Random Tables, Running Tabletop Games 2 comments on Random Tables

Random Tables

I believe random tables have their place in the creative process.

Like my collection of Rory’s Story Cubes or my three volumes in the classic Central Casting books by Jennell Jacquays, the table often provides an essential spark to my creative process.

I don’t always include a random table in my books, but when I do there’s a damned good reason for it – it’s about introducing a spark or adding some spice.

The Haunter of the Dark has 9-pages of random tables sandwiched between the guidance on creating and structuring adventures and the annotated story of the fate of Robert Blake.


Each of these tables ties neatly – and intentionally – into the story.

Entered a site with a century long tie to a strange sect? Rummaging through the drawers of a forlorn artist? Tracking down a disgruntled ex-cultist? Broken into the cellar of an abandoned building? Picking up a copy of a local paper? Stumbled through the door to find a crumpled note lying in the dust?

It’s all here and more.

Whether you’re creating your own adventure or filling out the grey areas in a pre-written investigation, there are 20 short tables here (almost all of them needing only a 6-sided die throw) to get your creative spark glowing.

Why such short tables?

Personally, the bigger the table the greater the stretch in content quality and focus. Even in From Unformed Realms, I used 6-sided dice as the basis of every roll and drilled down with the levels of detail.

It keeps things tight without any opportunity to resort to padding.

Don’t Stop

And you needn’t stop at the result thrown. I mean, you’re not beholden to the random, right? You can just choose something that seems right. Or, like a Story Cube, you can riff off the result and turn it into something that fits.

Found a keepsake? You should tie it intimately into the backstory of the owner, or compare it to something that an investigator carries – something they inherited or acquired.

Discovered margin notes in a well-thumbed book? Make the ink or hand-writing match something [Flashlight] found earlier in the session – or in a previous adventure!

Rolled a reference to decay? Make it mildewed wallpaper with odd stains that suggest electrical burning, or the sickly smell of food pulled into the holes behind the walls by vermin… who knows what else they might have carried back there.

Go with the flow of the dice, but don’t let it stop there. Adding the stamp of connectivity or some subtle reference to an ongoing presence or conspiracy can make all the difference – and I, in putting the table together, can’t add that essential and personal touch.

Happy rolls!

The Haunter of the Dark has been nominated for the Best Electronic Book ENnie Award 2017. You can vote now – through to August 21st – on the ENnie Awards web site: http://www.ennie-awards.com/vote/2017/

Releases 2 comments on From Unformed Realms

From Unformed Realms

From Unformed Realms on RPGNow

As a Gamemaster, you just can’t have something planned for every eventuality. Perhaps you have to step in to run something on short notice or the normal group can’t meet so you want something to change the pace. The Cthulhu Hack offers a simple system for investigative horror, but where to get the horror?

From Unformed Realms offers you a trusty collection of random tables to provide a springboard for your creativity just when you need it most.

Below the waist… all human resemblance left off. The skin was thickly covered with coarse black fur, and from the abdomen a score of long greenish-grey tentacles with red sucking mouths protruded limply. Their arrangement was odd, and seemed to follow the symmetries of some cosmic geometry unknown to earth or the solar system. On each of the hips, deep set in a kind of pinkish, ciliated orbit, was what seemed to be a rudimentary eye; whilst in lieu of a tail there depended a kind of trunk or feeler with purple annular markings, and with many evidences of being an undeveloped mouth or throat. The limbs… terminated in ridged-veined pads that were neither hooves nor claws.

Of genuine blood there was none; only the foetid greenish-yellow ichor which… left a curious discoloration behind it.

The Dunwich Horror, H P Lovecraft (1929)

For those moments when your players have taken the inevitable path away from whatever you have planned, From Unformed Realms provides the ideal tool for conjuring up a flash of inspiration. In 20-horror-packed-pages, the supplement provides myriad options for the random creation of horrific nightmares and unnameable monstrosities. You can either roll randomly with a 6-sided die or flick to a random page and choose a numbered section, then inflict the content on your appreciative players.

Available now from RPGNow and DriveThruRPG in PDF.

