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The Big List of RPG Plots is a wonderful source of plot ideas to help spark a GM's thoughts. This post subverts its use slightly by turning it into a tool to generate random plot, with the intended use of solo role-playing.
Most of this blog is going to consist of posts that either set up the campaign setting and character party, or involve making and interpreting dice rolls to create sections of story. But just occasionally I hope to be able to provide some pieces of analysis that help others try out playing solo. This is one such post.
Generating a Random Plot
Roll 1d34 to determine the basic plot. (Go visit the original text for full descriptions.)
Roll 1d6 to determine the plot twist:
1. No twist.
2/3. Plot-specific twist.
4/5. Universal twist.
6. Both a plot-specific and universal twist.
Roll for twists as appropriate. Plot-specific twists are listed under each plot name below. Universal twists are listed at the very end.
How do I roll 1d34?
Or indeed any of the other peculiar dice size required for the twist lists? Well, if you're using an electronic randomiser, that's not a problem. If instead you're using dice, here are some ideas...
Use the smallest dice size you own that is equal to or greater than the target number, and re-roll if you get a result that is greater than the target. So for a roll of 1 to 7, roll 1d8 and re-roll any 8s.
Look for multiples of the target number. For example, if you need to roll a number from 1 to 3, roll 1d6 and halve the result (rounding up).
Factorise the target number (or a number just a little bit higher) and roll multiple dice. For example to simulate 1d34, note that 34 is only slightly smaller than 36 and that 36 is 6x6. So you can roll 2d6 of different colours and concatenate their rolled numbers together to get values from 1/1 to 6/6. I've specifically listed these values for the plots below (re-roll on a 6/5 or 6/6).
No twist list is greater than 16 entries long, so method 1 will always work for them with a d20 or smaller. Or you can improvise yourself with rolling 2d4 for the universal twists and so on.
List of Plots and Twists
1. [1/1] Any Old Port in a Storm
1. The shelter contains the cause of the threat the PCs were trying to avoid.
2. The shelter houses a Hidden Base (q.v.).
3. The PCs must not only struggle for shelter, they must struggle to survive.
4. The place is a legitimate shelter of some kind, but the PCs are not welcome, and must win hearts or minds to earn their bed for the night.
2. [1/2] Better Late than Never
1. The bad guys escaped by stealing a conveyance that the PCs know better than they do.
2. The bad guys duck down a metaphorical (or literal) side-road, trying to hide or blend into an environment (often one hostile to the PCs).
3. If the bad guys cross the adventure's "finish line" (cross the county line, make the warp jump, etc.) there's no way to pursue them beyond it.
3. [1/3] Blackmail
1. The adventure hook involves the PCs doing the villain a good turn, which allows him to take advantage of them (very cynical!).
2. To succeed, the PCs must contact other folks that are also being used.
3. The PCs aren't the victims at all, but somebody they care about/are charged to protect, is.
4. [1/4] Breaking and Entering
1. The goal is not to extract a thing, but to destroy a thing or interfere with a process (kill the force-screen generator, assassinate the evil king, stop the spell from being cast, wreck the invasion plans, close the portal).
2. The goal has moved.
3. The goal is information, which must be broadcast or otherwise released from the area as soon as it is found.
4. The job must be done without alerting anyone.
5. The PCs don't know the place is dangerous.
6. The PCs must replace the thing with another thing.
5. [1/5] Capture the Flag
1. The PCs must assemble and/or train a force to do the job with them.
2. The PCs are working with flawed intelligence and the target zone isn't as described.
3. The PCs must coordinate their own efforts with an ally group (possibly putting aside rivalries to do so).
4. The target zone includes a population of innocent people, fragile goods, or some other precious thing that mustn't be harmed in the crossfire.
