Adding More Mortar to the Three Pillars

The Three Pillars of Adventure

Adventurers can try to do anything their players can imagine, but it can be helpful to talk about their activities in three broad categories: exploration, social interaction, and combat.

From the “D&D Basic Rules: Player’s Basic Rules”

I want to look at a few subsystems of previous versions that are not part of the core rules of 5E. Rules and guidance for these subsystems can be found in the current Dungeon Master’s Guide. But they are not a first class citizen in the rules.

These systems are:

  • Hirelings, retainers, and specialists – additional hired support that can bolster the parties ranks or provide specialized services
  • Random encounters – a procedure to determine if the party encounters random creatures/events outside of the set pieces of the adventure
  • Reaction checks – a procedure to determine non-player characters initial reaction (friendly, indifferent, hostile, etc.) to the party
  • Morale checks – a procedure for seeing if non-player characters and creatures surrender, flee, or fight on

Exploration

Hirelings provide additional options for exploration: a translator, a torchbearer, a rear guard, a camp guard, etc.

Random encounters breath life into a location; Instead of a series of disparate locations the random encounters highlight that the location is dangerous and dynamic.

In editions prior to 3E, random encounters put pressure on the characters to not delay. The majority of experience was from treasure and not combat and a random encounter was a high risk, low reward ordeal.

Reaction checks codify that not every encounter will escalate into combat. It provides a chance for factions and agendas to be discovered and exploited.

Morale checks primary purpose is to ensure that not everything is a fight to the death. In exploration, this means that players may be aware that any opposition is falling back to bolster defenses.

Combat

In older editions, one role of hirelings was to diffuse the lethality of combat. They are both support and built in back-up player characters. They also provide a logical means to for a guest player to join for a single session or so.

Random encounters provide a steady source of potential combat. In older editions, its ill-advised to escalate every encounter (i.e. high risk, low reward). However, for players seeking combat, random encounters are sure to please.

Reaction checks are there to make sure that not everything needs to be combat. It can steer an encounter into a social interaction instead. It adds a bit of unpredictability.

Morale provides a clear mechanism so that not every combat is fought to the bloody end. This is something that a GM could adjudicate on their own, but having procedures in place allows the GM to fall back on the beauty of randomization. No one knows when a combat starts if it will be to the death; But the rules can be leveraged to provide an unbiased decision.

Since morale checks also apply to all non-player characters, it raises the stakes of combat; Will your still loyal torchbearer turn tail at the sight of skeletons? Will your seasoned veteran continue to fight even if their employer has fallen? A story emerges from the dice rolls.

Social Interaction

And this is where the four subsystems shine.

Hirelings may have their own agenda. They may leave on good terms and help the party in the future. Or a mistreated hireling might betray or openly oppose the future endeavors of the party. They provide another known social interaction point in the campaign; No need to create something new, reuse a hireling.

By leveraging reaction checks, it is not immediately obvious if each encounter is meant for combat or social interaction. This ambiguity provides a crease in the game that allows players to flex their ambitions.

And then there is morale; Does the hireling turns tail and runs at a critical moment? Or do they double down with steely resolve? How do the players respond? Do they dismiss them outright? Do they seek to rally, comfort, or console? At a minimum, there is now an in game moment with one of the hirelings that changed the state of the fiction.

And morale for possible opposition enforces that not everything is a fight to the death. Will the players spare the creature? Will they gain an ally? Or will they be betrayed? Can they hire their opponent? It keeps the questions open.

And in all of this, the random encounter is yet another source of fuel for social interactions and combat.

Conclusion

In my survey of numerous OSR games and D&D editions, I have found several implementations of these subsystems.

For Hirelings I’m fond of:

For Morale my preference is:

For Reaction checks:

For Random Encounters:

There are differences between each, but the key components that I look for are as follows:

  • Randomize the hiring process; Some should slander would be employers
  • Codify when morale checks should be made
  • Codify what random encounters are possible and how often
  • Reaction checks should happen at the beginning of the encounter (I prefer that Charisma not come into play unless the characters interact with the creatures)

Features of Burning Wheel That I Enjoy(ed?)

