Maybe your PCs have been all around the neighbourhood and it's time to spice things up a little. Or maybe you're looking for a way to seed your world with brewing conflicts and problems to be solved.
Either roll on the table when needed, or drop a bunch of d20s on your world map. Where they landed, that trouble starts brewing. Or it might not come about just yet, but there are omens and portents aplenty.
d20 Natural Disasters and Man-Made Messes
- Drought: Start tracking water skins, as in a desert. If not resolved soon, will lead to famine. Water levels might be so low that river trade is crippled. Can the PCs persuade a local god or a coven of witches to bring back rain?
- Famine: Might be caused by drought, locust swarms, blight... Cost of food soars, taverns are closed. Bandits everywhere, but they want your rations, not gold. Services and goods can be cheaply bought with a meal, but not with money. Have you heard that you can buy food cheaply and in bulk just over this dangerous (d4) forest/desert/swamp/mountain range? We shall reward you handsomely if you can bring back enough for the town.
- Flood/Tsunami: Water everywhere, houses and crops are ruined, survivors are gathering in tent towns up on hills. A boat is a must, aquatic monsters are now a common encounter. A local wizard tower or fortress might be compromised; an ideal time for a heist!
- Sinkhole: A megadungeon or a part of the Underdark has partially caved in. Lots of unusual riches are suddenly up for grabs, but also lots of unsettling threats are set free.
- Earthquake: Houses collapse and ground breaks up. Might result in a sinkhole or a flood. On the plus side, whatever was the most secure, most impregnable building in town is now sporting large cracks in its walls and many of its guards have been injured or killed. What was it guarding?
- Wildfire: How did it start? Can the PCs evacuate the town in time, or divert the fire? And where will all the druids and witches and trolls go when their home is reduced to ashes?
- Volcanic eruption: Thankfully you were far enough to avoid the blast of overheated ash, but there is something wrong with this eruption. It's (d4) a greater demon starting to break free of its prison after a thousand years/an army of fire elementals there to take our forests because their nation is starving/an ascension of a lesser volcanic goddess, she has so much more planned now that she can/a female dragon in labour, her newly laid and extremely valuable eggs will now be safely resting somewhere deep in the volcanic caves.
- Tornado/Hurricane: This one is probably better as an imminent threat. Can you get to safety before the wind drops a hut on your head or sweeps you away to Kansas? Afterwards, many structures will need to be rebuilt. Maybe the PCs can lend a hand and leave their touch on the town?
- Blizzard: The winter this year is colder and darker and longer than any other you remember. Wild animals are starving and coming closer and closer to the town. The roads are nearly impassable, who will brave the blizzard to bring food and medicine?
- Meteor: Whatever the most imposing or important structure nearby was, it has been hit by a shooting star. Some people say it's the star-gods coming for their chosen, some that it's an invasion. Others just see a huge chunk of starmetal up for grabs.
- Plague: Bring out your dead! Make it some really weird, magical disease, as that would probably be more fun to play than 2020: The Campaign.
- Terrorist attacks: Someone is blowing stuff up, or releasing wights in the streets, or laced the water supplies with potions. People are afraid. Martial law might have been declared. Is a cult involved? Or mind control? Lots of opportunities for investigating or bodyguarding.
- Witch hunt: The Church is out for blood and any magic-user might be at risk. People are disappearing in the middle of the night and the stakes are already built. Black market in magic blooms. Wizards will offer their services cheaply or for free, if you can just hide them. What triggered this, anyway? And how to stop it before the resident archmage notices and goes to war against the Church?
- War: There's always a war on. Except now, it has reached right here. If the PCs are in a town, it is now under siege and they cannot leave. There might be a forceful draft, a spy scare, or a supply shortage that could be solved by someone sneaking out through the old tunnels. If the PCs are out of town, the villages are looted or burned, enemy forces patrol the roads, and if they don't shoot you on sight, they would pay handsomely for information about city defenses.
- Crusade/Jihad: Equally likely to be two different religions or two factions of the same religion, but the other side is clearly heretical. Otherwise treat this as a combination of a war and a witch hunt against clerics. Are the PCs religious?
- Coup d'état: The king's twin brother has emerged with a claim to the throne! Or the ancient elven conspiracy has finally decided it's time they start ruling over the lesser races in the open! In any case, powerful factions are moving against each other and they need allies. Old allegiances are doubted and new ones sworn. There's a great opportunity to quickly rise to wealth and power, if you can pick the right side.
- Civil unrest: The hoi polloi have had enough of the upper classes. There are mobs and looting in the streets. Nobles and the rich are either driven out of town, or outright lynched. Maybe you can use all this chaos as a distraction for your misdeeds. Maybe you can be richly rewarded for helping a noble protect their property, and/or escape with their life. Maybe you can find a way to stir this up into a full-on revolution, because why not?
- Criminality: The Thief Guild has collapsed; or the most powerful crime lord is old or dead; or there is a new player in town who wants in on the illicit trades and is ready to spill blood over it. One way or another, this is going to be a big old mess.
- Monsters: The monsters are coming out of the dark woods and deep caves, towards the town. The military is overextended, the roads are unsafe and the villagers scared. Lots of monster-hunting and escort contracts. But why have the monsters left their cosy lairs? Are they running away from something worse?
- Roll on the Weird Troubles table below.
d6 Weird Troubles
- Behemoth: It is huge. It is coming from the (d4) sea/mountains/wilderness/underground. It is not openly hostile yet, but its path will lead it directly through the town in just a few days.
- Necromantic outbreak: Corpses rise mere minutes after death. Ghosts appear even in daylight. The graveyards are crawling with all kinds of things that should be dead. Is there a metaphysical imbalance to be righted? Is someone doing it intentionally? Does this herald something else?
- Eternal night: The Sun has set one day and then didn't rise in the morning. Mass hysteria. Doomsday cults get an influx of members. Is this a localized event?
- Thaumic fallout: It's raining random animals, houses are gaining extra rooms and body horror is ubiquitous. If there was no overt magical incident, then (d4) the ley lines are going haywire/there is a covert wizarding war/the government is experimenting on us/something is coming.
- Alchemical spill: A massive amount of toxic and mutagenic waste has leaked into the environment. Clean water is at premium. The sewers are crawling with mutant crocodiles and worse. There's noxious fog and acid rain. The public at large wants some answers. Who is responsible?
- Portal: A massive rift to another dimension has opened. If it's full of hostiles and dangers, that's bad. If not, that's still bad, because now everybody will call dibs on the new land and resources. Things will be busy around here.