April 27th, 2011 | 1 Comment
I’ve seen lately a bit of a trend toward disliking random elements in games. Things like a random encounter. There have been comments that if it’s not designed and planned for in the game, or key to the story, that it shouldn’t be included in the game. I find this outlook flawed. Random elements for me are one of the things that make the game fun for me as the GM. If I spend loads of time crafting a story and laying in all the elements exactly the way that I want them to be, that’s boring. This is supposed to be fun for me and the players right? What’s fun about knowing what’s going to happen? Nothing as far as I’m concerned.
Let’s first look at the random encounter. Say you have a table with several options for a random encounter. Now let’s say you are in the middle of your session and your party is traveling, or camping, or otherwise occupied with something not entirely pertinent to your story. Will you roll on that table? Why should you roll on that table? Well, think about your favorite novel. Does the protagonist in your favorite novel get from point A to point B with no complications? Probably not. Its because the author knows that would make a bland story. Something is going to happen in there somewhere to spice up the narrative and give it some life. Same should hold true with your games. So you throw in an encounter that doesn’t necessarily mean anything but it complicates things for your party. Why does that encounter have to be preordained? What I do is create a table of usually around ten possible encounters, make sure to have statblocks available for any of those ten possibilities, and then roll when the time comes. It could be anything from a single goblin coming into camp to look for food, all the way down to an elder dragon curious about the party’s motives in his territory. Just because its random doesn’t mean it has to be any less interesting.
Now let’s forget about random encounters for now, I think that the benefits of a random encounter are pretty evident once you think about it so we’ll step away from that topic for a moment. Let’s move on to randomness in other parts of your game. Have you ever run an encounter where the villain ran and the party asked “Which way did he go?” What did you do? Did you pre-plan for that event and have it in your notes that he would run north because his lair is in that direction? Or did you come up with something on the spot because you hadn’t considered that fact yet? More than likely you made it up on the spot. Sure, you might have had a few things run through your head and think “Well his lair IS up north, so… he will probably run north.”, but you could have just as easily picked up an eight sided die and rolled for it. All of a sudden he ran south, directly opposite of where his stronghold is located. Why in the world would he do that? Oh look, you have an opportunity to make your story a little deeper and a little richer. Is that really such a bad thing? Sure it means you have to work a little harder and you have to learn to improvise, but I don’t see that as a real obstacle. I see it as an opportunity.
How else can you use randomization in your game? There are always the classic tables that you can use to add flair to your game. I recommend anyone looking to add random flavor to a game to pick up a product produced by Alderac Entertainment Group call the “Ultimate Toolbox.” It’s a book of nothing but tables, broken down into several categories. The first chapter delves into character traits. There are tables helping you to detail out a character’s background, appearance, family, quirks, adventuring history and much much more. The second chapter deals with building a world and has lots of tables dealing with creating a world for your players to explore. Chapter three deals with fleshing out cities, towns, villages, hamlets, whatever little place your NPCs may come from or your PCs may explore. There is a chapter for dealing with water based campaigns, and one for dungeons, there is even a chapter full of tables for dealing with magic in your game. My favorite chapter though, is the last one. It’s the GM only chapter(because yes this book was designed to be used by both gamemasters and players), and it has plot tables. The first few tables just give you a list of keywords designed to spark your imagination and help create a story. For example a quick roll of a d20 might net you number eleven “An enemy loved” with the associated words “beloved enemy, lover, hater.” This could be the inspiration for a great love triangle type story that could have your players locked in romance and intrigue for several sessions. They even go through a process to explain how to turn those table results into a game idea. If you aren’t happy with that though, there is the Quick and Dirty plot tables. Actual plot ideas ready to be plopped into your game. That same d20 roll could net you a plot like this “The town’s quilting circle is actually a witches coven who’s spells and incantations are stitched into each quilt they make.”
Those aren’t the only things located in the GM chapter of “Ultimate Toolbox.” How about tables with NPC names? Or plot twists? There’s inn names, locations for meetups, tips on integrating NPC interactions when they are all randomly rolled on charts, and even a list of things that can be a trigger for your villain. Villain weaknesses is another chart that I find very interesting and thought provoking, not to mention villain goals or lair charts. I’ve had this book for years and have yet to delve into it completely and use all of the information inside its pages. I can’t recommend this book enough as a resource for the random loving GM like myself. Even if you don’t consider yourself a lover of randomization in your games you should pick it up if for no other reason than as an inspiration tool. There is so much in the book that can give you ideas or show you that random is fun.
So yeah, that’s what I was getting to. Random elements are fun. They bring excitement to the table, and anything that makes my game more exciting is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
Written by SirGuido
SirGuido has been a Happy Jack's RPG fan since the first moment he heard Stu on Kicked in the Dicebags. He hopes one day that he will get to meet all of these great people and play lots of games with them.
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