Hard on the heels of my review of Jason Sholtis’ The Dungeon Dozen, one of the best books of random fantasy tables I own, I decided to do a rundown of some of the other good ones on my shelves.
I’m a big fan of this type of book — books you can flip through, and/or roll on tables in, to get random inspiration, serendipitous bolts from the blue, and idea-jolts from unexpected quarters. I’m sure I missed some of the ones I own (because as I write, having already taken the photos for this article, I can see them on the shelf!), for which I apologize, and I know there are a) others out there (which I’d love to hear about in the comments) and b) free random generators online that rock, but on the flipside there are 18 titles in this rundown and I had to draw the line somewhere.
PS: It’s also worth noting that some of these books aren’t solely, or even largely, composed of random tables. But they all have excellent random tables for fantasy games in them, and I’ll call out the oddballs below.
PPS: This list also isn’t in any kind of order. I just grabbed books, grouped them in sextets, and wrote.
- The Dungeon Dozen is one of my favorite gaming books, and one of the best books of random tables out there. It’s dripping with inspiration (and ichor), packed full of stellar artwork, and pound for pound it offers an amazing value. No matter what sort of fantasy game you run, you’ll find usable ideas aplenty in here. If you only buy one book listed here, buy this one.
- Toolbox tops a lot of lists of books like these, but I find large chunks of it pretty dull. Where it saves itself is in quantity, not quality — there’s a table for every damned thing in here. The tables for cities, however, are excellent.
- Ultimate Toolbox is way better than Toolbox across the board, with a lot more directly useful tables and more tables with interesting results. If you have to choose between the two, get this one. Lots of good inspiration herein.
- Ready Ref Sheets is nutty, but mostly in good ways. “You step into the shop and see a woman with (roll) sky blue hair, (roll) feathery down skin, and wings.” That’s either the sort of thing you need or it isn’t, and RRS is full of it. It’s old, but not hard to find used for a reasonable price.
- Tome of Adventure Design is in my top five among this sort of book, and I’ve only used half of it: the tables for starting points, which are designed to break “GM’s block” and kick you off in fun directions, and the adventure design tables, which are just plain neat. (The half I’ve never used covers monsters and dungeons.)
- Red Tide is amazing. It’s not really a book of tables, though it’s full of tables — it’s a book about designing fantasy realms in practical-yet-interesting ways. Its system for creating communities and points of interest and factions and packing it into your world is fantastic. Of books like that, this is the best one I own.
- Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque I is a collection from the blog of the same name, and everything in it — from the tables (a good chunk of the book) to the setting seeds and ideas (the rest) — is fantastic. I love this book, and the others in the series. In just a few words on any one topic, it gives me all sorts of crazy ideas.
- Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque II is like I, only shorter.
- Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque III is like I and II, and about the same length as II.
- D30 Sandbox Companion is insane. I’m reasonably sure you could run a fantasy sandbox using nothing more than this book and it would turn out great — it’s that good. And it makes brevity a virtue, cramming its 52 pages with a crazy, crazy amount of table-y goodness.
- D30 DM Companion isn’t as interesting the Sandbox Companion, but there’s some good stuff in there. Buy the other one first.
- Dungeon Master’s Design Kit consists of three books: a book of forms, which doesn’t seem too useful to me; a book of ideas, which does; and the best of the three, a book that takes you from zero to fun-sounding, well-plotted fantasy adventure in not much time at all. It’s a clever system, and I think this book is criminally overlooked — it’s a nifty tool.
- Oriental Adventures is a good book in its own right, but I bought it for the random event tables at the end. It’s trivial to reskin them (on the fly, even) for any fantasy setting, and they’re great. You can spin adventures, story arcs, or even whole campaigns out of them, or just use them to spice up downtime or help the world around the PCs feel alive. So good!
- Renegade Crowns is out of print and weirdly expensive, so buy the PDF. But it’s a great book if you want to design a borderland-type region full of petty realms, scummy humanoids, foul bandits, and other sources of adventure. You start with a sheet of 1/4″ ruled graph paper and wind up with a unique, believable, ready-to-go borderland in just a few hours. I’ve never seen another book tackle random region design quite like this one.
- The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions is all about designing a Vancian wizards’ abode, down to the last evocative detail, and it’s a fun read. If you need less detail than it assumes, just skip a few tables — there’s plenty of room to pick and choose.
- Lesserton and Mor is about a skeezy fantasy city with a uniquely English vibe, Lesserton, and the above-ground dungeon next door, the ruined city of Mor. It’s notable, and included here, because Mor isn’t detailed — you roll it up, section by section, and can even generate it on the fly as the PCs explore.
- Ultimate Campaign is mostly not random tables, but shines for me for two specific elements: random map creation (a much lighter system than Red Tide or Renegade Crowns) and random downtime events. I like the events about as much as the ones in Oriental Adventures, and they’re sufficiently different to warrant owning both books.
Boom! Tables, tables, tables — enough books of random tables to last you for a lifetime. (Or not, I suppose, because I can’t stop buying them!)
I’d love to hear about your favorite books of this nature in the comments, so fire away!