6. [1/6] Clearing the Hex
1. The bad things can't be beaten with direct conflict.
2. The PCs must learn more about them to solve the problem.
3. The Haunted House.
4. The Alien Infestation.
5. The Wild Forest.
7. [2/1] Delver's Delight
1. The treasure itself is something dangerous.
2. The treasure isn't in a ruin, but in a wilderness or even hidden somewhere "civilized".
3. The treasure is someone else's rightful property.
4. The treasure turns out to have a will of its own.
8. [2/2] Don't Eat the Purple Ones
1. The PCs must survive only for a short period of time, until help arrives, the ship and/or radio is repaired, or some such thing (in "repair" scenarios, sometimes the PCs must discover some fact about the local environment that will make such repairs possible).
9. [2/3] Elementary, My Dear Watson
1. The PCs are working to clear an innocent already accused (possibly themselves).
2. The PCs must work alongside a special investigator or are otherwise saddled with an unwanted ally.
3. Midway through the adventure, the PCs are "taken off the case" - their invitation/authority to pursue the matter is closed (often the result of political maneuvering by an antagonist).
4. The climax is a courtroom scene or other arena of judgment.
5. The scale is highly variable for this type of adventure, from a small-town murder to a planetwide pollution scandal.
10. [2/4] Escort Service
1. The thing or person is troublesome, and tries to escape or sidetrack the PCs.
2. The destination has been destroyed or suborned by the enemy, and the PCs must take upon themselves the job that either the destination or their charge was meant to do when it got there.
3. The person is a person attempting a political defection.
4. Safe arrival at the destination doesn't end the story; the PCs must then bargain with their charge as their token (exchanging money for a hostage, for instance).
5. The PCs must protect the target without the target knowing about it.
11. [2/5] Good Housekeeping
1. The PCs are brought in because something big is about to happen, and the Old Guard wants a chance to escape.
2. The peasants, neighbors, employees, etcetera resent the PCs, because their method of inheritance looks outwardly bad and everybody loved the old boss.
12. [2/6] Help is on the Way
1. The victim(s) is (are) a hostage, or under siege from enemy forces, and the PCs must deal with the captors or break the siege.
2. There is a danger that any rescue attempts will strand the rescuers in the same soup as the rescuees, compounding the problem.
3. The rescuees aren't people, but animals, robots, or something else.
4. The "victim" doesn't realize that he needs rescuing; he thinks he's doing something reasonable and/or safe.
5. The threat isn't villain-oriented at all; it's a natural disaster, nuclear meltdown, or disease outbreak.
6. The rescuees can't leave; something immobile and vital must be tended to or dealt with at the adventure location.
7. The PCs begin as part of the rescuees, and must escape and gather forces or resources to bring back and proceed as above.
13. [3/1] Hidden Base
1. The PCs must figure out how to use local resources in order to defend themselves or have a chance against the inhabitants.
14. [3/2] How Much for Just the Dingus?
1. The natives require the competing factions to gather before them as pals to state their cases.
2. The valuable thing was en route somewhere when its conveyance or courier wrecked or vanished.
15. [3/3] I Beg Your Pardon?
1. The PCs have something that the bad guys want - but they don't necessarily realize it.
2. The bad guys are out for revenge for a dead compatriot from a previous adventure.
3. The bad guys have mistaken the PCs for somebody else.
16. [3/4] Long or Short Fork when Dining on Elf?
1. The PCs were chosen by somebody who knew they weren't prepared for it - an NPC trying to sabotage the works (pinning this villain might be necessary to avert disaster).
17. [3/5] Look, Don't Touch
1. The target gets itself in trouble and the PCs must decide whether to break the no-contact rule in order to mount a rescue.
18. [3/6] Manhunt
1. The target has been kidnapped (possibly to specifically lure the PCs).
2. The target is dangerous and escaped from a facility designed to protect the public.
3. The target is valuable and escaped from a place designed to keep him safe, cozy, and conveniently handy.
4. The target has a reason for leaving that the PCs will sympathize with.
5. The target has stumbled across another adventure (either as protagonist or victim), which the PCs must then undertake themselves.
