Friday, November 25, 2022

RULINGS: SURVIVAL ROLLS FOR EXTREME CLIMATES

When I run Network campaigns I lean heavily on rulings, extrapolating on existing mechanics to fit the situations that arise. I get quite a few questions about this and it is sometimes a thing I take for granted because it comes up so often in play. This is a series of posts that will talk about specific ways to use rulings, which will hopefully give GMs an idea of how to bend the system to the events that arise during a session. These aren't new rules but approaches to existing rules, though GMs who wish can incorporate them as optional house rules if they want (many rulings become house rules over time). 

I thought a good way to do this would be to discuss a hypothetical that recently occurred to me, but hasn't come up in play yet. This way the ruling is one that unfolds more like it might at the table for the first time.  

Suppose the players decide to travel through dangerously cold regions. If you have ever lived in an extremely cold environment, you know how dangerous low temperatures can be. In Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate and other Network systems (from Sertorius to Strange Tales of Songling) there is a skill called Survival, which is used for a variety of things but primarily overland travel. Its chief function is to see how quickly you reach your destination and if you have any complications or encounters along the way. Here is a brief description from the WHOG rulebook: 

The section goes on to describe more of the sub-skills, followed by using it for things like food and shelter. But the relevant section is for travel: 
A failed roll typically results in rolling on an Encounter Table. But I think another use of the Survival Roll is to check how well characters handle extreme environments. For example if it is too cold, a failed check could result in 1 wound. I would probably roll again to check for encounter (rather than have the single failure do double duty and both impose a wound and result in an encounter table roll) but that is personal preference. This could also be used for extremely hot environments.  

The ruling is taking the Survival Roll and adapting it so they suffer a wound due to temperature on a failure. I would personally retain having this be a single roll by the PC with the highest Survival, but you could have them each roll individually if you think that is more fair. 

This can be useful if the party decides to travel to the north through the deep snow and cold. Obviously there could be other approaches to this. This is just one way to handle it. Rulings are not about finding one way, just about thinking through the system logically to come up with the method you think best fits that moment, and it might mean you think of other options to choose from. 

For example a GM could forgo wounds if those seems too harsh and instead impose Skill penalties for every failed roll (just keep in mind this can create a spiral effect on the Survival roll itself if you have it affect Specialist Skills, so it might be best to simply have it impact physical skills, and possibly combat skills). You could even have it progress from skill group to skill group, starting with Physical skills till those reach -3d10, then advancing to the next logical category and so on. 

Something I generally do when I make rulings like this is I explain what I intend to do and why, so the players know going in what to expect. This also gives them an opportunity to weigh if they want to object to the ruling and propose an alternative. For me what is important we come up with a mechanical solution all agree reflect what is going on in the game itself. 

You should also tailor your rulings to taste in terms of complexity. The first approach of taking a wound, is a very straight forward and simple solution, while the second one is more involved. You should do what makes most sense to you in these moments. 



Tuesday, November 22, 2022

GRUDGE ENCOUNTERS AND DRAMA

A core element of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is the Grudge Table. This tool helps the GM keep track of ongoing feuds with NPCs and sects, ensuring that their enemies occasionally come to settle the grudge. You roll on it regularly and it can also be triggered by a standard encounter table. It is one of the things I found most useful for bringing the wuxia genre to life in a way that feels natural. I want to go over how the grudge table can be modified to add in other complications, in particular dramatic complications. 

Ogre Gate is described as Drama and Sandbox is the core rulebook. Here is a brief excerpt from the GM section: 

The basic idea is to introduce dramatic twists and turns, appropriate to the genre while respecting the players freedom to explore. I primarily work through NPCs when doing this. I find it easier to manage the motives and goals of my NPCs, and see what events those lead to, than orchestrating set pieces (that is just my personal approach, not a statement against using said set pieces in an Ogre Gate campaign). Something like set pieces still emerge, but when they do arise it is because an NPC is trying to orchestrate something grand and succeeds. Again though, this approach is simply a matter of taste and preference. 

Deciding when and how to introduce drama can be a challenge. I usually go by a combination of what seems appropriate, what coincidences and events seem like they are naturally pushing things in that direction and as a response to actions players take. But another method is to rely on the Grudge Tables. 

