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by Mike on 9 August 2021
I love random tables. There are few more powerful D&D tools than a set of random tables feeding a creative brain. I've talked about this before in Random Creativity in Dungeons & Dragons and Breaking Conventional Thought with Random Tables.
So we know how powerful random tables can be to shake our brain out of a rut and into new paths, but where to find them? Here's a quick review of some of my favorite books of random tables.
I'm jealous of Ironsworn. It's the kind of book I wish I had written. Shawn Tomkin wrote an awesome RPG, one you can play by yourself, with a partner, or with a group. And it's packed with the best random tables I've seen anywhere as is Ironsworn Delve, it's dungeon delving expansion. Shawn figured out exactly the right resolution, the right level of detail, to write random tables that fuel your imagination. These tables don't just give you cool ideas, they give you cool names you can use right off the page. Ironsworn is available digitally for free but you should pick up the hardcovers anyway. They're great.
Worlds Without Number and its predecessor Stars Without Number are excellent RPGs written by Kevin Crawford. They're full RPGs but have wonderful random tables built around rolling handfuls of mixed dice. Worlds uses these handful-of-dice tables to help you build out your campaign world, from big to small things. For the randomly inspired worldbuilding alone, it's worth picking up the book.
Raging Swan Press publishes tons of small books of random tables but three of its bigger books include the GM Miscellany: Dungeon Dressing, Wilderness Dressing, and Urban Dressing. Like Ironsworn, these books found just the right resolution to fill out our ideas. I bought all three in print and love them. The price for both print and PDF is very affordable.
I can't write an article about random tables without pimping my own book, the Lazy DM's Workbook. I worked hard to include enough tables to help you improvise big parts of your game right at the table without overwhelming you with too many options. My next book, the Lazy DM's Companion doubles down on randomness, offering thematic packages of random tables to inspire your adventures and campaigns. If you want a sneak preview of the material, you can get it today by joining my Patreon.
The Dungeon Master's Guide is an underrated book, in my opinion. It has tons of useful random tables in it. I've covered a lot of this in my Gems of the Dungeon Master's Guide article. Xanathar's Guide to Everything likewise has excellent random tables including a good set of random monster tables for various environments. Both should not be overlooked.
I'm not as big a fan of the Tome of Adventure Design but many others love it. This book, to me, is simply too much. There's just so much stuff that I get lost. The resolution is also all over the place. Sometimes it's talking about gods, sometimes its things you'd find in an old jewelry box. I'm definitely not in the majority in these opinions though. Many people love it which is why I'm including it in this list.
Books aren't the only good source for random content. There are thousands of random generators all over the web. I'm going to recommend just one, though: donjon.bin.sh. This generator is absolutely fantastic for D&D or any fantasy RPG. It has traps, treasure, NPCs, encounters, names, whatever. It has everything we could want. My only complaint is that it isn't particularly mobile friendly.
Another site worth checking out is Perchance.org. It's a website that lets you build your own random tables with tons of useful features like weighting, nesting, and a lot more. I've built a bunch of random generators using Perchance. You can even download them and save them locally in case you're not excited about having to save your random generators on a remote website. It's a powerful and useful tool.
I'm not able to list out every single book of random tables. There are so many out there that no list can be complete. Hopefully this article gave you some ideas, though. Whatever sources you choose, embrace randomness. It's a powerful tool to fuel your creative brain.
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