Bringing random encounters into your game is another way to let chaos in a little bit. While some feel that random encounters get in the way of the main story, sometimes those random encounters can become the main story. If you leave a lot of room in your preparation, or avoid preparation completely, those random encounters can turn the entire direction of the story ninety degrees from where you originally intended.
-Mike Shea (SlyFlourish), http://slyflourish.com/build_worlds_not_stories.html
While I've come out hard against wandering monsters as an incentive for players to keep adventuring, I'm not opposed to "random" encounters. However, I think every encounter, even random ones, needs to serve a purpose. It doesn't have to serve "the main story," though.
I think some folks like to use "random" encounters to color the setting (see comments on my last post) or throw some chaos into the game, adding that element of the unexpected. That's intentional, to me.
He's talking about being intentional with random encounters. Use them for a purpose. Use them to add chaos and potentially take the story off on an unexpected route.
This reminds me of my favorite GM technique: "Ah... You've finally figured it out..."
I love saying that when the players come up with a crazy but totally awesome explanation for the events in my campaign that I hadn't thought of. In that one instant, I gain two big advantages:
- I get a compelling explanation that ties together several threads in my story that I hadn't bothered to tie together myself. Or, even if I had some loose explanation, I can replace my sketchy ideas, created in isolation, with the ideas that the players worked out together. They obviously find their own idea compelling and interesting, and they think it's the best explanation for the events so far. Honestly, they frequently invent a better story collectively than I can do on my own. No surprise there -- there are five of them to one of me!
- I get a huge boost in player buy-in as they feel like they just discovered something amazing in the world. Their typical response is something like, "Oh... You bastard!" Keep in mind that most of the time they figure out a mystery or puzzle in my games, I really had designed that way. Even though they already know that sometimes I redesign plots on the fly to match their crazy theories, most of what they discover in the world is something I had thought of ahead of time (e.g. villain motivations, secret conspiracies, reasons monsters are there, etc.).
I usually just smile and nod, and from my devious expression, they realize that either this was what I meant for the plot all along, or I just threw out my notes and wrote down their crazy theory as fact. And they'll never know the truth of the matter...