk with me on G+ about your ideas and let me know how the campaign game goes!
* He, of course, imagined a computer, but that type of randomness was already done, in Elderscrolls Daggerfall and Arena. It's massive, samey and in general, meaningless.