  1. Scripted conflict resolution
  2. Helping & FoRKs
  3. Circles
  4. Character burning
  5. Character advancement

Scripted Conflict

For scripted conflict resolution (Duel of Wits, Range & Cover, and Fight!) there are more streamlined options (i.e. AD&D 2E we would declare actions, roll initiative, and see how things fell apart).

The difference is BW locks in three actions and resolves them. So when something unexpected/unplanned happens, there’s more in game segments that pass before any course correction is possible. Hence my gaming group’s love of RoboRally.

Helping & FoRKs

The chances in Burning Wheel of success without assistance are slim. The game encourages you to look around the table and solicit help. It also encourages you to provide help (and thus advance). It is clear that helping someone on a test binds your fate to the test as well (this is a logical thing that I apply to any help provider regardless of system; But BW is clear that this is expected).

In practice, there was a lot more negotiation at the table; Akin to the problem of Fate where players spend excessive game time attempting to leverage every aspect on the table. (Unlike Fate, in BW success is not guaranteed due to the probability curve).

I have found D&D 5E’s Aid Another rule to solve this rather straightforward. And as such, am hesitant to want my RPG experience to include the Helping & FoRKs negotiation (unless I am again playing with my cooperative board game loving group).

Circles

I love articulated rules for finding specific or general people. Burning Wheel’s Circle system works quite well for this.

Character Burning

Character Burning is a personal activity. I look at it as akin to building a Magic the Gathering deck. The various character stocks (Elf, Dwarf, Human, and Orc) have a very different feel. And same “level” characters are so very different in their capabilities.

The resulting characters inform the GM what kind of game the players are hoping to see; Its more detailed than I have a Thief with Perform skill. (I have an Auger with Butchering and Astrology).

Character Advancement

Its all about incremental improvements. Eek out small advances that build over time. I enjoy looking ahead to character class features. In Burning Wheel, if I want to improve those features, I need to challenge them. In other games, advancement often doesn’t relate to skill usage. (D&D 5E, I can get better at Stealth even if my whole level was spent fighting).

The observation I’ve had about D&D 3E-5E is that many players at the table are focusing on what they might be getting at the next level. Interested in unlocking those features. And that happens, to some extent, regardless of what they are doing in game to get there.

In Burning Wheel, the players had some incentive to better guide the story. After all, if they want to advance a skill, they need to use it.

Further Observations

In each of the above cases, there are less baroque analogues that are quite adequate for most game play.

Scripted Combat: AD&D 2E combat that we used; Declare actions, roll initiative, resolve actions

Helping & FoRKs: D&D 5E Aid Another, Inspiration, Advantage

Circles: A Charisma check (though some guidelines or a table could help for any given game table)

Character Burning: D&D 5E Backgrounds, Whitehack’s Slots and Groups

Burning Wheel requires a tremendous amount of concentration compared to other RPGs that I’ve played. If the table is prepared for that concentration commitment, then it can shine. The game is tightly integrated with its constituent parts.

It is also a game that I have found resonates with people who enjoy the more involved board games (i.e. Advanced Civilization comes to mind). I also look to Burning Wheel and say “I’d never want to play just a session of it. This is a game that demands campaign play.”

So, when I survey the games that are in my personal library, Burning Wheel has become my white whale. Its not that I want to play Burning Wheel, but that Burning Wheel hints at the type of game I want to play.

A game where the players come with a powerful agenda for their characters. They have the tools to actualize that agenda. They dig deep to work together against long odds. There is a vast tapestry of NPCs that the characters have sought out; Some are friends, some enemies, and others waiting to turn. I want the game to have unpredictable moments, when a plan falls horribly apart and the characters must deal with a major set back.

But my reality is quite different. I struggle to get a regular game together (parenting, growing our personal business, and work are my priority). If my kids are with me, I’m not going to be running a game for my other friends. So my schedule is limited. This means concentration is an uncertainty, and thus Burning Wheel, while tempting, is a bad idea for me to run.

