Tag Archives: Ideas

Plot-a-Day: Satanic Machinations

I’m an atheist, but I still enjoy a good satanic conspiracy. There’s just something about Lucifer’s fall and the whole idea of a secret organization devoted to spreading evil that’s very powerful – archetypical, you might say, and Satanists make for good villains – probably because they are, by definition, devious and capable of great evil in pursuit of their goals.

Satan – Dantes Inferno, by Gustave Doré

Since Halloween is once more upon us, let us look at some fun we can have with these minions of the dark prince.

Second Coming

The Satanists are usually keeping themselves busy preparing for the second coming by spreading chaos and destruction – take the current fad of Islamic terror and put Anti-Christians at its core.

The protagonists are small, well-funded mercenary unit in the pay of the Vatican (perhaps supported by a faction of the US government) and are trying to fight the encroaching evil – as time is of the essence they can not work within the law. As their enemies gain power, the dangers increase, until they have to fight demons in urban areas. (I am sure someone wrote this book already.)

Gates to Hell

Another obvious idea is a search for a magic book or satanic tome which opens the gates to hell (if you’re running a high-supernatural game or novel), allowing some of the Devil’s minions slip through and aid in the preparation for Satan’s return. In a more realistic setting, the Satanists are deluded – there’s no hell and of course the “magic spell” won’t work – but the heinous crimes committed by them are quite real.

The Devil Made Me Do It

In a less advanced society, “satanists” and witches (really anybody the locals decided they didn’t like very much) were blamed for everything from diseases to accident to bad weather. Such accusations usually ended in the painful death of the accused; your protagonists may need to clear their names (if there is enough time for rational discourse) or run for their lives. And in some settings, the accusations might actually be true – or the accuser might themselves be working for the devil.

Just a Bunch of Deluded Fools

A satanist (or other cultuist) based plot doesn’t have to do with the “real deal”. Religion, in any shape or form, is a great motivator to a great many people, on all ends of the spectrum. If the guys in the black robes brandishing daggers made from meteoric iron want to kill you, does it really matter if they want to use your blood to summon a demon or not?

Even if there’s no truth behind it all, Satanists (or any other cultists) can make a great red herring, or you can bait-and-switch your players (the cult is really a money-making scheme, for example). Maybe the satanists are employed by someone who lies to them, and employs them to do their dirty work to achieve some other goal. For example, a politician could use them as thugs to ensure his own election to office.

Star-Spawn of Satan

In a science-fiction setting, satanists might set up their own colony – far away from the usual trade routes. Such a society would be very dysfunctional; just take a look at the various sects that run afoul of the law almost every other year.

In the best case, members are just exploited for cheap labor; but usually, there’s rampant sexual abuse of both adults and children, violence, murder… The colony could support itself by piracy, and pirates that are unusually ruthless and ritualistically murder the crews of the ships they rob may be what brings the protagonists in as investigators.

Good Guy Lucifer

I usually assume that it’s best to play with the audience’s expectations. Keep them guessing. If your players assume that Satanists are “the real deal” then it turns out they aren’t, or maybe they are but the devil is really different from what everybody thinks. You could even make Lucifer the good guy – after all, the victor writes the history book – or in this case determines dogma.

Happy Halloween, folks.

Plot-a-Day: Power of the Atom

Nuclear power is the stuff of our dreams. It promises clean and safe energy – no greenhouse emissions, no dependency on foreign oil sources. At the same time it was devised as an ultimate weapon, and thus has become the stuff of our nightmares. The iconic picture of a mushroom cloud is firmly burned into our collective cultural consciousness. Nuclear accidents, nuclear terrorism, nuclear war – each has the potential to keep you awake at night, if you are prone to worry about such things at all.

As a consequence, all things nuclear have crept into our pop culture wherever you look. Indeed, it stands to argue that nuclear war created post-apocalypse as a genre. Nuclear power can be a powerful element of a story, whether for a game or for fiction.

