Tag Archives: system

Treasury of Games: Plot Hook Generator

Sometimes you don’t know how you want to grab your players’ attention. Here’s a handy table to create that hook, and give you an idea how to pitch it.

 

Table A: Type of Hook

1 Friendly NPC

2 Hostile NPC

3 Cryptic Message

4 Mission or Quest

5 Omen or Foreshadowing

6 Obtain an Item

7 Lose an Item

8 Abduction!

9 Battle!

10 Roll twice more and combine results.

 

Friendly NPC

1 An old man answers one of the PCs’ questions. He wasn’t part of the conversation before, he just jumped in. Does he know the PCs, or is he a stranger? Where did he come from?

2 A little girl invites the PCs to follow her. Back at her home/hiding place, the PCs will find exactly what they need (to progress the plot).

3 “I’ve been sent to help,” the stranger says. The PCs have heard of the stranger’s sponsor, but are surprised to hear their interests and the sponsor’s align.

4 “Come with me if you want to live.” The PCs are in trouble, but this NPC shows up with a way out.

5 “Oh wow, you’re really them!” A fan of the PCs’ exploits is looking for help with the kind of thing they do.

6 An attractive member of the opposite sex has a proposition for one of the PCs… but not THAT. Well… Not unless the PC can do the job.

7 An attractive member of the opposite sex gets involved with one of the PCs in a whirlwind romance, but he or she is also involved in something big.

8 The PCs stumble across somebody in a running fight with the same kind of opponents the PCs usually fight, and it looks like they could use some help.

9 A childhood friend of one of the PCs shows up again in unlikely circumstances, with a surprising story, and a request.

10 Someone is selling exactly what the PCs need, at a fair price, and is even willing to make a deal if they need it but are short on cash.

 

Hostile NPC

1 An old enemy has a new way to get back at one of the PCs.

2 Somehow, the PCs have offended this person, and a fight breaks out.

3 1-10 armed thugs break in and start shooting at the PCs.

4 A PC is mugged in the street.

5 This NPC wants something the PCs have, and won’t take no for an answer.

6 One of the PCs is about to be an involuntary organ donor; this NPC needs an internal organ and one of the PCs fits the profile to give it.

7 The NPC is apologetic, but must do something terrible to the PCs.

8 The PCs might not realize it, or they might remember clearly why, but this NPC considers them all enemies and is back for vengeance.

9 A jilted lover from a PC’s past (or possibly someone messed up enough to hold a grudge over an unrequited crush) turns up to cause trouble.

10 Someone wants the same thing the PCs want, and isn’t shy about sabotaging their efforts to get it.

 

Cryptic Message

1 A note is delivered with the characters’ meal (in a modern setting, it’s perfect if this is inside a fortune cookie).

2 One of the PCs sees messages written on surfaces which nobody else can see.

3 A letter is delivered to one of the PCs. It’s addressed to the PC, but has no return address. The piece of paper inside the envelope is blank.

4 After making a normal purchase, the seller tells the PC, “they’re coming for you.” If asked for clarification, he/she says, “run, you fool!” What happens next?

5 A series of people come to the door and each says one word and then leaves. This occurs over the course of several days, no more than an hour separating each one, and when taken together the words form a message. If setting appropriate, the people who speak the words are actually some form of zombie.

6 The next time the PC is handed a receipt for a purchase, there is a message written on the back of it in a foreign language. The person handing over the receipt doesn’t know how it could have gotten there.

7 A public announcement (news broadcast in a modern setting, something publicly posted in town in pre-modern, etc.) mentions a PC by name, with an anonymous message, “You are almost ready.”

8 “They are coming,” a small child whispers to one of the PCs, and hands over a note, then runs off giggling.

9 A message is delivered in a usual way, from a PC’s normal contact (email in a modern setting, letter by a messenger in an older setting, etc.) – but it reads entirely differently from that contact’s normal writing, or if a voice recording, it isn’t the contact’s voice.

10 The wall catches fire, and the fire spreads into the shape of words on the wall. After the whole message has formed, the fire goes out, leaving it written in ashes and scorch marks.

