3 Easy Ideas To Generate Instant Adventure Ideas – Plot Factory Tutorial Part II

From JohnnFour

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1175

Last week we talked about Plot Factories as a tool in your GM Toolbox.

Think of them like spawn points in a video game. Foes keep emerging to assault your character until you destroy the spawn point.

In our adventures and sandboxes, we do the same via Plot Factories that churn out new adventure and encounter hooks like popcorn.

How amazing would it be to have organic, in-game, automagically created hooks for every occasion?

Players ignore all your clues and do something weird? Plot Factory hook reels them back in.

Surprise dice rolls whack your plot? Plot Factory opens up new possibilities.

Need to stall and think? Plot Factory spawns a new encounter to help you do that.

Today, I’m going to show you how to create four types of Plot Factories.

If you’re a long-time reader of Roleplaying Tips, then you’ll recognize these GM Toolbox tools.

And the best part?

Each of these tools becomes part of your existing campaign.

Meaning, your Plot Factories will spawn 5 Rooms Dungeons and encounters that work 100% with your existing plans and ideas.

It will feel like your campaign is GMing itself once you hook these four Plot Factories up.

In theory, at least. 🙂

So let’s explore the first Plot Factory type now and put theory to the test.

Example #1: Spikes of Danger

This one’s direct from the Adventure Building Workshop.

It’s inspired by Ben Robbins’ West Marches campaign model where he’d put out clear signals to players that their characters were about to tangle with matters above their pay grade.

I turned this concept into something called Spikes of Danger.

Pretend you’re making your milieu — my term for campaign region.

You want to fill your milieu with lots of adventure sites or areas of conflicts like faction bases and whatnot.

So you start with a blank map.

You might put your PCs’ home base on there to start.

Then you add your first villain or major foe to a spot on the map.

Let’s say it’s Gregor, the two-eyed cyclops who’s building elite bands of brigands to rob king and land along every major road.

And Gregor’s lair is nestled in a nice mountain valley that short people find hard to reach.

Next, I create a ring or zone around Gregor’s spot on the map.

This zone I label as #1. Gregor’s lair is #0.

#1 is filled with powerful giants who guard key routes to Gregor’s lair. They’ve got piles of rocks ready to throw, roll, and slide down onto any approaching foes.

Then I draw a ring or zone around #1.

In ring #2 are numerous giant and giantkin families. You don’t want to tangle with mamma giant protecting the homestead. Nope.

I draw ring #3 next that represents the foothills and goblinoid settlements. Goblinoids patrol the foothills as the first line of defense.

This gives us a danger gradient.

Meaning, PCs will encounter the outer ring first (assuming travel by land) and tangle with goblins.

Should the PCs penetrate region #3 far enough, they’ll encounter the giantkin in zone #2.

And if the party gets through #2 intact, they’ll encounter the mighty giants armed with boulders the size of a wealthy halfling’s house.

Finally, if the characters can overcome the giant threat, they can enter Gregor’s lair and try to beard him there.

Each region from the outer ring to the bullseye Spike of Danger represents ever greater threats.

In games like D&D with level progression, each ring signals to the party whether they should proceed.

“Goblins? We can handle goblins no problem.”

“Watch out, big giants! Let’s get out of here!”

In this way, you give players freedom of choice, but your setting  — and therefore fiction — has built-in signals to alert attentive players to the increased danger tier.

Once I’ve got one Spike of Danger laid out on the map, I’ll add another and do the same exercise.

I drop a pin to represent the bullseye of greatest danger and the “head of the snake”. Then I add 1-5 outer rings of decreasing threats.

After doing this a few times, I suddenly have an amazing campaign map full of potential adventure. Whether sandbox, hexcrawl, or critical path type campaign, the map gives us a ton of inspiration and game pieces to move on the chess board.

Example of starting map from Jochen’s West Marches game

This Spike of Danger, from bullseye to Gregor’s lair, can now also become a Plot Factory.

We follow the three simple steps outlined in Part I to create a Plot Factory and turn Gregor into a stream of adventure and encounter hooks as needed.

