I’m a big fan of random stuff generators. They can be an incredible tool that sparks your own creativity and, in comparison to adapting (aka stealing) stuff from other sources, they don’t influence you with the added fluff contained in those. I mean, I steal from any source I can and have a lot of fun doing it, but really making those things my own is just that bit harder than if you just have the skeleton.
Take for example Immarion, my elven metropolis in ruins that I’m planning to get inhabited by humans. There are great examples for such a city and as a fellow fan of the Forgotten Realms, Myth Drannor comes to mind immediately; but while I don’t mind if Immarion has a bit of those Myth Drannor vibes that I like so much, I also don’t want this to be just a copy of what has already been done before. And while I might find a lot of valuable things in any of the old 2e setting books, I don’t want to make this into a simple plug ’n‘ play game (apart from any legal issues this would cause).
That’s where random generators can really come in handy. For example, Johnn Four from roleplaying tips.com just mailed my a link to a fantastic city map generator, that I immediately used to get a map for my elven city. I would love to have a full-colored, detailed city map somewhere along the road, but for starters, I can easily use this thing as a template for my adventures playing in this city. In the same vein, I might use a couple of other generators from one of the several fantastic sites I’ve stumbled upon in the past.
For example, I can use other generators to create the demographics of that city, I could fill it with randomly generated buildings and NPCs, I could even create whole plotlines and adventures based on random generators. So this approach can really be helpful to create something on the fly, but it can also serve to help you find a new angle if you get stuck writing your setting.
In my case, I might use those to get a feel for how the city originally looked like, before it got devastated by the war efforts of the humans and abandoned by the elves. What I especially need will be locations for the PCs to explore, monsters and other opponents to battle and treasure to be found. I already have some ideas about that, but I will probably need a lot of ideas for those parts of the city that aren’t integral to any plot I might come up with.
Here are the sites I frequent most when it comes down to using random generators. They contain a multitude of generators for different topics, so no matter what you look for, you might be able to find it at these sites.
Random Tables, a site I just stumbled about that presents a lot of links to other sites with generators.
And a little shout out to d20srd, a site I used to frequent heavily when I was still running 3E games; when I visited it recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only it got extended to include the 5E SRD, but that also the GM tools section was expended on with different generators.