Campaign Random Encounter: Library of Ancients and Surrounding Village

After wrapping up the 5E 0th level character funnel adventure, I did a bit of preparation. The characters were going to travel to the Library of Ancients to research about the Shadow Wars, the shadow creature, and the failing wards that kept it bound.

I didn’t write up much about the Library of Ancients, and its adjoining village Codex, except for the following random table. In making the table, I became aware of what could be in motion at Library of Ancients and Codex.

In these 12 rumors and events, I found far more than enough to run a satisfying delve in the Library of Ancients. I now forget how I resolved the research aspect of the Library, but I was generous in the information I gave.

Rumors and Events

1d12 Event or Happenstance
1 A contingent of viziers arrived 1d4 days ago. They will soon broker a treaty (1 – 3) or launch a treasonous initiative (4-6).
2 Yesterday, one of the towers collapsed killing Tanja, a visiting researcher, and Raiko, a librarian. Workers are clearing the rubble and assessing the damage. Soon the library and Codex will know that the Raiko stabbed and killed Tanja.
3 Dalia, a visiting scholar, is waiting at the entrance to the library. She has found what could be a capstone to her life’s work. She’s looking to hire some muscle to go get it. Soon her insanity will be revealed as she drives ever onward towards her goal.
4 The Library and Codex, the neighboring village, fended off an attack 1d6 days ago. Hanging from the fortified walls are the tarred corpses of 1d10 assailants. From the mouth of one of the corpses an orchid will grow.
5 The staff and faculty are excited about the recent acquisition of the collection of Lapernum, a planar scholar. One will soon bear witness to an apocalyptic vision.
6 Codex elected Orithia a new mayor 2d6 days ago. She replaces the previous mayor, Bale; He went insane. She will soon face a challenge to her authority.
7 Grigor a wealthy merchant left not more than a few hours ago; He hired several guards for what is normally a safe trip. He will be betrayed soon.
8 Jelenneth, a young woman from Codex, has been missing since a raid on the library. Her parents are distraught and seek help. She will soon enter the realm of fairy to be with her lover.
9 Reeve Vander has just found that the winter stores of Codex spoiled over the last three days. A diabolist will soon reveal a nefarious scheme.
10 In the next month the Duchess of Ariana will be visiting. The librarians are busy preparing for a visit. Head librarian Gidian is seeking a ducal endowment.
11 Salindra and her acting troupe (6 others) arrived yesterday; They are here to perform a play and write and research their next play. The play will be outlawed in the months to come as it foments open.
12 Filip has been dragged back in chains; He has stolen from the library. He will be abused a lose a hand at the end of the week.

Early Experience running Out of the Abyss

House Rules for Out of the Abyss

I’ve decided to take the framework for Out of the Abyss and mold it to my liking. First, if you intend to run “Out of the Abyss” straight out of the “box”, good luck.
It is a toolkit, some set pieces, and a lot of narrative prose.

There are plenty of random tables to help move things along, but the book had disorganized core information. My guess is that not a single play tester ran this game from the published book; The information is too spread out for easy access.

What follows are the pieces that I’ve adopted to help me adjudicate the game.

From the Dungeon Master’s Guide

I’ve opted for a more brutal game. Characters are a bit more fragile. I had mulled over a long rest being 7 days and a short rest being 8 hours, but opted not to use that given the nature of the adventure. These are my personal preferences.

  • Slow Natural Healing (DMG p267): Character’s do not recover hit points after a long rest. They must use hit dice.
  • Massive Damage (DMG p273): Too much damage and you might be out of the fight.
  • Injuries (DMG p272-273): If you get knocked out of the fight, bad things can happen.
  • Morale (DMG p273): Because combat is more lethal, I want morale to help adjudicate monster’s. I’m not satisfied with 5E’s morale ratings, but they are an acceptable approximation.

Building on “Out of the Abyss”

The following rules build from my observations of the missing specificity in “Out of the Abyss”.

