By - October 15, 2008 - 14 Comments

Random Fun with Random Plot Generators

Random plot generators rock my world. I don’t use randomly generated plots in my games without heavy modification, but they can really be quite fun; especially when everyone’s feeling silly.

Maybe random plot generators are brilliant. Maybe I’m just easily amused. Either way, how can you resist clicking that ‘Reload‘ button, ad nauseum, just to see what random goodness you’ll come up with?

I remember the good old days when Irony Games was the go-to web site for random fantasy game generators. It was a one-stop shop where you could make wonky taverns, caverns, labyrinths, and, yes, plots. A typical random plot might look like this:

"While eating at Local Tavern, the PCs learn that Bad Guy has stolen Very Important Thing and taken it to Spooky Cavern. If they return the item, Helpful NPC will reward them with Glorious Treasure".

And every phrase with conspicuous capitalization contained a link to the appropriate random generator. It was beautiful in its cheesiness.

Ah, but those were the days when the Web was young. Now there are random plot generators all over the place, and trust me when I say that their quality is wildly varied. Sayeth Wikipedia, "Such a device can be created for virtually any genre, although it tends to produce formulaic and hackneyed situations."

You should definitely never, EVER leave your plots to the fickle whims of random generators.

That said, here are some examples of the fun you can have when you leave your plots to the fickle whims of random generators:

Source 1: Wizards of the Coast Adventure Hook Random Generator
Silliness Factor: Low
Cliché Factor: Mid

This online plot hook generator lets you choose between D&D classic mode, faerie tales, or bare bones adventure outlines. Nothing super-silly seems to come up, and there’s enough here to get a DM’s mind working to fill in the story gaps.

The plot hooks are quite familiar, but if you chose D&D classic mode, you can’t say you didn’t ask for it. My only problem with this generator is that the suggested treasures don’t always match the encounter difficulty. (1d100 gold for defeating a powerful wizard of legend?! Pfft. I won’t touch Elminster for less than 150.)

But since DMs can bend, break, or blatantly rewrite the rules, the treasure thing isn’t really a valid gripe. Overall, this is a good generator if you want something simple and playable.

Source 2: Cult of Squid – Quest Steps
Silliness Factor: High
Cliché Factor: Very Low

So check this out: The demon Spinagon has kidnapped Celan the Astrologer, a disappointed half-orc teenaged teetotaler. To get him back, the party goes to a clearing where they meet Ailenn, a secure halfling female with strong body odor.

Then, out of nowhere, an underage pastry cook hands them a pewter plate that they must deliver to an Astral Construct. This provokes an attack by Nylwaynn Blackheart, an evil half-elf female who… gives the party a ceramic bowl? What is this, a D&D Tupperware party?!

You’ve got problems when your plot consists of Emo orc kids, stinky halflings, child laborers, and mismatched crockery. This plot generator is good for laughs when you’re silly, bored, or sleep-deprived, but it’s not quite ready for prime time.

Source 3: The Demonweb Random Adventure Generator
Silliness Factor: Low
Cliché Factor: Mid

This generator lays out a lot of suggestions, but leaves room for the DM to flesh out the NPCs and plot specifics on their own. I like it. It even generates ideas for plot elements like "Omen/Prophecy", "Moral Quandry", "Red Herring", and "Cruel Trick". If you’re pretty creative and have a mischievous streak, this site will generate lots of inspiration.

My very first random Demonweb adventure turned out to be a tale of espionage on the high seas, whereby an old friend of the party hired them to map unexplored catacombs beneath a forgotten temple. The party barely managed to thwart the heinous plans of Curse Sufferer and his lackeys, Misguided Moralist and Sniveling Vizier. A high-speed horse chase ensued after the PCs found out (surprise!) that they were wanted by the law. Good times all around.

And now I’d like to hear about the random craziness that you’ve experienced firsthand. It could be a rehash of some zany plot you saw on one of the sites above (or another great site), or just a tale of how a random plot hook was worked into your campaign – for better or for worse.

Share the insanity!

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Written by Janna

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  1. Tommi says:

    “You should definitely never, EVER leave your plots to the fickle whims of random generators.”

    Is it a bad thing if I have run nine sessions of a game where the plot is almost entirely based on a random generator? (Every session starts with a character or two that have been in play before and four randomly generated entries, around which the story of that session is built.)

    The generator is at Abulafia: http://random-generator.com/index.php?title=Fantasy_oracle_compilation, which is a wiki that allows one to build random generators at will.

