Oaks & Rivers in the Greenwood

This #Greenwoodnesday I’m going to ressurrect a rather recent G+ post to talk about tables and charts in #LincolnGreen.

To be different and gimmicky, as is my wont, the game uses coins instead of dice. There are lots of reasons why coins are better suited to the game than dice. Chief among them is the fact that you don’t fiddle with little granular bonuses and penalties. This or that. Yes or no. Saved or lost. That’s all you get.

But when you’re working on a chart of a table, you sometimes get a bit wistful for a little granularity. It’s not that coins can’t produce large numbers. They’re basically binary number generators. One coin can get you a d2. Two coins can get you a d4. Three coins, a d8. Four coins, a d16. Five, a d32. Six, a d64. And so forth. But it’s a little cumbersome and makes for uninspiring charts:

  • 0000 An abandoned cart.
  • 0001 A shepherd/shepherdess seeking a lost lamb.
  • 0010 A poor knight with a weighty debt.
  • 0011 A wealthy abbott.
  • 0100 The king’s warden
  • 0101

It’s a little flat, not quite the #LincolnGreen aesthetic, and rather hard to read if you’re not practiced in binary digits. And perhaps most importantly, it tries to work around the coins weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths.

Let’s play to their strengths.


You’re playing in the Wolves’-Heads tradition of #LincolnGreen and you want to randomly roll up your species. Let’s say it’s an early playtest with only 32 species available. I could hand you five coins and tell you to throw them one at a time to build up a binary digit between 0000 and 11111, and we could consult our list of 32 species to find which one corresponds to that value.

Or I could build you an Oak, like the one I started making in the image below. Start at the trunk and climb your way up. As you reach an branch, answer the question or throw a coin for your answer. Yes and heads to the left, no and tails to the right.

A chart in the form of a badly drawn oak tree.

(Note: In the illustration, heads is called piles and tails is called crosses, period appropriate terms I’ve been toying with using.)

  • Are you covered in fur or hide? No, thank you.
  • Are you covered in feathers? Hmm, I’m not sure. I’ll throw. Heads! 

(At this point, we note that Eppy is fallible and accidentally reversed the order of the following branches. So we pretend the branch to the right is really to the left, move on with our example, and remind Eppy in the comments that this is precisely why he has an editor and should let someone else do the actual graphics.)

  • Are you at home upon the lakes & seas? Yeah, that sounds lovely.
  • Can you soar? Throwing again. Crosses. I guess I’m… no, fuck that, I soar. I want be a goose, damn it!

The strength of the Oak is that it takes what would otherwise be a block of 32 randomly assorted animals and sifts them into the answers to a series of yes/no questions. That way you can take each question as it comes and decide there if you want a particular answer or you want to trust in your coins. And, as our example has shown, you can even trust the coin, and then tell it to fuck off when you suddenly realize that’s not the answer you wanted.

Another strength is that you can further divide each branch into as many limbs as you wish without affecting the probability of the parent branch. On this oak, half of all species thrown are mammals, but we don’t have to have just 16 mammals to make that work. We could divide that part of the oak into 32 or 64 species and still have half of the thrown species be mammals.

We don’t have to stick to powers of two. Some branches may divide further than others. And we can have branches lead you to new oaks if we really need something big (and we might for the species in Wolves’-Heads).

Enough about oaks, let’s talk about Rivers.


Let’s go back to our random encounter table example, because who doesn’t love a random encounter?

  • 0000 An abandoned cart.
  • 0001 A shepherd/shepherdess seeking a lost lamb.
  • 0010 A poor knight with a weighty debt.
  • 0011 A wealthy abbott.
  • 0100 The king’s warden
  • 0101 …

You’re rolling on it, and the merry folk are praying for a wealthy abbott, but you get the poor knight. That’s wonderful! Much mischief can be and has been made of this poor knight! Good Sir Richard at the Lee.

A little while later, you roll again, again hoping for a wealthy abbott, and again rolling the poor knight. Oh Sir Richard, what troubles have you found now? Ne’er mind that, let’s adventure.

Later still, another roll, another lack of abbott and another poor knight. Goddamnit, Sir Richard! Will you take a hint and steer clear of the Greenwood?

Let’s fix this. Instead of a binary number before each encounter, let’s put a circle ◯ or two.