 

Mission or Quest

1 Go and retrieve an item… but it’s big, so how will you actually carry it?

2 Go to a location and survive there for 24 hours.

3 Capture an enemy and interrogate them.

4 Extract a friendly from enemy hands.

5 Find the missing piece of this puzzle. A clue can be found where you want the PCs to go.

6 Destroy a specific item, before it can be used for disastrous purposes.

7 You can’t stay here! Escape to safety!

8 Fetch me a donut; the PCs are given an inconsequential task, but it turns out to be important once they complete it.

9 Fetch me a shrubbery; the PCs are given a task which is truly inconsequential, meant only to keep them busy and out of the way.

10 It’ll be dangerous… The PCs must do something which seems suicidal, but failing to do it would be even worse.

 

Omen or Foreshadowing

1 A bat in the daytime: The PCs must soon take a long and dangerous journey.

2 A butterfly in the bedroom: The PC will soon have a great joy, but could destroy it by doing the wrong thing.

3 The broken chain: A PC’s wallet or watch chain breaks, and (s)he will soon suffer disappointment.

4 Crossed knives: Soon there will be conflict and strife in the PCs’ future.

5 Shooting star: What the PCs desire will come true, but it won’t necessarily be good.

6 A gun on the table: The plot device you will use to introduce the next challenge is in plain sight in an establishing scene.

7 An instant dislike: The antagonist is first introduced in a friendly setting, but at least one PC doesn’t get along with him (or her), for some reason.

8 Hidden meaning: An NPC tells the PCs something which seems straightforward, but also foretells something in the next encounter you have planned.

9 The gods must be crazy: an important plot device literally falls from the sky.

10 Retroactive: pick a scene that’s already happened in the game – something from that scene is now a key to your next plot device. (Preferably pick a memorable scene; if you’re just starting the game, pick something in a PC’s background.)

 

Obtain an Item – an opportunity to get something useful or interesting can motivate PCs and drive a story.

1 A weapon

2 A tool

3 Something magical (or symbolic)

4 Something foreign/exotic

5 A gift from a friend

6 A gift from an enemy

7 A prize in a contest of skill

8 A prize in a contest of luck

9 One man’s trash

10 Something written

 

Lose an Item – losing something valuable or even the threat of such loss can give focus to the PCs’ actions.

1 Something personal, of sentimental value only.

2 A favorite piece of equipment, which is used all the time.

3 An expensive piece of equipment which is used rarely.

4 One of the PCs’ homes.

5 Somewhere the PCs often meet.

6 A favorite food stops being available.

7 Communication with the rest of the world – in the form of the ability to write or phone calls or whatever items would normally allow such.

8 Transportation – a mount, vehicle, or other equivalent. Even a pair of shoes.

9 Luxury – a source of relaxation or comfort, such as a bed, pillow, food, etc.

10 A hat – something worn on the head.

 

Abduction! – Players love rescue missions. It’s a clear focus and grabs the attention of most PCs instantly. When someone important is kidnapped, the PCs will follow after them.

1 A family member (child, parent, sibling, cousin, etc.).

2 A lover or spouse.

3 One of the PCs! (Make sure the PC still has things to do, even if escape isn’t possible without help from other PCs)

4 A mentor or teacher.

5 A trusted NPC supporter – someone who isn’t usually part of the adventure, but provides things the PCs need in between.

6 A contact the PCs need to achieve their current goals – best if kidnapped right in front of the PCs or otherwise under their noses when they are about to get what they need but haven’t quite yet.

7 A POTENTIALLY useful but not current NPC contact/supporter

8 A political figure (1-3: local, 4-6: regional, 7-8: national, 9: roll again and add “aligned with the PC’s views”, 10: roll again and add “opposed to the PC’s views”)

9 A cultural figure (same chart as above, or roll for type of cultural – entertainer, artist, etc)

10 Roll again, ignoring this result if rerolled.  Add “…and the PC is a suspect in their abduction” to the result.

 

 

Battle!

