The Dice Make the Decisions   2 comments

I like action in my swords and sorcery stories. This one features a charming ogress, a mean Minotaur and a few nasty elves.

I just do the details.  Way back in the late 70s I was much more obsessed with swords and sorcery fiction than I am now, and also more obsessed with dice, and with creating systems that would do the work for me.  I don’t remember when exactly, but I made a dice-determined chart for creating fantasy adventure fiction.  The instructions in parentheses (like so) have been added now in order to make the chart clear for you the reader—I understand my original notes without the explanations.)  Here it is:



To start: (roll) two dice.  (d6 of course—that’s all I had when I made this chart)

On a roll of 2 to 7, the hero is alone.  On a roll of 8 to 12 the hero is not alone.

(If the hero is alone, roll 2D6 again.)

Step 1.  (Setting)

(Dice roll =) 4, 6, or 8—the hero is in his (her) own city.

3, 7, 9, or 12 in another city (I really liked cities back then)

2, 5, 10, or 11 in wasteland (and by wasteland I mean any wild, non-urban setting)

Step 2  (Conflict starts the story).  He is attacked by

(Roll 2 dice)

7, 8, 9, 10   human attackers

5, 6, 11  beasts  (including monsters of a nonmagical nature)

2, 3, 4, 12   Magic (including nonhuman, monsters, wizards, etc.)

Step 3  (Complications)  He fights against men and

I wonder if she's mad because the dragon ate her clothing.

(Roll 2 dice)

2, 3, 4, 10, 11, 12     he wins and takes a prisoner  (to find out why he was attacked in the first place and what he needs to do next)

5, 6, 7, 8, 9       he loses and is captured  (and taken to meet his foe where things are explained)


He fights against beasts

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—he wins and meets (rescues) a girl

Odd—(the foe is too strong for him and) he flees

(Roll 2 dice) (and)

2, 3, 4, 5  (he is) rescued by men (women/humans)

6, 7, 8, 9  (he is) rescued by magic

10, 11, 12  (he) meets a girl.  (Don’t know what I was thinking—she probably rescues him somehow, but perhaps the critters eat them both.)


He fights against magic and he is captured.

(On a roll of) 8 through 12 (the hero is) not alone.  (He may start that way or have acquired a companion in steps 1 through 3)

Step 4  (Who is with our hero?)

(Roll 2 dice)

Even (he is)     with friends

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—with his army (or group of companions)

Odd—with 1 companion.

Odd  (he is)     captured by enemies.

(if you haven’t done step 1, go back and do that now to determne where he is.)

Step 5  If he is with his army he fights a pitched battle.

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—he loses

Odd—he wins

Step 6  (how does the battle go?)

(whether he wins or loses, determine why.  Roll 2 dice.)

2-6  he was outnumbered  (or if he wins, he outnumbered his foes)

7-9  magic (was involved)

10-12    superior strategy.

Step 7     (who is the foe?)  His enemy is a

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—a man

Odd—a woman

(If he loses the battle he will be captured alone by his foe.  If he wins, then he captures his foe.)

(If the hero is with a single companion at the start, go back and do steps 1, 2, and 3 to determine what happens to them.)

Other Determinants


(If the hero is in a wasteland, then) the waseland is:

(Roll 2 dice)

3, 6 9—forest (includes swamps and jungles)

2, 5, 11—mountains

4, 7, 12—desert

8, 10—icelands

(I see I made no provisions for having the hero be out at sea.  We could modify the chart to say

2, 5—mountains

4, 7—desert

11, 12—at or under seas or lakes or any body of water)

8, 10—icelands)

Step 8  When attacked by men roll (2) dice and multiply by 3/2.  Half a man always counts an an extra attacker.

(When attacked by) Beasts (roll 2 dice.)

Even—a pack of animals

Odd—a single monster

Step 9  When meeting a girl (or a guy) (determine what he/she looks like.  It is taken for granted that this romantic interest will always be attractive)

(Roll 2 dice 8 times)

  1. Even—voluptuous (big breasts, big hair)

Odd—slender  (rather boyish or childlike)

  1. Even—she is nobility (princesses are always good)

Odd—of common blood

  1. Even—clever


  1. Her hair is:  (roll 2 dice)

6, 7  auburn (that is light brown)

5, 8  black

4, 9  blonde

3, 10  red

2, 11  dark brown

12  platinum  (I had in mind a kind of shiny silver color, but any weird color would do on 12.