Illumination

From “Out of the Abyss” p20:

Roll a d6 to determine how an encounter area is illuminated. On a roll of 1-3, the area is dimly lit by the phosphorescent moss and lichen common in the Underdark, or by faerzress (see “Faerzress”). On a roll of 4-6, the area is dark except for whatever light sources the characters might have.

And that is all you get for using Faerzress in encounters. Here is a table to help determine light. This table assumes that on a roll of 1 for illumination, using the original mechanics, there is a 50% chance that the illumination is from faerzress.

d12 Illumination
1 faezress (Out of the Abyss p21)
2-6 Dim
7-12 Dark

Foraging

From “Out of the Abyss” p20:

A foraging character makes a Wisdom (Survival) check.
The DC is typically 15, but might be as high as 20 in some parts of the Underdark.

Again, that is all of the guidance you get. So I made a table to help determine the base DC for each day of travel.

d6 Food Scarcity
1-4 Limited: DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) for foraging
5-6 Scarce: DC 20 Wisdom (Survival) for foraging

I made the following resource to help keep track of the day-to-day movements of the party. I also made sure to make a small character sheet for the “friendly NPCs”; There are four NPCs per side.

I spent a few hours this afternoon, rolling the random encounters for the next 30 travel days. Some of the random encounters are straight forward and require one page in the monster manual, but others require referencing numerous pages.

Here are the first 7 days (in which my players have already engaged) and how I wrote the information in Google Sheets. As we’ve proceeded, I need to refine when the encounter happens. I take rest to mean after the characters have stopped moving.

So, when the characters force march for a total of 12 hours, its easy. Encounters happen on the 1d12 hours into that timeframe. If the characters choose to not force march then travel encounters happen 1d8 hours into traveling and rest encounters happen 1d18 hours into the rest (roll a D20 and re-roll 19 or 20).

Day Time Location Creature Space Light XP
2 Travel Webs Escaped Slave (1 shield dwarf) 5′ dark 25
3 Rest Lave Swell 10′ dark 100
5 Rest Sinkhole Blurg the Orog open dark 450
7 Rest Green Slime Giant Rocktopus 5′ dark 200

Bitching and Moaning

The campaign kicks off with 10 likely NPC allies. Yippie! They aren’t retainers or henchmen, but independent characters with their own agendas and foibles. Then the random encounters have a few cases where more NPCs can join the party.

At this point, 3 of the initial enslaved NPCs have died (Prince Derendil, Stool, and Eldeth Feldrun). And two have parted ways (Topsy and Turvey). But they have picked up two new NPCs; Blurg the Orog and Tarrant a shield dwarf. They also started with 2 extra enslaved NPCs; The drow captured the party and extra NPCs at the same time.

This has meant an extreme number of NPCs to manage; It also means that the large group moving through the underdark can rely on the law of large numbers to make sure that everyone has enough food and water. After all, anyone can forage, with each foraging opportunity means 1d6 pounds of food. From a mechanical standpoint, the extra NPCs have been a blessing. From the narrative stand point, the extra NPCs have been needless complications.

And then there is the map. Each hex is 24 miles; Huge by hex crawl standards. The map is unclear about terrain and features. It’s an abstraction that shows distance, but does not convey important information; I’m looking at you Darklake and your ambiguous boundaries. Upon my examination of the map, I assumed one idea about the boundaries of Darklake. But when I read more of the adventure, the boundaries were very different from my assumption.

All told, if you are going to write a mega-adventure, have at least one person run the thing without any guidance from the author. There is a lot of ambiguity and misplacement of information in Out of the Abyss. I understand that proper organization is a tremendous challenge, but I believe if the authors focused on codifying the procedures, then it would be a much stronger presentation.

Advice

If you are going to run this, grab your highlighter and notebook. Scattered throughout the book is vital information; Make notes with page numbers. Make worksheets to help you consolidate information as you see fit. Scan monster entries so you can consolidate an encounter’s information.

Make more random tables. The size of the Underdark means that I’ve seen a heavy repetition of random encounters. The current random encounters imply a population and risk density of the Underdark. Consider other options.

