Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stopwatch as d% Roller

Ein quick one from Thoust Spawn of Endra:

I was recently in Belize doing fieldwork and learned that you can generate random numbers from 0-99 using the 100ths of seconds on a stopwatch. I thought I'd share in case you ever find yourself without dice, or a smart phone with some cool app, or you have no electricity to charge said phone. In the event, I was with a colleague of mine laying out plots in some recently planted milpas. The purpose of these is to see how features of the soil, landform, fallow, etc., contribute to corn yields in a swidden system. Her interest is primarily in modern land use decisions by contemporary Maya farmers, mine is in the productive capacity of the land when it was cultivated by the ancient Maya. Here are some newly cleared and planted milpas:
She wanted to randomize the layout a bit more than I had been doing in previous years, so the idea was to stretch out a 100m tape, and she would run the stopwatch and then add or subtract the 100ths of seconds value (d%) or just the last digit (d10) to offset the plots from 0m, 50m, or 100m, more or less. Pretty cool.

So if you had a table like this one that Jim Pacek reworked from a truly bizarre Judges Guild chart, you could be generating any type of die roll you needed.

In fact, by running the stopwatch twice you could generate a value with 100ths of percents (or a d10000), so the problems of uneven distributions with d6, d8, and d12 could be resolved easily. If you get a 16% on a d6, you could run it again to figure out if you've rolled a 1 or a 2. If you end up with 16.66% you could run it again, and so on (though you probably need to lighten up if you're taking it that far).

One downside is most stopwatches beep when you run them and that might get annoying, but it's still better than nothing.


  1. What a cool job. Are you a horticultural archeologist? Indiana with a green thumb?

  2. I think the latest label that sort of makes sense is an archaeologist studying human ecology. I don't carry bullwhip, but machetes often come in handy.

  3. Yes, great looking photo! Much more appealing than the tarantulas and scorpions!

  4. There's a scorpion and a tarantula in that little thatch on the next hill in the center of the photo. They said they want sting your face.

  5. I remember there was a game called SHERPA that I found online oh so many years ago whose mechanics were all based on a d10 roll calculated by the millisecond digit on a stopwatch. It was designed to be played while hiking.

  6. Good post. Thanks for the shout out!

  7. @Jamie: Interesting game. It would seem to be a bit difficult to keep track of stuff without pen and paper, but the hard core gamer could pull it off, I suppose.

    @Jim: Of course! That episode with the chart is burned into my otherwise sieve-like brain, I had to give the shout out.