In the Sons of Lady 87 Campaign book, I describe a modified grudge Table that includes 'lingering complications' which specifically has criminal characters in mind. So a lingering complication may be officials tracking them down over a bank heist. Here is an example of the table: 

For my current Celestial Plume Masters campaign I am experimenting by swapping out Lingering Complication with each of the dramatic relationships the characters established in our first session. I am also rolling on the Grudge Table once at the start of every session. With the dramatic relationships, it looks like this: 

It works like a normal Grudge Table. I roll before the session begins and if something comes up, it will appear sometime during the session when it makes sense. If the result is 2-6 (which are established Grudges) then it is likely to be combat, an ambush, or some other hostile exchange. But if it is 17-19*, then the NPC result is someone they have a more dramatic relationship with, likely someone who wants something from them, and someone they want something from. And because it is a complication, I think it's fair to introduce the encounter at either a moment of inconvenience or in a way that further complicates an existing situation. 

Often times this will simply be a character showing up and talking to one of the players. Their dramatic connections are usually with people they know such as friends or family. And so it need not be hostile.

For instance 18, the result would be Kuo Qingzhao, a terrible man who is friends with Wei Ziying, and wants to know the secrets of a particular poison that Wei Ziying knows the secrets to. He is wealthy, so he might show up at an opportune moment, with resources and make them available to Ziying, hoping to pressure him to reveal what he knows. It may just be a simple conversation, but one that recurs anytime they meet with Kuo Qingzhao's patience progressively diminishing. The idea being this might become more dramatic as time goes on. But if the result was Li Liang, the party leader's daughter, that could be more fiery as she hasn't yet learned he is her father and he is trying to maintain a connection with her and steer her away from the dangerous martial arts she practices. She could track him down and demand answers about her parentage or threaten to go confront her mother, Qixia (something he wouldn't want her to do). It need not be Li Liang herself either. Perhaps someone from Hai'an, like Qixia's current lover, decides to pay the party a visit to sew discord or even threaten them. And dramatic complications don't have to be pure dialogue, they could be betrayal such as leading the party into a trap or making a false accusation against them to stir up trouble. 

If I wanted to I could also have this complicate an existing situation. Presently the party is attacking a man named Iron Lu in Bo Quan (he meddled with the shipment of Celestial Plume going from River Village to Tung-On). Perhaps he is a disciple of Li Liang. She is just one or two districts over (and very near where the celestial plume began its journey). She might even be present and come to Lu's aid once the fight gets underway. This would make dealing with Iron Lu much more thorny for the party. 

I find techniques like this are useful for ensuring interesting things come up, but also forcing me as the GM to fit them to what is going on at the moment. It adds to my own sense of surprise while helping preserve fidelity to the genre. 


*If they gain another dramatic complication then it would be 16-19

Monday, November 21, 2022

SONS OF LADY 87 INTERVIEW

The other week I spoke with Mildra about the Sons of Lady 87 campaign book. You can check it out for yourself or listen below: 


Sunday, November 20, 2022

RANDOM ENCOUNTERS: CONNECTING THE DOTS

In my most recent Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate session the players made a Survival Cities roll and failed when they came to Tung-On. So we rolled on TUNG ON: CITY ENCOUNTER TABLE I and the result was a 15, a Hustle. From this encounter a character was introduced to the session who became somewhat important. This was a process of connecting the dots between details that emerged randomly and naturally, and I want to talk a little about how to do that. 

I should say, Hustle was probably the one result I didn't want. I had stayed up all night watching a movie and felt a little foggy. Hustles tend to be socially active exchanges and if you aren't on your feet as a GM they can be a little challenging to pull off well. So I opted for a Hustle that would ease into the social exchange, that way I didn't have to immediately jump into a sales pitch or something. I figured someone dressed as a city official asking for peoples passports in order to steal them would work. 

The first step was rolling a character. For this campaign I have been using the Bedrock App to do that. I decided to make him level 3, someone who was competent enough to pull off such a con but not so powerful that it made no sense they were relying on it. The result was the following character: 

LENG ZIYING 

Defenses: Hardiness 5, Parry 7, Evade 5, Stealth 7, Wits 7, Resolve 7

Key Skills: Arm Strike: 3d10, Light Melee: 2d10, Medium Melee: 2d10, Muscle: 3d10, Speed: 2d10, Detect: 3d10, Talent (Dancing): 3d10, History (Era of the Dutiful State): 1d10, Martial Disciplines (Qinggong): 1d10, Language (Daoyun): 3d10, Language (Hai'anese): 1d10


Qi: 3

Max Wounds: 7

Weapons: Jian (4d10 Attack, 4d10 Damage), Parasol (2d10 Attack, 4d10 Damage)