“Out of the Abyss” is the first by the book adventure I’ve run since “The Red Hand of Doom”. I think Out of the Abyss has more interesting set pieces and ideas but its organization is rather confounding compared to The Red Hand of Doom.

It is very difficult to scan “Out of the Abyss” for pertinent information. Granted, “Out of the Abyss” leverages some of the more gritty components of D&D (i.e. starvation, exhaustion, wilderness travel), but I believe the book fails to account for the adventure being a direct reference for game play.

Out of the Abyss – Session #1

I was hesitant to run Out of the Abyss. Chapter 1 is a complicated hot mess to run. I didn’t know if I could use what was given to establish a reasonable enough beginning to the campaign.

There is an urgency about escaping at odds with exposition of the supporting cast. Do you spend a little or a lot of time establishing the various of relationships between the NPCs?

There are 10 captive NPCs and 4 NPC captors (and their support staff). That’s a lot of characters to both establish and juggle. All of this while the players are plotting and attempting to execute an escape. I also don’t believe people want to spend more than a few hours building up to the prison break.

By the end of the session two NPCs were dead, with a total of 15 characters escaping with one or two supplies each. They have several shields, chain shirts, leather armor, and lengths of rope. That’s it. No holy symbols nor spell books.

So I’m envisioning a few sessions of brutality on the horizon as exhaustion and resource management grind at them.

What worked?

Prodding the characters along. Making sure to push towards “What’s the plan? Are you doing it now?”

Showing that the drow are petty and cruel. There was an internal conflict through playing up the NPCs. Then having a fight between prisoners (PC and NPC) which devolved into breaking the spellcaster’s hands and executing the elf prince.

The player characters fleeing with the most modest of equipment. I’m excited to see how the characters are going to dig deep to escape from their pursuit.

Having now run several timed convention games, I believe I’m more attentive to table and time management.

Where did I get stuck?

The awkward transition moment from “you are helpless captives” to “lets plan all the details”. As many may know, a session that involves lots of planning and deliberation gets rather crazy.

Juggling time between different groups; Some were left in the cages to rest while others performed labor. This meant the spotlight was shifting back and forth.

The layout of the camp makes it very hard for the characters to get their equipment and escape.

What might I do differently?

I would’ve prepared even more. The content in the book is hard to scan. So I will read through the next section with a highlighter and markers.

I would not have introduced two additional NPCs into the equation. There is already a large cast of characters. The ones I introduced tied back to the previous sessions that I ran.

A jail break with 18 prisoners was insane. Too many moving parts. And there were no NPC statistics for the friendly NPCs.

There was a pinch point that I should’ve cleared out as part of the distraction. By not clearing out that pinch point, it made it seemingly impossible for the party to retrieve their equipment. They self-assessed and opted to cut their loses.

Wrath of the Autarch by Phil Lewis

Wrath of the Autarch by Phil Lewis

Wrath of the Autarch by Phil Lewis

I have been waiting for Phil Lewis’s Wrath of the Autarch since Aidan played at Origins 2013 and I played at Origins 2014. Wrath of the Autarch is a kingdom building role-playing game. Its up on Kickstarter right now…and I’ve backed it.

I wrote up a few questions that I had about Wrath of the Autarch, and Phil was kind enough to answer them. He has also assembled a Boardgamegeek Geeklist of influences that went into Wrath of the Autarch.

What was the driving force for creating Wrath of the Autarch?

I wanted to make a kingdom building game that my busy friends would actually play.

Looking back on the long development process I know you’ve made a lot of changes; What is one thing that you’ve cut or abandoned that you thought was going to be in the “final” version?

That’s a tough question! One of the hardest aspects of design was managing the long term strategic scope. How do all these moving parts: the kingdoms, factions, and regions, bounce off of each other? Early on I was really enamored with this deck building political event system. I really thought that was going to be a cornerstone of the whole thing. But it was just so fiddly, and didn’t ever quite click. Getting rid of it and putting more control in the Autarch player’s hands helped a great deal.

