Ladder Tables

Or, A Random Table With A Memory

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with Hex Flowers from Goblin’s Henchman. These have been billed over the years as “random tables with a memory” due to how they work. If you’re not familiar, the quick run down is:

  • A hex map of outcomes is created. Usually, the center hex is the starting location.
  • When you need to roll on the table, you roll 2d6 and move in a specified direction. The probabilities and results can be fiddled with here, by changing which directions the results go in.
  • Typically, a trend is established to move towards a certain direction.
  • When you hit the edge of the hex flower, you wrap around and come back in on the opposite side.

A lot of people find hex flowers very handy, and a lot of people also get pretty confused! I know it took me awhile to get them, and while I like them now, a new person seeing a hex flower still needs to pass the grok threshold in order to use them. As well, since it’s a hex, you typically either need to use symbols or large hexes to fit text into them.

I wondered if there was a way to make a more regular table that provided the main draw of the hex flower, which for me is the random table with a memory bit.

Here’s what I’ve come up with. This may have been done before, and if it has, please let me know where, because I love reading this stuff!

First of all, you’ll need a table to use. I’ve thrown together a weather table with 16 results, and made sure that the results “flowed” in a logical way. Since you’ll be jumping multiple rows with each roll, you can have some repeats in there to increase probability of certain events.

Here it is:

Random Weather
1. Blazing hot
2. Sunny
3. Sunny
4. Sunny (reset)
5. Cloudy, Raining
6. Cloudy, Windy
7. Cloudy
8. Cloudy, Raining
9. Overcast
10. Overcast, Windy
11. Overcast, Raining
12. Overcast, Raining
13. Overcast, Pouring Rain (reset)
14. Overcast, Storming
15. Overcast, Storming
16. Tornado

Now, how do you generate results for this? You’ll need two d8s, one blue, one green.

Roll both dice. You will only use the lower result. In this table, green means climb the table, blue means descend the table. Using the lower result, move that many spaces on the table. If both dice tie, stay where you are.

Example: You start at 9. Overcast roll a blue 6 and a green 4. Since green is lower, you climb the table 4 places, to 5. Cloudy, Raining.

If you reach the end of the table, reset to the color marked position, depending on if you’re climbing or descending.

Example: You are at 2. Sunny and need to climb 3 spaces. The first move puts you at 1. Blazing Hot, the second move resets you to 4. Sunny and the third move puts you at 3. Sunny.

That’s it, really! Dropping the higher die puts you on a bell curve that favors lower results, thus smaller jumps between events. Resetting to anchors on the table means that running to the edge means that you don’t lose your memory or progress. It’s not perfect, and most likely missing some of the nuance of the hex flower, but it’s still a valuable substitute, in my opinion.

One advantage is that you can include more data in each entry; for example, along with the weather result in the table above, you could also include the mechanical rules for each result.

Modifications

That’s the base system. It doesn’t trend towards a direction, nor does it have differing variances or a way for the players to manipulate it.

If you want a trend in the results, it’s actually pretty easy. To make a drastic change, roll different sized dice for climbing/descending. Whichever direction has the smaller die will get more results.

Another option is a modifier after rolling. Choose a trend direction, and always move one step in that direction after figuring out where the dice put you. For example, if you want to trend towards descending the table, always descend the table by 1 space after you’ve rolled the dice, even when you climb. This adds one extra step, but the added vector can be used for multiple things. (The neat thing here is that you can replace “1” with x instead, and make x change, so as the PCs head closer towards the middle of the sea, they might trend towards storms instead of sunshine.)

note: if you add a modifier to shift after each roll, the last (or first) entry on the table will need to be blank, since you’ll never actually get that as a result. Alternatively, just make the rule that if you land on the first or last space, don’t apply the modifier.

Variance

If you want more variance, use bigger dice. The average probabilities are:

  • 2d4: 1.9 shifts per roll.
  • 2d6: 2.5 shifts per roll.
  • 2d8: 3.1 shifts per roll.
  • 2d10: 3.8 shifts per roll.
  • 2d12: 4.5 shifts per roll.

Modifying the Roll

Implementing an advantage / disadvantage system in this is also easy. Just add more dice of the color that the result would trend towards. Probability wise, this is going to increase the chances of shifting in a certain direction, but it’s also going to lower the overall “shifts per roll” average, so that’s something to take into account.

Changing the Reset Positions

Moving the reset positions up or down the table means that when you “bounce back” to them, there’s more variance if you continue on in the same direction. If you have your table set up to trend downwards, for example, moving the bottom reset from 4 from the bottom to say, 8 from the bottom, means that you’ll experience a bigger group of options each time you reset. With the reset position closer to the end of the table and using a downward trend, once you get to the bottom of the table you’ll likely cycle through mostly similar table entries more often.

Other Ideas

One thing you could do with a ladder table is simulate the entire year of weather in your game. If you have a table with 100 entries, 25 for each season, and trend downwards, you could essentially descend the entire table, until you reach the end where you reset to the top.

Another option is a chase system, where the ends of the table has caught and escape. The table might have entries you’d deal with in the chase, but also the option to add bonus advantage dice to your next roll. Character actions and clever maneuvers could also change the dice size, or add more dice.

I have an entire little game in my head that uses a ladder table, pitting two players against each other in a duel to the death. The game involves secret bidding of dice and tokens, and I think it could be a fun minigame to play during those tense duels that need more rules than just rolling dice. Hopefully, I can get it written up soon.

Conclusion

If you like random tables and memory, I think you’ll find ladder tables pretty exciting. If you’ve ever been confused about a hex flower hopefully this post provides an alternative that can achieve similar results. If you end up making one of these, I’d love to hear about it! You can reach me in the comments, on twitter @eldritchmouse, or on discord: eldritch mouse#3320.

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