Over the last two weeks, I’ve been talking about antagonists with Grand Plans, how to keep these plans from seeming too dependent on creating victory conditions at the last minute, and moreso how to come up with their plans. I’d talk about my current efforts—Solace is a grandmaster of the Master Plan, even if trying to figure out what she’s actually up to is like pulling teeth—but all three of my players read this blog, and a full explanation requires some heavy-duty spoilers. Instead, I’ll talk about my first Antagonist with a Plan, our old friend Jalil. His plan was a beginning and objective-based plan: return banished Elder-God-type to world.
One of the things that made working with Jalil interesting was that he wasn’t originally supposed to be the sole antagonist: Lirit, Ruby and the crew were originally slated to be working as a parallel threat, requiring the PCs to split their attention and giving me more time to work on what each group was up to. As I’ve noted before, due to my assistant’s improvisation, this plan lasted all of two sessions, leaving me with five pseudo-allied NPCs and one still-nebulous (at the time, I hadn’t even named him!) enemy.
So I gave my group a scenario involving a trap set for people investigating the rash of thefts he would turn out to be responsible for; it involved a possessed man, demon apes and holes in the world, and it kept them busy a week or two. Still wasn’t sure who he was or what the plan was. Then the group split up to go look into the possessed man; two to escort an NPC to talk some information out of the local criminal element, while two (okay, one, the same NPC who’d been responsible for Lirit’s crew making alliances with the PCs) went with Kiara to go stealth their way into the household of the possessed man and see if they could figure out how he’d gotten himself possessed. The former I had something approximating a plan for; the latter, I didn’t. More, the two stealth-monkeys decided they couldn’t just walk to the place; no, they got into a rooftop speed-sneaking contest. Kiara couldn’t keep up with them, so I shrugged and decided she was going to utilize social stealth instead; while they were engaging in their speed-measuring match, unknowingly having a run-in with her unofficial spy network of street children, and going in the upper window, she improvised a pretext and invited herself in the front door.
So far, so…. hm. Now what?
A little hasty planning with my assistant, and we decided we were in the perfect position to complicate the plot. Our mystery infiltrator was in the house in question, and Kiara had just run into him; not entirely recognizing him, but not having any immediate reason to be too suspicious, she was making nice with him in order to prevent his noticing her stealthier teammates. He’d pull an abduction attempt now; we’d figure out the reason later. Sometime between then and two sessions later, I got myself the reason by tying this otherwise inexplicable event into the explanation of an otherwise unexplained metaphysical effect Kiara had on her—there was a spell she knew and was using, it was needed for his overall goal, there was a ritual for it that had to happen at this specific time, and now all that was needed was to drop a few hints, work around his premature success, hint at it with a vision to one of the PCs, then another asked a few questions during an abortive negotiation attempt and there, sufficient explication.
That wasn’t to say it was all this simple, nor without contradictions; this was, after all, my first serious game. The main one that mattered, though, came from two factors. One, Jalil had been stealing chunks of crystallized power and random books on demonology—I’d stated that during the first session as a way of implying that he had Truck With Demons or somesuch. Two, he was more than a thousand years old and valued learning (I’d known that for a while) and his later-introduced younger daughter was probably the best demonologist the group had ever met. So what in blazes would he need a bunch of random books by a mess of piddling mortals for? It wasn’t until a few weeks before the session in which he died that I finally figured that out, realizing that it actually was pretty similar to my OOC reason for having come up with the thefts in the first place. How do you ensure someone who could be either somewhere completely out of reach or anywhere in the world investigating threats thereto would be in one specific place? Establish a threat in their home city that looks to be about their level, and pounce when they come to investigate it. That one was a lot harder to explain, so I settled on figuring out who would know/have figured that out, and for the most part waited for someone to ask (it ended up coming out in a sidechat, I believe).
Improvisation. Rationalization. Plan.