Hooks 0 comments on Crochet Borders

Crochet Borders

Today’s random pull from the Storey Publishing Backlist deck of cards – “Around the Corner Crochet Borders“, a collection of 150 colourful crochet frames, each with detailed instructions for working around a corner. While an absolute must for intermediate crotchet enthusiasts in its own right, also the creative nudge for today’s random table of disputed and protected territorial lines.

The scattered kingdoms, principalities and provinces of the world have very different views on maintaining border controls.

Roll d6, twice:

1: A twisted borderland of monstrous briar, tended by (1-2: anxiously attentive animists; 3-4: societally dysfunctional druids; 5-6: begrudgingly belligerent briar elementals)

2: A shredded landscape of lines and cables, (1-2: a witch’s effort to hold off ten thousand years of geological movement and scant frayed threads away from a cataclysmic release; 3-4: a diplomatic minefield of fragmented zones under contractual discussion through long distance magical protocol demanding delicate negotiations to traverse by way of phantasmal civil servants; 5-6: an alchemist’s government-funded experiment, which extracts essences from those crossing the border and carries them back, underground, to his not too distant lab for cataloguing)

3: An imposing range of mountainous (1-2: golem, quested to remain here by a forgotten emperor for an act of war, record of which only exists on the scraps of vellum secured in their cranium ; 3-4: dragon scales, extending from the back of a hibernating behemoth known to nestle upon an ancient hoard said to contain some of the most legendary, near mythical, riches; 5-6: waste dumped here through a magical portal – itself now quite soundly buried under nauseating layers of semi-fossilised garbage)

4: A dancing wall of (1-2: will-o-wisps constantly leading travellers off the safe path across a miles wide swamp of bubbling, decayed mulch; 3-4: metallic dust, the enchanted waste product of an ancient army of flying swords, now wasted away to almost nothing, but far more deadly than the worst possible sandstorm; 5-6: fur clad, bear-riding warriors, protesting for several generations about poor working conditions for a leader long dead, a conflict long forgotten, but a principle worthy of persistence)

5: A wilderness of (1-2: sentient trees standing guard over the carefully tended lines and patches of rare and beautiful blooms – and woe betide any who put a petal out of place; 3-4: shanty dwelling, twisted like a maze and layered like a quarry, filled with the poor, the desperate, the wanted, the forgotten, and the down-at-heal – but perhaps also home to someone known to those passing; 5-6: hills and gullies, haunted by hungry trolls, wily bandit gangs, and the ghosts of unlucky travellers)

6: A mist-wreathed wasteland of crooked tombstones, (1-2: occupied by the restless and jobs-worthy carcasses of one-time border guards laid off during a previous administration; 3-4: the surface manifestation of a upturned granite-skinned monstrous caterpillar, frustrated by immobility and hungry; 5-6: surveillance zone of an other dimensional security firm, providing round-the-clock services to the inconceivably wealthy)

Hooks 0 comments on Raising Chickens

Raising Chickens

Cochin_(PSF)Random plot hooks for whole adventures, encounters or just rumours, based on a random book title drawn from my Storey Publishing deck of cards.

This time we have the untapped potential of the farmyard from the Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.

Rolls d12:

1: Intellect – local scholar seeks to teach chickens rudimentary language skills to serve as a resource for his studies and field trips – much to the chagrin of local farmers
2: Awareness – wily street-monger trains chickens to harass customers into his pitch, swarming hapless travellers and passersby
3: Capital – beggars stealing chickens from local peasants and farmers to raise money
4: Family – a wild eyed woman, spattered with feathers and guano, seeks to adopt chickens into her extended household
5: Fuss – conniving hookman* scattered food around front doors to excite chickens as a means to draw attention away from his back window thievery
6: Questions – long-toothed street philosopher compares everything to the acts and wants of chickens, but much of his advice rings true and his reputation draws numerous onlookers
7: Rumpus – circus performer juggles and does seemingly impossible magical tricks with chickens
8: Expectations – aspiring champion of the people appears to owe his performance to a chicken he keeps in stately and pampered fashion in his chambers
9: Our Hands – diplomats discuss terms in distant arid lands under threat of terrible conflict, but the terms of agreement demands chickens and someone must wrest them from the holdings of a local monster
10: To Divinity – a settlement of ordinary, hard-working people rise each day at dawn to seek the wisdom and guidance of the holy chicken, who seems to have turned their fortunes around
11: Voices – local clans within a wider territory come to loggerheads after chickens from one break into the fields of the other and eat corn, though no one can account for the hole in the fence
12: The Dead – aspiring kotamancer** seeks to harness the destructive potential of a hoard of zombie fowl to wreak havoc on an agrarian kingdom