1 Roll for initiative! Someone has jumped out and attacked!

2 Surprise! Perception checks, to see if any PCs notice the ambush.

3 Opportunity! The PCs have a chance to surprise some enemies, who they’ve noticed before being noticed in return.

4 Sports – the PCs are challenged to a form of sporting mock combat appropriate to the setting.

5 Duel – a PC is challenged to one on one combat.

6 Standoff – a tense situation arises where one wrong move could result in a deadly battle.

7 Bystanders – battle erupts between two parties other than the PCs in the PCs’ presence!

8 Nonviolent – a conflict in some form other than physical violence, such as an argument or hostile corporate takeover.

9 Misunderstanding – the PCs get involved in a fight they don’t want, because an NPC takes something they said or did the wrong way.

10 Outnumbered – The PCs are surrounded by a more numerous enemy, and must escape; cue chase music!

 

Ian Price is the creator of Kitsune: of Foxes and Fools and Bad Decisions, and has contributed to the Ghouls, Carthians, and Chronicler’s Guide books for Vampire: The Requiem.

Treasury of Games: Plot Coupons

If you play RPGs, you are probably familiar with the standard model of play in these games: the GM narrates most of the world, the players choose the actions of their characters, and the GM interprets the results of a random number then narrates the resulting situation, and so on. There are five major components to telling the story of the game in this model:

  • World state control (usually in the hands of a single GM)
  • Protagonist control (usually in the hands of a group of players, each having one protagonist)
  • Supporting character control (usually in the hands of a single GM)
  • Outcome control (usually given over to random number generation, often using dice)
  • Outcome interpretation (usually in the hands of a single GM)

Obviously, the GM holds a lot of cards here, especially looking at it this way. Really, the roles of the players collectively and the GM individually are about equal, because of the inherently pivotal role the players have in the story of the game, simply because the PCs are the focus characters. However, sometimes it can be fun to change up the roles a little. Some games do this with a meta-game currency which goes by many names: hero points, action points, action dice, fate points, etc. For this essay, we’ll call them “plot coupons.” They are an ephemeral credit a player can trade in or a GM can award to change who or what has control in a narrative situation. If plot coupons are used, they play as follows:

GMs:

  • The GM may offer a player a plot coupon once per game session to dictate what choice the PC makes in a situation if the PC accepts. (Example: GM asks, “will you accept a plot coupon to choose to help the man instead of ignoring him?” Player says, “OK, despite his inclinations, Sir Varec will agree to help.” Player gains a plot coupon.)
  • The GM may award players plot coupons for any reason or no reason at all, depending on how much the GM trusts the players with their use and what kind of storytelling is desired. For example, the GM may decide that each player gets a free plot coupon each game session, which might or might not be stockpiled, or might award a plot coupon for any action which really impresses the group and gets a good reaction, or for success in a character’s story goals, or for failure at critical junctures.
  • Speaking of failure, the GM may offer the player a plot coupon in exchange for automatically failing any one roll. This CAN be a roll which would kill the character on failure, but the player must know that if so. Also inherent in the agreement is that the player will have continuing participation in the story, even if this character dies. If the player refuses, then the roll is made as normal.

Players:

  • A player may spend a plot coupon to automatically succeed on one roll. This may be done once per game session.
  • A player may add something not already described to the world state by spending a plot coupon. This must be in-genre and must not contradict the GM’s already stated description. (Example: “But there happens to be an old friend of mine in town, who wouldn’t mind sheltering us in his cellar while we wait out the guards’ search.”)
  • A player may expend a plot coupon to force a roll on something narrated by the GM which wasn’t already going to be rolled for. If the roll goes in favor of the player, the player narrates a version of the event instead of the GM. The new narration must be in-genre, and may only contradict events which were not separately rolled for. If the roll goes in favor of the GM, then the original narration stays. The roll is a 50/50 chance. (Example: GM narrates, “the dam breaks, and the waters flood down the valley, smashing the village to flinders…” Player interrupts, “I would like to change that. Plot coupon and roll off.” Roll goes in player’s favor, so Player narrates, “Warning reached the village in time, and many villagers were able to evacuate to higher ground. Though their homes are smashed, we don’t have the deaths of the whole village on our conscience, and can still go to them for aid.”
  • A player may spend a plot coupon to narrate an interpretation of success or failure for an action his/her character took. The group must agree that the description is consistent with success or failure as appropriate to the dice results; if the player is just trying to cheat the dice results with a weasel-worded description, the plot coupon is refunded and the GM describes the results as per normal.
  • A player may spend a plot coupon to dictate an NPC’s action in a situation; the GM may refuse this the action seems too out-of-character for the NPC.