Step #1: Choose Source

Step #2: Give Source Agency

Step #3: Create GM Moves

For Gregor, we could do this:

Step #1: Choose Source

  • Gregor the two-eyed cyclops
  • Giants
  • Goblinoids
  • Mountain lair
  • Mountain outposts
  • Foothills settlements

Step #2: Give Source Agency

  • Patrols
  • Incursions into civilization for food and loot
  • Gregory has a wyvern steed, as do key giantkin minions

Step #3: Create GM Moves

  • Aerial Raid
  • Roadside Ambush
  • Goblinoid Attack & Pillage

What we’ve done here is turn a traditional, 3 act, static adventure (goblinoids => giantkin => villain) into an active Agent within our campaign.

Whenever we need an adventure hook, situation, or an encounter, we can make a GM Move:

  • Conduct an aerial raid
  • Ambush along a road
  • Goblin attack

And it’s all internally consistent with our world-building, campaign planning, and adventure design.

Add Spikes of Danger to your milieu map today. And turn them into Plot Factories easily with Source => Agency => GM Moves.

Example #2: Loopy Planning

We’ve got the theory all laid out now. So let’s quickly go over a second way to create Plot Factories.

Loopy Planning (Wizard of Adventure members, watch your video tutorial here) helps you become proactive while juggling multiple plot threads like a boss.

In a “Loop” you start with a plot thread or source.

For example, rumour has it there’s this two-eyed cyclops with great ambition in the mountains….

So I add a Loop for Gregor. And I determine 1-3 next steps for his plot.

These are encounters, situations, or background events caused by Gregor and his nefarious schemes.

As gameplay advances, I can choose from my pool of next actions when the time is right and trigger an event, situation, or encounter and play it out.

Multiply by a personal plot thread Loop for each PC, and Loops for your primary and secondary plot arcs, and soon you have a wonderful pool of 10-30 gameplay hooks all waiting to trigger.

Loopy Planning also helps you prioritize what to plan between sessions to maximize GM prep efficiency and minimize potential waste.

Check out the links above for more details on what Loopy Planning can do for your GMing and how to execute it.

For our needs today, what we can do is turn one or more Loops into Plot Factories!

Your work here is already half done with your Loopy Planning prep.

So all we need to do is follow the three Plot Factory steps for each Loop you want to transform into a Plot Factory.

For example, let’s say the thieves’ guild in town has a new rival. It’s gang warfare out there now.

Step #1: Choose Source

  • Crimson Daggers thieves’ guild based out of the Eastern District.
  • The Nightwings new thieves’ guild based out of the Docks Ward.

Step #2: Give Source Agency

  • Ambush or assassinate rival thieves
  • Frame the other guild for terrible crimes they didn’t commit
  • Gather allies and influence in town to protect interests

Step #3: Create GM Moves

  • Gang Battle
  • Assassinate
  • Frame Enemy
  • Create Alliance
  • Bribe

Anytime we need to spice up gameplay, we trigger a GM Move and make something happen that ropes in the party.

The key to Plot Factories ensuring your Sources can act on their own in your milieu.

Yes, they can wait to trigger as a consequence of player actions.

They can also stay frozen in time, waiting for players to bite on a hook and activate the Loop.

But you also now have the agency to make things happen with fairness and 100% in-game logic whenever you want to bring play to the players.

While you see The Matrix here and are pulling strings like a master storyteller, your players have exciting experiences with what they’ll see as your deep and dynamic living world.

Loopy Planning gets you halfway there. Perform the three Plot Factory steps to transform each Loop you choose into active agents in your game.

Example #3: 3-Step Villain Plans

These were first introduced in the Adventure Building Master Game Plan and then shared with Roleplaying Tips GMs here.

The idea is to improvise and plot better by taking the villain’s point of view.

Start with their end game. What’s the evil outcome they want for the world?

Then work backwards or forwards from your current point to the end game and craft a diabolical plan.

The trick to this technique is that your plan will work if the characters fail.

This gives you a fantastic campaign or adventure premise.

And all you need do is trigger the next step in plan when you see fit as gameplay wends onward.

