Last week, I talked about situations a writer or GM trying to run an antagonist with a Plan might be trying to run that opponent from (with regards to knowledge/lack of knowledge of the plan itself). Today, I’m going to look at how to get to that plan from one of those scenarios in a little more detail.
Let’s say you’ve got the broad outline and you’re trying to figure out the exact steps. As I pointed out earlier, this happens to a lot of us.
The good news is, you’ve got a beginning, and you’ve got an end. That means you know the objective already, and you know what scene all this is coming to. At that point, your best shot is probably to try to attack it from both ends. From the beginning: what will keep this storyline going while you’re trying to figure out what the overarching plan is? Don’t be afraid to accidentally contradict yourself; of mistakes are some of the best plans made. Then if anything in particular sticks out to you, any aha moments or player speculations, consider incorporating them into your overall image.
Working backward from the ending, though, is probably the more important process, since that’ll give you a skeleton of the plan plus or minus deviations due to main characters. It starts with asking yourself a simple question: “I know where the last scene is and what’s happening there. What last thing does Antagonist need to get there?” This might be an action, an object, a conflation of circumstances: the key part of the plan might involve destroying a certain place, performing a specific ritual, getting someone else to attack her; there’s a lot of room for variation. Basically, what you’re looking for, if Step N is the end, is Step N-1. Now what’s it going to take Antagonist to get there? All right, what does it take to get to that point? If there are supplies, how is she going to get them? Where’s the knowledge come from? Who might need to be manipulated? What sorts of outside circumstances would be most favorable to a plan like this? If Antagonist is aware of the main characters/PCs, has she planned around them, or is she hoping to steamroller the plan right over them?
All right. Got the plan as it goes right? Good. Now ask yourself, “How can it go wrong, or almost go wrong?” This is, after all, your best chance at bringing the protagonists in; nine times out of ten, they’re in some way what goes wrong. If they’re not—if Antagonist is getting everything done safely out of their way, or has factored them in in all possible situations except for that very last bit, or is using them as pawns already and that’s where they come in—you’re probably going to need to do a similar process of step by step questions as detailed above to try to figure out how they’re likeliest to get to the point where they’ve got the means to Do Something, and then maximize the chances of that happening (much easier for the writer than for the GM, I know!).
If you need a little more, “How many ways in which the plan can go wrong has the planner predicted and come up with workarounds for?” This way, you know the workarounds ahead of time—which is highly useful when you’re trying to make it clear that the reason why the main characters didn’t just manage to avert the whole thing isn’t railroading but their opponent actually being Just That Clever. (Note: don’t harp too much on the opponent’s cunning if you do it this way. The point of the opponent being Just That Clever is that it adds “outthink the opponent” to the available potential challenges.)