Combat Technique: Medium Melee-Momentum


Kung Fu Techniques (Waijia 2, Qinggong 2): Fierce Strike, Eye of the Formless Interception, Bixie Stars Strike, Weapon Stride, Flowing Stroke, Slip of the Rain, Cleave of the Saber


This is just the base stat block generated by the app (with bolding and spacing added for clarity). I didn't add anything and only took away one weapon that seemed excessive. What leapt out at me was the Flowing Stroke technique. That belongs to Relentless Corpse Sect, an organization that one of the PCs has ties to. I decided to connect that dot with the dot of the players being Celestial Plume Masters in order to make the character more relevant. So I thought briefly about the NPCs reasons for using this con on the players. 


What I came up with was Leng Ziying was a former disciple of Relentless Corpse Queen, but had provoked her anger. They aren't enemies, but she refused to continue as his Sifu which pained him because he had grown emotionally connected to her like a son. So he wandered, eventually seeking to forget his troubles in Celestial Plume, to which he became addicted. A shell of his former self, he is now obsequious and tricky, relying on stealing peoples passports and selling them at Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall to feed himself and feed his celestial plume habit. I also decided that he called everyone he worked for Boss, to give him a recognizable way of talking (for some reason I found this useful). 


That was enough that I was able to run the encounter, but also it gave the character fuel for when the players decided to see if he could be of use to them. 


In the encounter itself, Leng Ziying approached the party dressed as a city official, asked to see their passports, talked to them as he examined the slips, then turned and ran away down the road. This led to a chase, followed by a fight, after which Leng Ziying submitted and apologized. The leader of the party realized he could be of use and made an arrangement with Leng to provide them with information and local guidance in exchange for a regular supply of celestial plume. 


Now Leng Ziying appears as though he will be a recurring NPC, but its difficult to say where things will go with him. It really just boils down to connecting random details and details that emerge with other elements of the campaign, the party, the adventure, the setting, etc. What is interesting to me with moments like this is a result I didn't want on a table becomes something that adds a lot to a session (if you read the log you can see that this interaction and his subsequent dealings with the party made up a good portion of the evening) and forms into an NPC that is crystal clear to me as a GM. 









Saturday, November 19, 2022

THE CELESTIAL PLUME MASTERS CAMPAIGN SESSION TWO

This was the second session of my Celestial Plume Masters campaign using the Sons of Lady 87 book. You can see the first session HERE


PLAYER CHARACTERS 

Wei Ziying: A skilled poisoner and physician, with ties to the Relentless Corpse Sect, Wei Ziying is a disciple of the Celestial Plume Masters. He also has a longstanding friendship with Kuo Qingzhao, who wishes to know more about the poisons that killed his wife (poisons Wei Ziying knows the secrets of). Grudge: Ravenous Nun Xuanji (for the murder of Red Eagle)

Wang Haoyang: A master of stealth, Wang Haoyang is one of the Celestial Plume Master disciples. He has a lifelong friendship with Pei Ye of the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, but has attracted the affection of another member of that organization, Fan Zhen'er (he does not return the affection but wishes to avoid creating friction within the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, and possibly creating enemies). Grudge: Guan Nuan (for a duel he escaped, she feels she lost face because he was weaker than her and should have been an easy victory)

Hei Ling: A one-eyed chief in the Celestial Plume Masters, Hei Ling is the father of Li Liang, whom he wishes to cease practicing her Toad Style kung fu because of the physical toll on her body. He had Li Liang with Qixia the candied fruit in his youth and since then Qixia has grown hostile. He has a working relationship with the Wu Sisters. Grudge: Qixia the Candied Fruit Vendor (of Hai'an). Grudge: Qixia (many reasons related to their pre-existing relationship)

A TOAD IN TUNG-ON 

Iron God Meng
The party made its way to Tung-On, the seat of the prefecture. As they passed through the gates a man in official uniform approached and asked for their passports. He made small talk as he examined the slips but quickly turned and ran away. The party chased him down and a fight ensued. He was competent and wounded Wang Haoyang with a technique that Wei Ziying recognized as Flowing Stroke, from the Relentless Corpse sect. But he was outnumbered and overwhelmed by their attacks so the man dropped to the ground, apologized and placed their passports before them. He introduced himself as Leng Ziying and it became clear he was addicted to celestial plume. 

Hei Ling saw an opportunity and established an arrangement with the man to provide them information in the city in exchange for plume. It was clear he was desperate and with their steady supply of plume he would be easy to control. 

