Smelting the Setting: Prep Once, Play Lots

My first article on prepping for a custom setting was well received, so here I am following up on how to develop things further based on how my campaign has been progressing. Today I’m looking at how randomness in the form of goold old D100 tables can help reduce your preparation time. The fairly obvious trick is in creating your own tables imbued with the flavour of your campaign.

Lots of RPGs provide GMs with tools for random generation, and huge numbers of supplements extend this random generation further. Most of these random tools are made for use in any setting, which widens their audience but reduces their utility because they were never made for your specific game. It’s the correct decision by designers, as most RPGs deliberately provide some scope for different settings. Even a little bit of homebrew development can make your session prep much lower.

By prepping random generation tools, you’re far more ready for when your players go in an unanticipated direction because you get right into creating things that fit into your world because you’ve already made sure they work.

NPC Names
Having consistently named NPCs whose names fit with the placenames you’ve created can help increase verisimilitude for your players, and can stop you as a GM resorting to everyone being called Steve, Xena or Conan. Unless that’s appropriate for your setting, in which case, go ahead.

A great resource for this is Gary Gygax’s Extraordinary Book of Names, which is very RPG targeted and easy to use. It is also huge in scope, and whatever you setting is, will no doubt contain tons of information you don’t need. I find having more targeted resources at the table makes me more nimble in the moment. This is still a great resource and its content may even help define parts of your setting.

I’ve been using Old Norse names in my setting and I have actually used to help populate my list. They have a large selection of subcategories (including Heroic) that make preparing this element of your game relatively simple and easy. Simply have a browse, copy and paste ones you like into a spreadsheet, and make yourself a custom D100 table.

Custom Loot Table
These are a pretty common feature in most RPGs. The trouble is, they’re often a bit lacking in flavour, and half the items aren’t really appropriate to your personal setting, they’re the most generic versions available and not balanced to account for your games economy or flavour.

Start with a bit of research and find out more about what items and objects would be common in your setting. I started in keeping with the old Norse names of my game and did a small amount of browsing. It wasn’t hard to find a couple of good image-rich places to read through. One about a museum exhibition and the other a store selling Viking antiques.

My world is also full of cults and dark rituals. A little bit of Google Fu got me to some great images from exhibitions of Masonic objects and the Art of Secret Societies.

Next up is either taking your systems existing random loot tables, and crossing out about 50% of it and replacing it with items inspired by your new list. This means when your players loot corpses, chests or houses, you’ll have some ready-made tables of thematically-appropriate items up your sleeve.

You can take this a step further by creating separate loot lists for different locations, creature types, or whatever attribute you choose.

Custom Encounter Tables
So next up is monsters and NPCs. Every setting should have a unique mix of these, and within your setting different regions should have their own flavour. Random encounter tables that come with rules systems tend to break things up by biome/terrain, and this gets you a lovely helping of reliable vanilla encounters. Nothing wrong with that, but it is hard to get excited about.

The first step is to rip out some things in the existing tables you are gifted with. My players started in a town on the edge of a forest, so I looked at the encounter table for Eldritch Forest in Pathfinder GameMastery Guide. It seemed immediately unlikely to me that my players would run into 2d4 Pegasi or 1d4 Half-Celestial Unicorns in a corrupt forest where hunters struggle to find food. What was lacking were relatively mundane encounters like Wild Boar of Dire Boar, which are a definite feature I want present. Also lacking were Bugbears or Kobolds, which have recently been found nearby.

It was also the case that the random encounters were all Bestiary monsters that lent themselves to a straight combat encounter and very little else. So after stripping out and swapping some of the inappropriate monsters my next step was to add in some non-combat content. A travelling merchant, a fallen tree with a hunter’s cache, a lost hunter, a meteorite crater, and more.

A final pass of the list was to break some of the entries down into more granular options. 35-39 on the D100 was 1d4 Worgs. I broke this down further into:
35 – 1d4 Worgs
36 – A Worg plays dead on the path, when approached, its pack (1d6 Worgs) attacks the players.
37 – 1d6 Worgs feasting on the corpse
38 – 2d4 Worgs who the players interrupt arguing with a group of Goblins over how to find food
39 – 2x 1d6 groups of Worgs plus leaders. The leaders are locked in combat for alpha status.

This final pass where you add some detail and personal ideas will give you far more interesting options for running low prep sessions.

This is just three examples of how you can prep things in advance that don’t railroad your players and don’t fall apart when the players do unpredictable things. There are many more, and we’ll be covering some of them in future posts. If you’ve got your own strategies for reducing prep, please let us know in the comments or over on Twitter. Please also check us out on DriveThruRPG, our products can also be great time savers for busy GMs.




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