Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Table madness

One of my favorite things to find in a game text is the Stupid Random Die Chart. Whether we're talking about treasure tables or wandering monster charts or potion miscibility or whatever. I love the simple magic of rolling a die to produces non-intuitive and even non-sensical results that I can then fold into my game. The amazing Doctor Rotwang blogged on this very subject a couple weeks ago.

Back in '98 or '99 I discovered a program called TableSmith, written by a fellow by the name of Bruce Gulke. Bruce has a nifty campaign world website and a fairly active blog. Anyway, TableSmith allows you to code your own random tables and generate volumes of results. Similar programs have been done before and since. The only thing that made TableSmith stand out was that it was the first time I had found a free-to-download version of such a thing. And it was super easy to edit tables or create my own.

1998 was also the year my Bandit Kingdoms campaign probably peaked and I got deep into using TableSmith in support of my kludged "1.5" AD&D hybrid. At the time TableSmith wouldn't hold any variables, but you could have one chart to call another for output, allowing you to build some very sophisticated results nonetheless. Nearly any chart in the DMG that I might need a lot got turned into a customized TableSmith file, allowing me to generate scads of results. I had 20 of every treasure type at my fingertips, with gems, jewelry and magic items all detailed. Also at the ready were twenty complete bandit camps, with 100 or 200 bandits apiece, and similar quantities of patrols and castle garrisons. My buddy Pat and I found my 27 page bandit printout this last weekend. (Thus precipitating this post.) The first five bandit mobs were all crossed out; Pat's wizard had set them all on fire.

My henchman generator was by far my largest TableSmith project, as it incorporated every race, class, and multi-class combination I allowed in the game. And that was a lot. We're talking half-satyr ranger/thieves and moutain dwarf deathmasters here. And each potential henchman had a random name from an incredibly diverse random name generator I put together over the course of several weeks of work. And each magic-user had a randomly generated spellbook incorporating nearly every AD&D spell published in Dragon.

But my favorite TableSmith projects were my random book generator and the tavern tables. The random book generator would produce a title and subject matter for a book. "On the History and Genealogy of the Duergar by Denro the Gentle" would be a typical result. I had a hundred of these ready should any player be silly enough to start browsing in a wizards library. I even had a chart that would give a brief sketch of the usefullness of the work in question. "A shallow treatment of the subject" or "Excellent info, but some parts are dangerously out of date" or somesuch. So guess what happened? No one ever even glanced at a book for the rest of the campaign. (Except spellbooks, of course.)

The tavern tables were glorious, in their own quirky little way. The tavern name sub-table actually produced a place called The Bee's Knees without any rigging of the results. And thanks to the results generated I can tell you cool things like The Lazy Wolf is the place to go if you like chess and the drink to get while playing is the imported Furyondian wine. Meanwhile The Salty Boar is famous for its pickeled chicken in wine sauce and for the nightly swearing contests. And The Swaying Lady has cheap ale, brawls, and naughty girls. What else do you need to know?

The latest version of TableSmith supports a whole lot of new features not available back in '99, including the ability to use variables. (People with no programming experience will have no idea what that means, but trust me when I say its important. I'd try to explain but in truth I'm barely computer literate myself. I once showed my programmer friend Don some of my TableSmith output. He said "You'd be dangerous with just a little Basic compiler." At the time I couldn't quite bring myself to ask him what the hell a compiler was.) Also cool is the fact that TableSmith is supported with a metric buttload of pre-made tables. Mr. Gulke also has some other little gamer utilities here. I've used his Wilderness Mapper a couple of times, for my 3E "Greymoor" campaign and for this re-draw of the Outdoor Survival hexmap. Nowadays I think I prefer Ar-Kelaan's HexMapper, as it's designed to look like the various maps of Mystara, but Wilderness Mapper still gets the job done.

I really ought to download the latest version of TableSmith and type in all the various random charts from Basic/Expert D&D. I wonder if it's robust enough to support Clasic Trav chargen? That'd be cool.