Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Picking up the Gauntlet: Random Tables for Everything

Despite the fact that I have played Champions more than any other RPG except for D&D, my favorite superhero RPG of all time is Villains and Vigilantes. The reason is simple: I love the random tables for character generation. In fact, all my best characters in Champions found their genesis in those tables. Like many who prefer the ways of the old-school, I embrace the chaos of the random table.

Meditating upon the "why" of this love affair, I propose two very good reasons to let go, roll those dice, and see what the tables have to say about life, the universe and everything:

1) It saves time.

Meticulously plotted adventure paths are extremely time consuming. Even if you've shelled out your hard earned money to pay someone else to do it for you, if you are going to Referee the thing, you have to spend several hours reading over everything to make sure that you are prepared. In contrast, with a good wandering monster table, a treasure table, and a map, you can be ready to DM in minutes. This is a particular blessing when players decide to take your carefully constructed plot and throw it out the window by doing something unpredictable. Once you've established a few things from the tables, you can use your time far more efficiently to come up with reasons why the world is the way the tables says it is. In the end, you'll have a story that not only didn't put an unnecessary burden on your time, but was primarily put into motion by your players.

2) "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had" (Mark 12:43-44).

A priest once quoted this piece of scripture in response to the radical inequality and injustice that exists in the world. It isn't the hand that you are dealt that matters, but, rather, how you play it. The poor widow was dealt a really crappy hand, but she played it brilliantly.

In other words, random tables will test your ability as a player. Both Referees and Players will have to apply all their skills in order to make the result of the die make sense. In the end, the die result isn't what matters, but rather what you do with it. A player who can make magic with a weird result from a random table is a better player than one who refuses to make the roll.

Please note: I do not advocate being a slave to the die roll. On the contrary, using random tables takes skill and there are times and results that push my own abilities beyond their limits. On countless occasions I have thrown out results because I could not see a way to make them work. However, these unworkable results inevitably are a catalyst for ideas that I would never have thought of otherwise.

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