If the villain wins a step, Stakes rise as does drama. Perfect.

If the PCs win a step, they’ve won a battle, not the war. But your group’s excited and want to keep playing to find out what happens next.

It’s win/win.

What I do is make plans of three steps. What three major victories or milestones does the villain need to achieve to succeed?

For example:

  1. Find out where the McGuffin rests, hides, or is buried or entombed.
  2. Get the McGuffin.
  3. Use the McGuffin.

These milestones are big enough to give lots of space for character Choices.

They don’t paint you in a corner.

The typical point of campaign failure comes when players achieve an early or unexpected victory.

What if they find the McGuffin first?

Campaign over. Wah wah.

But thinking like a villain, you need only pivot within that milestone to keep things continuing onward in exciting fashion.

If the players learn where the McGuffin is first, the villain attempts to steal or extract this information from one or more party members.

If the players find the McGuffin first, the villain sends minions or confronts the PCs directly to take or steal the item.

If the players stop the villain from using the item, then you’ve got a successful campaign or adventure grand finale…

…Or the villain tries to escape and concoct a new 3 Step Villain Plan, giving you a new adventure.

For our purposes here, we can use our Plot Factory formula within each villain step to spawn hooks, situations, and encounters.

For example, the Unknowable Darkness, a mysterious force that dwells in the farthest and darkest corner of the astral plane, has been summoned by cultists on the characters’ home plan.

No made aware of the existence of the party’s world, the villain wants to steal Solara — the sun god herself.

Without a sun, the world will perish.

That’s a pretty decent villain goal. 🙂

To accomplish this, Unknowable Darkness sends minions to the characters’ world:

  1. Establish a base of operations – DONE
  2. Gather ingredients and build a magical, sun-stealing pyramid
  3. Enslave the ____ people to build the massive structure
  4. Test the structure on Lunara, the eldest moon goddess first
  5. Unleash full power on Solara

As you can see here, villain plans offer variants and alternatives.

You can have 20 steps or two.

You can have steps already completed for what you don’t want players messing with, or what’s needed for your backstory.

You can make steps linear (1 => 2 => 3) or run in parallel ( A1, B1 => A2, B2 => A3 => B3, and so on.

To create a Plot Factory out of a step, use our trusty formula:

Step #1: Choose Source

  • The pyramid build site
  • A slave camp nearby
  • Slavers acquiring inventory
  • Evil minions of the Unknowable Darkness

Step #2: Give Source Agency

  • Slavers raiding settlements in the area
  • Evil minions gathering ingredients
  • The pyramid itself, while under construction, already imbued with basic feats like a destructive mega magic missile

Step #3: Create GM Moves

  • Raid (to acquire slaves)
  • Explore (to find hidden or secret ingredients)
  • Mega Magic Missile!

Remember, we need to create GM Moves let us easily create conflicts and obstacles for the player characters.

We don’t want static barriers.

We want the ability to create chaos and conflict while remaining true to our world and story.

We don’t want random, non-sequitur stuff happening as that will break sense of disbelief.

Once we know our GM Moves, we can use our usual GM tools like story beats, foreshadowing, “show don’t tell”, descriptions, and general world-building to seed these game elements before we need them.

That’ll make you look like a villain with a great plan. 🙂

For example, you might introduce the evil minions in encounters prior to needing them in a GM Move. As a nice twist, the minions first present as allies or good folk.

Or you could sew rumours about a weird construction project in the desert, people going missing, and shopkeepers being asked for strange things.

It’s Your Turn

In my experience, Plot Factories facilitate better improvisation, easier prep and inspiration, and fantastic session tools for cranking up great gameplay.

You can create Plot Factories on their own as part of your campaign design.

Or you could combo with GM tools like Spikes of Danger, Loopy Planning, or 3 Step Villain Plans to transform something cool you’ve already got going on into a steady and accessible stream of hooks as needed.

Follow the Plot Factory recipe of Source, Agency, and GM Moves to make this happen in your campaign today.

See this article for you to use: Clever Tool To Herd Your Cats

Discuss these game master tips in this thread at the official Roleplaying Tips community forum.