Thursday 13 May 2021

Bastionland Editorial #10 - Menus

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I've always loved random generation as a way to spark ideas. If presented with a table of 100 items, I'll usually embrace fate and roll, but other times I'll just look over the list of entries and pick something that grabs my attention.

Looking at Wanderhome this week got me thinking about the latter method. It's a game where you paint the world as you play, especially if you're playing without a GM or, as I did, solo. Normally I'd expect this sort of game to rely heavily on random tables, like the Oracles in Ironforged, but this game is diceless. Instead, the pages overflow with something more akin to menus.

If your character is an Exile then you're faced with a list of 14 reasons you left home. Pick one to be true, one that you tell everybody, and one that you worry is the real reason. Like picking a starter, main, and dessert.

Every part of my gut told me to randomise this. Hack the system and let fate decide. I'll make anything work, so give me a challenge!

But I was missing something.

This "perusing the menu" method led me to really look at the different options. Even the options that I didn't want to take right now told me something about the world. You know I love any method that slips worldbuilding into the players' minds without requiring a monologue.

The devil in me thinks that you could even put entries onto these menus that most players would never want to take just to hammer home an interesting piece of information about the world.

The list becomes almost like a poem. As much a flavour piece as a part of the game system.

Of course we can see something similar with things like equipment lists, but some players aren't interested in reading through them, preferring to just show up to the shop and ask what's available. With a menu the player is implored to look over their options. To consider them. Are they going to order a familiar favourite, or something they've never tried before? Should I try this one, or perhaps I can recommend it to a friend?

Perhaps as you get more confident with this style of cuisine you can start to order off-menu.

You arrive at a Bridge, prompted to pick 2 aesthetic elements from a list of 7. Hm, I won't take "Ancient Engineering" this time, but that little piece of flavour is stuck in my head now. I might use that as inspiration later on when I'm somewhere entirely different.

Next time you're prompted to roll on a random table, consider treating it like a menu instead.

Bye for now,



  1. I am actually doing this (more or less reflexively) already.
    I am currently running an online campaign which is set in a sort of Fantasy Arabia (think Sinbad, because we also have lots of sea travel).

    I am not using D&D or derivates, but most of the material is stolen/converted from supplements using that family of games.
    This in turn means that I have to try to minimize activities where I have to do on-the-fly conversion.
    So when I am preparing "random seafaring encounters", "random event on a ship", "random treasure found in the other guys' ship" etc. ... I basically tend to read and pick what I like more then rolling during the game.
    And this also means that sometimes I find something that is not really feasible for the next session... but gives me ideas to try to steer the events in a way where this could be more applicable. And at the same time my own idea of how the world works instantly gets more details I never thought of before.

  2. This is very interesting. I've been making a lot of random tables lately. ( is awesome) But now I want to try letting my players choose their own options.

    1. It's definitely a different tool to have in the box. Not going to replace random rolling, but certainly something to try out in certain cases.

  3. Fantastic. I already do this a bit as a DM but I LOVE this analogy.

    It definitely makes me want to put more time into player facing tables.