All Praise the RNG

Confession time: for the first six sessions I ran of Torchbearer, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the random tables! Or rather, I wasn’t sure how much I enjoyed them, how much they really added to the play experience. I won’t mention the Aggling-hay Able-tay, I think others have talked about it enough, but let’s not leave out the camp events tables, town events tables (entering and leaving), loot tables, and such. Don’t get me wrong - I had fun rolling on them. It brought me back a decade to my first experience with D&D (not the Holy First Edition, but still - drawing up maps on graph paper and rolling randomly for loot was definitely a part of the fun!), so I enjoyed it, but it was mostly a nostalgia-type enjoyment. I wasn’t sure it added to the game; in fact, I think I half-suspected it might even be kind of a bad thing, a guilty pleasure. After all, bad dice rolls meant that players could wind up with no loot save what the GM had placed beforehand! No fun, right?

Last night, I had a conversion, a real road-to-Damascus moment. I had two, actually! I don’t know if it’s standard operating procedure or not, but when I started this campaign I really couldn’t help myself, and I wound up drawing enough maps and creating enough adventures that I’m two “up” - I have two more dungeons created that I won’t need for at least another week. So when the characters left the Religious Bastion and I rolled “unlikely and unreliable would-be adventurers looking to add to their crew,” I used the opportunity to foreshadow an upcoming dungeon. And, taking the advice I got in my “phases and travel between towns” thread to heart, when the adventurers started to haggle with those guys just outside the city gates, I quietly went into the Adventure Phase - and what a short and mad phase it was! They bantered, they argued, then the magician (in response to a jeer about his magical skills) cast Mystic Porter to lift a dwarf…and failed. I’m a big fan of the “your magic works - too well” twist, so a giant Mystic Porter lifted the whole gang up twenty or so feet into the air! Did I mention that this was right in front of the gate, in full view of the guards, in a city where casting a spell upon another person is punishable by death? Unable to release his spell, the magician looked frantically to his friends for help, so they started grabbing whatever relatively soft things they could to try to break a 20-foot fall. It was hilarious. In the end, thanks to a single Leaving Town Events roll, I got a 4-turn Adventure Phase (complete with The Grind!) that let me foreshadow a future dungeon, introduce new enemies for that dungeon, and make the magician a wanted man in the Religious Bastion. Holy hell! All that from a single roll on a random table!

When they finally made it to the Busy Crossroads town which was their intended destination, geared back up (fresh rations spoiled on the journey, don’t’cha know ;)), recovered from some conditions earned by the Mystic Porter Incident, and set out, I rolled again on the Leaving Town Events table…and got the “Enemy shows up, well-equipped and with a motley crew, and departs ahead of you” result. Perfect! I’d been looking for a way to introduce the thief’s enemy. They tailed him, tried to set up an ambush and got ambushed themselves…and went straight for a kill conflict! It was tense - they’d had little opportunity to prepare for this, so it was much more up in the air than the three other kill conflicts they’d been in. In the end, they managed it with a minor compromise, so everyone was Exhausted and Injured, and the thief got some closure by avenging herself on the man who murdered her family. And thanks to the loot table result (lint!), we - all of us - discovered that he died broke, having ultimately profited nothing from his dastardly ways. Great roleplaying grist for sure, and it even managed to tie in to her new Belief (“My crew is the family I never had; I’ll watch out for them”). Couldn’t have planned it better myself!

I’ve always enjoyed the improvisational aspect of GMing. Tables are good for that. But last night, I think I discovered something new about random tables. Torchbearer is a game of exploration and discovery - the players play to interact with and discover the fictional world. Random tables allow the GM some moments of discovery, too - and they add details for the players to discover that weren’t orchestrated by the GM. Last night, it felt a little bit like the world itself had a say in all these crazy adventures. It was a really cool feeling.

So consider me a convert! I’m now a believer in the RNG.


Edit: Postscript: The most amusing part, to me, was that we played an entire session of Torchbearer without actually getting to a dungeon! I had honestly thought that wasn’t possible, or at least intended, but that’s how it shook out. They need some money!

1 Like

Yes! They’re situation generators. They’re fun in D&D, but the game that really taught me to love random events tables was Pendragon. So many random tables for so many different things! But they are tremendous sources of inspiration. And finding a way to fit some results in is a fantastic creative exercise for the GM.

I think it feels a bit similar to what it’s like in Burning Empires when there’s a mismatch between the action during the session and the results of the Infection roll at the end of the session.

Brilliant. That’s exactly what they’re for: To create the illusion that the broader world is moving by, and that it doesn’t care for your agenda very much. I think this adds a sense of weight to the world that’s missing from some of my other games.

Thanks for posting this.

I was a bit stuck last session when Darius the Paladin and Slinky the Thief returned to Slinky’s hometown (a busy crossroads) of Shambleton. I’d exhausted my prepped dungeon, though I had dyson’s delves for inspiration for future adventure maps. The dastardly duo went digging for leads though… Checking their rough area map found on the skeletal corpse in the nearby tomb of the Dwimmerfolk. They wanted to find the fabled (ruined) religious bastion that I had NO IDEA about whatsoever. Ben Ball to the rescue with his awesome random adventure hook generator!

They factored in legends, how to get there, who lives there and what treasures and traps are to be had. The subsequent research and asking around were moderately successful, though Darius failed his scholar roll with a nefarious twist. So a few rolls and a little tea break later I had my adventure :slight_smile:

Thus they uncovered the Prophecy of the Moon; to decipher the lunar lens that was cursed by the god of chaos and uncover the litany trapped within. This would be the key to Darius’s salvation (and Slinky’s escape from the ‘life’). The answers were coded on a tablet hidden deep in the bastion, guarded by a deranged alchemist / priest. Unbeknownst to then, a street urchin named Jinx (the alchemists misbegotten son) is their potential ally, and the ramblings of a heretic predicts that astronomical convergence favours black magic to win their endeavours. Riddles and magical wards will thwart their path, and the ruins are beset by a large and ancient beast, undead hordes and sprites from the underworld. Their reward being knowledge of the forgotten gods, an ancient and powerful artefact, and the alchemical recipes of a lost cult.

Random tables for inspiration rock hard.