The Gamecraft 25: Plot Complications

 Posted by on October 29, 2010  Filed as: Better Gameplay?  Add comments
Oct 292010

This time, the Gamecraft 25 is going to take a look at plot complications for your adventures.  All of these are designed to add an interesting set of circumstances to challenge your heroes in different ways.  Most of these ideas will make an adventure more difficult, so keep that in mind when using them.

  1. The party has a “tag-along.”  This could be a bard looking for epic inspiration, some wanna-be adventurer, a wealthy dilettante, the adventure’s patron, or anyone else that is more of a hindrance than a help and needs to stay alive.
  2. Non-lethal combat plays a role in the adventure, perhaps an unarmed brawl.
  3. The adventure features an extended chase scene.  The heroes may be either the pursuers or the pursued.  The chase can be run as a series of linked “mini-encounters.”
  4. A party member (or the whole party) has been poisoned, and the effects can only be countered with a specific antidote.  The heroes must recover the antidote and complete their adventure.  Maybe the party’s patron is holding the antidote until the heroes complete his mission.
  5. The heroes are caught between rivals.  This could be warring tribes, competing guilds, feuding noble houses, or even star-crossed lovers.  This circumstance could simply be background, or the heroes could find themselves trying to serve both factions.
  6. The heroes’ adventure has a serious time limitation.  This could be a count-down to disaster (the gate to the Abyss opens at sunset), or just a very limited window of opportunity in which to succeed (the Vault of Baraxis is only open for 24 hours every millennium).
  7. Severe weather complicates the adventure.  Think hurricane, blizzard, or typhoon.
  8. The general public has turned against the heroes for known or unknown reasons.  This could range from outright hostility (maybe even a bounty on the heroes) to simply refusing them access to local communities and resources.
  9. In order to succeed at the adventure, the heroes must act directly against the wishes of those in power.  This could be the government, a religious institution, powerful guilds, or even just the will of the people.
  10. The adventure features a case of mistaken identity, either PC or NPC.
  11. The heroes find themselves outsiders in a strange land where they do not speak the local language or understand local customs and religion.  The locals are suspicious and the heroes may find it alarmingly easy to violate some unknown law or local taboo.
  12. The heroes are faced with mind-controlled “civilians.”  They must rescue those being manipulated without hurting them.  Of course, the civilians are out to kill the heroes.
  13. The heroes uncover an item or information that someone powerful needs to cover up or make disappear.  This works even better if the heroes don’t have any idea about the significance of what they have or know.
  14. The adventure’s villain turns out to be some sort of good-guy and places the heroes in a difficult position of what to do with him.
  15. Turns out that the person the heroes just rescued is due to be executed, a little fact that the party’s patrons failed to mention.
  16. An adventure to recover something or rescue someone turns out to be surprisingly easy to get to the target.  The real adventure begins with the heroes’ struggle to escape with the item or person.
  17. The heroes need to return to a previous adventure site because their actions created some new situation or made an existing situation worse.
  18. The bad guy is the only one who can give the heroes access to the thing they are looking for.  He must be kept alive and protected so that the heroes can succeed.
  19. Someone associated with a defeated enemy (family, friends, minions) is looking for revenge.  This could be as simple as just trying to kill the heroes or as complex as an elaborate scheme to ruin their reputations.
  20. The arch-villain of the story turns out to be someone close to the heroes.  This could be a friend, a long-time ally, family member, or even a love interest.
  21. The heroes are faced with a situation where “adventure success” will destroy something important to them, such as their reputations or causing the death of someone they care about.
  22. Another group of adventurers has managed to take the credit for the heroes’ recent successes and are enjoying great fame and respect from the locals.  The heroes are being looked at as second-rate adventurers at best, low-life scoundrels at worse.
  23. The party has been sold some ill-prepared rations and are dealing with the effects of a stomach disorder throughout the adventure.  This could play out in two different ways: either as a dangerous plot complication or as a bit of comic relief.
  24. The heroes end up in a situation where they are damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t.  Adventure success means unleashing something worse, preventing something worse will force the heroes to fail at their adventure.  How will they decide?
  25. After a series of adventures with plot complications, the latest adventure turns out to be 100% straight forward and goes exactly as planned.

As always, I hope these ideas inspire and fuel your creative juices.

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John Lewis

John Lewis started roleplaying back in 1983 with the ‘old blue box’ edition of Dungeons & Dragons. He has played and/or gamemastered more games than he cares to admit, or can even remember! Currently he spends the vast majority of his game time running a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying campaign. John's next project is to convert the Warhammer 40,000 RPG's (Dark Heresy, Deathwatch, Rogue Trader) to Strands of FATE. He is also an avid miniatures painter and wargamer and enjoys a variety of different boardgames.

  3 Responses to “The Gamecraft 25: Plot Complications”

  1. “Who’s the master?!”


    Ok, ok. I like #9 “the heroes must act against the wishes of the government in order to succeed.” I think that is something that naturally breeds story through conflict. A+

  2. With you on this one – I’m using a couple of these already… 😉

    Current in my head is an encounter involving the PCs (or rather, a PC) having to wrestle an NPC to win back an item. In public.

    Any damage dealt will forfeit the match, so we can only use combat manoeuvres – trip or grapple him to the ground, or bull rush him out of the ring. Really it’s just to see how they work under Pathfinder, but I’ve found players never really choose any tactics beyond “attack” – so it’ll be interesting to see if they gain any more confidence in the other options.

    Thanks for the list!

  3. Tom, I once kidnapped a PC, took off his armor, chained him in the middle of the courtyard, all to set up a fist fight between him and the brother of the guy he killed.

    The player was a paladin, and was allowed to use any of his powers. I said that all damage was superficial, and that the first person to drop the other to 0 hit points won, effectively KOing the other.

    Man, as soon as that chain dropped, the fists started flyin’! The cool thing was they were both on even ground, and I wasn’t really taking anything away from the PC. If he wanted to, he could have turned his attacks into lethal damage, but he would have lost face in front of all the spectators.

    It was a great, dramatic match.

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