* a thief who uses a long hook to steal things; ** a magic user who specialises in the enchantment and manipulation of chickens


Mechanics 0 comments on One-Yard Wonders

One-Yard Wonders

Continuing the theme we started yesterday, I have another random table based on the Storey Publishing deck of cards. This time we have the classic One-Yard Wonders, a Look How Much You Can Make with Just One Yard of Fabric!

So, roll a six-sided die (or throw six coins in the air and count the number that come up heads), then roll another (or flip a final coin, where a head is EVEN and a tail is ODD):

  1. a Folklore Bag. A sturdy, roomy shoulder bag, with a pockets on the inside and a buttoned lip.
    • ODD: The characters pick the bag up accidentally as it resembles one of their own pieces of luggage sufficiently for the mistake to have happened innocently. The bag contains:
      • 1: a selection of arcane papers concerning the dissection of the human body for components, as well as several jars of oddly coloured fluids;
      • 2: the miniaturised kingdom of Abtikwhem, lost to legend and currently contained in an ornate snow globe;
      • 3: several small wooden boxes containing the various ashes of an entire dynasty of noble rulers;
      • 4: dozens of keys, of various shapes and sizes, with a 1 in 6 chance every time the characters come upon a locked door, the bag contains one that opens it;
      • 5: a multitude of sealed wax paper packets stowed in dozens of different pockets, each containing different leaves, powders or grains with potential medicinal uses, some illegal;
      • 6: dozens of small glass bottles of different colours and designs, most with wax stoppers. Removing a stopper releases a captured sound, like birdsong, a whispered comment, a scream, trailing footsteps, or a final breath.
    • Of course, the greater issue might well concern the content of the bag the character’s have lost and who now holds it.
    • EVEN: While relaxing in a tavern or the open room of an inn, a bard approaches the characters with a forlorn expression, strumming wistfully on his lute. He explains that he:
      • 1-2: had his bag stolen from his room and suspects whoever took it has yet to leave the property. While he can’t locate it, he’s owned it long enough to attune to its presence, and he’s certain it’s still right here. While he has a reputation as a capable musician and storyteller, he also has other less reputable habits likely to have drawn the ire or attentions of others;
      • 3-4: wrote a song about the character’s most recent and public adventure and intended to perform it tonight, but someone took the manuscript along with his bag. It wouldn’t warrant a mention if not for the fact the manuscript contains his rough notes that specify the characters names or what loot they stole – something that in the wrong hands might make them the targets of thieves or revenge;
      • 5-6: held a ballad in the bag intended to magically defeat a monster threatening the city / settlement / local folk. He fears the minions / followers / worshippers of said monster may have taken it – and suggests that if the characters recover it they might share in the benefits of the monster’s downfall.
    • The bard will pay or offer his services in return for anything the characters do to help, should they ask.
  2. a Book Sleeve. A wraparound case for a large book; soft on the inside and crafted from leather on the outside.
    • ODD: The characters buy a book from a merchant and it comes sleeved. Some time after the purchase, the sleeve:
      • 1-2: falls from the book and transforms, turning into a thief wearing a cloak made of the same material. He proceeds to rifle through the character’s possessions, taking anything valuable, and then seeks to make his escape;
      • 3-4: comes loose and the character realise that the inner surface of the sleeve bears an inscription, warning or even a map;
      • 5-6: starts to whisper and hiss, uttering words that hover on the edge of comprehension. If a character meditates upon the sleeved book they make out muttered marginalia the author never added to the book – his thoughts, conclusions and daydreams, which might lead to any number of strange adventures, encounters or valuable secrets.
    • EVEN: The characters discover the book sleeve in a library, treasure chest or tucked away in a pile of junk. The sleeve has dimensions suited to a hardback bound reference book rather than a diary (but such a sleeve might equally turn up). Should the character choose to sleeve a book, the item:
      • 1. protects the item covered from any damage. While covered, this also means no one can write in or erase the content, as the pages repel ink;
      • 2. backs up the content of the volume. If the character removes the sleeve and places it on another volume, of at least equal internal dimensions, it will show identical notes. On removing the sleeve from the ‘copy’, the writing disappears – such that the sleeve could not serve as a cheap Xerox device;
