It's been a while since this blog has seen any love. Instead of just focusing on the world building for Erylia, I'm going to start writing more about playing D&D, being a Dungeon Master, and still work in world building elements when I think it fits. It's still going to be fairly sporadic when I post, but I'll try to get at least one thing a month. With that out of the way, let's talk about randomness and how it can be worked naturally into a game. One note before you continue reading, my experience as a DM come from the stories I run in this podcast, so the things I talk about are a look behind the curtain and are likely to ruin some immersion.
A Random NPC Isn't An Unimportant One
If you've listened to the first arc of the Mieveht Story, you might recall an NPC by the name of Brit that the PCs sought out for help early in the arc. Brit was an interesting character, because he was originally intended as a throwaway character to help fill a room. However, he was someone the PCs latched onto and turned into a recurring character.
During the lost arc of the Mieveht Story (which can be found on our Patreon), some of the players went to the second level of the mansion they were pulling a heist in. My notes for that room simply had a number written down for an amount of guards and other attendees. When they got up there I had to decide who these people were and why they were here on the fly. The most notable of these was a card game that was going on in the center of the room. Three NPCs sat around this table. A man named Gruff, with a deeper, gravely, voice. A woman whose name I honestly don't remember. And a young man named Brit, with a terrible, vaguely British, accent.
Throughout that arc of the campaign, the party interacted with Brit multiple times, and it became clear that he was someone that they as characters and as players had taken a liking to. Realizing that there was a pretty good chance that the party was going to run into him again, I had to set out to turn him into more than a random NPC they played cards with once. He worked for a Barron worthy of an invite to Ezerai's party. So who is Brit now? He's a man who works for the Barron, dealing in information. He's just seedy enough to fit in in The Commons. He's connected to the Undercity and can leverage information there. And he will help you out, if he thinks there is valuable information to be learned.
Stories Can Be Anywhere
Before the Erylian Epic, our adventurers were sent on a mission to clear out a cave of goblins and kobolds who were working together to attack the town. At one point, a particularly high investigation check for loot led to me drawing from my random loot deck a handful of times. The loot deck that I use has cards for coins and other treasure items meant to he sold for coin as well. What I drew for this cache included a bracelet and a stone locket. I described them as being Dwarven made, with the bracelet having a love message inscribed in Dwarven runes and the locket having a painting of a beautiful woman. The players latched onto this, and that is where the story arc for the first arc of the Erylian Epic came from.
These items may have been drawn at random originally, but they're important now. Since the players cared about the story behind them, so did I. I set out to work on what these items really were, where did they come from, how did they wind up in these caves? There is now an entire story arc of our podcast that was born from a random loot draw, and I sincerely hope the story arc itself comes across as genuine, because these items do have their own story now. I have even gone so far as to write a short story of the origin of these items, similar to how I wrote Cassien's Dishonor to give context to why Cassien is the way he is. That short story will be released once the campaign arc has passed their relevant point, so as not to skew the natural flow of the game story.
Random Encounters Can Lead To Great Roleplay
Randomness doesn't always have to come from you as a dungeon master, either. One of my prouder moments for my players were the events surrounding running across some giant seahorses while aboard the Whispering Winds. I like to create encounter tables for various locations that I can pull from if I don't have something specifically going on in the area that the party will be travelling in. These "random encounters" aren't always meant to be a combat encounter, just something for the characters to notice and interact with while travelling. It came up the whole time the party was travelling on the boat. There was a shark, though pretty insignificant to something as large as the ship they were on. There was a pod of whales. And there was the couple of giant seahorses that really drew Rem's attention. Like the other encounters that happened aboard the ship, I expected this to mostly be breezed right over and be completely uneventful. I was blown away when Rem's decision to "fish" these creatures not only created immediate tension on the ship, but also influenced the rest of the journey to port. I'm sure Tempest would have felt the way she felt regardless, but all it took to turn this into something that really impacted the story was describing the captain as looking disproving, which got the attention of Ariel and Kenina.
I wouldn't necessarily say that it is a good idea to put your party in situations where they are pointed against one another. However, that kind of tension can really drive a story and create situations that mean more to the players and their characters than if everyone just got along 100% of the time. So after reading this, remember, story can be anywhere, you just have to be willing to let it happen.