Using "RAND" for Brainstorming

by Jim Vassilakos

Back in the dark days of MS-DOS, I used to do some programming as a hobbyist, and some of the programs I wrote can be still be found at, where they were fortunately archived by Eris Reddoch. (Note: If you want to run any of these, I'd suggest you also get a free program called dosbox, which you can download from In this article, I'm just going to talk about just one of these programs, a little "random stuff generator" called Rand.

Rand is basically a brainstorming device for lazy GMs. It been so long that I can't remember where I got the idea for the program, but it might have come to me while I was skimming through the Central Casting series by Paul Jaquays. Those with a long memory might recall these books. They were aimed at helping roleplayers generate a life-history for their characters, and to this end, they were chock-full of random tables that were interlinked. When I say interlinked, what I mean is that a particular result from one table might refer the reader to another table somewhere deeper within the book, and then this sub-table might do the same, and this could happen again and again until a final result was reached, at which point the reader would go back to the original table that sent them down this chain of sub-tables. For example, one table might say that the character has a pet. A pair of sub-tables might indicate that the pet is a white mouse. Yet another sub-table might indicate that it's intelligent, the result of a magical experiment gone awry! But not all the details are necessarily spelled out. For example, was the mouse simply imbued with intelligence, or was it originally, say, a human being, or perhaps even something more interesting... say, a dragon? You get the idea. One idea leads to another, which then leads to another, and before long, you have this big pile of details that you somehow have to massage, mash, or otherwise manhandle into a background story.

What a remarkable book, I thought to myself. There were two problems, however. The first was that it was a bit slow to use. I remember using Central Casting: Heroes of Legend in one campaign, and the time spent on character generation easily doubled. Half was for dealing with the game rules and half was for dealing with the background. That meant that we couldn't start gaming until the following session, which kinda sucked. Sure, we got more detailed characters as a result, but it took time and a lot of dice-rolling. Lots and lots of dice rolling. The second problem is that some of the results just didn't fit very well with the particulars of the campaign, so those specific results had to be either modified or thrown out entirely. No big deal, but it bears mentioning.

So I thought to myself, this whole process is just begging to be computerized. After all, what we're doing here is basically mechanical. Roll dice, consult table, write down result. Roll more dice, consult sub-table, write down result. It's basically a computer program in the form of a book.

So I emailed Paul Jaquays and straight-up asked him if I could computerize the Central Casting series, and he said no. He didn't want me to copy his tables into a program. He wanted people to buy the books. Well, that was more or less the response I was expecting. If such a project were ever to be undertaken, he'd want to get some money out of it. After all, he did put in a lot of effort to create those books.

In any case, I figured that I didn't really need his tables. I could just make up my own. So that's basically what I did. And after I got done with the character background generation part, I thought it myself, there's a lot of other applications this could be used for. I could use this program to create random dungeons. I could even use it to create whole regions of my campaign world. Heck, I could even use for science-fiction roleplaying, such as designing alien races. There were so many potential uses that my mind began swimming with the possibilities, and creating random tables is pretty darn easy. Yes, it can become a bit time-consuming depending on how deep you want to go with it, but you can write up a short table in just a few minutes. So I started attacking these aforementioned projects, but... and I stress this... the potential applications of this program have barely been scratched.

Now, rather than regurgitate the specific instructions for using Rand, which are included with the program, I thought that maybe instead I'd just show you some actual examples of how I've used it. That way you'd get a more specific idea of what the program does and how you can use it in your own campaign. Be forewarned, however, that while Rand solves the first problem, the problem of speed, it doesn't solve the second one, the problem of interpretation. You can churn out a big pile of output with the push of a button, but the real art is in integrating the details together to create a cohesive story. That's the hard part, and so that's what I'm going to demonstrate for the remainder of this article.