      • 3. shrinks in size down to the size of a pocket book, whatever the original dimensions. While sleeved and shrunk, the character cannot open the book, no matter how much they try to force the pages apart. The book can still suffer damage in this state – a character simply can’t read it;
      • 4. translate the content of the volume into a [randomly selected] language, or vice versa if placed on a volume already written in that language. Damage to the sleeve or book while translated garbles the text into an unreadable and indecipherable state;
      • 5. changes the appearance of the pages as to appear as a foreign travel guide to a long lost city, written in a dead language. On removing the sleeve, the book returns to the original state. Practically, the character might translate and refer to the travel guide, which itself might have some value;
      • 6. displays a previously hidden runic symbol on the front cover, associated with an ancient god of destruction or ignorance. If the character places their palm over the symbol for three heartbeats, the sleeve and the book with disintegrate into dust.
  3. a Plush Animal. An amateurish rendering of a creature made from off-cuts of fabric, stuffed with straw and sporting button eyes.
    • ODD: The characters discover the stuffed animal discarded along their path or road, or perhaps tucked away in a chest or bag. The doll animates if splashed with:
      • 1: blood;
      • 2: holy water;
      • 3: vinegar;
      • 4: amniotic fluid;
      • 5: a herbal tincture, the recipe for which appears embroidered on the animal’s belly;
      • 6: tears of a newborn child
    • And becomes a:
      • 1: dog, with a scent that it follows unerringly, though to what end isn’t clear unless followed;
      • 2: magpie, with a liking for shiny things, the nearest of which it will find and bring back to the person who revived it;
      • 3: dragon, trapped by a sorcery in ancient times and now seeking a means to reverse the curse and prepared to gift who assist with a treasure;
      • 4: plush eyeless bear, which remains an eyeless plush, but imbues the person holding it with enhanced senses of sight and smell, while diminishing vision to a shadowy blur;
      • 5: cat, while the individual who revived it becomes a thinking, speaking, mobile plush replica. The cat immediately runs away, but must be recovered or render the transition permanent;
      • 6: chimera, which immediately attacks out of panic and confusion, having been trapped in this form by a collector of some lost civilisation.
    • The transformation generally lasts for an hour and will end early only through intervention by a high level dispel or miracle.
    • EVEN: The characters come across a weeping child in the middle of a busy marketplace, inconsolable over the loss of his plush toy. Whether or not the characters immediately assist, they stumble across the doll an hour later – wherever they happen to be at the time. Do they return it?
      • 1: If they return it, they discover the child’s father is a local trader of some influence who will broker a discount off their next purchase;
      • 2: When they touch it, they’ve fallen into a trap – as the child was a decoy for a sting by a local guild or crime family, and the toy is a sort of homing beacon to a bunch of toughs, thieves or keen apprentices;
      • 3: If they return it, they receive the heartfelt gratitude of the child and the promise of a favour – which you should return to them in some later unrelated adventure – possibly even an unrelated game – but do it with clear reference to the encounter;
      • 4: Upon returning it, the characters release a minor servitor daemon who had been bound by the existence of the doll, who will then enact its revenge upon whoever enslaved it – a crime which might come back to bite the characters for their involvement;
      • 5: On returning it, the child returns the key or possession stolen on first encounter, and during the interim someone else used the item for their own ends;
      • 6: If they return it, the child’s parent turns up and accuses the character of inappropriate behaviour, bringing the ire of an enraged mob down on them.
  4. a Component Organiser. A collapsing fabric box that, when opened, expands into nine compartments for holding a selection of oddments.
    • ODD: The court advisor to a local monarch seeks the assistance of anyone with tracking skill to find an item he describes as an Organiser, a fabric bundle tied up with a leather cord. A courier carrying the item:
      • 1-2: died at the hands of bandits who took the item along with his horse and coin purse, but have discarded the item somewhere in their lair;
      • 3-4: handed the package willingly on to a spy for a neighbouring realm or city, but pretends to have been roughed up by bandits;