6. The missing "person" is an entire expedition or pilgrimage of some kind.
7. The target isn't a runaway or missing/lost - they're just someone that the PCs have been hired to track down (possibly under false pretenses).
19. [4/1] Missing Memories
1. The forgetful PCs voluntarily suppressed or erased the memories, and they find themselves undoing their own work.
20. [4/2] Most Peculiar, Momma
1. The PCs are somehow unwittingly responsible for the whole thing.
2. What seems to be a problem of one nature (technological, personal, biological, chemical, magical, political, etc) is actually a problem of an alternate one.
21. [4/3] No One has Soiled the Bridge
1. The intelligence the PCs was given turns out to be faulty, but acting on the new information could result in greater danger - but so could not acting on it, and the PCs must choose or create a compromise.
2. The PCs learn that the enemy has good and sympathetic reason for wanting to destroy the protected spot.
22. [4/4] Not In Kansas
1. They were brought there specifically to help someone in trouble.
2. They were brought there by accident, as a by-product of something strange and secret.
3. Some of the PCs' enemies were transported along with them (or separately), and now they have a new battleground, and innocents to convince which guys are the good guys.
23. [4/5] Ounces of Prevention
1. The initial tip-off was a red herring meant to distract the PCs from the actual caper.
2. There are two simultaneous Bad Things on the way, and no apparent way to both of them - how to choose?
24. [4/6] Pandora's Box
1. The PCs can't simply take the released badness to the mat; they have to collect it and shove it back into the source before it the adventure can really end.
2. The PCs are drawn in to the source and must solve problems on the other side before returning to this one.
3. A secret book, code, or other rare element is necessary to plug the breach (maybe just the fellow who opened it).
4. A close cousin to this plot is the basic "somebody has traveled into the past and messed with our reality" story.
25. [5/1] Quest for the Sparkly Hoozits
1. The dingus is incomplete when found (one of the most irritating and un-fun plot twists in the universe).
2. Somebody already owns it (or recently stole it, sometimes with legitimate claim or cause).
3. The dingus is information, or an idea, or a substance, not a specific dingus.
4. The PCs must "go undercover" or otherwise infiltrate a group or society, gaining the dingus by guile or stealth.
26. [5/2] Recent Ruins
1. Whatever ruined the ruins (including mean people, weird radiation, monsters, a new race, ghosts) is still a threat; the PCs must save the day.
2. The inhabitants destroyed themselves.
3. The "ruins" are a derelict ship or spaceship, recently discovered.
4. The "ruin" is a ghost town, stumbled across as the PCs travel - but the map says the town is alive and well.
27. [5/3] Running the Gauntlet
1. The place isn't dangerous at all, and the various "dangers" are actually attempts to communicate with the party by some agent or another.
28. [5/4] Safari
1. The creature is immune to their devices and weapons.
2. There are other people actively protecting the creature.
3. The creature's lair allows the PCs to stumble onto another adventure.
29. [5/5] Score One for the Home Team
1. The other contestants are less honest, and the PCs must overcome their attempts to win dishonestly.
2. The PCs are competing for a deeper purpose than victory, such as to keep another contestant safe, or spy on one, or just to get into the place where the event goes down.
3. The PCs don't wish to win; they just wish to prevent the villain from winning.
4. The event is a deliberate test of the PCs abilities (for entry into an organization, for example).
5. The event becomes more deadly than it's supposed to.
30. [5/6] Stalag 23
1. Something has happened in the outside world and the prison security has fallen lax because of it.
2. The PCs have been hired to "test" the prison - they aren't normal inmates.
3. Other prisoners decide to blow the whistle for spite or revenge.
4. The PCs are undercover to spy on a prisoner, but are then mistaken for real inmates and kept incarcerated.
5. The PCs must escape on a tight schedule to get to another adventure outside the walls.
31. [6/1] Take Us to Memphis and Don't Slow Down
1. The "hijackers" are government agents pulling a complicated caper, forcing the PCs to choose sides.
2. The hijackers don't realize there is a secondary danger that must be dealt with, and any attempt to convince them is viewed as a trick.
