Random tables… I don’t really need them (Awesome is Good, pt. 1)

I think it’s a safe bet to use “random table” as synonym for OSR. What’s funny about this is that when we take a look into the original published game (the three books) that started commercial roleplaying, we see 34 random tables in total: the reaction table, eleven magic items/maps tables, six monster level tables, the guards/retainer table, and 15 wandering monster tables.


If we group those by type, we get a reaction table, a magic item/map table, a monster level table, a guard table and a wandering monster table – five tables.

Five tables.

And now, type “random table” (with quotation marks) in OSR Search and you’ll get more than a half million hits. Lots of creativity in the OSR!

BUT (again).

How many random tables do you really need AT THE TABLE? I used to bring dozens of tables with me… and I find I’m using fewer and fewer of them. I don’t know how you use them at your table, all I can say is they’re inspirational prompts, “ink blots” some of you call them. And I know all the arguments, what about totally unplanned for random results, tables can have those and throw your campaign a (positive) curveball. The problem with this argument is, when I’m writing my tables (and most of the time I do because I have a very specific picture of my game world on my mind), all I possibly can include are possibilities I can come up with. My imagination is a closed system, has its own language. Yours, as well. That’s also the reason why it’s generally good advice to re-write or edit tables you borrowed from someone else. Their world is not yours, their reality tunnel is different from yours. Postmodern bullshit, I know, but here, for once, it’s useful.

So I’m cleaning out my tables. Everything must go, or at least 90 percent of it.

And instead? I’m planning to use a tool that has worked almost perfectly for many years, for me: the Everway Vision cards. I used them for everything in my games, for every setting: Fantasy. Conspiracy. Cyberpunk. Horror. Kung Fu Action. I used them for character inspiration, character creation, scenario creation, npc reactions, you name it.

We’re playing Thundarr at the moment. In two weeks, all I’m carrying with me to the game is my six-sided dice, my referee notebook, and my Everway box. Because Everway is awesome.

And awesome is good.

6 thoughts on “Random tables… I don’t really need them (Awesome is Good, pt. 1)

  1. Very nice essay! Random tables, everway or tarot cards, in the end is just a form of oracle. The latter speaks to the astral part of oneself which is more “potent” than the scientifical, prewritten one. Someday, one of your players will need to roll into a random table and you will say “pass me your cup, i’d check the dregs of your coffee”


    1. 🙂
      I love that, Jack 🙂
      I used tarot cards and gipsy fortune telling cards in my games, too. But the Everway deck is just so… fitting 🙂
      Hard to explain, really.


  2. I find visual images so, so important for getting my own creative juices flowing. Lately, I’ve been brainstorming a setting idea using such images as the raw ingredients, but trying to push myself to come up with the most creative interpretations.

    As you throw out 90% of the random tables, however, telling us which 10% still meet the cut would be a good deed. 🙂


    1. Hi Gundobad 😉
      What I’ll keep are the random tables for character creation – for now. I’m using those mainly for players who are not familiar with the source material. However, that’s just me being lazy. I know quick character creation is perfectly possible with “oracles”/visual prompts…


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