Randomizing and RPGs

(This was originally posted at Ongoing Worlds.  And yes, it’s a Seventh Sanctum column that’s not an update.  A trend?  We’ll see!)

Look Back In Randomness . . .

In 1999 at a gathering of anime and Mystery Science Theater Fans, I commented how some anime attacks sounded randomly generated by computer.  Suddenly it struck me that it would be easy to write a program to do that, as I’d written code to do superhero names and names in the vein of Elfquest characters.  A few notes later I had enough ideas to try and I made an Anime Power Generator.

Then I began thinking of other options.  And more random generators emerged.  Then I put them on my web site.  Then they took over the website.

Then what is known today as Seventh Sanctum was born.  Eventually it encompassed over 150 generators.  I just kept making these things for 14 years.

So in 2013 I realized that perhaps I had to update the years old design, and go modern.  Fortunately Bootstrap provided me the framework I needed, and I proudly updated it in a mobile, adaptable, and honestly easier to read and simpler design.

This is when Dave contacted me.  He and I knew each other from when I interviewed him at MuseHack.  He noted that I had many random generators for people to use in writing, art, and of course RPGs.  But what is the role of randomizers in RPGs anyway?

I’d never thought of it.  I just sort of assumed it was obvious or instinctive.

Dave had challenged me, in short, to put into words what was rarely expressed.  I was up for the challenge – frankly I wanted to see my own thoughts in more solid form.

So, you run an RPG or play one, or are starting one.  How can randomness help you in something that’s so often the result of planning, phrasing, and writing?  Many, many ways . . .

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The Competitive Edge of Surprise

I'm a fan of Reno 911!, a show about a lovable but flawed group of misfit policepersons in Reno, Nevada.  A parody of shows like "Cops", what makes it intriguing is a lot of it is improvised.  Though there's many running jokes, this level of spontaneity adds a charm to the series, and makes it more human.

There are other forms of media "spontaneity."  The Random House/Stardoll deal that allows for people to vote on the outcome of a story for instance.  There is the unpredictability of reality shows – much as I'm not a fan of most of them – that appeals to people.  I've been addicted to both Borderlands and Dragon Quest IX – games with randomly generated content to keep the games fresh.

Such things got me thinking about spontaneity and unpredictability.  These are things you can't really fake in media – and these are traits people like in their media, be it books, or shows, and so forth.  We love having an unknown to explore, something that doesn't fit our expectations (yet does).  In short, in an age where there's so much competition for attention, can the media we produce be more competitive if it adds spontaneity and unpredictability?

I think so.

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