Using Generators to Help Run RPGs

You had your prepared adventure with the sage at the inn. Only they burnt down the inn and chased away the sage...What now?

Some games masters love published modules, some run with a few scribbled notes. You probably fall somewhere in between.

Me? I once spent hours on game prep, but now I do it in ten minutes, leaning heavily on random generators before and during the game.

Here are some ways to use generators to help run role-playing games.

Generators During the Game

If you've thrown a random encounter at your group you've used a generator during the game. If you've got a character name or NPC name from a generator you've used a generator during the game.

Some games positively encourage it. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has it in character creation and miscast tables, Dungeons and Dragons in wandering monsters and magic item treasure tables.

When I first saw the Something Happens! table from the D&D 5E DM Screen I thought that was awesome. It was part of my journey from a high-prep GM to a low-prep GM, using generators in my game.

Something Happens from 5E Screen

Generator Tactics

Arm yourself with a few trusty generators to fall back on in unusual situations. You will find you can take more risks and get by with less preparation.

A few tactics you can use are:

  • The 5-Minute Break. Let the players grab a drink, order a pizza or take a short walk. During this time use generators to get ideas or options for whatever you need. Use something like the Donjon Dungeon.
  • Before the Game. Make rolls on useful tables before the game. Use these as you like and most players won't tell it apart from lots of prep. I built the 5E Prep Tool for this.
  • Use a Screen or Laptop. To hide the use of generators consider a GM Screen, laptop or using them on your phone.
  • Random Tables for the Players. Hand power to your players with tables to use in the game. Let them spend inspiration, fortune points or similar to make rolls. Encounter tables and fumble tables can work for this. I've been building During the Game generators such as Something Happens! during a Fight for this.

When Players Ignore the Adventure

You know the feeling when players ignore your adventure. Some groups are stubborn and others prefer to make their own stories. I had one group who all played sneaky lizardfolk who could blend into the jungle. If they wanted to avoid things it was pretty easy for them.

If this happens to you consistently keep the generators close to hand or have a couple of options pre-rolled.

You'll want generators that produce content enough for at least one game session. A brief dungeon, an inn with lots going on or a simple quest.

When to Use: When your players have gone somewhere unexpected. When you have nothing else planned. When your players avoid the adventure.

Examples: 5E Quick Dungeon, Quest Description and the Tavern Creator at EN World

To Add Fun or Unpredictability

When I show my players tables such as 5E's Trinket table or various PC background tables their eyes light up. So why not do the same as the GM?

Include generators to add a little fun or flavour to an already good game. Or use them to add more of the unknown to your game!

Use them for minor elements that don't impact the main story. The traits of someone's horse, events that happen during a fight or descriptions of people in a crowd.

When To Use: When things are quiet or a little bland. Or when you want to surprise yourself

Examples. I made The Something Happens! Tables for exactly this! Here are ones for in the City and During the Fight. Other fun generators include Science Fiction Tools and Fancy Drink Generator,

Seventh Sanctum Tools

To Fill in the Details

You have a great idea but very few details, or there is a theme you are no expert on and need some content for. Maybe you have empty rooms to fill in a dungeon, some NPCs to create for a city or treasure for a monster's lair.

Use generators to create the bits that go in the gaps, picking from several options produced.

If you're like me you may be a low-prep GM whose game often goes in unexpected directions. And then need a little help to fill out the details.

When To Use: When you´re short of time or uncertain about things.

Examples. The 5E Prep Tool was built to fill out details, while Fantasy Name Generators is great for descriptions of Dragons, Cities and Planets as well as names. Chaotic Shiny is another site with many system-neutral generators useful for filling gaps. Lastly Gozzys.com is great for dungeon maps to give definition to that spark of an idea.

A World of Generators

This is the first of my articles going into using generators to improve your game.

Tell me your stories of generators in the game in the comments or @DuncanThom on Twitter