This system can be used with any game to shift some of the narrative opportunities to the players. Players don’t often get to exercise the kind of storyline creativity required of the GM, so tapping that energy from the players’ minds can be a great asset. However, this is not a system for game groups where a high degree of trust does not exist between the players and the GM. The GM and players have to be on the same page about creating a certain kind of story – serious or silly, for example, and what genre conventions are important. If that trust does exist then opening up control to the players adds to the pool of creative ideas, and the energy that can be brought to bear on them.

In a game which already uses a similar mechanic (and there are many: 7th Sea with drama dice, FATE and fate points, Willpower in World of Darkness, and so on), consider how you will integrate this mechanic with it. You may want to avoid duplicating uses; for example, if you added these to a World of Darkness game, since Willpower already allows increasing the chance of success in desperate situations, you might not want to allow plot coupons to buy success. You may want to replace existing mechanic. Whatever you choose, make sure you tell your players explicitly before starting to play, and keep a reference for how any house rules you are using work so everybody is on the same page.

Ian Price is the creator of Kitsune: of Foxes and Fools and Bad Decisions, and has contributed to the Ghouls, Carthians, and Chronicler’s Guide books for Vampire: The Requiem.

Treasury of Games: Replacing dice with cards.

Dice are a fine random number generator, used by most roleplaying games. However, there are some fun things you can add to the experience by using cards instead. First, let’s look at how you can replicate any set of dice using cards. Take a standard playing card deck. To replicate a die, use the following set of cards:

d4 = A, 2, 3, 4 (any single suit)

d6 = A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

d8 = A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

d10 = A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

d12 = A-10 in one suit, A-2 in a second suit designated “10 + face value.” (so if Spades is flat value, you might use Clubs cards for 11 and 12)

d20 = A-10 in one suit for face value, A-10 in a second suit for +10 value.

d100 = A-10 in one suit for 1s digit, A-10 in a second suit for 10s digit. Count 10 as a 0 in that place, unless both 10s are drawn, in which case it is 100.

So far this works to replicate any die you might roll for a typical RPG. You can even use cards for in between dice like d3, d5, and so on which are sometimes called for by halving the roll on actual dice, without having to do math in your head for the result. Still, messing around with cards can take longer than rolling dice for large numbers of dice, so certain things (damage on a D&D fireball, many rolls in success-based systems like World of Darkness and Shadowrun, etc.) don’t work well with this model. Also, so far there is no advantage one way or the other – why bother with the change?

The difference with cards is you can do things with the individual results. For example, you could run a D&D game where each player has a deck set up like a d20 instead of a die, and each result is set aside once drawn. That result can’t come up again that session until all the other results have come up. This means the player is guaranteed to see good and bad results for his/her character at some point during play. You could even eliminate the random factor, and let the player choose when to play each result from his deck, treating it more as a hand of cards. This would challenge you as a GM not to call for skill checks, saves, etc. in trivial situations – so the players would have to sweat bullets about using those low results, and also about wasting the high ones.

You can also modify the available results. Characters with exceptional abilities or luck might be allowed to eliminate low numbers from their decks for some tasks, or add in higher numbers than normally appear on the die type. Special effects could allow a character to have a particular result saved aside for later use, even if a random draw is being used – or to have an extra copy of that result saved up in the variant where all possible results are held and played when desired. Hindering conditions could eliminate high results from the possible pool, or add extra low results in.

Consider this variant for adding a different flavor to your next game, and see what interesting results you can have in play by changing how the numbers are generated.

Ian Price is the creator of Kitsune: of Foxes and Fools and Bad Decisions, and has contributed to the Ghouls, Carthians, and Chronicler’s Guide books for Vampire: The Requiem.