In Wrath of the Autarch’s development, you’ve wrestled with various iterations and refinements of Fate. What have been some of the pain points you’ve unearthed as you developed Wrath of the Autarch’s Fate implementation? And why did you decide to stick with a refinement of Fate?

This is no small topic! There were definitely a few points of tension. But so much cool technology! The biggest points of contention revolve around the creation of aspects, compels, and uncapped stress in the attack action. Note that I’m referring here about Fate Core (although similar issues probably exist in earlier versions).

 

Creating and compelling aspects in Fate is one of the trickier parts of the system to master. Compels are almost never used enough, even by experienced players. The creation of aspects in Fate Core can be difficult to manage, because there’s this mechanical benefit to making them – so it’s very appealing to players, but there’s also this tacit understanding that pushing that lever too much isn’t fun. That can create tension. Finally, if Create an Advantage is pushed too hard, conflicts and challenges are frequently resolved in one (frequently anti-climactic) action which utilizes tons of free invokes.

 

There’s also the issue that Wrath of the Autarch has no gamemaster. So what’s a compel in that structure? How is the creation of aspects limited? How can the skirmish mini-game not just be one action that inflicts tremendous stress?

 

In Wrath of the Autarch, the answer, which is basically fractally [see Fate Fractal] true at every level, is that there’s an action economy that restricts and plays off the resource economy. There are also aspects that exist at a variety of time scales (campaign aspects, mission aspects, and minor advantages). The longer the aspects duration, the more difficult it is to create, and the more screen time it can take.

 

Compels (well, compel-like things) can be motivated either by the Autarch player or the Stronghold players. For the Stronghold players, they can come into play through complicating relationships with other heroes in the troupe or through complicating aspects. There’s no action limit to using these self-compels – but there is risk. The Autarch player can bring in more complications, but those are restricted during each mission.

 

Finally, in service to making the mini-games more tactical, the amount of stress that the attack action may inflict is capped by the skill used to attack with. There are of course stunts and such that can tweak that. This tones down on the massive aspect invoke chain which creates anti-climactic conflicts.

Wrath of the Autarch has a very structured procedure of play. What problems are you trying to solve with the structured procedures?

The biggest driver is to promote episodic play. I really liked the idea of playing through a season of time each session. This makes it easier on players who can’t make it one night, because you’re always ending at a good spot. The troupe based play also helps there.

 

Because there is no gamemaster, the structure of the game propels it along and keeps this pace up. The procedure also promotes cycling between the long term strategic scope and the shorter term season scope.

 

Furthermore, the action economy drives the time pressure in the game. Will you have time to do what you need to this season? This year? Are you prepared to stop the Autarch?

Could you talk about the mini-games for a bit? The first Fate mini-game I encountered was from VSCA’s Diaspora.

I really enjoy having some diversity when playing games. If every night is a dungeon crawl or every night is a massive pitched battle, it can start getting a little routine. Mini-games are a way to have variety over the campaign. That’s the primary motivator – each mini-game (diplomacy, infiltration, skirmish, warfare) has little tactical elements that you can master and learn to exploit.

 

And yeah, Diaspora! Diaspora was the game I read that made me start thinking I could do this in Fate. The sheer variety and utility of mini-games was super interesting! Some of the mini-games in Wrath of the Autarch ended up pretty different from those in Diaspora, but they were definitely an inspiration.

 

Partly, I had to streamline the mini-games in Wrath of the Autarch so they didn’t run over about an hour (because the conflict mini-games are only the last third of a season). I also took some inspiration from some boardgames (the Call of Cthulhu LCG and Reiner Knizia’s Battle Line actually influenced the diplomacy mini-game).

In playing Wrath of the Autarch at Origins 2014, the session had a certain “board game meets RPG” feel to it. What has been your experience introducing Wrath to board gamers who don’t normally play role-playing games?

Yeah, most people say “hey, this is a boardgame-y role-playing game” or “this is a role-playing-y boardgame.” If role-playing-y is a word. It’s probably not a word.