While Wang Haoyang and Wei Ziying went to gather what information they could on the 87 Killers in the area, Hei Ling went to Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall to speak to a contact in the Zun Escort Company. Their contact was a woman named Gu San, who was in charge of escorting shipments of plume to Tung-On. They met in a private area and he proposed they begin establishing Teahouses as fronts so Iron God Meng could use them to sell Celestial Plume in the city. She agreed to begin by taking over a down-on-its luck spot called the Wood Chip Teahouse. She also informed him that shipping the plume wasn't as easy as she thought, and that she'd lost ten men to a man named Iron Lu or Lu Xiannang, who had affiliations with the 87 Killers and was last seen in Bo Quan. Hei Ling was determined to dispatch Iron Lu, so promised to set out for Bo Quan in the morning. 

That night Wang Haoyang, Leng Ziying and Wei Ziying brought information. There were two 87 Killers active in Tung-On: Golden Toad Guan and a lower ranking brother. They had been asking about the disappearance of Brother Hua Yu, and seemed quite angry, putting tremendous pressure and threatening local criminals to extract information. They also learned that Hua Yu had been on his way to buy gun powder from a man named Huo Lei, who they deduced was the person Wang Haoyang saw at the Fox Spirit Inn. In addition they learned that Long Ma Hall and Southwind Manor were suddenly in conflict over some offense committed by Gracious Toad (one of the Four Uglies of Southwind Manor). 

A TOAD IN BO QUAN 

The next day they used the canal to reach Bo Quan. There they learned that Iron Lu was staying at the Jade Toad Inn. Hei Ling and his men approached the inn and shouted to Iron Lu using his internal energy. He demanded the man come out and hear their complaints against him. Two men and a woman, all dressed in silver regalia filed out and stepped to the side, then Iron Lu came out. He was dressed in a similar manner but had golden gloves and boots. 

Iron Lu seemed cautious and to feign misunderstanding. Hei Ling accused him of killing Gu San's men of the Zun Escort company. Iron Lu asked what affiliation Hei Ling had with the company. Hei Ling told him simply that he had an affiliation but that the precise details were of no concern to him. When Iron Lu again inquired about the affiliation, Hei Ling asked if Lu was a moron who did not understand simple words. 

As the conversation played out, Wang Haoyang made a surprise attack on Iron Lu. This is where the session ended. 


 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

STRANGE WORLD NEW ENGLAND: ROAST BEEF

When I was a boy growing up North of Boston, one of my favorite things was roast beef sandwiches. It was, for me, wonderful comfort food. But one day we moved to the west coast and there I tried ordering a roast beef sandwich at a local shop. Not only was it not the same, it was a whole other category of roast beef sandwich. The beef tasted as if someone had just taken cold cuts and put them on bread. It was a literal roast beef sandwich but not a true roast beef sandwich. 

I tried roast beef elsewhere and I couldn't find anything like I had in Massachusetts. Unable to learn from my mistake I continued ordering roast beef sandwiches, thinking I would eventually find a place that made them right. Wrong. They simply didn't make the roast beef the proper way. One might say they didn't really make roast beef at all. 

A few years later, I moved back to Boston and found the same delicious roast beef waiting for me as if I'd never left. It was like the time me and my cousin got lost in the woods and wandered for hours before we finally found our way back to his parents cabin. Except it wasn't a cabin, it was a roast beef sandwich.  

I do not believe I can convey in words the difference between the cold, soulless roast beef of California and Boston's hot volcano of flavor. One is like a hearty meal of tender meat made for a king, the other is like dying inside. 

The North Shore roast beef is a local speciality. It isn't deli meat and it's not ordinary bread. It is a cut from an actual roast, warm, placed on a soft bun (usually something a little sweet like an onion roll), and it only has three possible toppings. 

Truly there are just three toppings. You can order other toppings if you want. No one will stop you. But you'd be ordering incorrectly. No one will say anything. They'll keep to themselves and judge you silently while you eat your roast beef with layers of lettuce and pickles like a savage. 

The three toppings are: cheese, a tangy sauce and mayo. You can get them individually, you can combine two together, or you can get all three, in which case you order a roast beef "three way". If you laugh when ordering your three way roast beef, you will be outcast from the commonwealth. Personally I hate mayo, so I just get with cheese or with sauce, sometimes plain, sometimes both. 

