Organizing random tables

When running OSR-style games (or, really, anything where I want to disclaim some responsibility and let the world surprise me), I love using random tables. Sometimes each entry is fully fleshed out, and sometimes it’s several rolls taken together to generate something unpredictable.

With so many tables - my own, ones in modules & products, plus the many excellent ones in blog posts - I’m unsure how to organize them so I can find them during prep or, even better, during games. Do you have any tricks or tips on how to pull these together from many different sources?

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Great topic. Not sure I’ll ever be able to come up with a good system of random tables for my own games, but I think it’s always worth spending some time trying to achieve at least the semblance of a system. I tend to use two all-encompassing categories for tables: PC-triggered and world-triggered. Under the first category go (among other things) all those tables which randomize the effects of certain typical courses of action that the players will most likely take in any given session (“I search the body” being the most typical one). The second category covers NPC reaction rolls, weather conditions, random encounters, etc. It is important that both the PC-triggered and the world-triggered categories come in two flavors, namely, the “for most occasions” flavor and the “for-the-purposes-of-this-scenario-session-or-module-only” flavor. Otherwise my notes will start to defeat their own purpose, which is to expedite gameplay experience.

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In the past, I’ve utilized spreadsheets for this. I can group and arrange random tables in Excel however I like, and have several labeled tabs/sheets to quickly find the ones I need in the moment. OneNote could also work for this.

Typing your tables into a digital format might seem like a pain, but it’s a good opportunity to drill good fiction into your head, and potentially to customize the tables.

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I find the PC / world categories absolutely strange. I use a Dewey encyclopedic order like “religion / urbanism / craft / …”.

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I think that organizing material like this for play is a great unsolved problem. It really depends on what kind of game you play and what kinds of tables you have. Do you edit your list when you have similar or redundant tables, for instance? Can you organize them geographically or by module? And so on.

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I recently saw this site recommended, I believe on RPGNet, but I haven’t explored it yet: https://chartopia.d12dev.com/search/