Nuclear War

Nuclear war, the prevention and consequences of it, are basically their own sub-genre of science fiction. It’s pretty much beyond the scope of a Plot-A-Day post to tackle it in its entirety. Some ideas, though:

  • Nuclear wars do not have to be global in scope; a regional exchange and its devastating effects can make for an interesting setting, since you will be able to highlight the damage and the suffering better as foreign journalists arrive among the wreckage.
  • Nuclear war can also occur on other planets, whether alien home worlds or human colonies, with our intrepid heroes having to prevent the catastrophe from happening. Likewise, a spaceship crew could stumble across a devastated world and attempt to piece together what happened. If the war is recent, interaction with the survivors is a source for endless topics and a neat way to run some temporary “post apocalyptic” stories.
  • One trope is to follow up the nuclear war with either the development of mutants, who may be very zany depending on your setting, or with a war of machines against the surviving humans. Think Terminator. This might be especially interesting if the war was regional – in this case, it becomes a sort of “alien invasion” setting. The rest of the world will quickly send in troops to contain the rogue AIs.
  • The prevention of nuclear war or nuclear strikes is another common idea. Think Crimson Tide. Works in any genre, really.
  • And if your character can not prevent nuclear war, in the right setting having foreknowledge of a nuclear strike may make for an excellent “race against the clock” type adventure. Perhaps the character are psychic, and nobody will believe them, or perhaps they are Space Federation agents charged with recovering an important item before a planet gets nukes.

Nuclear Accidents

  • Thanks to the Japanese, the specter of nuclear accidents is once again on people’s minds. One possible (classic) plot idea is a cover-up at a nuclear power plant after an accident – you can’t really keep a large scale disaster a secret, but perhaps some of the employees were irradiated and turned into Zombies, superheroes, or simply dead goo. Weird events at a powerplant could easily involve Cthulhu.
  • A “broken arrow” is a situation where a warhead was lost. Recovering it could be a lengthy adventure.

Other Nuclear Ideas

  • Suitcase nukes existed, though it is not known publicly how many of these were built, how many may yet exist, and if any of them “got lost”. Suitcase nukes are an excellent topic for an espionage-centered story, no matter whether it is “realistic” or James Bond over the top. If the suitcase nuke has been deployed, finding and disarming it may be more of a special forces scenario.
  • A nuclear explosion rips a hole in the space-time continuum and lets… something through. This could be anything fantastic, from aliens to monsters to magic pixies.
  • An espionage story could also attempt to keep the secret of making nukes from falling into the wrong hands. These could be Nazis (World War II or Alternate History), Communists (Post-World-War-II), Rogue nations (21st Century), terrorists (War on Terror), or even aliens (see H. Beam Piper’s “Uller Uprising” as an example)
  • A missile silo has been occupied by terrorists, and the protagonists have to go in and remove them before they launch the missile or take the warheads for later use.
  • There was a natural nuclear reactor in Gabon 1.7 billion years ago. Perhaps in a space opera setting this could be pushed to the extreme, creating a deadly natural environment. It’s probably too much of a stretch to posit natural nuclear bombs, but even if one of these extreme natural reactors sits on top of a volcano, any eruption may be a “dirty” bomb. The characters have to recover important documents or alien technology from a ship that crashed right into that hell..

Plot-a-Day: Genetic Engineering

Lugh’s comment on The Evil of Eugenics plot-a-day inspired me to write up a plot-a-day for Genetic Engineering. Lugh basically suggested that wizards created monsters in genetic experiments as a weapon against an undead horde, which is a nice and modern take on the origin of those creatures.

Genetic Engineering is really a staple of fiction by now. It usually goes horribly wrong, unleashing monsters or designer plagues on mankind. The sort of story you would associate with Genetic Engineering roots in Frankenstein and encompasses a lot of Post-Apocalyptic fiction; at the high end an unstoppable virus has become a popular alternative to global thermonuclear war for the purpose of destroying Earth to allow for such a setting or story.

Ignoring the total destruction of human society – which is usually a setting choice rather than a plot device – Genetic Engineering can be used in many ways in your adventures or stories.