The beef itself needs to be roasted and warm, then sliced thin. It should also be rare. North Shore Roast beef is mostly pink buttery slices of meat. 

There are many places you can go around Boston for a roast beef sandwich. In recent years some higher end options have opened up as well though traditionalists will say too much culinary innovation causes the sandwich to lose its essence even if it objectively tastes good. The most famous is probably Kelly's in Revere (which has locations in other towns as well). I always loved Kellys because the sandwiches are good and they have plenty of other options like fried clams and lobster rolls. But it is one of those places whose fame is something of a double edged sword for locals and if you ask around, many people will tell you to avoid Kelly's and to go to a more hidden spot. There are also roast beef places on every corner. My uncle swears by King's Roast Beef in Salem. I know people who prefer Minos in Lynn. 

Other popular places are Bill and Bob's Roast Beef in Peabody. I always found them reliable but it was never my number one place to go. Bill and Bob's Famous Roast Beef in Salem is good too, but even better after midnight (they are open late, till about an hour after the bars close). But I think the place I consistently hear get the most local praise (and I would agree with it) is Nick's in Beverly. I used to deliver in the Beverly area and that was always a nice place to stop for a roast beef sandwich. 

Incidentally this is a very coastal North Shore-centric overview. I know places in Lynn, Revere, Salem, Beverly, even Peabody, but west of that my knowledge drastically diminishes and there are a probably a number of great roast beef places in that direction that are completely off my radar. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

BOOKS AS RANDOM TABLES

I've mentioned in several posts the idea of using books as random generators. This is an idea that has long appealed to me outside of gaming. I first encountered it when I learned about the conversion of Saint Augustine, how he heard a child sing "take up and read" and he opened a bible reading the first passage he saw, which was Romans 13:13-14. It was explained to me that randomly selecting a passage and reading it was a way people sought guidance and meaning at the time, and it was also explained that people generally read out loud as well (the latter isn't that relevant to this post, but something I found interesting as I always read things out loud in my head). I found myself doing this with a variety of books over the years, mostly to amuse myself or stumble on random thoughts and ideas. But eventually it became something I incorporated into my gaming. In this post I will describe the approach I take, which I call the random book method. 

The Random Book Method 

This is really a very simple way to generate random results and ideas in an RPG. You can use it the same way you use random tables. When a moment arises in the game where you want to introduce something or see if and how something occurs, you simply pick up a book, turn to a random page, find the first passage that catches your eye and use that as inspiration for what happens in the game. If for some reason the passage seems to have no relevance, you can either treat that as nothing happening or go to the next passage you find that is relevant. 

This does take a little practice to get comfortable with but it opens up a lot of doors because every type of book can be used and which books you choose to incorporate will shape the style and tone of the results. 

I

You will want to practice with this approach just like you probably played around with random tables before using them live in your first game. It is one thing to roll on a table and get a result and another thing to make that result come alive. And this method requires reading a paragraph each time. With books what you are looking for is inspiration and for something to help guide your decision making process. The result might be literal (i.e. you turn to a page that describes a sea serpent so you decide to have the party encounter a sea serpent), or it could be more of a starting point (i.e. you encounter a passage that describes the innovation of the gazetteer genre in 12th century Song China, so have them encounter an official gathering information for a gazetteer he is working on, or a group of bandits attacking such a person or carrying a cart of stolen gazetteers). You can take things even further if you like, the important thing is to see the passage, get a few thoughts but also an immediate sense of where to go (because the idea is you are still trying to make this random, and not just use it to put something down you were going to do anyways). 

For practice, because it can be a little tricky at first, I suggest using the random book approach between sessions while doing prep, before introducing it into a live game. This way you will see if it suits you (like any method, this isn't going to be something that resonates with everyone) and it will get you accustomed to working with random book passages (which span a huge spectrum of being directly relevant to being something you have to think about a bit to make relevant). 

II

For the random book method any book can be used, a novel, a history book, the bible, another religious text, philosophy books, etc. However you should have some idea of how you are going to use the book before incorporating it into your game. And you probably should be familiar with the book or the genre it belongs to so it makes sense to you and so you can have a sense of what sections might be best to randomly turn to (you don't need to target sections but there are times when this will be helpful to you). 

You should also have more than one book. You can even use a whole shelf if you want, but personally I recommend selecting about three books that cover a variety of topics so you can choose something likely to yield a gameable result. 

