Methods for Writing d100 Tables

d100 Tables are AwesomeFor the past couple years, I’ve been posting a fair number of d100 tables, because they’re awesome. They’re fun for me to write, useful in play, and people seem to friggin’ love reading them. Each one I write is pretty much guaranteed to spike my site’s traffic, so it’s a win-win-win.

Often, when I upload a new table, I’m getting the same sort of comment. Something in the vein of “I don’t know how you do that, I can barely fill a d12 table!” It’s happened like…twice now, so you’ll have to excuse me if I indulge myself a bit. Being impressive is an unusual feeling, and I’d like to revel in it.  Ego stroking aside, I can understand where these comments are coming from. I will never live down my self-imposed shame from that one time I tried to write a d100 table, and failed so hard that I just published a d50 table instead. Writing up 100 variations on the same theme is hard.

Fortunately, I’ve developed a few techniques to make the process easier on myself. Hopefully these will translate well enough for others to benefit from them as well. If I’m lucky, this post will spawn a whole slew of new d100 tables all across the OSR Blogosphere, and then I can just spend the rest of my gaming career rolling for everything I want.

The first is the simplest: time. I don’t just sit down and write d100 tables. I don’t think that would even be possible for me. They’re written slowly; a few entries here, a few entries there. A quick turnaround on a d100 table would be about 10 days, from start to finish. Those are usually either very simple tables (such as the magic words tables), or something I’m particularly invested when I write them. (d100 wands went pretty quick.)

Most tables require a few months, and there are even some which have been sitting in my drafts folder for more than a year at this point. This is one of the biggest reasons I work to maintain my huge buffer of posts. Back when I was starting out, I didn’t have the luxury of working on projects that required more than an evening to put together. If I started to write something, it had to be done by the end of the night. If it wasn’t, I’d be off my schedule.

Which leads into my second point: I’m not writing these one at a time. As I write this, there are currently fifteen d100 tables in my drafts folder. Some of these have 2 or 3 entries in them. At least one of them already has 100 entries in it. Most fall somewhere in between. At any given time, there are usually 2 or 3 of these tables that I’m actively thinking about, and trying to add a few entries to each day. It’s not until a table is pretty much done that I start to really focus on it. Going back, polishing up what I’ve written, checking for repeats, and getting it out the door.

Which actually leads into my third point: separating brainstorming from writing. The hard part of populating any table is coming up with X number of variations on a theme. Maybe there’s those first 4 or 10 which come easy, but by the time you get to 100 you’ve been all the way to the depths of your creativity and back again. By comparison, turning a single table entry into easy reading is almost rote.

Coming up with ideas, and putting those ideas into words that make sense outside of my own head, are two entirely different mental processes for me. Trying to switch between them over and over again slows my writing down to a crawl. Sometimes I’m tempted to flesh out entries 1-10 while trying to come up with entry 11, but that is a trap. If I ever want to get the thing done, I need to come up with 100 cool ideas first, and only later do I worry about making those 100 cool ideas appealing to read.

Something I do a lot of is standing in front of a whiteboard telling myself how much of a hack piece of shit I am, until something good comes out of me. This is probably the least effective technique I have, but it’s the one I use most frequently. The whiteboard part helps at least. It’s easier to jump from idea to idea when I’m away from a keyboard. Keyboards make me feel a strong need to be more descriptive than necessary.

Probably the best trick I have is the disguised d33 table. This is one I used for “d100 Results of Drug Addled Engineering,” and “d100 Human Beings for Sale.” Basically, before I start working on the 100 entries themselves, I write up a list of 33 subcategories. Each of these categories could theoretically be the theme of their own tables. For example, “A box with a button on it.” That button could do anything.

Once I’ve got my 33, I add each one to my table 3 times. Starting from there, it’s honestly pretty easy to come up with 3 unique variations on each one, which gets me all the way up to 99 entries without breaking a sweat. Entry 100 can then be something big and awesome (like in d100 Humans), or it can just be “roll twice & combine” (like in d100 Drugged Engineering). I suppose if the list is of bad things, you could also switch it around, and make entry 1 spectacularly bad in some way.

A variation of that same idea is the not-so-disguised 10d10 table. As of this writing I haven’t published any tables using this method, but I am using it for d100 Pieces of Dungeon Moon Starting Equipment, which will be posted eventually.

Much like the method above, you start by coming up with some broader ideas (in this case, 10 rather than 33), then you divide your d100 table up into that many chunks, and use those broader ideas to help create the specific entries.

The nice thing about this method is that it makes your work serve multiple purposes. For example, if a player creates a new character, then they’d roll d100 to find out what item they start with. If they then decide they want to find some armor in town before they go out to adventure, the referee can roll a d10 on the “armor” portion of the table.

The benefit of this method is that it allows a referee to roll a d10 on one of those sub tables if it suits their fancy. For my dungeon moon equipment table, maybe the referee doesn’t want to go full random. Maybe he wants to make sure that his players have at least one piece of armor and one weapon before they head out into danger. That’s fine, roll dice that are smaller increments of 10! It’s all good.

Breaking a d100 table down into smaller chunks doesn’t always work, of course. At least, not for me. Take d100 Reasons the Wizard is More than they Seem, or d100 Curses. I could have tried to break these down into smaller groups: curses that afflict your feet, curses that afflict your encumbrance, curses that afflict the player in some meta-game way, etc.  I didn’t do that because it didn’t seem to flow naturally when I was putting those tables together. Maybe these more gonzo themes defy any kind of organization, or maybe that’s just not where my headspace was when I wrote them.

And I think that’s pretty much everything I can think of that makes writing d100 tables more manageable for me. Thank you for supporting my ego trip, it was fun.

 

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