Inspired by this thread:Random Encounter Tables
I've always enjoyed the various creative prompts and instant imagery which can come from random tables, random encounters, game oracles, and other similar techniques.
However, I often don't want to bother with actually spending time outside of play writing up the things, only to discard so many elements for the actual game. What if you're only playing once? Is it worthwhile to write ten elements on your chart, when you will only actually use one? (Sometimes it is, yes... but it's pretty inefficient, as well.)
One of my favourite gaming/GM techniques is to use input from the various players, without consulting one another, and then treat them as "random table" results. In this way, you get a variety of input, nothing is ignored, and the creative spur, the unexpected, comes into play.
For example, I have, on several occasions, played In a Wicked Age...
this way. So long as everyone has a clear sense of the genre and tone for the game, it works very well. Every player writes one story element (without consulting with the others), and then we throw them together. It's much like a "draw" from the oracle... except with no oracle.
My favourite trick, though, is to have players write up some elements like that for the developing story, and then do something random TO them, before throwing them back into the game.
Here's a simple example (not a good one, sorry - just for illustration). I have four players, and I say:
"You all recently arrived in the Frontier Keep. Who is the most interesting or important person for you, here? (Make up an NPC.)"
"What's a weird, inexplicable rumour you heard last night? A strange event which left you scratching your head, but deadly curious?"
Then I make a little chart.
(A)_____________________ secretly works for (B)____________________, who seeks revenge against (C)_____________________, who is dependent on (D)___________________ in a terribly illicit way.
I roll dice and randomly assign one NPC to each slot. Then I randomly assign (again, dice) a rumour to each NPC, and consider how they are related - generally, something jumps out at me: either the NPC is responsible for the rumour, or, perhaps, the rumour is a hint of something that happened TO them (if the former doesn't make sense).
I've done it the other way around, too:
Shown with a list of "random items" or story elements, and handed them to the players to assign in some fashion. My Lady Blackbird one-shot hack, for instance, has a list of NPCs and a list of dramatic and unlikely reputations. Before we play, I tell them to take turns assigning a reputation to each NPC. I love it! Every time I play the scenario, the NPCs take on a completely different flavour (e.g. the players decide the little girl is a cannibal!)
This isn't exactly like using random tables, but I've gotten such a kick out of it that I've started doing it pretty much every time I ran a game of some sort. I think there's a conceptual overlap here, mixing "randomness", "uncoordinated input" (each person throws in an idea), and "unexpected coincidences".