Example 1: Crabby (a random character background)

Program Output:
Ten Names: Crosby, Berlay, Morag, Parr, Econometrica, Idinck, Martis,
Merle, Cindy, Shayera
Social Status: Poor
Primary Caregivers: Unrelated Guardian or Orphanage
Possible Personalities of Caregivers: greedy, greedy
Brothers & Sisters: No siblings
Possible Personalities of Siblings: friendly, organized, violent
Event: Character learns a skill
Skill: Musical Instrument
Event: Natural Disaster
Type of Disaster: Earthquake
Event: Character is hired
Skill: Stonemasonry


Crabby doesn't know who his parents were. As far as he's concerned, he doesn't have any. Somehow, years ago, he was left as the doorstep of St. Berlay's, an orphanage for young ragamuffins. Though existing ostensibly on donations from the community and the crown, the orphanage has also made a tidy sum by putting the children to work, although, of course, making money was never their primary objective (or so they say). Suffice it to say that the children of St. Berlay's were made to work sixteen hour days more to instill in them a strong work ethic in preparation for their future lives.

Crabby, of course, didn't understand any of this at the time, and earned his nickname by being the most irritable morning person in the orphanage's history, going so far as to feign death on more than one occasion. Though he has no brothers or sisters, he did make some friends at the orphanage, namely Morag, Parr, and Eck. Morag, despite being a dwarf, was perhaps the happiest of the children at St. Berlay's. He had no problem working sixteen-hour days and often remarked that he'd be perfectly happy working more if only someone would pay him. Parr, the halfelf, was strangely the most organized, trying to play leader of the workgang when their grownups weren't paying attention. And then there was Eck, the half orc bully, who spent his earlier years beating on everyone until finally, at some point, he got it into his head that they could all gang up on his and really kick his ass if they wanted to, at which point he began directing his testosterone outside the group rather than within it.

Crabby eventually took up playing sticks & stones, a form of street drumming, during their midday break. Of course, street drumming is not only for entertainment but is also used for communication among thieves and beggars, and so Crabby and his gang of orphans eventually began serving as lookouts for the local thieves guild, earning small favors as well as a little bit of coin on the side. Late in the fall of last year, however, the city was nearly reduced to rubble by a major earthquake caused by a local mage who took his experiments too far (and was promptly lynched for his trouble). As a result, Crabby's entire gang have been moved outside the city and into the quarries where they all work as stonecutters. Word has it that the orphanage administrators are making out like bandits off their labor, and Crabby has an idea where they're keeping all the money. Very soon he and his gang will be discharged and cut loose since they are nearly of age, and when that happens, he worries about what they'll do to survive. Pulling off a heist against his own orphanage is looking like a better idea every day that he thinks about it.


Example 2: Yorick (another random character background)

Program Output:
Ten Names: Melisandre, Abrstin, Pronos, Tammany, Pagetti, Knik, Dubhthach,
Yorick, Huggins, Harq
Social Status: Wealthy
Primary Caregivers: Mother & Father
Possible Personalities of Caregivers: alcoholic, diplomatic
Brothers & Sisters: 4 siblings
Possible Personalities of Siblings: courageous, courageous, trusting
Event: Character is hired
Skill: Weaponsmithing
Event: Character becomes a criminal
Crimes: Mugging
Results: Character goes to prison
Type of Prison: Magical
Prison Event: Injured
Event: Natural Disaster
Type of Disaster: Fire


Yorick was born to a wealthy family in the free city of Abrstin, situated between the borders of the Kingdom of Dubthach and the lands of the Knik. His father, Sir Andre the Wise, was an ambassador to the city, sent by King Pronos of Dubthach. His were a warrior folk who had colonized the western marches long before Abrstin was ever founded, and it was only with the protection of the King's predecessors that Abrstin was able to grow and prosper despite being on the edge of territory claimed by the Knik hordes.

Yorick's mother, Melisa, raised Yorick as well as his two older brothers nd two younger sisters in their tower along the city's west wall, however, in a trip to see her dying father, her caravan was raided by Knik barbarians, and she was slain, along with her two oldest sons. This left Yorick, the middle child, successor to his father's title.

Unfortunately, with the loss of his wife and his two eldest boys, Sir Andre the Wise took to the bottle and was soon known as Sir Andre the Drunk. His antics eventually became an embarrassment to King Pronos, and he was stripped of his title and forced to abandon his tower to make room for the new Ambassador.

By this point, Yorick had already begun training as a knight, but the change in his father's status forced him to abandon this goal and instead work as an apprentice weaponsmith. During this time, Andre returned to Dubthach with his two daughters, Tami and Paige, to petition King Pronos for reinstatement, as well as to try to get the daughters married into good families.

