Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Ten more cheap tricks for Referees

It's not a bandwagon, it a stagecoach of fun and sharing! Phlox started it, with these cheap tricks, and there are already many more, so here's my list:
  1. A list of twenty animals is a great all-purpose random generator. I use it to quickly generate random NPC quirks or appearance (fidgety like a mouse / proud like an eagle / lion-maned / walks like an elephant), generate random mutations or powers (acquire tiger stripes / wolf fangs / octopus tentacles), roll twice or thrice for chimeric monsters (antlered snake / winged bear thing / lizard-scaled chicken that hides in a snail shell), create a place name (Fox River / Gerbil Mountain), random visual details (lion-shaped knocker / snake-shaped dagger), spell ingredients (eyes of bat / scales of catfish) and so much more.
    Edit: here's my list.
  2. An oldie but goodie: have a list of names. I’m bad at coming up with names on the spot. Do not just cross off the ones you use: make a not next to them about who is called this way (“Wank Hilliams – blacksmith the players are super obsessed with for some reason; snake-like in appearance”).
  3. Ask the spellcaster what their Magic Missile spell looks like. Is it a purple flash of lightning? Is it a tornado of teeth? Does it leave behind the smell of sulfur, ozone, or rosewater?
  4. Little dream sequences for characters can be fun (“I can say it again: ‘Some ideas arrive in the form of a dream’”). Especially lucid dreams. Recurring lucid dreams, where the character explores something step by step is also cool, but maybe it’s too much spotlight on just one person.
  5. Create quick maps by taking an existing place, rotate it by 90°, stretch in one direction by 150%, done (very good for natural looking coastlines).
  6. “I owe you one” is one of the best rewards an NPC can give to players.
  7. Describe food a bit, even if it’s just a simple tavern meal or some campfire cookery. Tubers, roots, mushrooms and wild herbs make for great detail. A meal with an unusual ingredient can be like a rumor or hook (“yeah, we use this herb to flavor our food, but some say it can also cure blindness”).
  8. Keep a commonplace book, record miscellaneous ideas and shower thoughts, plots from stories, interesting images, anything. If you number the entries, it is also a random table…
  9. The 2d6 reaction roll/morale check is one of the greatest tools given to humankind. I use it for all “psychological” things: does the guard fall for the player character’s lies ? Is the captive intimidated by the threats?
  10. https://relatedwords.org/ and https://describingwords.io/ are pretty useful resources!

* I was asked about how I adjudicate the reaction roll for deception. These are my guidelines:
2 - NPC absolutely does not believe the lie, either sees through the lie or just gets upset and hostile
3-5 - NPC does not believe the lie, and probably knows that the character tried to lie
6-8 - NPC is indifferent, might try to seek out confirmation or denial of the fact lied about
9-11 - NPC believes the lie, accepts it as fact
12 - NPC believes the lie completely, and might even change their initial opinion on the matter (esp. if the roll goes over 12)
Bonuses/penalties might apply (for outstanding Charisma score, or the way the players are describing their lie).


  1. The random animal table is soooo good. I will definitely be using that one!

    1. Cool, glad you like it!

      If you are compiling your own list of creatures, I find it is good to have a wide variety - mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, fish, big and small, docile or aggressive.