I wonder if linked content feature of CS6 would help you build it once, then propagate it onto other pages?
Is ther already another TOC in the file? If so, did you uncheck the Replace Existing TOC box?
I'm not having a problem here putting a TOC on a master page and having it update.
Yes, that fixed it, thanks! I had no idea they clashed like that. I ruthlessly purged all other tables of contents, and then used Layout > Table of Contents to create a new one, and it worked.
It made more sense after seeing in this thread that table of contents styles are more like presets or entities than styles.
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You can have as many TOCs as you like in a document, and they can even all use the same TOC style, but if you have only one, the Replace TOC box will do it whether the TOC story is active or not. If you have multiples, you must make one active to replace it.