Alone for the first time in his life and angry at his father, Yorick fell in with the wrong sorts of people, and soon, after his workday, he would spend the night with his new friends, raising hell and occasionally mugging people.

It wasn't too long, however, before he tried mugging the wrong person. This resulted in him getting beaten nearly to the point of death. He woke up in Abrstin's dungeon, and in his weakened condition there, he could scarcely defend himself against the other prisoners, some of whom he had mugged during his recent life of crime. Hence, beatings became a daily ritual which he learned to endure. Breaking out, after all was not an option, as aside from stone and mortar, there were also magical wards placed about, making escape completely impossible. Furthermore, while they were in work gangs outside the prison, they were completely chained and well guarded.

It was only during a massive assault upon Abrstin by the Knik, during which half the city was set ablaze, that the opportunity to escape was literally handed to him. It was on that day that the prison itself came under attack, and when the Knik warriors came in, rather than letting the prisoners be slain, the guards simply opened the cells and allowed the prisoners to take up weapons. In this way over a hundred prisoners, including Yorick, managed to escape during the ensuing chaos.

Now Yorick journeys to Dubthach to find his father and see what has become of his sisters. Unfortunately, he realizes that word of his incarceration may have preceded him, and due to long standing treaties, he may be forced to return to Abrstin to finish his prison sentence if he is ever caught. Hence, he travels under an assumed name, keeping to himself and resorting to odd jobs as well as thievery and mugging to earn his way.

Example 3: The Dallpen (a random alien race)
Possible Racial Names: Dallpen, Brakenholm, Metellus
Homeworld Gravity: High
Natural Habitat: Jungle
Size: Tiny
Basic Design: Bilateral
Legs (locomotional appendages): 2
Leg/Foot Structure: Unguligrade (Walks on toes supported by pad like
elephant or rhino)
Arms (manipulatory appendages): 2
Arm Joints: 2 (shoulder/elbow)
Fingers (manipulatory digits): 7
Wings: None
Tail: No
Skin texture: Smooth
Skin Color: White
Skin Patterns: None (solid)
Number of Horns: 0
Number of Eyes: 2 (short visual angle but good depth perception)
Eye stalks: No
Visual Sensitivity: Infrared
Number of Ears: 1
Audio Sensitivity: Sharp (able to hear faint sounds)
Smell/Taste: Excellent
Poisonous Sting: No
Diet: Carnivore
Sexes/Castes: 2 (f/m, males rare, each is owned by a group of females)
Male Genitalia: External
Birth: Live birth
Liter Size: Small (1 3)
Feeding of Young: Milk glands on mother
Language: Vocal (similar to human speech patterns)
Cybernetics: Uncommon (up to minor accessories such as voice comms)
Society: Restricted Monarchy
Control: Moderate
Status/Power: Slave race (captive associate, powerless, fully controlled)
Commonality Outside Home Territory: Very rare
Friendliness: Conservative (business like but impatient)
Demeanor: Agreeable (ultra polite, will rarely speak openly/honestly)
Specialty: Starships
Recent Event: Tournament

Initial Thoughts:

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the program says they're tiny, but it also has them walking on padded toes, usually a feature of heavy animals. Granted, their world's gravity is high, and being descended from jungle inhabitants, perhaps their padded toes are a defensive mechanism against attacks from poisonous plants and smaller jungle critters.

Secondly, the program has them building starships for which they'd presumably need either large brains or the cybernetic enhancements to make due with small ones. I understand that some people may quibble with this assumption, so let me explain it further. My reasoning may be a bit anthropomorphic, but is boils down to the so called encephalization quotient or brain-to-body mass ratio. The basic idea here is that as an organism gets bigger, it needs more neurons to handle the basic business of staying alive, like breathing and such. On Wikipedia, there's a chart that compares the brain-to-body mass of various animals ( Humans don't have the highest brain-to-body mass, but for animals of our size and above, only one comes even close: the elephantfish, which probably uses a good chunk of its brain for the interpretation of bio-electrical signals. There are smaller animals with a larger percentage of brain mass, but there are no larger ones.

