Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Making Plots Work

I'd like to try something practical this evening.  I'm drawing my inspiration from the following list of plots on the TV Tropes website, a good resource if the goal is to deconstruct films and film-making.  I've looked at only about a dozen links so far, but I'm sure that I could duplicate the examinations listed below with about a third of these links.  Just now, I'll try a few cold that I haven't opened before until now, selected according to how interesting the label looked.

Quote, "The Bad Samaritan is someone who takes in the hero and seems (at first) to be helping, all to do the hero harm at the end.  Examples: Kathy Bates in Misery; Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust; David Tennant pretending to be Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  [sorry to use the actors' names, but I know many won't get the reference otherwise].

How to make it work: 
  • Option one.  Wait until the party gets itself into a bad fix during a fight, whereupon ~ instead of fudging the die ~ the DM introduces the bad Samaritan as a combatant on the party's side, tipping the balance.  When the fight is over, the Samaritan can give a false hard luck back story, winning over the party's sympathy and making room for the Samaritan to get into their good graces before starting to knock off the party one by one.
  • Option two.  Have the party encounter the bad Samaritan helping a completely different group of victims or single hardluck case, asking the party to help him/her be a better Samaritan by healing wounds or otherwise offering aid.  The Samaritan can then contribute a back story about how these people came to need his help, while the victims can give their own version of the backstory up until they met the Samaritan.  Gives a good three-way parley with plenty of role-playing opportunities.  Ultimately, however, the bad Samaritan will show his colors, either towards the party or towards the innocent victims.
  • Option three.  Set the bad Samaritan up in a legitimate position of authority, have the Samaritan be helpful towards the party in getting their needs managed, then use the party's trust against them.
How to switch it up:
  • Option one.  Have it so the bad Samaritan only looks bad, or better still, has apparently both bad and good qualities.  If at all possible, have it look as though the Samaritan purposefully gets a party member arrested or kidnapped, only to reveal after that the arrest saved the player from a much worse fate, and that the arrest was faked.  Stir the pot with clues that turn out to be misunderstood, and get the party chasing their own tail as the "bad" Samaritan keeps at a distance while still doing the best possible work in the party's favor.  This is tricky, and requires a complex set of motivations, but it makes for a scintillating adventure.
  • Option two.  If the party kills the bad Samaritan, reveal some new truth about the Samaritan through a different NPC (brother of the Samaritan, officer in pursuit of the Samaritan, etc.], that reveals some deeper motivation for the Samaritan's action, suggesting madness or control by yet another entity.  Then, make the new well-meaning NPC yet another bad Samaritan, and go through the same process once again, or play with the good/bad balance in a way that messes up the party.

The Failed Audition PlotQuote, "She goes out there and gives it her all, holding nothing back. The judges deliberate while the protagonist waits with bated breath, until finally the results are in. An announcer reads off the list of those making it through to the next round, and... her name is not on it. Her hopes and dreams have been brutally shattered."  Examples: a lot of dance and musical sources this crowd probably has never seen.

How to make it work:
  • Option one.  Have the party approached by an important dignitary who is interested to know if the party can manage a dangerous quest.  Create a possible list of treasures and accolades the party will receive once the quest is finished.  The party's collective mouths must water.  Listen to the party pitch their abilities, then ... tell them they don't measure up.  Have the dignitary refuse to have any contact with the party.  But ~ and this is important ~ have the dignitary, or a lowly accountant in the company of the dignitary who hangs back long enough to say a few words, give just enough information to let the party get started on their own.
  • Option two.  Have two parties admitted to the audience chamber of some important dignitary, then explain the parameters of the quest to both at the same time.  Encourage the NPC party to taunt the Player party, while they give their reasons against the party's reasons.  Then award the quest to the other party.  Once again, give the players enough to get involved on their own, then make the winning NPC party become yet another obstacle.
  • Option three.  Award the player party with the quest on a need-to-know basis, with an "observer" who goes along to keep an eye on the party's choices.  The first time the party makes a mistake, have the observer deny the party any more information, telling them that their involvement is "no longer needed."  Still, the party should be able to gain enough information to wallow forward on their own.
How to change it up:
  • Option one.  Everything the players were told about the quest was a lie.  The quest was a diversion to make others think that a group was being sent on an adventure, with the last words by the lowly accountant being devised to encourage the party to kill some innocent or group of innocents.
  • Option two.  Truly bury the quest.  Make it impossible for the party to find anything without additional information, and let them stew in the angst of being denied the option.  Rub salt in the wound by having them see the second party return and receive a party and celebration in their honor.  Teaches humility and helps build character.

Schrodinger's Butterfly Quote, "Did the heroes really break the spell cast by the Master of Illusion, or are they all imagining it? Did they escape the Convenient Coma that trapped them in a Happy Place... or merely trade a perfect illusory world for a more realistic one?"  Examples: Total Recall (1990 version); 1408 (either version); and of course, Inception.

How to make it work:
  • Option one.  Include a definite illusionary sequence as an encounter the party has in the wilderness or dungeon, then have the party easily dispel it by force of will, saving throws, or the use of magic, whatever the party is capable of.  Later, give the party reasons through tiny clues to think that things are not quite working according to the laws of reality.  Then create an even more complicated series of trials that will let them return to the real world.
  • Option two.  Use the players random comments to manifest events, which causes them to realize they have stepped into some contrary reality or circumstance [Star Trek has used this several times].  Have the players meet a legitimate friend who believes it was all for fun and handwaves it out of existence.
How to switch it up:
  • Best option.  Give the party reason to believe that reality has never actually existed for them, and that they are trapped in a non-reality situation forever.  Then base your world on laws that shift with regular frequency, enabling the players to learn and adapt to this strange multi-level reality you've created.  Hard work, but the right DM could figure it out.

To be honest, that wasn't as much fun as I'd hoped, and with the last one my imagination fairly dried up.  Oh well.  I did spend 8 hours today writing descriptions of costumes.


James said...

The Failed Audition feels like a really different plot that could be really intetesting.

The Bad Samaritan just kind of sums up the entire game I am running. They have dived in so far, I am kind of at a loss as to what to do with it, even.

Ozymandias said...

I'd like to see more but I'm wondering if you might provide details as examples. Similar to what you've done with setting up hooks, providing further breakdown of how this approach works and that one doesn't.

Course, now I'm thinking about doing it myself...