Easy Offline Randomization Ideas

Colored Marbles

The premise: Put an assortment of same-sized marbles into a container. Each color/style of marble represents something different. Reach into the container and pull out a marble at random.

The possibilities: You can do a lot with this one. Let us say, for example, that each color/style of marble represented a type of pet a character could own. For the purposes of this demonstration, a white marble will represent a cat, a blue marble will represent a dog, and a green marble will represent a guinea pig. In this universe, people are much more likely to own a cat than they are to own a dog, and likewise more likely to own a dog than a guinea pig. To make the randomization process reflect this, you could put four white marbles, two blue marbles, and one green marble into your container.

One could increase the number of possible outcomes beyond the number of marbles by making combinations possible. Just three marbles gives you six possible combinations, four gives you twenty-four, and five gives you a whopping hundred and twenty. (To figure out how many combinations you can get from any other number, you can check out this combinations and permutations calculator.)

Any Other Small Objects

The premise: Find an assortment of small, similarly-sized-and-shaped objects with distinct appearances.

The possibilities: You can do pretty much the same things you can do with the marbles. As long as your objects are fairly consistently-sized and shaped, you're good. Possible items include:

Depending on the item, you could number or otherwise label them with a permanent marker to differentiate them.

The Idea Jar

The premise: Write ideas/concepts on pieces of paper, put the papers into a container (eg, a canning jar), and pull one out at random.

The possibilities: Obviously, it doesn't have to be a literal jar. Any container that can hold small pieces of paper will do. As for the contents, you could fill your jar with anything you want - plot twists, causes of death, superpowers, plotbunnies, cutie marks, phobias, etc.

Another option is to have multiple jars. In a two-jar setup, one jar could contain problems (eg, "an alien invasion," "a sweeping illness," "an unwanted in-law") while the other contains solutions (eg, "careful diplomacy," "patient research," "a transphasic particle beam"). You could even add a third jar containing character names to determine who must find or implement the solution.

A Deck of Cards

The premise: Take a regular deck of playing cards, shuffle, and draw at least one card.

The possibilities: There are many, many ways this could be taken. Values could be assigned to individual cards or to numbers and suits separately. As with the marbles, cards could be drawn in combination. One system you can use for cards is detailed on How To Generate Ideas With Playing Cards.

Pen & Pie Chart

The premise: Draw a piechart with an assortment of possible options on it. Get one of those transparent Bic ballpoint pens (or any pen/pencil that has an angled sheath to prevent rolling), hold it upright in the middle of the chart, and let it fall. Where the pen falls is your result.

The possibilities: This one has the distinct honor of being the only randomizer that can be made out of nothing but a pen and paper - you could stick this one in the back of your notebook if you were so inclined. Also, options that you want to be more likely can be given a bigger section in the chart.

Random Music Shuffle

The premise: Use your music player to pick a random song, or put it on random shuffle.

The possibilities: Picture this - you're stuck in your plot. You have no idea where to go or what to do next. So you load a random song... and Frank Sinatra's Fly Me To The Moon plays. Well, there's an idea - take your characters to the moon!

Alternatively, you could randomize a dozen or so songs and try to make a plotline inspired by the list of songs you get. Let's say I get:

I might make that into a story where two characters get to a knife fight at the harbor, only to be interrupted by the arrival of a third character.

Also, check out:

Creating Semi-Randomized Characters
Quick & Dirty Characterization Tips & "Cheats"

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