So could you have a rat, let's say, with a really huge brain? Sure, but it might have a hard time carrying it around. Most likely our little Einstein rat wouldn't be able to get enough to eat to support his huge noggin, let alone squeeze his head into a burrow when he's being chased. In short, to be naturally smart, the animal needs to be big enough to support the care of feeding of a large brain. I'm just doubtful that a tiny animal would be able to do it unless there were some special circumstances making it more likely.

Hence, the only other thing I can imagine is that the brains of these aliens are the work of design rather than evolution, and hence perhaps can pack more raw intellect into less volume. Assuming this to be the case, we're looking a product of genetic manipulation.

Thirdly, I sort of have a problem with the way these guys look. At least structurally speaking, they look a lot like we do. It is not too often that the program generates a creature with two arms, two legs, two arm joints, and two eyes, so I'm afraid that you're not going to get a feel for the weirdness that usually results. Nonetheless, I'm going to roll with it and see what happens.

Fourth, there seems to be a potential for joining some of the physical, psychological and social attributes into an interesting synthesis, a sort of nexus that can give this species a story by which they might be better understood. This is something I look for every time I generate a random alien, so I'm pleased to see it here. I'm looking mainly at the fact that the females seem to run the show, and also at the excellent sense of smell. Creatures with such an excellent sense of smell tend to be highly territorial, or, at least, the dominant gender (usually the male) is this way. Yet these guys are apparently psychologically agreeable. In short, they seem to be anything but territorial. Proceeding into the social dimension, they're also a slave race. Given that we're already assuming some degree of genetic manipulation, why not also assume that their psychology and, in fact, their whole society has been manipulated as well? Perhaps, by carefully selecting which males are allowed to breed, the race has been psychologically conditioned away from territoriality and confrontation and toward a demeanor highly amenable to subjugation (similar to what humans have done to dogs). In this way, they might be slaves who prefer slavery to such an extent that they consider their masters to be their best friends in the universe.

A fifth and final thought, before I begin this travesty: There's an alien species on pages 86 87 of Patrick Huyghe's Field Guide to Extraterrestrials which is based on a supposedly 1951 encounter by Illinois resident Harrison Bailey. Bailey, a steelworker at the time, purported years later to have encountered a number of short, walking amphibians who briefly took him captive. Because the program has generated this guys to be short, basically humanlike in structural design, and descended from a jungle environment, it seems to me that I might be able to draw a bit from this supposed encounter, although I'll have to change the color of their skin from solid white to brown and striped if I want to stay consistent to Bailey's description of them.

Preliminary Write Up:

Brakenholm is a large, terrestrial world in the Metellus system. It is the homeworld of the Dallpen, a small humanoid species which fell under control of the Hafaru during their territorial expansion.

Physical Characteristics: The Dallpen are fairly small, only around eighteen inches (45cm) on average. Normally, such a small species would never have developed intelligence, so their genetic manipulation by the Old Ones, even at first glance, is most obvious. Humans find them somewhat "froglike" in appearance, their bellies tan, dark brown mottled stripes covering the back and limbs. Structurally, they are very similar to humans, being consistent with the sorts of creatures the Old Ones preferred to uplift: Two arms, two legs, two eyes. Their feet, however, despite initial Solian descriptions of the species dating as far back as the 1950s, are heavily padded, allowing them to sprint as well as aiding them in jumping from trees. Likewise, their seven fingered hands are ideal for grasping tree branches or manipulating objects in their natural jungle environment.

Natural Senses: Bred to be starship engineers, their vision extends naturally into the infrared wavelengths so that they can easily discern temperature fluctuations, a sure sign of impending power leaks and other containment breaches. Likewise, instead of having two or more ears, a common feature of many naturally evolved species, they have only one, a finely tuned subdermal ear in the area of their forehead which they often press to various parts of mechanical systems in order to aid in diagnostics. As for their sense of smell, that is handled by their long snake like tongue, which can discern scent so well that they can identify individuals by smell alone and can often tell which among them has recently been in a particular area.

Society: The Dallpen are matriarchal, using chemistry to ensure that some 99% of all births are female. The remaining males are kept solely for their breeding potential, and most of these are housed at facilities controlled by the Queen Mother. This queen descends by blood lineage from the original queen crowned during the time of the Emancipation when the males of the species were nearly all killed through targeted biological warfare. Although originally highly warlike, the Dallpen have since been bred to be more cooperative, a genetic conditioning program that the Hafaru have continued into the present day.

