No Honour among Thieves

Author: Quinton <>
Length: Short
Genre: Fantasy
Type: Quest, Intrigue, Affliction
Setting: Urban, City

The Plot

The captain of the guard is in the employ of the thieves guild. When the guild receives an item he really wants, he sets up an elaborate system to get it. He arrests the PCs on false or trumped up charges (a good way to get them introduced), then offers them absolution if they do him a favour. He wants them to infiltrate the thieves guild by a secret back door and find out some info on some item that will be showing up soon. When the PCs get through the sewers to the guild, the captain's men will frame them for a robbery that just took place. The players escape the angry thieves, but get captured by the town guard. Along the way they have picked up enough clues to figure out what has gone on, but they can't prove it. So they must escape from jail and go confront the captain as he is leaving town with the item. After this excitement, the PCs don't have much choice to become roving adventurers, since the thieves guild wants their heads.

From Rock to Plot John McMullen Long Any Any

I've been GMing for over a decade now. Every once in a while, people ask me how I come up with plots. I'm not entirely sure, except that I look for problems and then complicate them. The two most useful questions in plotting are "Why?" and "How?" ("Who?" "Where?" "What?" and "When?" also get a work out.)

Anyway, I thought I'd share a technique that I use when I'm absolutely tapped out or when I can't seem to come up with anything original. You know the times -- all you can come up with is cliche material you've done a hundred times in the past. The first idea that comes to mind establishes squatter's rights on your frontal lobes.

(I want to emphasise that this isn't the only technique, or the best technique. It's simply a technique that I find useful.)

The technique is to limit yourself. When you've got the whole wide universe to work with, then you have *too many* possibilities. By setting arbitrary restrictions, you remove things from consideration and narrow your focus.

You've already got a bunch of stuff established which places restrictions on you. You know what genre you're working in -- that gives you a bunch of genre conventions you can choose to work with or against. You know what your player characters are (usually), and you probably have some sense of location and season. All of these things are restrictions. If you're doing a sword and sorcery campaign, the question of aliens doesn't come up.

That set of restrictions presumably isn't enough (or you wouldn't need this technique). The next thing to do is set some arbitrary restriction: the entire adventure takes place in a single room, for example, or the entire adventure is built around what you did last weekend. Other possibilities include story anthologies and (ahem) a dictionary of cliches or quotations. The technique really relies on forcing the juxtaposition of unusual elements.

Here's a (lengthy) example. I have a Dark Champions campaign. I know the characters, I know the time of year, I know the city (none of which tells me what the next story is). So I'm sitting here listening to the soundtrack album for "Dumb and Dumber" and I decide that I'll create a plot that incorporates something from each song on the album.

Here are the songs on the album:

The Ballad of Peter PumpkinHead - Crash Test Dummies New Age Girl - Deadeye Dick Insomniac - Echobelly If You Don't Love Me (I'll Kill Myself) - Pete Droge Crash - The Primitives Whiney, Whiney (What Really Drives Me Crazy) - Willi One Blood Too Much Of A Good Thing - The Sons You Sexy Thing - Deee-Lite Where I Find My Heaven - Gigolo Aunts Hurdy Gurdy Man - Butthole Surfers Take - The Lupins The Bear Song - Green Jelly Get Ready - The Proclaimers

Hmm. Peter Pumpkinhead and The Bear Song suggest some kind of kid song/nursery rhyme feel. Get Ready supports that with lines like "Fee Fi Fo Fum." You Sexy Thing, Too Much of a Good Thing, and If You Don't Love Me (I'll Kill Myself) all suggest some kind of excess, perhaps emotional overdrive -- maybe a mind control plot? Somebody discovers a real aphrodisiac and starts dumping it in the water? Someone is infatuated with another person, makes the threats to suicide if he or she doesn't return the affection, but the other person's attitude could be described as Whiney, Whiney (What Really Drives Me Crazy).

New Age Girl is a sort-of love song to someone named Mary Moon who is (in fact) a New Age Girl. She's now an NPC in the adventure.

First plot that comes to mind with this: take the lowest charisma hero who often complains he doesn't have a love relationship and give him a groupie (Mary Moon) who follows him around as the group tries to track down someone who's committing a series of thefts (Take) based on nursery rhymes. That leaves me with Hurdy Gurdy Man, Crash, Insomniac, and Where I Find My Heaven as plot elements to incorporate.

I don't like it. So we'll try again. Instead, let's start with the insomniac. Suppose someone has the oft-used psionic power of tangible hallucinations and dreams. He or she knows it and has started trying to stay awake (Insomniac). It's not easy to make a living if you have this kind of disability, so he or she is living as a street musician (Hurdy Gurdy Man). That also gives us the street-level feel and makes the psionic harder to track down. He or she has a tremendous crush on Mary Moon (we're back to her again).

The first hallucination is Peter Pumpkinhead, a reasonably nice fellow. Freaked, she leaves and is pursued by other nursery-rhyme characters. Although Peter is quite likeable, but the others (the Bear that went over the mountain, for instance) don't have to be. Not knowing what's going on, Mary seeks out the PCs; if the PCs are too hard to find, they'll encounter her, trapped by the Bear. This leads to both Mary and the PCs trapped in the psionic's ideal world (Where I Find My Heaven). It's not pleasant for the PCs, because he regards them as competition (Too Much of a Good Thing). This is obvious because Mary has a crush on one of the PCs (You Sexy Thing). This environment, combined with Mary's information, lets them know who they're looking for. The PCs can get out by moving fast enough and far enough -- the psionic's powers aren't all-encompassing, after all.

This, with the uppers, unhinges the psionic (If You Don't Love Me, Whiney Whiney). The first evidence is when Peter Pumpkinhead (trustworthy up until now) turns psychotic.

In the meantime, (1) the psionic, worried, has been awake on uppers long enough for hallucinations to start anyway, and (2) our villain of the piece has figured out where these nursery-rhyme apparitions are coming from, and is also searching for the psionic.

Still to include: Take (a robbery of some kind?) and Crash.

The bad guy catches the psionic, uses hypnosis or mind control to generate some truly unpleasant hallucinations to perform robberies (Take), including running an armoured car off the road (Crash) and picking up the money.

The good guys catch up, there is a fight and the problem of what to do with the psionic. I leave that up to the players.

Now, a lot of the details still need to be worked out, but there's a basic setup, antagonist, and conflict.

Not entirely without cliches (to really eliminate cliches, you'd have to know the characters better), but it's certainly different than what I would have come up with otherwise.

Anyway, it's a technique I find useful, so I thought I'd share it for those who are having trouble jump-starting their plots.

[The Net Book of Plots Home Page]
Email: Alexander Forst-Rakoczy