Wednesday 14 December 2022

100 ways to write 100 things

There's a strong appeal to writing 100 of something, and I say this as somebody that doesn't really like the way it feels to roll d100.

Electric Bastionland required me to write 100 Failed Careers (plus a few extra). Now each career had around 12 "things" your character might get, plus a debtholder and some sample names, so it's really much more than 100 things. 

Some tips.

  1. Ask yourself why this should be a list of 100 things. Some valid reasons are:
  2. It's a table you'll be rolling on frequently and want to have lots of different results.
  3. It's a list of things you want a reader to be able to browse through and get a sense of the variety that exists within the category.
  4. Mine your previous writing for content. A lot of d100 Oddities made it into the EB Failed Careers.
  5. Collaborate, like I did with Arnold on d100 Horses.
  6. Lay out all your numbers from 1 to 100 first, putting a little x in there to taunt you, gradually extinguishing their laughter with each new entry.
  7. x
  8. Make sure you go back and check you've actually done 100 and not left an x in there. 
  9. Put an interesting name into each slot, then later go back through and work out what each entry actually is. This is how a lot of d100 Chess Scenarios was populated.
  10. Don't despair when you realise you're only at number 10. This always takes a while. 
  11. Break things down into categories, so maybe it's more like 10 different categories each with 10 items in there. Shuffle them up at the end and nobody will know.
  12. Find a list of mundane things that you can turn into interesting things. I browsed a lot of boring hardware and tool websites to create specialist gear for the Failed Careers. 
  13. Invert something. I needed 100 emotions recently, and once I had 50 I went through and added the opposite of each, making sure I didn't have any duplicates.
  14. The tip above works for less obvious things too. Like what's the opposite of a Chimera? The opposite of a gold coin?
  15. I cannot write 100 things in a single sitting, so go and take a break or do something else. 
  16. Stay authentic. This has two parts:
  17. If you think something is exciting then run with it.
  18. Don't worry too much about what other people will think. 
  19. Sometimes you can break something into two or more parts, like I did just then. 
  20. Obviously don't steal text from other writers, but absolutely dig through their lists for inspiration.  
  21. Filler items can work for certain lists, like it doesn't matter if one of those horses is just a horse, as you're generally rolling a few at once and it's a funny contrast against the weird stuff.
  22. Give yourself an arbitrary restriction for some or all of the entries, like maybe they all have to be two-word entries. 
  23. Ask Somebody
  24. Read Blogs
  25. Look Outside
  26. Know when an arbitrary restriction is useful and when it's hindering more than helping.
  27. Base each entry on a tarot card, or other large collection of things. 
  28. Put the letters of the alphabet in your entries, then go back and write something using those as the first letter. 
  29. Ask Somebody
  30. Be aware that you will write duplicates that just straight up need changing. 
  31. Consider the wider range of alternatives. d66 and d100 are common, but what if you want something with more than 36 but fewer than 100 results? I'm playing with something where you roll a d6 and a d12 to get 72 potential results. 
  32. Don't worry if some entries are kind of similar. Things can be alike but still have that one unique thing that makes them worthwhile. 
  33. Embrace patterns in your work. Notice your animal list is like 50% reptiles? It could be made into a reptile table, but also this mix makes the list unique to you. 
  34. Formulate a realistic schedule, like you're going to write 20 entries each weekday and have 100 by Friday. 
  35. Go back through your list and give it a quick second pass even if it's just for a blogpost or something, polishing up here and tightening there. 
  36. Hold the list somewhere you can come back to it. Some of it might be useful for a future project. 
  37. If something isn't really working for you then try something else. 
  38. Delete entries that just aren't good anymore. 
  40. Ask an AI, then steal and rewrite their work
  41. Reach the point of desperation where you start looking around your desk and adding things like "stapler" to the list. We can always go back and fix them later. 
  42. Stapler.
  43. Lamp.
  44. Go and make yourself bored. Actually bored. Don't get your phone out when you're queueing at the post office. When my brain gets bored it starts making stuff up. 
  45. Lean into your voice. It should really start to shine through after a few dozen entries. 
  46. If you look back over the entries and realise the list has morphed into something unexpected then don't be afraid to go back and change the title. 
  47. Don't think about whether anybody will read this far. You're writing this for you, not anybody else. 
  48. Don't get complacent near the end. If you feel you aren't writing well then come back and make sure you finish on a high.
  49. But also remember that you'll be coming back to review all of these, so don't get too hung up on any one entry. 
  50. Or, if you get halfway through and realise you're genuinely out of ideas then be kind to yourself and accept that sometimes d50 is enough, like d50 birds, or even d66 or d20.


Art by Midjourney

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  1. I'm a fan of tables with 36 entries, because I love good old d6s, and because I feel that 36 options are more cognitively "manageable" than 100, while usually still having enough variety.

    Side note: I hate the "d66" notation. I think it should be "d6d6", or "d6⨯6" if we're allowed some Unicode, or simply "d36". But that's apparently just me.

    1. 20 or 36 actually works really well for most purposes, I've started to see d100 as more of a list to be looked over for inspiration unless it's something you're rolling on with a super high frequency.

  2. 51. This blogspot by the master of d100 tables, Elfmaids & Octopi:

    1. Ah, I should have known there would be a post on this topic over there!

  3. I spend a lot of time in this world (working on d100 tables). I was asked about my process awhile back and did a post on it here: Table Talk: My Process for Random Tables. Great to see some similarities in the advice offered here!