  2. ScottM says:

    As Tommi mentions above, Abulaifa has some great random generators. You might enjoy its Fantasy Adventure Generator. While I’ll use the ideas for inspiration, they get molded into the plot and their rough edges filed off.

    Another interesting way to use random generators is to have a web tarot reading for a PC (or villain). Interpreting the reading through its symbolism and the game world events can be an interesting challenge– and lead somewhere you’d never have thought to go.

  3. Steve-o says:

    I’ve never used a plot generator for a game, but I have wasted many hours hitting the reload button for something silly to read in the middle of the night while watching ice freeze and melt at work.

  4. Devon says:

    Every plot I run is created with either: a random generator OR a hat full of rocks.

    ScottM’s comment about tarot readings is actually pretty good. I’ve used Tarot cards to develop plot before. Another nifty thing is to use Tarot cards as modifiers in games. There area few sites about doing that. Not sure how it would work in D&D, but I don’t imagine it would be too hard to do so.

  5. Vinicius_Zoio says:

    MOTHER OF MERCY!!!!

    I’ve been looking for that “The Demonweb Random Adventure Generator” for about, let me see, FIVE years? Yeah, I think this is it!!!

    Back, when the web (and I) were young, I stumbled upon the “Flat-Earth Story Generator” and I said: “God, this thing rocks!”. Eventually, the site went off-line and the wondeful utility vanished. I tried looking for the Story Generator everywhere on the net, to no avail.

    The “The Demonweb Random Adventure Generator” is EXACTLY the same thing as the old “Flat-Earth Story Generator”, whith less trinkets actually; iin the old site, you could “mark” elements that you liked and generate a random story once again, keeping the element you marked before.

    Anyway, THANKS for leaving the link! I feel like I completed an epic quest!

    Hoooray! :D

  6. Labareda says:

    I had fun with those :-)

  7. Janna says:

    @ Vinicius_Zoio: Glad I could be of help! For completing your quest, you get 1dBazillion random plot ideas and an epic sense of satisfaction (priceless).

  8. You might be interested in my plot generators:

    http://www.apolitical.info/webgame/ideas (fantasy only, gives a lot of plot elements and specifies whether they’re the goal, opposition, complication etc.)

    http://www.apolitical.info/webgame/plots (gives one-sentence plots. You can choose which genre/s to use)

  9. Elrod says:

    @ Vinicius_Zoio: I feel exactly the same way, because I’ve been searching for the same thing for who knows how long. I’m so exceedingly pleased that it still exists. Thank you Janna!

  10. Janna says:

    @ Elrod: Glad to be of service. ;)

  11. Adnega says:

    I’ve been using random generators since I discovered gaming in 2000. I’ve been running the games for my group ever since our first attempt at 3rd edition D&D (roughly when I discovered D&D…it was RIFTs and In Nomine before that). I based an entire campaign off of elements from plot generators (The Black Company being fallen heroes who had allied themselves with rulers all over the planes in order to capture the heart of time…my very first campaign)…as well as a puppeteer/illusionist messing with the mind of a paladin who had a reputation for being slightly insane and making bad choices (not evil choices…just always taking the longer road and the hardest possible plan…this was much later in my DMing career)…and the corporate entity who had clones of himself in case anythign happens to him (he also being the primary villain in my first attempt at 3rd edition spelljammer)…

    Most recently I’ve been running a 4th edition steampunk spelljammer and my party has ignored my plots and changed its makeup often enough that I have resorted to random generators again just to find some (more) inspiration (they ignored a dead friend with a frog obsession, a shark headed man in an alley with 3 syringes of mystery serum, a camera that captures the actual person in a photograph instead of just an image and a tribe of halfling cannibals…how much more can one DM do to try interesting these people?! :) )

  12. Corvidae says:

    this is effing AWESOME!! donjon is my freakin hero now! i’ve bookmarked it and i use it all the time :) thank you thank you thank you!

  13. Etarnon says:

    The Demonweb generator is exported to the net from the TSR Dungeon Master’s Design kit, 1988 Era for D&D, but I use it for everything.

    Same charts, plus more. Great great resource.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeon_Master%27s_Design_Kit

    Find it on ebay.

  1. Day 3: Write a paragraph. Yup, that’s it. | gindawn.com linked here

    [... Random plot generators rock my world. I don’t use randomly generated plots in my games without heavy modification, but they can really be quite fun; especially when everyone’s feeling silly. ...]

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