Exposing the recipe of the special sauce

One of the major differences between Chartopia and many other web-based role-playing random table generators out there is that a lot of information is hidden behind javascript.

Even non-roleplaying specific tools on the net like the amazing Fantasy Name Generator not only conceals a lot about how big and varied their selection is, but how it’s determining what name to give you.

Chartopia exposes everything.

Exposing the secret sauce
This chart view shows all the ingredients to what is a very complicated table. It would take a DM a long time to resolve this manually.

The true charm of Chartopia is being able to see the tables as if they were from a book. Sure, it’s not formatted to look like a book (although, with some clever use of css I could get it pretty close), but it doesn’t hide from you that, at it’s core, the data is from a table.

It means that Chartopia is not merely a database of massive amounts of data, but something that is trying to replicate the real world dynamics of pencil and paper rollplaying. If the table is a 2d12, then you’re going to see a minimum 23 possible results where results will favour the numbers around 10-13 (and 1 is unreachable).

But from here, the digital shortcuts come in to play. The names of other tables that would be called upon a certain roll can be linked via URL. Equations/formulas and other features such as Chartopia’s rollable lists can be styled to make them more obvious.

Take it a step further and we can show tables with formatting features such as images, bullet points, arbitrary links to, say, an online monster manual, rule book entry or the like.

So as much as the generators out there are useful, Chartopia does what they do with the quick-roll button. If you want to see the secret recipe that makes it all possible, then check out all the ingredients.

That is unless the author’s gone and made all the linked-charts private.

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Introducing Chartopia

About October 2014 I, by chance, randomly met someone at a house party who participated in a lot of role playing games of the pencil, paper and dice variety. It became know that I was a software programmer and, as is quite often the case during these types of settings, he said “oh, I have an idea for an app”.

“Oh, yeah?” I said.

I typically humour these people (politely, of course) and hear what they have to say; after all, it’s a house party.

It’s now February 2017 and I’ve been working on Chartopia all that time. It turns out the idea had some merit and a couple of months later I chased up Scott, whose idea it was, and got him to flesh out some of the details. I finally had an excuse to learn python (via Django) and get involved with web development again.

What is Chartopia anyway?

I like to think of Chartopia as the Pinterest for roleplaying random tables, or perhaps the DeviantArt of RPG random tables. On the surface it looks like a giant, searchable repository of random tables that anyone roleplaying-inclined can search/browse their favourite genre of roleplaying game and see what material exists.

Under the hood though, Chartopia is a chart editor, rolling, discovery and sharing tool. Here’s a brief run down.

Chart Editing

Roleplaying gamers often make their own charts, the simple ones exist as blog posts but the more complex are either in spreadsheets or perhaps buried behind some javascript options on a website. Spreadsheets are okay, but they’re quite bespoke and get complicated quickly if you have tables that roll upon other tables. Javascript pages are cool, but they’ll only serve a specific task. I’m pretty sure it would be difficult to scale.

Chartopia address this with an editor that looks a bit like a spreadsheet but offers the ability for the user to enter in certain markdown-like formatting to create more complexity (or, euphemistically, more valuable and useful tables).

  • Rolling for a result on one table can automatically roll on other tables, collate the results of those multiple tables, then display it to the user.
  • You can add dice equations (such as 2d12+4) that are automatically calculated when the table is rolled on.
  • You can make small lists of objects that are calculated if they’re rolled on; e.g. [gold; silver; copper] would roll a d3 and select one item from the list.

Rolling

The best part of the editor is that, once done, only one button press is required to collate a result (across multiple tables and with all the equations calculated) and display it to the user.

Discovery

…and so given the above, let’s say you’re one of those people that never ‘creates’ their own content but ‘consumes’ a lot (e.g. I browse Pinterest but I never contribute any new images), you could search and browse all these amazing random tables and be one click away from checking out the table, or one press away from rolling some results on it.

The site’s discovery tool is so easy to use, it’s far better than sifting through people’s personal blogs.

Sharing, Publishing Tools

Naturally in todays Internet world, there are sharing tools such as Twitter and Facebook links (e.g. “Hey, I found this awesome chart on Chartopia!” type links to social media); they’re kind of a token gesture. More useful I reckon are the export tools so that the user can easily copy paste their own chart into  their blog or export to .csv (for they spreadsheet users out there).

More to come

There’s way more to share about Chartopia (I’ve been working on it for over 2 years after all) but I’ll cover that in subsequent posts. I’m also shamelessly trying to make Google associate the key words “roleplaying, rpg, random tables” with Chartopia’s website, so I need to write some more.