Game Day: Randomizing the Frontier

I’m running two D&D 5th Edition sandbox campaigns set in the World of Greyhawk Obsidian Frontier (my Sunday campaign) and Broken Land (my lunchtime game). Both take place in a frontier town in a savage land overrun by monsters.

In another seventy years, the town — which will come to be known as Obsidian Bay — will be a thriving city-state. For now it’s closer to Deadwood, and I’ve got a lot of wilderness to populate.

I don’t have nearly as much time to world build as a I did when we first started adventuring in Obsidian Bay 18 years ago, so I’ve turned to the web to find random generators I can use to prep for adventures, spark ideas, and forecast the weather.

Swirling red and black dice sit on one of the Dungeon Master Guide's many random tables. A beholder stares menacingly at a terrified adventurer.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide for D&D 5th Edition is packed with great tables for randomly generating encounters and terrain. Credit: Ken Newquist
  • D&D Generator Portal at En World: A host of generators for D&D including RPG personalities, herb names, treasure bundles, and bar scenes.
  • D&D 5e Treasure Generator: Generate treasure bundles in pouch, chest, and horde sizes. It includes coins, art objects, and magic items.
  • Mundane Treasure Generator: Wealth is great, but some times its the mundane (but slightly off) items that players remember much.
  • Dwarven Name Generator: Dwarves make up a significant percentage of Obsidian Bay’s population, so I’m constantly looking for new NPC names. This tool creates realistic dwarf names (Cael Thranadal) as well as fantasy ones (Ingada Armorsmith),
  • D&D 5th Edition Random Encounter Generator: Generate encounters based on the number of players, terrain type, difficulty, and number of monsters.
  • Greyhawk Weather: The 1983 Greyhawk Glossography had extensive tables for randomly generating weather; this site automates that.
  • Random Horse Generator: The campaigns takes place on the frontier and the players will be spending a lot of time traveling the countryside looking for ruins, battling monsters, and generally trying not to get lost. A good horse is crucial to make sure those journeys pass quickly. This generator tells you horse coloration, defects, and personality traits.

Pen-and-Paper Tables

Random generators are great and all, but there’s nothing quite like cracking open the Dungeon Master’s Guide, finding the necessary table, and rolling some dice. I picked up the 5th Edition DMG at my local game store, which was one of Wizards of the Coast’s preferred partners, and thus, got the print edition of the book early. It’s crammed with every kind of table you might want, and I used as many as I could during Sunday’s game.

  • NPC Talents (p. 90): d20 list including “perfect memory”, “draws beautifully”, “skilled dancer”, etc.
  • NPC Mannerisms (p. 90): d20 list including “whispers”, “fidgets”, “paces”, etc.
  • NPC Interaction Traits (p. 90): d12 list including “arrogant”, “curious”, “quiet” etc.
  • NPC Bonds (p. 91): d10 list with “dedicated to fulfilling a life goal”, “out for revenge”, etc.
  • Tavern Name Generator (p. 113): Two d20 lists, one for the first part of the inn’s name, one for the second part.
  • Individual Treasure: Challenge 0-4 (p. 136): Chart for finding treasure on low-level monsters

I also found some inspiration out on the web. Since we’re back in Greyhawk, I wanted to start using setting-specific names I used to use the Everlasting Book of Names with its Greyhawk add-on for this, but it’s a Windows program that doesn’t run on my Mac, and I didn’t have time to install it on the family’s Windows 8 computer. Instead I found Random Name Tables for the Peoples of the Flanaess, which has d100 tables for every region and country in the World of Greyhawk. I used it quite a lot.

Random Outcomes

All of this virtual and real dice rolling yielded some new additions to the campaign.

  • Ignar Ironhound: Dwarven owner of Ironhound Kennels in Obsidian Bay, seller of fine riding and war dogs for the dwarven, halfling, and gnome communities. He’s a quiet man with a tendency to pace who’s utterly devoted to his dogs.
  • The Frowning Wolf Inn: A lower-end tavern popular with rangers and others more comfortable in the woods than in town. The owner is Cret, a retired ranger whose dire wolf is a constant presence in the bar and “frowns” (e.g. growls menacingly) at anyone who gets out of hand. Few do.
  • The Wyvrens: A street gang just getting established. Their leader is wiry Suel warrior named Svagnolf, The man has no honor, and was driven out of the lands of the Frost Barbarians for killing his brother.
  • Captain Treland Silvertooth: The result of a random encounter generated by the Pomarj encounter lists in the Greyhawk Glossography, and the “Bandit” entry in the 5e Monster Manual. That entry noted the bandit leader could also be a pirate captain, and before you knew it I was speaking in a cliched pirate accent and spinning a tale of starving pirates shipwrecked on the Pomarj coast trying (and failing) to hunt rabbits with scimitars.

The DMG has far, far more charts, and I’m looking forward to using all of them in the coming weeks. Someone pass me my dice.

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