  1. She is:

(Roll 2 dice)

2-6   tall

7-9   medium height

10-12  short

  1. She is:

(Roll 2 dice)


Odd—not  (at this stage in my life I don’t know why that would be important to me as a writer, but perhaps I was thinking that virgins are naturally innocent while non-virgins are more worldy and wise)

  1. She is:

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—very brave




All the best swords and sorcery has the hero wading through lakes of gore. Bit of an exaggeration, eh?

(Now we get into a series of If-then statements.  The dice will reappear when they are needed.)

If the hero has a prisoner he learns of a fabulous treasure nearby with hostile guardians, but the prisoner somehow gets away.

If he meets a girl he learns of a fabulous treasure nearby, etc. & they decide to try to get it.

If rescued by men he makes common cause with them and soon goes through step 5 with them.  If they win, that ends the story.  (Also determine steps 6 and 7.)  If they lose, he is captured.  See below.

If rescued by magic, determine sex of magician who enlists his aid to secure some treasure, etc.

If captured, determine age & sex of captor.





(If) captured & imprisoned by mortal foes

(Roll 2 dice)

The arena bit  2-6

The dungeon bit  7-12.

The Arena

(Roll 2 dice)

2-5  fights men

6-9  fights beasts

10-12  fights both

After winning in the arena roll dice.

Doubles—(hero is) propositioned by queen, princess, etc.  Otherwise, the dungeon bit.  If propositioned determine whether young (even) or old (odd) & what she looks like.  Roll dice if young:  Even—accept (become a royal lapdog, so to speak).  Odd—back to the dungeons.

The Dungeon


(Roll 2 dice)

2, 12—rescued by friendly forces—ends story.

3, 11—(discover) secret passage

4, 10—trick jailor

5-9—released by girl

Secret passage

(Roll 2 dice)

2, 3, 11, 12—leads out of city.  Hero leaves place behind.  End story.

4-6—leads to  ruler’s apartment.  Kill or defeat the ruler and swipe some valuables.

Even—sneak out and escape—end story

Odd—meet guards and fight.

(Roll 2 dice)

2-5  (defeat guards and) get away—end story.

6+  recaptured

7,8—end up in girl’s room.

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—make love to her.

Odd—she calls the guards but (hero) kidnaps her and escapes.

9—wind up in treasure room trapped.  Die of starvation among the bones.  Too bad.  (Jeez, what a hard-hearted cynic I was back then.)

(heh! I didn’t do anything with the number 10 at all.)

Trick Jailor

(Roll 2 dice)

2, 12  escape from city—end story.

3, 11  wind up in the ruler’s room—see above.

4, 10  meet guards.  Roll for how many.

Over 8 guards—recaptured.

Under 8—fight.

Even—win and escape—end story

Odd—hero killed—end story

5-9  end up in girl’s room—see above.

Released by Girl

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—go to ruler’s room, take goodies and leave—end story.

Odd—girl captured but he escapes

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—he rescues girl; kills ruler, and escapes—end story.

Odd—girl killed; he kills ruler, but is recaptured.

Captured and Imprisoned by Wizard

(Roll 2 dice)

2, 3, 11, 12—held for some kind of ransom

4-10—held for some kind of sacrifice

even—by wizard in person

odd—by some beastly supernatural being.

Possibilities (to end the story if it hasn’t ended yet)

(Roll 2 dice)

2, 12—rescued by friendly forces—end story.

3, 11—killed—end story.

4-10—escape (again)


(Roll 2 dice)

2-4—via magic

5-8—via a girl (see above)

9-10—via a man

11, 12—via own efforts (see above)

End of Story


Fabulous treasure

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—guarded by sentient beings.

Odd—guarded by non-sentient beings.

If sentient:

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—defeat them, take treasure, end story.


If non-sentient

(Roll 2 dice)

2-8—kill (guardians) and take treasure—end story

9-10—chased back, give it up—end story

11-12—killed by them—end story.


(Roll 2 dice)

Even—mortal captors—see above

Odd—magical captors—see above.

If Propositioned, then plots are made against hero by her former lover

(Roll 2 dice)

2, 3, 11, 12—hero killed—end story (as you can see, by this time in making up these tables I was desperate to end the story, any way I could.)

4, 10—she is turned against hero who flees city—end story.

5, 9—she is killed, flee city, end story.

6-8—plotters foiled.  Happy ending as city ruler.

If Recaptured (the hero will be) sentenced to be executed

(Roll 2 dice)

2, 12—(execution carried out) hero killed—end story.

3, 10,. 11—rescued by friendly forces—end story.  (way back then I knew it was both good and important to have friends.)

