Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Reaction Table: My New Best Friend

(Cor! Is it dusty in here or what?)

The BD&D reaction table, oh how I love thee! Useful for recruiting hirelings, or for parleying with monsters; all (demi-)human life is contained within this simple little labour-saving 2d6 table.

2Friendly, helpful
3-5 Indifferent, uninterested
6-8 Neutral, uncertain
9-11 Unfriendly, may attack
12 Hostile, attacks

The Judge's Guild Ready Reference Sheets already suggest using the table as the basis for negotiations (p37) and, given that in B/X D&D a "monster" is any creature not controlled by a player, you can use the reaction table to generate the current attitude of almost any encountered person or group.

One simple roll and you can instantly determining exactly how dyspeptic and put upon the local raise dead on legs feels today ("He said to throw the rotting stiff in the river for all he cared."), or whether the local merchant decides you're a thief ("...and then he chased me down the street raising a hue-and-cry. And I only wanted my cloak patched!"). Haggling for a better deal on that nearly new platemail? Roll on the reaction table. Want to know if your proffered "gift in anticipation of services rendered" is sufficient to allay the cupidity of the grasping court eunuch? Reaction table. Want to know how the duke reacts to your pushing for higher bounty? Reaction table.

In a hexcrawl context you can use the table to determine the current attitude of the latest hicksville (or poor, put-upon merchant caravan), towards our favourite gang of wandering killer hobos. Maybe you roll a 2, and the next village the PCs turn up at mistake them for fabled heroes and throw them a parade ("Why no, I'm merely travelling incognito."). Or you might roll a 12, and decide that the merchant's guards have mistaken their practised, woodcrafty approach for an ambush by marauding Orcs ("You cretinous yokels! Orcs are green! Do I look green to you?" "Orcs can be cunning..."). Or you could roll a 7 and have the locals be not just indifferent to the PCs, but wilfully oblivious to their presence ("It's some local tradition. We have to give them time to decide for themselves whether we're ghosts, or hallucination, or what...").

You can even use the reaction table to determine the prevailing mood of a locality otherwise indifferent to the presence of the PCs. Maybe (2) there's a general air of goodwill and jubilee because of a religious festival or annual sporting event ("Rejoice! You have joined us in time for the Gnomish Mating Frenzy!"), or perhaps (9-11) it's all just one loud sneeze away from kicking off into a full scale gang war.

Why bother? Well, mainly for the sake of verisimilitude. The chaos of random rolls help to give the impression of a larger, richer, more complex, and more carefully thought-out world than the DM has time or energy to put together. It's part of what James M calls The Oracular Power of Dice (yes, he pronounces the caps): take the die rolls, make of them what you will, and rationalise it all afterwards. Any contradictions and inconsistencies, well, that's all part of life's rich tapestry.

Oh, and for a bit of extra hilarity, there's also a separate d6 table for stronghold encounters (LL, p56) which has varying probabilities for 'chase', 'ignore' and 'hospitable' reactions on the part of the inhabitants. Combining this table with a 2d6 reaction roll can be great fun if characters rock up to castles entirely uninvited (pro-tip: "Ahem. Heralds milord."). The plot hooks write themselves:

  • Ignore + a hostile reaction: the drawbridge stays up. The peculiarly-accented residents hurl abuse and catapult cows.
  • Hospitable + neutral: the lord is obliged by his position to show largesse and is watching through gritted teeth as the gluttonous peasantry eat him out of house and home /again/. Don't expect any favours.
  • Hospitable + unfriendly: the classic 'poison feast' gambit.
  • Ignore + friendly: "Sorry, plague about, doncherkno. Have to keep the gates closed: doctor's orders. There's a pest tent down the way though..."
  • Chase + friendly: "No harm in a bit of Hare and Hounds, eh what? You be hare..."

So, yeah. A handy little innovation.


  1. Nice. I like that combination of the "stronghold encounters" table with the reaction table. I'm going to steal that for sure.

    I have one other use of the reaction table we've gotten great traction out of in our game: check how your hirelings feel about being asked to do things you could Awell do yourself. (12) "No, I don't think I'll be sticking my head around that dark corner there, sir. If it's real important to you, you can damn well look around it yourself."

  2. I have to admit, I was never a big fan of random reaction tables, but I have grown to quite like them in recent years. I like the surprise, I guess, and the pleasure of figuring out how to "fit them in".


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