      • 5-6: got drunk on-route and lost the organiser in a game of cards to a itinerant magic-user who recognized the value of the item without much care for what it contained). The advisor will pay well for the return of the Organiser, complete and intact.
    • EVEN: The characters find the Organiser abandoned somewhere, folded and tied up tight with a length of ribbon. On opening the Organiser, they find it contains:
      • 1: spell components of a magical practitioner of some forbidden art, certain to seek out whoever holds the Organiser and punish them for the theft;
      • 2: the composite elements of a small daemonic statue;
      • 3: the dissected organs of a dangerous animal;
      • 4: the thrice-blessed relics of a hokey upstart religion;
      • 5: a collection of letters, relating some embarrassing romantic liaison;
      • 6: eight odds and ends that appear to be nothing more than random knick-knacks, but if they can figure out what connects them and find the missing item, it will lead them to a discovery, magical object, or quest item.
  5. a Utility Apron. A ribbon-belted apron with an array of pockets on the front.
    • ODD: The characters face an opponent wearing a tattered and stained apron. The apron:
      • 1-2: appears to be made from weather-stained leather, deeply ingrained with streaks of what looks like rust – and while worn, any blades or sharp objects in the owner’s possession never dull;
      • 3-4: has a strange patchwork appearance, with fragments of heraldry from hundreds of houses and families of blood, imbuing the wearer with a staggering charisma and a tone as of one privileged with command;
      • 5-6: shows the russet stains of splashed blood and gore, having once belonged to an executioner. The spirit of the uncompromising butcher instils the wearer with a singular focus and rage upon an individual perceived to have committed some heinous transgression, until such time as they have paid the price for that act.
    • EVEN: While shopping for goods in a local market, the characters witness a young woman, wearing an apron and attire similar to the other traders and tinkers, stealing goods from a food stall. She takes several items and stuffs them into the pockets of the apron, but the apron gathers no bulk in the process and the pockets do not fill or spill the items. Anyone following her further will see similar activity around stalls selling clothes, hardware and pretty much anything else. The apron pockets still show no evidence of her crime and even when someone glances her way, they take no offence and make no accusations. She’s:
      • 1: a witch gathering components for a tricky ritual;
      • 2: a thief cheating in his exam;
      • 3: a wizard’s apprentice misusing a magic item;
      • 4: a sorcerer with a short fuse and a self-righteous attitude;
      • 5: a time traveller gathering samples for a museum;
      • 6: a deity out for entertainment and fun, which she’ll take at other’s expense… perhaps having stolen items reappear in the packs or pockets of the characters.
  6. a Stylish Capelet. A warm and splash-proof cloak suited to a small sized creature (or perhaps an animal, like a dog).
    • ODD: The characters discover a small corpse at the side of the road. It would appear to be a [small lawfully aligned creature] who has expired (1-2: from exposure; 3-4: from poisoning, only evident with an autopsy; 5-6: from a spell that exploded his heart, evident from a livid bruise on his chest). A search of his person and possessions reveals:
      • 1-2: a map of tunnels beneath a named city with three stars marked in different and distant locations;
      • 3-4: a wax sleeve sewn into the lining containing a set of compromising lithographs depicting a local mayor engaged in lewd recreation with [select appropriate creature or species likely to raise a ruckus];
      • 5-6: a slip of paper bearing a name of someone known to the characters and a secreted brown bottle of noxious poison.
    • EVEN: The characters discover the capelet in a treasure chest or hung up in a room. It would appear to be made from:
      • 1-2: star stuff, a black and speckle material that works perfectly as a cloak by day, but between sunset and sunrise exerts a weight ten times normal gravity, pulling whoever wears it to the floor or cracking the furniture/floor beneath them if flimsy;
      • 3-4: human skin, and when worn, whoever the wearer last touch suffers the damage of the first strike suffered after donning it – which might serve to offset the damage, but might also serve to warn someone to their peril;
      • 5-6: woven heather, which keeps the wearer warm and scented like forest in the summer, even if smeared with excrement, the gore of a slaughterhouse, or the sweat of a hard day’s labour.
Mechanics 0 comments on Basic Butchering

