Five Sources of Plan-Fodder

While I talked yesterday about stringing together details and questions to come up with an antagonist’s plan on the fly, space constraints left me rather vague about what sorts of details and questions might actually qualify. Here are a few I’ve either used or seen used to pretty good effect.

  1. This will be dramatic now, what can it mean later? For people who write or game by the seat of their pants, this is an excellent source of later inspiration. This might be trying to come up with a reason why such and such a usual solution doesn’t work for this particular scenario, an idea for what to do with the part of the group that split off because they had something else they wanted to do and didn’t think they’d be useful in this scene, a way to explain why it has to be the main characters/PCs who solve this particular problem rather than one or another of the NPC allies, or just about anything, really, but whatever it is, it immediately leads to the question “How does this fit into the plan?” Behold: instant springboard.
  2. Is there anything in someone’s backstory that could come in handy? This can work whether the antagonist is aware of said backstory or not; it’s just as common for an antagonist to accidentally step on someone’s backstory as to try to utilize it.
  3. What have these charming characters done now? That’s the nice thing about PCs; if they’re even remotely willing to play white and make the first move, figuring out how to counter their plans can be an excellent source of maneuvers and ideas. Even better, if you manage to arrange something that just happens to counter one of their maneuvers rather than obviously being a counter to it, they don’t have to know it wasn’t in the cards all along.
  4. Player comments: just because they’re not in character doesn’t mean you can’t use them! Most often, the player comments that lead to ideas are general speculation and “wouldn’t it be cool if”—a lot of RPG bloggers even advocate shaping what PCs are investigating to what the players think happened. (I don’t do that much—or at least, not with situations I’ve already thought out. Gives me headaches.) But it doesn’t have to be direct speculation, either. One of the coolest NPC villains I’ve ever gone head to head with was inspired by one of my idle comments; we’d been hit with a canonical antagonist way beyond what we figured we’d ever be able to handle, my character had managed to completely screw up any and all chances of what had just become a driving motivation, and I OOC-muttered “I wonder if [Canonical antagonist of similar power whom I liked a whole lot better] is hiring?” Somewhere in the vicinity of half a year later, my character discovers that said antagonist had been hiring, long ago—and had hired the highest-ranked member of her family, whom my character had practically been fangirling over during her first appearance.
  5. Mistakes and contradictions. This may seem counterintuitive, but it works: if you’ve got a character acting out of character, or a detail that seems just plain illogical when put in the context of the rest of the scenario, you know that someone at the table/in the audience has picked up on it, and you don’t want to try to shove it under the table or retcon it out with a vague excuse and/or an apology, instead you have to come up with a way to justify it. Coming up with the kinds of justifications that make these sorts of details fit is a challenge, but if you can do it, as often as not it will send your story in a new and interesting direction. A mistake might lead to an unexpected weakness in the antagonist, a clever tactic in retrospect, a fresh smelly red herring left for the characters to track—in short, more effective inspiration than everything going according to whatever plans you do have.

Where do you get ideas for your antagonists’ plans?

1 comment

  1. burnedfx says:

    My players have created more villains than I have based on their actions in game, words at the table or a combination of both speculation and disregard of consequences.

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