Friday, July 02, 2010

Random Villains for Urban Adventures

I've lately realized that I am truly terrible at inventing short RPG adventure plots for an urban setting, focused on people.

I cannot even get off the ground.  Most writers agree the first step is creating the main villain, and I seem to have some sort of mental block against thinking up villains.

(I am too used to RPG adventures that focus on an item or place.  Find the special enchanted item, safely deliver the important document, explore the uncharted wilderness or ruin, etc.  S. John Ross has made a Big List of these.)

So, being a nerd, I designed a spreadsheet to help me brainstorm.  After much consideration about what makes a villainous motivation, I identified the following aspects.
  • submotive: the emotional state that drives the villain
  • motive: the broad intention (but not yet a specific goal)
  • mechanism: what needs to happen (but not yet a specific plan for how to do this)
  • MacGuffin: the thing the action focuses on
  • style: how the villain normally acts

The spreadsheet randomly picks one example of each aspect.  Then my job is to create a plot summary using them.
For example, if the spreadsheet hands me the five items "illness, stop physical threat, earn esteem and favor, signet ring, believes one deed will fix things" then I could imagine a villain who is trying to save the life of a very sick relative. Let's say the villain's initial goal and plan was virtuous: present gifts to the king to earn his favor so he will sign and seal an request that the royal physician help the sick relative.

But it turns out that acquiring an audience for the king is not easy, and the villain realizes he or she has no gifts worthy of earning a monarch's favor.  So the adventure ends up being about the villain trying to steal a gift (or things to sell to buy a gift), and when that does not work trying to bribe a palace guard, and when that does not work trying to break into the royal physician's rooms.

Maybe the PC becomes involved at the final stage.  Someone tried and failed to break into the royal physician's rooms.  The PC is hired or ordered to investigate.  The PC might learn about a recent series of similar yet odd thefts, and the attempt to bribe a palace guard.  Either clue could eventually lead to the villain, just as he or she is about to try one last and desperate deed...

Ta da!  A nice adventure focused around a character, not an item or place.

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