I like history, and I am probably most comfortable with history books, so I usually have a mix of different types of history books on hand. As an example, I might have a book on trade, a book that is just an overall history book of a given period, and a book on daily life. I may also include a primary source that could be handy (in a wuxia campaign, the Analects for example) and sometimes use short story anthologies, books about folklore, and the bible. 

But you can use whatever books you want. 

III

This can be used for everything from encounters to adventure ideas to NPCs personalities and histories. Most often I use it for random encounters but I also use it to see what players find when they go somewhere I didn't expect. 

Here is an example of how I might use it in a session. My characters are a group of martial heroes in the city of Yu Zhing, a place I haven't used in a long time, and have rough notes and a sketch of in one of my old binders. There is also a short entry on the city in the Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate rule book on page 255. So there is enough detail but also a lot of open space to be explored. The city is under the grip of the cruel General Dee and the players want to form an alliance with local heroes to wage a rebellion against him. One of the players asks if there are any notable heroes in the area. 

This is a good opportunity to try the random book method. 

I am using one of my favorite books, The Song Transformation of China, and randomly choose a page and passage. The first thing I read is "Trade guilds flourished in Hangzhou...." and it goes on to describe the role of guilds, the basic structure and the naming conventions. I see a list of the kinds of guilds and "....dried salt fish trader's guild at Turbid Water Gate" catches my eye. These guilds had headman who served as middlemen between them and the government, and helped regulate prices. So I decide one of these headman is sympathetic to the plight of the workers in Hu Qin (there are many exploited workers in this city) and leads an informal group of heroes drawn from the salt fish trader's guild merchants and through a network of fisherman and transport ships. I need a name and don't see any on this page so I flip until I find a surname, and see Zhai on the next page. 

So I take all this and tell the players after they do some investigation that "You learn about a man named Zhai, who is the headman of the dried salt fish traders guild at Immaculate Water Gate." 

I then want to flesh out Zhai a bit so I turn to another random page and the first passage I see is a verse of poetry, and I also see one of the lines mentions hair turning grey. So I decide Zhai is also a talented lyric writer with a good command of music, but that he is quite old, and despite being a skilled master has kept his abilities hidden from the general. 

This is just a starting point but it gives me a sense of the kind of person they may be dealing with, as well as the sorts of people he has supporting him, what other kinds of martial heroes are likely to be in his ranks, and some of the risks he is exposed to. I can also complicate the situation further using this approach to develop rivals and allies in the city. 

IV

Normally at this point I pin down details in my note pad. So I would write "Zhai, headman of the dried salt fish traders guild. Old. Talented poet, martial hero and musician.Sympathetic to workers and against General Dee." I may also assign a Qi rank and then randomly generate his stats (or flesh them out quickly on the fly). But I also know from experience when players go to meet with an NPC, especially one they want a working relationship with, it's important to know what that character wants, both generally and specifically. These kinds of interactions are likely to involve negotiations and there is nothing more dull than an NPC negotiating who has no motivation. I may have enough from what I've already pinned down, to extrapolate some wants. I know he likes music and I could elaborate on that (perhaps he is hoping to recruit skilled musicians, find antique musical instruments, etc). And I know he is in opposition to General Dee, but he so far has been doing so with secrecy and tact. A group of bold new martial heroes might make him nervous unless he trusts their skills. 

So one option is to do another random passage to check for any wants he might have that could be important during the player's dealings with him. I have a book called Commerce and Society in the Sung China (which I talk about a lot because it has so much gameable material). It has much that could be immediately relevant to Zhai, so I open up a random page and the first passage is about paper manufacturing. At first I consider the possibility of a dispute between the guilds, but decide instead to make it more personal because I already know that Zhai has an interest in music and poetry. So I decide he has a personal grudge with the head of the paper manufacturers guild over something very petty like a rival love interest or a perceived slight in one of Zhai's poems (I go with the perceived slight). As a consequence, rival headman has made it clear that no one who sells paper or prints books in the city is to give Zhai access to top grade paper (something Zhai resents because he likes printing fine copies of his poetry to gift to people, so any books he prints locally have to be with inferior quality grades). 

I like this kind of motive because its more involved, a fun motive and more social than something like wanting an item in a particular location (not that that can't be viable too). But this leads to further exploration of the city, its power groups and its politics. Which not only is helpful for the players but helps me as a GM to create more and more of the city. 

*

This is something you can try in your own campaign. Hopefully I have expressed clearly how I make use of it, as I do find it a very effective random tool (and a fun one to use). Feel free to test it, see if it works for you. Or perhaps you devise a modified approach that works even better.