  • The evil villain is breeding an army of unstoppable mutants – usable in (almost) any campaign and setting. The player characters need to stop him from unleashing that army. Perhaps the villain is already using some of his creations to terrorize the nation or to assassinate politicians that stand in his way. Even the Aliens movie franchise could be seen as a variation of this idea (and indeed, Alien Resurrection picks up on that theme).
  • Genetically engineered plants and creatures often feature in the colonization of other planets; realistically, Mars could be terraformed with their help. And you know what may happen next, of course – the plants used begin to mutate, the animals go crazy, and some may even develop intelligence. Depending on your setting this could result in anything from man-eating insects to a full exotic and alien ecosystem. Jungles on Mars! But that is setting. The players may have to investigate why colonists in an outlaying mining town disappear, and then find a way to exterminate the smart bugs, or they may even have to protect the new Martian ecosystems from an evil Colonial Authority that attempts to eradicate the “mistake”.
  • A lone mutant runs rampant in a city, and the PCs have to stop him.
  • Genetically-modified humans are patented and used as a slave labor force by an evil corporation.
  • According to urban legend, Stalin wanted to breed  human-ape crossbreeds to be used as soldiers. While there seems to have been little to this, at least one Russian scientist was conducting experiments to that end. No matter what the purpose, such experiments pass as unethical by today’s standards, and the PCs might have to look into a scientist who is doing follow-up experiments of the same nature. Or it could lead to a Planet of the Apes scenario.
  • In general, genetically-modified pets may go on a rampage.
  • A corporation on a distant colony world / in a dystopian future controls the world’s grain because it genetically engineered it in such a way that it is not viable after the first generation. Each year, the farmers have to buy new grain from said corporation which is abusing this monopoly more and more. The antagonists need to step in and end this injustice once and for all.
  • Genetic engineering is usually portrayed as “evil”, but it doesn’t need to be. A good, easy twist would be to offer a genetically engineered vaccine that is the only thing that can save mankind from a mutated plague; or a certain type of genetically modified grain that could solve a famine. If the producer of these is then less than clean – say, they also use their products for “evil” things – that sort of plot could offer a good amount of conflict of interests.
  • To cover another cliche: It’s not people who are behind the genetic experiments, it’s aliens. This can easily become zany, too, if you combine it with any sort of whacky conspiracy theory. Then twist it around and set it in a High Fantasy world.

There are surely countless other ideas, but that’s what I can come up with for now.

Damn you, new ideas

Two days ago, I had an idea for a new setting. Something that at least I think would be fairly cool, and it would tie up one loose end of something I have been working on for some time. But there are also some downsides. Specifically, I should really work on this new idea before the story I was outlining for NaNoWriMo because it serves as a “genesis” for the setting used in that story. I’ll have to start over from scratch with a new story arc, new characters, a new outline.

I am fairly sure that, once I post specifics, you’ll go “well, meh, that isn’t that original or exciting”. For the moment, however, this new idea is quite an obsession. Something I want to work on, and in the end I do all of this for myself so that’s okay.

I still wonder: Do you guys ever get that type of idea you feel absolutely compelled to work on? And what does it say about myself that doing something terrible to an imagined city then throwing some non-existing people into that situation makes me all excited and gleeful?

Plot-a-Day: The Curse of Roppongi

And now for something completely different: Another post in my “Plot-a-day” series, where I point out news articles that make wonderful inspiration for plots and adventures (and the series that is anything but daily).

Today, I found a great article from the Japan Times: The Curse of Roppongi. Roppongi, if you do not know, is an upscale and touristy district of Tokyo.

Roppongi Night (Image: Manone)
Roppongi Night (Image: Manone)

The article explores the bad sides of Roppongi, and includes accidents that happen in the suburb. According to the geomancers, Roppongi is awash in negative energy (“fengshui”).

“The many shrines and temples in Monzencho — as Roppongi was called in olden times — were situated to ensure the proper flow of ki (spiritual energy), and with the kimon (devil’s gates) aligned — north, south, east and west — so as to direct bad spirits from the area, but they were successively demolished to make way for new redevelopment projects that have upset the balance. It’s the changes wrought by the disappearance of the temples that are enticing more people to commit crimes.”

What a great start for a cursed part of town. Of course, in our real world, this is all superstitious nonsense; there are no ghosts, no spirits, and no curses. But in your fantasy world, all of this could literally be true.

“Foreigners worship their own countries’ deities, so one might say the old spirits that protected Roppongi have lost their force. Then came redevelopment, which was aligned unfavorably, which also affects the corporations quartered in Roppongi Hills. All these corporate crimes are a result of the bad spirits that converged on the district.”