Interspecies Relations: The Hafaru claim the Dallpen are a free species and a close friend of the Hafaru race, yet the Dallpen are in reality, for all practical purposes, slaves of the Hafaru. Their genetic and psychological programming has conditioned them to defer to their Hafaru masters in all matters. Noting this fact, the Coalition Assembly has refused to offer them a seat, regarding them as merely an arm of the Hafaru. However, there are said to be some Dallpen who have somehow broken free of Hafaru control, although such members of the race are certainly a minuscule minority and likely live in fear of being discovered. Needless to say, the Dallpen often serve on Hafaru starships as engineers, and they, of course, also build ships for the Hafaru fleet. Also, on a regular basis, they hold a tournament of starship design, where the best design will usually go into production. In this way, the Dallpen continue to stay focused on what they do best.


Obviously, I didn't touch on all the points of Rand's output. This write up could (and probably eventually will) be expanded to cover the Dallpen is a more comprehensive way. Likewise, the Huyghe book mentions their control over a species of small bugs. I'd imagine these bugs might be useful for making repairs in very tight areas. In any case, I think this gives enough material to make the alien usable while at the same time leaving enough loose strings that later expansion is, I think, almost inevitable.

These examples hopefully gave you a pretty good idea of what the program does and how you can use it. All in all, I still think the possibilities are essentially limitless. The main problem is that depending on how you write your tables, it may end up generating a lot of inconsistencies. These will have to be fixed or somehow explained in the output interpretation, which, as I said, is where the real work is done. In the example of the Dallpen, I think I was able to explain away the most obvious inconsistencies, but it's not always so easy.

Now, before you go to download the program, I want to point out that there's a slightly updated version at What happened is that a few months ago, Jeff Zeitlin kicked off a discussion on the Traveller Mailing List regarding an article he'd received for Freelance Traveller from Mark Barner regarding the creation of a universal patron/mission profile. What we're basically talking about here
is random adventure creation. So I wrote up some tables for Rand based, in part, on the ensuing discussion, and... well... I'll just give you another example. This is the last one, I promise.

Example 4: This Old Drone (a random traveller adventure)

Mission Type: Acquire an object
Alternate Mission Type - Verb: Put or Deliver
Alternate Mission Type - Object: Child/Descendant
Possible Names: Darious, Adonis, Robertson
Race: Droyne
Profession: Merchant
Retired: No
Gender: Female
Age: Elderly
Geographic Home/Culture: Near (some accent)
Level of Attractiveness: A 4 out of 10
Apparent Wealth: Destitute (on public assistance)
Initial Disposition: Furtive
STR: 7
DEX: 12
END: 4
INT: 7
EDU: 8
SOC: 3
Apparent Difficulty: Moderate
Payment: Reasonable
Support: Intel
Mission Complications: The patron doesn't realize it, but things are harder
than they at first appear.
The following information is about the patron.
Patron Involvement: Periodic Updates
Relationship: Saw your ad on craigslist
Type of Contact: Direct
Interest/Motivation: Charity
Reputation: Moderate (a date-worthy credit score)
Possible Names: Varin, Missy, Caladon
Race: Human
Profession: Scout
Retired: No
Gender: Male
Age: Middle-Aged
Geographic Home/Culture: Local
Level of Attractiveness: A 6 out of 10
Apparent Wealth: Middle Class
Initial Disposition: Uncertain
STR: 4
DEX: 6
END: 11
INT: 7
EDU: 9
SOC: 9

Initial Thoughts:

None of this initially made any sense. The mission was either to acquire an object or to deliver a female Droyne child, who just so happens to be elderly. An elderly child. It made no sense. I was about to delete the output file, but then it hit me... what if the Droyne isn't alive anymore. What if she's so elderly that she's a museum piece. I mean, King Tut is technically an elderly child, right? And weren't the Ancients technically Droyne? So what this adventure is going to revolve around is this really old corpse. I ended up chucking most of Rand's output. It wasn't really that useful. All that mattered to me is that the program gave me this little nugget that I could run with. Incidentally, I should probably mention that the whole reason I was doing this was because P-O "BeRKA" Bergstedt was asking for submissions for his annual 76 Patrons Writing Contest over at The Zhodani Base (see Hence, I figured I'd use Rand to help me come up with an entry. So here it is:

Patron: Noble, Agent
Required Equipment: Grav Vehicle or Small Craft
Location: (Foreven 1416) Ile Danse A56A756-B Ri Wa 404 Na

Players' Information:

"It's the mother of all heists," Marco smiles, looking at the PCs with a mischievous grin. "Thirteen-and-a-half million and the thanks of the Countess of Jewell; don't tell me you're not interested."