 

The vast majority of people I have played with have already played role-playing games, though. That’s probably a function of playing it so much at role-playing game conventions. Most of my friends are all primarily into role-playing games.

 

I have played with a few people at my FLGS that have never played a role-playing game before, and they really liked it! They came from a strategy game background.

 

I’ve found that players who used to be into Birthright or Ars Magica or who play video games like Civilization, X-COM, and Crusader Kings usually love it. Even people who don’t come from those backgrounds have been pretty receptive to elements of it. It’s not a common experience in tabletop gaming, which is why I set about making it!

For more information checkout:

Running a Fifth Edition Character Funnel

This past Tuesday I ran part one of two part D&D 5E 0-level Dungeon Crawl Classic inspired character funnel adventure (i.e. many enter far fewer leave). I’m not going to go into a session recap, but I will go through the character creation.

Character Creation

Each player created 4 characters by rolling the following:

Random Stats

Players could choose one of two methods for each character they created:

Method #1

Roll twelve (12) sets of 3d6 straight down keeping order (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha). This method is by far my most favorite method for D&D stat creation.

Method #2

Roll 4d6 straight down keeping order and optionally replace one stat with an 8.

Here is the Ruby script used to generate the simulation data.

Bell Curve Showing Method 2 (i.e. 3d6 clumps) around +5 or +6 and method 2 (i.e. 4d6) has higher standard deviation.

A visual distribution of the likely modifiers based on each of the stat methods.

Random Race

Based on the results of a group poll, we wanted a plurality of races. The following tables generated that.

Table 1: Random Race
1d20 Race Source
1 – 9 Human Player’s Handbook
9 – 18 Common non-human Roll on Table 1A (d20)
19 – 20 Uncommon non-human Roll on Table 1B (d120)
Table 1A: Common non-human races
1d20 Race Source
1 – 2 Dwarf, Hill Player’s Handbook
3 – 4 Dwarf, Mountain Player’s Handbook
5 – 6 Elf, High Player’s Handbook
7 – 8 Elf, Wood Player’s Handbook
9 – 10 Half-Elf Player’s Handbook
11 – 12 Half-Orc Player’s Handbook
13 – 14 Halfling, Lightfoot Player’s Handbook
15 – 16 Halfling, Stout Player’s Handbook
17 Dragonborn Player’s Handbook
18 Gnome, Forest Player’s Handbook
19 Gnome, Rock Player’s Handbook
20 Goblin (Eberron) https://goo.gl/eYjUk9
Table 1B: Uncommon non-human races
1d20 Race Source
1 – 5 Aasmir Dungeon Master’s Guide
6 – 10 Tiefling Player’s Handbook
11 Changeling Unearthed Arcana: Eberron
12 Elf, Eladrin Dungeon Master’s Guide
13 – 14 Elf, Drow Player’s Handbook
15 Genasi (1d4 for element) Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
16 – 17 Gnome, Deep Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
18 Goliath Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
19 Shifter Unearthed Arcana: Eberron
20 Warforged Unearthed Arcana: Eberron

Random Background

My 0-level adventure is set by the sea in a small community. So the table reflects that distribution.

Table 2: Random Background Generator
1d20 Background
1 – 3 Guild Artisan
4 – 5 Sailor
6 Acolyte
7 Sage
8 – 9 Criminal
10 Entertainer
11 Folk Hero
12 Hermit
13 Noble
14 Charlatan
15 Soldier
16 – 17 Urchin
18 – 20 Outlander

Random Extra Languages

Some of the players wanted help choosing their language. So we referenced the following.

Table 3: Random Starting Language
1d8 Language
1 Dwarvish
2 Elvish
3 Giant
4 Gnomish
5 Goblin
6 Halfing
7 Orc
8 Exotic – Roll on Table 3A
Table 3A: Random Exotic Starting Language
1d10 Language
1 Abyssal
2 Celestial
3 Draconic
4 Deep Speech
5 Infernal
6 Primordial
7 Sylvan
8 – 10 Undercommon