As you step into the quaint country tavern, eager for a pint and a bite to eat after a long day on the road, you overhear a farmer complaining loudly of his pigs going missing in the night. The fellow he’s talking to spits and says “I suspect I know what did that! I caught one of those little green buggers sneaking around my sheepfold yesterday! If it hadn’t been so quick I would’ve wrung its neck!” The pig farmer shakes his head. “Goblins are tougher than they look. Don’t go risking your own hide over it. I say we wait for some ratcatchers to wander into town and pay them to do it for us. We made a heap off the last harvest. I’m sure if we all pool together, we could offer a convincing prize for getting rid of those nasty monsters…”
Adventures. Players want ’em, and DMs need ’em. But sometimes you’re fresh out of prewritten modules and stumped for inspiration. Whenever I don’t know what to throw at my players, I reach for a random encounter generator. Specifically, this one. I roll up two or three encounters and imagine how those creatures might interact with each other, and that usually gets the creative juices flowing.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Goblins stealing livestock isn’t exactly high art. I do enjoy the classics, but point taken. What you and the PCs don’t know yet, however, is that the reason the goblins are stealing the livestock is because their leader has been captured by a coven of hags that need the animal parts to brew a vile potion that will blight the crops for miles around, leading to mass suffering and starvation! See? Now it’s interesting!
And that right there is basically the whole trick to this method. Let’s build one together, and I’ll explain it as we go.
Step 1: Random Encounters
Roll 1: 1 Giant Crocodile
Roll 2: 1 Grick Alpha
Wait, what even is a grick?
Alright, just to be safe, let’s get one more.
Wow. This is going to be an odd one. I’m excited.
Step 2: Tie It Together
Okay, this is kind of an insane prompt, but I can work with it. The grick has a stone camouflage ability, normally lives in caverns. That’s a good starting point.
Pseudodragons often live in small caves, so maybe it’s in the same one as the grick. Gricks are not immune to poison, so maybe its venomous tail barb is enough to keep the grick from messing with it.
The giant crocodile is an interesting element. It could be a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps someone saw the grick’s tail and mistook it for a crocodile? Perhaps… or maybe there used to be crocodiles here but they’ve gone missing (because the gricks ate most of them). Could be an element of the local economy. That’s fun.
Perhaps our grick slithered up out of an underwater cave opening because its usual supply of food (crocodiles) has dwindled. Gricks are ambush predators, so it could be hanging out along the riverbanks to attack fishermen and travelers.
Okay, this is all well and good, but a pile of monsters is not an adventure. Why should the PCs care?
Step 3: Motivate the Players
How exactly you’ll get your players on board with the adventure depends a lot on play style, so you’ll have to tailor this to your table, but for my players, the promise of treasure or a magic item works well, as does an opportunity to be a hero… Sometimes.
Of course, if you award XP for killing monsters, that alone may be sufficient motivation. And there’s also the possibility of getting the pseudodragon as a familiar, but thinking ahead a bit, I’m not sure how to seed that into the hook. In this case, I’ll lean into the randomness and rely on good ol’ donjon to generate a treasure hoard.
800 cp, 5000 sp, 2300 gp, 70 pp, 3 x black onyx (150 gp), 2 x diamond (100 gp), amethyst (100 gp), coral (100 gp), jade (100 gp), jet (100 gp), spinel (100 gp), tourmaline (100 gp), Potion of Resistance (psychic) (uncommon, dmg 188), Goggles of Night (uncommon, dmg 172), Keoghtom’s Ointment (uncommon, dmg 179), Potion of Growth (uncommon, dmg 187)
Some potions, Goggles of Night, gems, and coins. These could be the belongings of a jewel thief whose magic goggles helped them work in the dark! It’s way too much loot for one grick alpha though, which brings us to…
Step 4: Fleshing It Out
So far we have one encounter and a treasure hoard. We need to expand that idea into a full adventure. In this example, that probably means building out our underwater cavern into a small dungeon. Let’s say there are more gricks in there, and our alpha will sometimes be out in the river hunting prey and other times it’ll be down in the cavern eating, while the smaller gricks and the pseudodragon try to snag scraps as they can. At the back of this cavern, we can stick a skeleton with the Goggles of Night still on its skull and the rest of the loot nearby. Perhaps this treasure functions as a tiny adorable hoard for the pseudodragon. I would probably sprinkle some of those gems and coins like breadcrumbs leading into the back of the cavern, too.
At this point, you can iterate this process until you’ve built a big enough adventure, rolling more random encounters for inspiration whenever you get stuck. But eventually, it’ll be time to stop building and start advertising.
Step 5: Add a Hook
Our shiny new adventure won’t be much use if the players don’t know about it!
Perhaps a crocodile hunter had a run-in with the grick alpha and barely escaped with their life. We could just have this person notice the obvious adventurers in town and run up to them and ask them for help, or simply offer a warning about the road they spotted it on, in case they’re going that way.
Maybe the locals know about the underwater cavern and have some local legend about the treasure that’s down there. Once the players near the cavern, we can have one of the gricks attack them, or they could simply notice some gemstones glittering beneath the water’s surface in the mouth of the cave.
We could easily do both. If the players don’t want to help the hunter, we could have a bard telling the local legend about the jewel thief in the tavern, perhaps mentioning their magic glasses and that they stashed their loot in Crocodile Cave.
That’s all there is to it! You might need to re-roll a few times if what you get is too weird (or not weird enough, depending on your game) but this method has never failed to help me come up with a suitable adventure for my players. I hope you find it useful too!