RPG Tools Interview: Duncan at Chaos Gen and Rand Roll

Very special interview this week! I managed to get an interview with Duncan Thomson. If you don’t know him, he runs the great subreddit /r/rpg_generators and also has two websites – ChaosGen.com and RandRoll.com. All three are great resources for tabletop gamers. Duncan has also done quite a few of his own interviews over at Rand Roll, so go check those out if you get a chance. Now, onto the interview!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a British gamer who gets to create random rpg tools and pdfs full time. I love working for myself in a lifelong hobby.

Outside of games my myriad of hobbies include podcasts, Polish and salsa dancing. I’m also hoping to move to Portugal this year.

Or check out my DND Backstory Generator

Can you tell us about your sites, chaosgen.com and randroll.com?

Rand Roll is a blog about random tables and tools in rpgs. It’s full of interviews with tools creators and guides to random tools such as Taverns or Horror. It’s also become a place to highlight random tables I’ve made.

Chaos Gen is where I get to make my favourite creations. Random Generators for fantasy, D&D and other games. It’s a place for me to experiment and play.

How many generators have you built? How many interviews have you done?

I’ve built over 100 generators, small and large.

Most are at chaosgen.com with others at Chartopia and Perchance. I had many at EN World which were lost when it upgraded in 2019.

There are also 50+ PDFs of random tables over at Dungeon Master’s Guild]. In the future I’d like to do more generic fantasy ones not tied to D&D 5E.

I’ve done over 60 text interviews on Rand Roll, including some large names in our space such as the creator of Donjon, (Emily of Fantasy Name Generators) and Watabou. It’s fun to hear how others create and use random tools and tables for games and beyond. It’s just a case of asking them if they’d like to answer a few questions!

Any favorite generators you’ve built or ones that you’re extremely proud about creating?

The 5E Encounters Tool is a long term project that began on EN World. It includes smaller generators for locations and NPCs and includes details such as creature activity and fight events. Each terrain has it’s own creatures, locations and hazards. There are 17 terrains with more slowly being addded. It’s an ongoing tool with plans for a system-neutral fantasy version…

The Icons tool is also one I loved doing as it’s so simple in concept. There are pirate and cyberpunk versions on Chaos Gen. I’m hoping to start off an open source version later this year and find some collaborators for it.

What made you decide to start developing RPG tools?

I was looking for a way to contribute to the hobby and one day use as an income. I grew up with random tables from Games Workshop games with d12 dungeons of Advanced Heroquest, random characters in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition and random characters and chaos warbands in the Lost and the Damned.

I fell down a hole when I discovered chaotic shiny, fantasy name generators, donjon and 7th sanctum when writing another blog. As I’ve got a programming background I thought it would be a cool thing to try.

I was spending a fair amount of time at EN World when O.G.R.E. (Online Generic Randomizer Engine) was there. I gave it a try with an Gnoll Warband generator and found it satisfying to get feedback straigt away.

And I’ve never looked back.

When did you first launch your sites, and how has it gone so far?

Rand Roll was in May 2018 and has just had a major platform move. I’m happy with it so far. I’ve learned so much from interviewing others and finding generators for the guides.

Chaos Gen was start of 2019

Any changes or updates you plan in the near or distant future?

I recently wrote a plan for the future of Rand Roll. Trying to deepen the RPG community and explore more how others use random tools in their RPGs. And a series of articles on making random generators.

Chaos Gen will trundle along with new generators and options. My patreons vote on a new tool or update each month to keep me focused.

Any RPG tools you use frequently?

With Covid my group has gone super minimal. Currently with Warlock!, using Discord and a bot for die rolls. We used to use Roll20 for Deadlands and D&D but might try a new Virtual Tabletop next.

I use GM Binder for publishing. I like it because I’ve got a background in Web Development and you can modify things with CSS. But I’ thinking of moving as the support is patchy.

I also use my own tools and any random generator that fits what I need!

How long have you been into tabletop RPGs?

Like many UK gamers of the 90s I grew up on Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and Games Workshop games. I’ve been running games since I was 12, with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and the overly-complex Rolemaster before my first proper D&D campaign.

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The first game I ever ran was Dungeoneer and we had no clue what we were doing. The Thief player stole my rulebook and it was a very short game!

Can you tell us a little bit about the back-end tech that makes the site(s) shine?

For a dev I’m not really into my tech and keep it mininal. Chaos Gen runs on the Python platform Flask, powered by jinja2 templates. I pay around $7 a month for my hosting.

I’ve written a system for creating and nesting Charts and Generators and nesting the two. Much of the tools and infrastructure is supported by python unit tests.

A future hope is to open up some APIs to allow others to call some of the generators.

What is your favorite tabletop RPG system?

Savage Worlds. It’s super flexible and we’ve used it for Deadlands (with overdone American accents), planehopping versions of Westcountry England and Shapeshifting Robots. I’d love to try it as a player.

I’m happy running D&D 5e and would love to find a decent version of WFRP. The current 4th ed is too complex for my liking.

I’m also lucky to have a group that are happy to try new systems.

Can you tell us more about /r/rpg_generators on Reddit?:

It’s a subreddit about random generators and we’re at over 3000 members. I wanted a place to talk about tools in RPGs. A place where others could share tools and random tables in out super-specific niche.

I’ve found out about so many tools from having a place for others to show what they’ve made. It’s also a place to find new people for interviews!

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I’ve found that posts in the larger rpg subreddits can easily get lost.

Of the many polyhedral dice, which is your favorite and why?

The d12. Because of and it’s a bit of an underdog. I even wrote an article about it!

Of the many polyhedral dice, which is your favorite and why?

The d12. Because of and it’s a bit of an underdog. I even wrote an article about it! – Duncan Thomson @ https://RandRoll.com

Favorite programming language?

Python. It’s easy to used and can be turned to all sorts of scenarios. You can make it as complex as you like and there are versions of it in so many tools.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’d love to learn more about AI-generation and that’s a space I’ll be watching.

I thought I would only need to do 10 or so interviews for Rand Roll and worried about running out of people. But the space is so broad with it being used for maps, solo, writing, character gen, rpgs, procedural gen and AI.

Thanks for the interview. It’s my first one!

Paul Bellow

LitRPG Author Paul Bellow

Paul Bellow is a LitRPG author, gamer, RPG game developer, and publisher of several online communities. In other words, an old school webmaster. He also developed and runs LitRPG Adventures, a set of advanced RPG generators powered by GPT-3 AI. Here at LitRPG Reads, he publishes articles about LitRPG books, tabletop RPG books, and all sorts of DND content that's free to use in your personal tabletop campaign - i.e. non-commercial use. Enjoy your stay and reach out on Twitter or Discord if you want to make contact.