Back during the 5th Frontier War, Marco explains, Zhodani marines occupied Jewell and stole what is famously known as the Joconde artifact (named after the starship that found her). It is no less than the actual body of what some scholars believe was once a member of the race of beings known as the Ancients. The body itself appears to be a normal Droyne female, a member of the drone caste, who it is believed died during the "final war" after her ship was destroyed. Being hundreds of thousands of years old, she has been perfectly preserved by the vacuum of space and was maintained in a vacuum chamber prior to her unlawful appropriation from the Museum of Fine Arts and Antiquities at Jewell.

The Joconde artifact was on loan from the estate of Helena Stavelot, the Countess of Jewell, and as such was insured by Lloyds of Lunion. However, Lloyds refused to honor the insurance policy (worth MCr 13.5!), claiming that the theft was an act of war. In order to retain the museum's business, Lloyds made a good faith effort to buy back the artifact from the Zhodani Consulate, but the Consulate refused to sell, explaining that such artifacts "belong to the ages" and thus cannot be possessed by any individual but rather must be held in trust by a collective body, such as the Zhodani Consulate, which represents the interests of civilization itself. Thus, not only did the Zhodani steal the artifact, but they, after the fact, stated that the Imperial system of government is illegitimate and fit only for barbarians. Needless to say, the Imperium was displeased.

Now the Joconde artifact is going on tour outside of Zhodani space for the first time. Among its first stops will be the Floating Gardens of Ile Danse (Foreven 1416). Somehow, Marco got word of where the artifact will be, when it will be there, and he even has a good idea of what the security arrangements will be thanks to the help of some clairvoyants who are in his employee. What he doesn't have is a team of thugs who can (a) get in, (b) get out, and most importantly, get the Joconde artifact somewhere in between the aforementioned (a) and (b). That, of course, is where the PCs come in, if they choose to take on what may well be the most dangerous if patriotic job of their criminal careers.

The Floating Gardens are a series of artificial islands that are made to look real, but which are outfitted with grav-modules so that they can literally rise out of the water and thus get out-of-the-way of tropical storms. Marco's idea is that the PCs should book a room during a time when a hurricane is predicted, then destroy the grav-module during the hurricane, so while the island is descending into the storm, they can take advantage of the confusion and panic to re-appropriate the Joconde artifact and thus make their escape.

Referee's Information (roll 1d6):

1. Unless the PCs are wearing psi-shields, a Zhodani security agent catches a whiff of "something's not right" as they're doing their reconnaissance of the showroom and decides to put them under surveillance. After this, the PCs will notice that they're being constantly shadowed by an assortment of swarthy-looking weirdos.

2. There's another group that wants to get the artifact, and both they and the PCs sort of "bump into each other" during their initial reconnaissance. Neither one will initially know what to make of the other, until one of the PCs recognizes a member of the other group from a prison stint he or she did at some point in the past.

3. Everything is going great until a wing of Zhodani fighters show up to blast the PCs' getaway craft out of the sky.

4. All is as it seems, except for one minor detail: the artifact's a fake. As for where the real Joconde artifact is, God only knows, but when Lloyds examines it, they will determine that it's a clever imitation and will refuse payment. The museum will reluctantly concur.

5. All is as it seems, except that Marco is working with the Imperial Secret Service, and they don't want any loose ends (it would be an embarrassment for them to be discovered contracting out jobs to lowly criminal types like the PCs). Hence, the PCs have to be flushed, but that's a whole other adventure.

6. All of the above (and have a nice day).

As you can see, how you use the program is really up to you. You can try really hard to stick to what the output is telling you, or you can just use it as a springboard for your own imagination.

Finally, if you create random tables for use with this program, please email them to me, as I'd love to see your work and would be interested in distributing them with future releases.