4, 5, 8, 9—rescued by magic, determine sex & age of magician, and go to the rescued by magic section above.

6, 7—fight way out somehow, but end story.

Kidnap Girl & Escape

Roll dice

Even—recaptured but girl is killed—see above.

Odd—get out of city, escape pursuit, make love to girl, win her over, end story.

Escape from Magcian via magic

Two magicians fight it out.  Hero helps his rescuer and they triumph—end story.

Escape from Magician via girl

Both flee, magician pursues.

(Roll 2 dice)

Even—both escape; tricks defeated, but magician vows vengeance—end story.

Odd—girl and magician both killed—end story.

Escape from Magician via man

(Roll 2 dice)

2, 3, 4, 11, 12—kill magician

5-10—fight beast-god(s)

(Roll 2 dice)

2, 3, 11, 12—defeat them and escape—end.

4, 5, 9, 10—defeat them but man killed, hero escapes, end story.

6-8—fail.  Both killed.  End story.

Escape from Magician via own efforts

Defeat the gods & kill the magician.  Take some of his treasure and leave.  End Story.

(Note)  If the hero wins the first battle, it’s a short, short story.

(The dice table chart of story determinants ends here but there are 10 story guides—stories that I never got around to writing.  I give them here:)

(The outlines for stories I thought III are lost.)

It would sure be a faster way to travel than horseback, but I imagine the problems of taking care of one's own dragon would be enormous.

Story IV

Setting:  on or along a river.

Motivation:  rescue girl

Opposition:  demons

Hero’s weapon:  spear and shield

Girl:  short, muscular, virgin, common, redhead (same girl—did I use her in stories one, two, or three?)

Change:  change scene and add more opposition

New setting:  teeming jungles  (all jungles were lush and rife with wildlife in my youth)

New opposition:  more demons

Number good:  three—hero, girl, and one other

Number bad:  A band.

Story V

Setting:  on the ocean

Motivation:  stealing plunder (must have been thinking of pirates)

Opposition: primal force and men  (storm at sea?)

Hero’s weapons:  Sword and knife.

Girl:  None

Change:  None.

Number good:  two

Second hero: Spear and shield

Number bad:  an army

Story VI

Setting:  burning desert (as opposed to a cold desert)

Motivation:  rescue girl

Opposition:  monsters and demons

Hero’s weapon: bow & arrow & armor

Girl:  short, muscular, common, carnal redhead (same girl—apparently hero and girl have become intimate by story 6)

Change:  Add 2nd girl, more enemies, and change scene

New Setting:  a city

New girl: tall, tough, royal, carnal black-haired girl

New opposition:  witch and men

Number of good:  hero and 1st girl (2nd girl a witch)

Number of bad:  a band, a goodly group  (what was I thinking?  Probably that the witch had plenty of henchmen)

Story VII

Setting:  underground

Motivation:  overcome an enemy

Opposition:  monsters and men

Hero’s weapon:  a sword

Girl:  None

Change:  None

Number good:  small group

Number bad:  an army

Story VIII

Setting:  on or along a river

Motivation:  stealing plunder

Opposition:  demons and men

Hero’s weapon:  Axe and armor

Girl:  None

Change:  None

Number good:  alone

Number bad:  1 demon, 1 man.

Story IX

Setting:  icy wastes

Motivation:  rescue girl

Opposition:  primal force and men

Hero’s weapons:  sword and bow & arrow and armor

Girl:  short, soft, common, carnal redhead

Change:  None

Number good:  hero and girl

Number bad:  army

Story X

Setting:  on the ocean

Motivation:  overcome an enemy

Opposition:  demons and men

Hero’s weapon:  spear and shield

Girl:  None

Change:  None

Number good:  alone

Number bad:  small group

Story XI

Setting:  on the ocean

Motivation:  stealing plunder

Opposition:  monsters

Hero’s weapon:  knife and armor

Girl:  None

Change:  None

Number good:  Band

Number bad:  Band

Story XII

Setting:  rolling plains (damn! I loved those geographical clichés when I was young)

Motivation:  Rescuing girl

Opposition:  Primal force and men

Hero’s weapon:  sword

Girl:  Tall, soft, common, carnal black-haired girl

Change:  Add a second hero.

Number good:  Small group

Number bad:  three men.

Story XIII

Setting:  on the ocean

Motivation:  stealing plunder

Opposition:  primal force and men

Hero’s weapon:  bow & arrows

Girl:  None

Change:  Add a girl, 2nd hero, more opposition, and change scene.

