My favorite kind of fantasy is spontaneous and transformational. Magic, especially wild and strange magic, has often played a role in my home games. As the elemental force of imagination, I feel that magic will lead you to become something new and wonderful.
Also, role playing situations are most interesting when you are surprised. Random magic is sort of surprise on a stick. You don’t know if it’s going to be something you like when you bite into it, but it’s doubly magnificent if it is. Reactions to the effects of random magic can be priceless.
One of my favorite in game applications of total chaos was Demon Ichor. A guild of summoners was drinking the lifeblood of the foul beings that they summoned, because it would cause mutations, some of which bestowed beneficial effects. Sometimes, it would just leave you a horrific mess.
One of the players drank some by accident, and he and his group were amazed by the results. After awhile, drinking demon ichor became an answer to every seemingly intractable problem: about to die? Drink some Demon Ichor! Gender changed by magic belt? Drink some Demon Ichor! Horribly mutated by Demon Ichor? Drink some Demon Ichor! One character wandered around as a twenty foot tall blue gnome for awhile. Another was so disturbed by what his character became that he had to retire it. An NPC became a jackelope, but could turn invisible at will.
And I allowed it. Because it was fun.
So every time a random magical effect table comes along, I hoard it. I have a list of just about every random magical effect published for the Dungeons and Dragons game, which I am posting here to spread the joy of randomosity. At one point, I had tied them all into one giant random table by means of a random table.
Really, everything in moderation probably applies here. You should take the random tables out sparingly. They can be unnerving to player and GM alike. But it’s your game, not up to me.
The Bag of Beans: I don’t think the bag of beans has been introduced to 3e. Alas. I never used it much, but who doesn’t want to play Jack every once in a while? Just the meta-narrative of it is priceless. “Oh, crap. I can’t face a hoard of twenty pit fiends. Quick, plant a bean!” The table in the 1st edition DMG was short: 7 examples, appended by the line “Thought, imagination and judgment are required with this item.” There was an expanded set of results in Dragon #171.
Deck of Many Things: The card says: Go to hell. Go directly to hell. Do not pass go, do not collect your hat on the way out the door. Wait quietly for someone to come pick you up.
There was always something very creepy about the DonJon card. This web version of the Deck of Many Things is tres cool.
WOTC has posted a web application here, using art from an article in Dragon #148 for the cards. An variant inspired by the Player’s Handbook II is appended. The variant allows you to use the rebuild rules from that book to change your character build. Random rebuilds don’t seem handy. Forced rebuilds, on the other hand, could be entertaining, if your players have a sense of humor about that kind of thing.
Recently, a contest was run on ENWorld for alternate deck of many things art. Info was posted here and here.
The current SRD version is here.
Deck of Transformations: A variation on the venerable deck of many things, this deck from Races of Eberron is organized around a theme of physical change. Mainly, it seems to be an Eberron specific reincarnation table. 16 of 39 cards change your race. 12.5 damage you. 9.5 give you inherent bonuses or additional abilities (if you didn’t already have them), which is cool but at a 25% chance, really doesn’t look so hot compared to a 46% chance that drawing a card will give the old rosy rod to your character concept. Races of Eberron, p 178.
Fist of Emirikol: The absolute coolest (and possibly only good) side effect of belonging to the RPGA was this nifty handout: a palm sized twenty sided die with nifty arcane runes on it. Rolling the die grants various minor effects, and looks hella cool. You can also use the “bite me” version on the RPGA’s web site, which is a garden variety d20 combined with a printed table that allows you to emulate the effects of a real Fist of Emirikol. Also, my kid loves to play with it.
Leprechaun’s Rosary: A friend of mine found this in some off-publication gaming zine, twenty years gone. I had a tattered photocopy of the original, but just went to look for it in my stuff… and it’s gone! Cue surprise music! Dahn dahn dahn! I couldn’t post it anyways: it’s somebody else’s shit, even if it’s old shit that the original author has probably forgotten about.
Magic Miscability: Random effects associated with wearing or using two or more magic items at the same time. How quaint. Dragon #229.
Potion Miscability: Okay. In 1st edition DND, you couldn’t drink two potions at the same time. They would have unfortunate interactions, sort of like whiskey and valium, if the whiskey were labled “drink me” and valium was red kryptonite. While not one of the most baroque tables, it offered loads of in game laffs, and could cause your character to explode or gain supernatural powers.
Reincarnation: Bored of your players resurrectioning themselves out of a tight spot? Although coming back from the dead is usually traumatic, it does sort of seem like an olly-olly-oxenfree solution to an otherwise tense narrative moment. Give the whole thing some pizzazz with a reincarnation table! The 1e ones were best. You could get really screwed and come back as a small furry animal! Comedy and character development gold.
Rod of Wonder: The original. Yes, yes: it useta be a wand, not a rod. Let the slapping fights begin. 22 possible results (apparently being a rod makes it more chaotic, because when it was a wand, it had a mere 19). But how many random rhinos are be entertaining? SRD Rod of Wonder.
Web Marginalia: O, Wondrous Wand, Dangerous Derv Wand of Wonder (Spicy! What the fuck is an experimental arrow chart?), Greater Wand of Wonder
Tarot Cards: An obvious adjunct to the Deck of Many Things was the real world deck of fate, detailed with magic powers for each of the cards in both Dragon #26 and #77.
Various Homebrew: Raw chaos is just too fun not to want to play with. Here, I include other people’s homebrew that doesn’t fall comfortably under the marginalia of another item.
Glyph of Change and Staff of Random Magic (with some extraordinarily bitchy badfun playa haters commenting below).
A thread discussing Hero Games versions of a wand of wonder.
Wand of a Wonder: The sequel to the wand of wonder, debuted in the Temple of Elemental Evil. 30 possible results. Same price as a 1e. wand of wonder. Now, that’s value for your mayhem dollar. Apparently also posted online at gamebanshee for your edification. Temple of Elemental Evil, p 126.
Wand of wonder II through IV: Dragon magazine, sensing that people were getting a little bored of the wand of wonder, printed three more tables in issue #147.
Wand of Woodland Wonder: See wand of wonder, but everything is related to trees and heat metal and druidy crap. Not nearly as fun as the other tables. Ruins of Undermountain II boxed set, pp.
Wild Mage: I’m fuzzy on the history of wild magic. In Forgotten Realms Adventures, wild magic is mentioned as a result of the Time of Troubles (table, pg 10). There are wild magic regions. Ditto the 3.0 Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (table, pg 55). In Complete Arcane, wild magic is an ability for a prestige class (pg 68, no table). I am flummoxed as to where wild mages appeared in earlier editions. But, I have a much cooler table for wild magic transcribed from somewhere, and while poking around to solve the mystery, I came across this, hosted on the WOTC site, which is very similar to my transcribed table, and a glorious random table, making use of each individual number between one and one hundred.
Web marginalia: Extraordinary wild surges (made nearly unreadable by a crappy background).
Zadron’s Pouch of Wonders: A funky version of the bag of beans, from which you could pull out bronze golems, copper dragons, or greeting cards. Dragon #62.