Basic Butchering

A random table determining the outcome of a successful strike with a sword, perhaps delivered on a critical, with advantage, or with style.

The table arose from a deck of cards I own from Storey Publishing in North Adams, Massachusetts. I suspect I got it from a charity shop purchase. Each card shows the cover of a book on the publishers backlist, and I pulled Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game.

Anyway, on a successful strike deemed to warrant a flourishing finish, roll a twelve-sided die (or draw a card from a single King-less suit, counting J as 11, Q as 12 and A as 1):

1: Topside. A swinging strike slices deep into the fat at the base of the rump, before 1-3: striking bone, 4-6: cutting a ragged wound into the thigh. Blood soaks the seat of victim’s pants, gore streaming down the back of the leg from the stinging open wound. Not life threatening, but movement, riding and just plain sitting down likely to be difficult and painful.
2: Thick Flank. A downward chop of the blade slices through the lower side of the torso along the abdomen, through muscle and flesh. Blood spills red and hot from the ragged flap. Some form of check against willpower would seem in order, as a reflexive desire to clutch the wound closed kicks in. Any effort to fight while clutching the wound with the off-hand should result in some penalty or disadvantage.
3: Rump. A sweeping strike manages to pierce the buttock, cleanly opening raw and yellowy fat down to the muscle. While the injury might seem minor, a lucky strike could (roll 2d6) severe gluteal arteries (2) or damage the pelvis (12), as the blade cuts to the bone. Superficial injury causes pain and inconveniences movement, while more serious injury might risk infection, internal bleeding, a permanent limp, or fatality.
4: Sirloin. As combatants swerve and side step to evade injury, a stabbing blade cuts into the lower back. The surprise and shock of the injury means the victim must make a successful check to avoid a state of stunned agony. A well-aimed strike by the swordsman may damage the kidneys (roll 2d6, 2: major internal bleeding, 3: blood in urine, 4: bruising and pain, 5+: strike above or below kidneys).
5: Fore Rib. A quick flick of the blade sends the tip rattling across the rib cage. Pain and discomfort follow, with a chance of permanent scarring (1 in 6).
6: Chuck. An arcing sweep of the blade as the combatants pass each other strikes hard across the upper back. The weight of the strike knocks the breath from the victim’s lungs. The strike may slice flesh or even nick the spine (1 in 6), but the sharp shock of the injury means they won’t notice the seriousness of the injury until after the end of the fight (at which point their should take the same half the total of the original injury again in damage).
7: Neck. A low guard fails to meet a high side long strike to the throat. The neck has a world of potential hurt going on, with possible strikes (2d6) to the 2: larynx (1-5: temporary, 6: permanent loss of voice), 12: arteries (1-4: shallow strike, 5-6: deep, severing), or 3: spine (1: fatal, 2: damage hampers movement, 3-6: short term restriction in movement, pain).
8: Clod. A skewering stab to the shoulder sends warm torrents of gore down the arm and back. The arm spasms, fingers releasing anything in the 1-3: left, 4-6: right hand. There’s a slim chance (1 in 6) that the blade opens an artery, making this injury so much more awkward than a dropped weapon…
9: Brisket. A slice beneath the breast, through flesh and muscle, causes you to gasp between clenched teeth. Even with armour, this strikes cuts beneath the breastplate or slides between rings or scales. Consider this a penetrating strike, for the purpose of bypassing armour or, indeed, damage to same.
10: Thin Rib. A deft jab sends the point of the blade into the soft mess of organs and intestines just beneath the protection of the rib cage. The strike skewers the 1: liver, 2: stomach, 3-4: large intestine, 5-6: small intestine. All injuries cause pain and tightness in the belly. Some form of check versus fortune or resilience would be in order to avoid either excess blood loss or debilitating seepage of organ content, causing collateral internal damage and death.
11: Leg. A low sweep cuts into the middle thigh, driving the target off-balance even as the pain cuts in through the hot blood. A check against gross motor control, dexterity or maybe acrobatics would appear in order to stop a sudden fall prone.
12: Shin. The tail end of an arcing swipe slices across the 1-3: left, 4-6: right shin, just as the swordsman drives forward and delivers a sharp kick. Some form of strength contest or brawling check should follow, with the victim at a slight disadvantage. A loss would mean 1-3: a stumble back, 4-5: a fall back and on to one knee, 6: a tumble over backward into a prone position.