New setting:  in a canyon

New opposition:  Monsters and demons

New girl:  Tall, soft, noble, virgin redhead

Number good:  three—2 heroes and girl

Number bad:  small group.

(These stories were never written, but judging by the repetitive elements they obviously came from a set of tables—probably the tables I showed you at the start of this article.  In the same batch of notes I have the following story synopsis.)

Demons of the Black Lands

Delara has been separated from Dyrrghat on the river Tzactheth when they were attacked by a party of black men.  Delara had been pulled overboard and captured while Dyrrghat had been carried downriver still fighting boarders.  Now she was captive of Innak, a native chief, a magnificent giant black.

Innak took Delara deep into the jungle.  The land rose beneath them getting steeper and steeper until they reached a cliff.  A narrow trail led up it.  Innak led his men up it, passing three sentry posts before they reached the top.  There was no jungle on the summit.  Instead, there was a half-ruined city of white marble.  Here, Delara learned her fate.   These people worshipped a white goddess, Hosiris, whom they believed dwelt incarnate on Earth.  Their previous goddess had died, but Innak’s scouts had reported her presence, and so they captured her.

Delara, unable to retrace her steps to the river, agreed to be their goddess.  She was prepared and led to her throne by late afternoon.

A party of blacks bring in a white man captive, not Dyrrghat, but Mradelarr, who had come to the ancient city of Nohosiris seeking treasure.  Innak ordered him put to death, but Delara, seeing now a chance for escape, contradicted him.  They argue, for Innak was used to controlling a puppet goddess.

Mradelarr is imprisoned while they argue.  At moonrise the natives are horrified to see Delara exercise supernatural powers.  A demon of Set, true to the curse upon her, appears, (She pretended to call it.) and begins to slay the people.  Warriors fight bravely with it, but to no avail.  Innak, though, is a shaman himself.  He calls upon some black fiends of his own to fight the servant of Set.

During the confusion Delara gathers up Mradelarr’s weapons and a bag of jewels and goes to free him.  Mradelarr is overjoyed.  They fight their way out of the city and down the escarpment.

Innak’s fiends overcome Set’s demon, but not before the city is further destroyed.  Setting his fiends on Delara’s hour-old trail, Innak sets out in solitary pursuit of the two.

Mradelarr makes for his boat on the River Tzactheth, but they are overtaken about dawn.  As the sky brightens Innak’s creatures lose their power, becoming no more than hideous beasts.

When Innak catches them, the 2 parties fight.  After a tough struggle, Mradelarr and Delara kill the 2 fiends with Innak and overcome the giant black.  Mradelarr spares Innak, pledging him by an oath he cannot break, to eternal slavery to himself and Delara, for in the night Delara had told him of her curse and how Innak’s fiends could overcome Set’s solitary nightly demon.  The three reach Mradelarr’s boat and head downriver toward the sea.

The End.

(I didn’t say it was good.  Apparently I was heavily influenced by Robert E. Howard’s Queen of the Black Coast when I dreamed  up this tale.  It is the third of three short story outlines that I did at that time set in the world of Conan.  Thank God, I never actually wrote or tried to publish the stories.  The other two stories were called DELARA THE DEMON-HAUNTED (about the meeting of Dyrrghat and Delara who slew a priest of Set) and HEART OF STONE (about Mradelarr, a Bossonian lost in the jungles of Punt who took a jewel from an evil statue, only to see that statue come to life and follow him.  I reproduced these notes exactly as I wrote them, spelling errors and all, some 35 years or more ago, as a record of how I was thinking and dreaming of swords and sorcery in the earliest days of Tunnels and Trolls.)

(The art in this article is all created by British render-artist Robin Stacey, known as @Greywulf on Twitter.  He’s great, and his art is so much more fantastic than the story ideas I came up with in my dice-determined situations.  And I like fantasy art.  Even if the words aren’t fantastic enough, you’ve all had a treat in getting to see so many of Robin’s masterpieces.)

If you ever created your own dice tables for making up stories out of thin air, or even if you didn’t, go ahead and leave a comment.


And now, ye author, like the goblin in the picture, makes a hasty retreat.

Posted February 22, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized

2 responses to “The Dice Make the Decisions

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  1. I really like tables and randomizing lists like this. Good for stories or to quickly think of a campaign plot!

    The caption, “I wonder if she’s mad because the dragon ate her clothing” made me laugh out loud.

  2. I like the concept of the table & lists. I didn’t think the story was that bad and wished there was more. Robin Stacey’s art was a nice touch.

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