So it’s almost game time and you’ve procrastinated too much, yet again. There’s maybe a half-baked plot hook in you mind you don’t have time to flesh out. Well, let’s not jabber, time to get you rollin!
Firstly, you have a setting (if not, pick a setting). Settings have factions, pick 3-5 factions that are at status quo with each other. These Status Quo Factions (SQF) are possibly against each other (town guard vs criminal underworld), but are at equilibrium.
For each faction, choose/create a representative NPC. These aren’t necessarily the leaders of the faction, but the ones the players will be dealing with. For best effects, a name, title (rank within the organisation), a personality trait (zealous, paranoid, timid), and an emotion they’re feeling right now (scared, confident, confused). Use a random generator if you’re in a hurry.
Next, pick a Destabilizing Faction (DSF). This faction may be external, or may be an internal faction with one of the SQFs. I would recommend against your players as the DSF unless you already have their buy in.
Now, what is the DSF actually doing to destabilize the situation? Some possibilities:
- An SQF is weakened, creating a power vacuum
- An SQF finds a major opportunity for growth at the expense of another, and either the DSF is pushing for it or being used for it
- The DSF finds a brand new source of power, and now all the SQFs are rushing to take a piece for themselves.
As a note your DSF doesn’t actually need to survive. Its entire purpose is to cause the break of the status quo.
Now that things are unstable, how are the SQFs reacting? Defensive? Aggressive? Probing for more information?
What tensions from the factions are spilling over? The guards have the excuse they need to crack down? Noble houses
Now the final step: bring the players in. Each faction will need help of some variety from outside sources (and if they don’t they do now). Some possible introductory missions include:
- Guarding caravans/warehouses
- Capturing (not killing) persons of interest (generally SQF or DSF members)
- Scouting areas in dangerous territory
- Delivering messages (letters or envoys)
Finally, when the session is over look at what the players did (and decided not to do). They (hopefully) helped at least one of the SQFs, meaning another has been weakened. The other SQFs have been busy too, as a general rule they should act half as often as whoever the players are helping.
After this point you have a feedback loop: the players react to the world, then the world reacts to the players, and your plot generation should be much easier in the future.