Lucky Dip DM’ing

Gary Gygax was famous for his love of filling books with tables, specifically tables where you would roll a dice (or two) to find an outcome or a prompt.

This summary on Futurama was both brutal but indisputable.

Tables for random encounters, tables for treasure hoards of the recently slain monsters, tables for magic items in the treasure hoards and even tables for sex workers to spend the treasure on. Indeed, long before procedurally generated video games were a trend, Dungeons & Dragons was a game where you could leave huge parts of the story in the hands of the RNG gods through dice rolls.

Notably though, this is not how Gary DM’d. By all reports he rarely looked at the books, never limited himself to the rules and almost never rolled on a table himself – instead relying on preparation and improvisation. Some people will say he included the tables for lesser DMs, or to pad out the books, but realistically he probably figured it was a more engaging way to provide prompts and information than just a plain list.

Today tables for random outcomes continue to be a regular feature in role-playing games, expansions, modules and even comic books about those things. To many the outcomes are so sacrosanct that, even in the privacy of one’s own home and a single player story, bypassing them is a biblical sin.

They’re an inescapable part of the hobby, and many people spend no small amount of time making their own tables for their own campaigns. Now, that includes me, so I’m not about to tell you that they’re inherently bad – but rather that a classic mistake is to rely on them – up there with relying on “a rare roll must always have an extraordinary result”.

Both are symptoms of assigning too much authority to dice, usually out of insecurity about one’s ability to perform their role – so instead outsourcing it to an inanimate object or two.

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Common and racial tongues in D&D

D&D has always had an odd approach to languages. While J. R. R. Tolkien can probably be blamed for the normalizing of racial languages in the fantasy setting, D&D never limited itself to that approach – taken as a whole, the classic D&D approach to language was…

…it was weird.

There were specifically nations, separate cultures with separate histories… but no languages associated with those – instead we had:

Racial Languages: Elf, Dwarf, Orcish, etc
Profession Languages: Druidic
Sub Languages: Thieves Cant was a form of coded language that required speaking a base language
Alignment Languages: Yeah, you could speak Lawful Good. The premise was that alignments were real cosmic forces, their were cults built around them, and hence their were cults who had their own languages to communicate in secret (which every adventurer knows one and only one).
Default language: Common, Trade Tongue… like there’s just a language made to be lingua franca, the Esperanto of these fantasy worlds… only it actually is wide spread.

I’m not going to touch on the Sub Languages or Alignment Tongues, but I did want to address what I consider the weirdest parts: Common tongue and racial tongues.

Between universal languages and cross compatible currencies – the distinctions between nations were usually alignment, and aesthetic. That kind of functioned for simply dungeon crawls, but didn’t lend itself well to world building or lore creation – because these don’t hold up to how language works in any shape or form – I mean, when was the last time you spoke “Human”?

These days there’s an effort to mix in cultural languages etc, but it always seems to fall back on depending on Common… the weirdest language. This is a real shame since it essentially locks the value of languages behind specialist scenarios, and eliminates opportunities like needing translators, confusion or ambiguity in translations, culture shock in language, etc.

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