An abandoned cart.
A shepherd/shepherdess seeking a lost lamb.
A poor knight with a weighty debt.
A wealthy abbott.
◯◯  The king’s warden

Now we’ve got a River. To use this River, we throw a set number of coins and count the heads. Let’s say this River wants us to throw three coins. This will give us a number between 0 and 3, with 1 and 2 being the most likely. Now, starting at the head waters (in this case, the abandoned cart) we count down a number of entries on the river equal to what we just threw. Where we land is our encounter—cross off one of its circles and encounter away.

When next we throw on this River, we ignore any encounters that have had all their circles crossed off. So let’s say that in our first encounter we threw 0 heads, so we found that abandoned cart. When we go back to the river, it should look like this:

An abandoned cart.
A shepherd/shepherdess seeking a lost lamb.
A poor knight with a weighty debt.
A wealthy abbott.
◯◯  The king’s warden

And now our lamb-seeker is the head waters. We start our count from there.

Some encounters have more than one circle, like the king’s warden. In this case, they act as a single entry when counting down the river, but stick around for future throws as long as they have empty circles left.

We could make a very likely encounter that only happens once with something like this:

Friar Tuck
Friar Tuck
Friar Tuck

The stout friar takes up all of three entries, making him very likely to occur, but once he does, cross out his circle and skip all those entries from then on.

We can also plug instructions into the rivers—branches and tributaries that change their structure once big events happen, or simply an instruction to clear out all the crossed circles and start the river afresh. Along with that, rivers can have unique encounters that only occur once and are never refreshed. Like the one time Prince John makes the mistake of strolling through the Greenwood alone.

One of the strengths to rivers is that they are less about if something will come up, and more about when. Especially if you keep the number of coins you’re throwing low, in the 2 to 4 range.


How about an oak where you absolutely must throw all the coins first and then order them! That may be of some use. To stick with the game’s theme, we’ll call this coppicing.

Image comes from english Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coppice

Let’s say you coppice an oak at 4 coins. That gives you 16 possible end results. If you throw all the coins first, you end up with one of five combinations:

  • 0 Heads & 4 Tails
  • 1 Head & 3 Tails
  • 2 Heads & 2 Tails
  • 3 Heads & 1 Tail
  • 4 Heads & 0 Tails

If you’re allowed to order these however you choose after they are thrown, 0 Heads & 4 Tails can only lead to 1 of the 16 results. Same with 4 Heads & 0 Tails. But 1 Head & 3 Tails can reach 4 different results among the 16 total. As can 3 Heads & 1 Tail. And 2 Heads & 2 Tails can lead to 6 remaining results.

So you could set up an oak where the rare results happen only when you throw either 0 heads or 0 tails. When you throw those, you’re stuck with the result. Throwing only 1 head gives you the choice of 4 different uncommon results. Throwing only 1 tail does the same. And throwing 2 of each gives you the choice among 6 common results.

There might be some fun to be had there. Say we make a reaction table out of an oak coppiced to 3 coins that results in something like this:

  • 0 Heads & 3 Tails — They fight.
  • 1 Head & 2 Tails — Choose one:
    • (Heads/Tails/Tails) They stand wary, gripping what weapons they can.
    • (Tails/Heads/Tails) They greet you warmly, but prepare to ambush you.
    • (Tails/Tails/Heads) They challenge you to a wager or competition.
  • 2 Heads & 1 Tail — Choose one:
    • (Tails/Heads/Heads) They are polite & hope that you will swiftly be on your way.
    • (Heads/Tails/Heads) They offer you trade or gifts.
    • (Heads/Heads/Tails) They haughtily pass you by.
  • 3 Heads & 0 Tails — They flee.

Eight possible results. Two are locked once the coins are thrown. Otherwise, the Warden has their choice narrowed to three possible results.

If the Game Warden wishes, they can choose not to reorder the coins, letting them order themselves as they fell, and roll with the result.

Or, and this is the part I’m most excited about, they can put their finger on the scale and really shift the probabilities around. I can see a Warden thinking, “Here’s a rough bunch of ne’er-do-wells. I’m going to put one coin down right now as a tail and throw the other two.” Now they’ve got a one in four chance of fighting (3 Tails), a one in four chance of a less hostile reaction (2 Heads & 1 Tail), and half of the time they’re going to be preparing for a fight or a wager of some sort (1 Head & 2 Tails).

I fucking love math.

Alright, that’s enough for this #Greenwoodnesday. Now seek thee the comments to tell me I need an editor and someone else to create my graphics.


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