The possibilities are endless. You could transplant this to a different world, or use it in a weird stories type setting, where ghosts and goblins roam. You could send the Ghostbusters into the Japanese capital or, in best Japanese fashion, teenage girls in powered armor. Picture battles at night, in the still crowded streets, or in the dark, dank and spacious sewers.

The curse could literally be true – the undead, creatures from a parallel universe, demons, or space aliens could have set up an outpost under Roppongi, and the “curse” is a result of their meddling. Or maybe the Yakuza is using stories about a curse to cover up their illegal dealings…

Plot-a-Day: Hiding a Stillborn Baby

People in the real world do a lot of messed-up things. When a British woman discovered she was pregnant after an affair with a co-worker, she hid her pregnancy and eventually hid her stillborn baby in the trunk of her car, the Daily Mail reports.

Marketing executive Claire Jones, 32, found she was expecting after a fling with a man she met through work.

To explain her expanding stomach, she told her family, friends and partner of five years David Stoneman that a wheat allergy was making her put on weight.

After giving birth alone in her mother’s bathroom on December 27 last year, she wrapped the stillborn baby in a carrier bag and binbags.

She then drove to the semidetached house she shared with Mr Stoneman, 33.

Jones then acted as if nothing had happened with her partner and colleagues.

But South Wales Police were tipped off by a health worker who noticed that her pregnancy had been registered but there was no record of a birth.

There’s a ton of plot possibilities in this tragic story. It lends itself mostly to a horror type scenario; a criminal investigation close to the real events is probably not interesting enough. But once you add evil cultists, the entire thing becomes much more sinister: Maybe the woman had designs for the dead baby’s body – why else keep it in the car? And was it really stillborn in the first place? Maybe it got switched for a changeling, a demon, or even the Antichrist (see Rosemary’s Baby).

In a dark but maybe more realistic setting, the baby could have been sold to unscrupulous corporations, who use small children for medical experiments or to raise them into rough, tough, emotionless killers or cybernetically controlled slaves.

For a happier ending, the child could still be alive. This works especially well if the child is somehow important – for example, because he is the son of a king. The protagonists must race against time to find the baby before it dies.

Plot-a-Day: Black Magic Serial Killer

One of the things a lot of people seem have problems with is where and how to get ideas. Personally, I never found this to be a problem – and one of the best sources for plot ideas is still the real world. This is one reason among several why I read the news almost daily.

Here’s a very good example, posted on the BBC News Site. In Indonesia, a man was executed for the murder of over 40 women ten years ago:

An Indonesian man who murdered 42 women and girls in black magic rituals has been executed by firing squad.

Self-confessed “shaman” Ahmad Suraji, 57, told police he killed the women to improve his magical powers.

He had been sentenced to death in 1998 after police found the women’s bodies buried in a field in North Sumatra.

Suraji’s victims had come to him for supernatural help with their finances and love life.

Police said he persuaded them to be buried naked up to the neck before strangling them.

This is a pretty obvious plot idea, and it can be transplanted to pretty much any setting and genre. In a horror setting or a fantasy world, the man may actually possess magic powers, but even in a hyper-modern science fiction setting there will always be people who believe in the supernatural and there will always be con artists (and the honest insane) who take advantage of this.

The protagonists could be involved in tracking down this serial killer, or they or a friend could be persons who ask the “magician” for help. The killer might actually be using the victims to prepare a grand ritual to summon a supernatural being straight out of a Lovecraft novella. They could be explorers or tourists in the Caribbean, and stumble across a witch doctor who buries his victims in an attempt to turn them into zombies.

For extra color, change the method of killing – Instead of strangling them, he could use a ritual dagger and slowly bleed them to death. Or he could leave them, helplessly buried to their necks, when a nasty monster approaches out of the darkness and eats the victims alive.

Of course, it is just as possible in your story that the “magician” is an innocent man, himself the victim of a witch-hunt, and the players must rescue him before he is executed by the firing squad – maybe because it’s “the right thing to do”, or because they were hired (or blackmailed) to do so, or he may actually possess some vital knowledge the characters need in your campaign: A rare spell, knowledge of the whereabouts of the sunken treasure, plans to the secret underground bunker the terrorists hide their improvised nukes in… You get the idea.