... now with 35% more arrogance!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Random Lists

Lots of GMs use random lists of various kinds, for dungeon dressing, creature descriptions, titles of mysterious books, and many other uses. Coming up with such lists can be a chore, if you need a lot of items.

What if you could let the internet do some of the work for you?

A friend told me about a weird little trick that involves two Google features: Google Sets and a spreadsheet formula in Google Docs. Google Sets will let you type in 3 to 5 items and will try to predict other members of that set; choosing the Large Set option can sometimes generate lists of 40 to 50 items. The list almost certainly needs to be edited, and you may want to add additional items, but it can be a good start.

If you want more than 40 or 50 items, you can break the list up into conceptual chunks, like "torture items", "furniture", "tools", "gemstones", or whatever you want, then concatenate the lists. And a quick way to do that is to create a spreadsheet in Google Docs and use an "import HTML" formula in one of the cells, like this:

=ImportHtml("http://labs.google.com/sets?hl=en&q1=hammer&q2=chains&q3=padlock&q4=&q5=&btn=Large+Set", "Table", 0)

That formula in a cell will generate results in multiple cells below it in the same column. Once you get comfortable with the way Google Sets URLs look, you can edit the URL in the formula to change the values for the q1 through q5 variables to get different lists in different columns.

I created an example spreadsheet and then published it as a web page to show what you can do. Some of the results are kind of modern, which will work for a modern-day campaign but would need to be replaced or re-interpreted for other games, unless you're playing a gonzo D&D campaign and want the fun of watching players trying to figure out what that small, shiny disc with a hole in the middle is supposed to be.

1 comment:

  1. Wow ... eerie ... who needs a thesaurus any more? Great tip!