3. The normals are unhelpful or even hostile to the PCs because they think the PCs are just making matters worse.
32. [6/2] Troublemakers
1. The PCs must not harm the perpetrator(s); they must be bagged alive and well.
2. The bad guys have prepared something dangerous and hidden as "insurance" if they are captured.
3. The "bad guy" is a monster or dangerous animal (or an intelligent creature that everybody thinks is a monster or animal).
4. The "bad guy" is a respected public figure, superior officer, or someone else abusing their authority, and the PCs might meet hostility from normally-helpful quarters who don't accept that the bad guy is bad.
5. A balance of power perpetuates the trouble, and the PCs must choose sides to tip the balance and fix things.
6. The "trouble" is diplomatic or political, and the PCs must make peace, not war.
33. [6/3] Uncharted Waters
1. Either the place itself is threatening (in which case the PCs must both play National Geographic and simultaneously try to escape with their skin, sanity, and credit rating) or the place itself is very valuable and wonderful, and something else there is keen on making sure the PCs don't let anyone else know.
2. Other potential conflicts involve damage to the PCs' conveyance or communication equipment, in which case this becomes Don't Eat the Purple Ones.
34. [6/4] We're on the Outside Looking In
1. The PCs find themselves on the receiving end of the adventure.
2. Take any of the plots here and reverse them, placing the PCs in the position where NPCs (often the villain, fugitive, etcetera) normally are.
3. Instead of hunting, they must be hunted.
4. Instead of fixing, they must avoid getting "fixed" themselves (ow).
5. Alternately, leave a classic plot intact but turn the twists upside down, making them twistier (or refreshingly un twisty).
Universal Plot Twists
1. The PCs must work alongside an NPC or organization they'd rather not pal around with (those who are normally rivals or villains, or just a snooty expert sent along to "help" them, etc).
2. The victims are really villains and the villains are really victims.
3. The PCs meet others who can help them, but won't unless the PCs agree to help them with their own causes.
4. The villain is somebody the PCs know personally, even respect or love (or someone they fall for, mid-story).
5. The PCs must succeed without violence, or with special discretion.
6. The PCs must succeed without access to powers, equipment, or other resources they're used to having.
7. The villain is a recurring foil.
8. Another group comparable to the PCs has already failed to succeed, and their bodies/equipment/etc provide clues to help the PCs do better.
9. There are innocents nearby that the PCs must keep safe while dealing with the adventure.
10. The adventure begins suddenly and without warning or buildup; the PCs are tossed into the fire of action in scene one.
11. The PCs must pretend to be someone else, or pretend to be themselves but with very different allegiances, values or tastes.
12. The PCs can't do everything and must choose: which evil to thwart? Which innocents to rescue? Which value or ideal to uphold?
13. The PCs must make a personal sacrifice or others will suffer.
14. The PCs aren't asked to solve the problem, just to render aid against a backdrop of larger trouble: get in a shipment of supplies, sneak out a patient that needs medical help, or so on.
15. One of the PCs is (or is presumed to be) a lost heir, fulfillment of a prophecy, a volcano god, or some other savior and/or patsy, which is why the PCs must do whatever the adventure is about.
16. There is another group of PC-like characters "competing" on the same adventure, possibly with very different goals for the outcome.
I've generated some results for these tables, and they look okay. That's a subjective valuation though.
However to counter the uncertainty of how well balanced these are, I also expect that someone is unlikely to be using these tables in earnest to produce even 100 distinct plots. So there's enough variety for most purposes, I suspect.
Note that you should not be a slave to the results. These are meant to act as inspiration for you. If you roll something up that you don't think will work, roll again! If you roll something up that you want to twist in a different way, do so!
A practical example of playing an RPG solo, using various key tools to facilitate the game and create an interesting experience.
- [+] Dice rolls