Tag Archives: Plot

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.

Martian Landscape (NASA)

Plot-a-Day: Planets of The Solar System – Mars

Our solar system is an awesome place for stories and adventure, and there’s also a lot we still need to explore and discover.

In the next half-dozen installments of Plot-a-Day, I will post ideas about the various planets, moons or asteroids of the solar system. And to star this series off let’s take a look at Mars.

Mars (NASA/Hubble Space Telescope)
Mars (NASA/Hubble Space Telescope)

The red planet has fascinated mankind for thousands of years, and has been center to many a science fiction story over the past century: Martian invasions, Princesses of Mars, Ancient Canals, but also the human exploration and colonization of Mars are all subjects that resonate deeply with us. It’s a great place for all kinds of stories.

Continue reading “Plot-a-Day: Planets of The Solar System – Mars” »

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.

Plot-a-Day: Lost and Found

Things get lost. Sometimes, they are valuable or important enough that someone goes and looks for them. This sort of treasure hunt makes for a good adventure, especially if you run an investigative RPG like Call of Cthulhu, but even for a D&D camopaign it could be a welcome change of pace.

However, a pirate’s treasure is a little stereotypical. So, what other things could get lost that are valuable enough that players could start looking for them?

As it turns out, there are many, many things:

  • Keys or clues that lead to something else. (Bait and switch approach.)
  • Coins – many of them are collectors’ items and thus are worth much more than their face or material value.
  • Art objects, in the real world these are usually paintings.
  • Music instruments. Think Stradivarius.
  • Gems. Keep in mind that some valuable, named gems have not only elaborate histories, they are also sometimes said to be “cursed”, “unlucky”, “haunted”, or even to possess magic properties. For our purposes, such rumors could literally be true.
  • First (or early) editions of famous classical works.
  • Code ciphers needed to decrypt a secret message.
  • Items of historic significance. The declaration of independence. The original draft constitution of your conrepublic. The banner of the king’s grandfather that was flown for 180 days while his castle held against overwhelming odds. Lead miniatures with which a famous conqueror planned his military campaigns. Some of these could have great practical significance in your constructed world, too. “Whoever holds the scepter of the seven kings shall rule over the kingdom. So it is written in the book of laws, and so it must be.”
  • Illuminated religious tomes. Either for their historic or artistic value, or because they contain evidence that some people might want to keep hidden. In the Nine Gates, pages from a book are even used to open the gates to hell and summon Satan into the world. The Necronomicon is another classic example.
  • Expensive wine
  • Beer for which the recipe has been lost.
  • Teddy Bears. I kid you not.
  • Shipwrecks. These usually carry valuable cargo – and some have cultural significance. The search for the Titanic is a prime example.
  • Crashed airplanes, as a modern variation of the above. The hunt could be for survivors if it’s a recent crash.
  • Secret documents are an obvious item to look for – works in any setting, really, but it’s classic Cyberpunk or James-Bond-Spy-Adventure stuff.
  • Lost nuclear warheads (Broken Arrow).
  • Spaceships. This includes historic spacecraft (Liberty Bell 7), modern space ships for any reason (their cargo, the value they represent themselves, a rescue mission is a kind of treasure hunt too, or even alien technology if it’s a UFO). Alternatively, a space station or base. Such an object could be hidden in space, too, depending on your setting.
  • In a post-apocalyptic world, the PCs could be searching for a lost seed vault.
  • Every-day objects can be used as items the characters need to search. The treasure map in Tintin’s “Secret of the Unicorn” is hidden in the mast of a model ship. Hiding something in a hollowed-out book is already a trope. The British secret service once built a (working!) pipe that had hidden paper documents hidden inside it, and they also had a golf ball (that could be used) that had a compass inside it. The point is, you can hide important documents (magical gems, a dinosaur tooth, a piece of alien alloy) pretty much anywhere. And if one of these objects go missing, the PCs will have to retrieve it. Who else?
  • Human remains. Imposters have a harder time nowadays, especially if someone still has living relatives, because of DNA testing. Back in the days – or in less advanced settings – finding the actual human remains of the prince / wealthy industrialist may be the only way to prove that this guy who suddenly showed up is not who he claims to be. Alternatively, the PCs could be sent on a search for the remains of someone important. To illustrate, Hitler’s remains were scattered to prevent that they could become a reliquary for Neo-Nazis. Now imagine you have a Weird World War II setting, or post-WW2, where magic actually works – some of said Neo-Nazis might hunt for some small remains of Hitler in the hopes of being able to summon his ghost – maybe even bind his spirit into the body of a living “volunteer”, suited to be a best match by whatever twisted criteria that might entail.
  • Lost mines. The challenge here is that the object of the search is stationary and cannot be moved; the protagonists may find that it is on private land they need to secretly purchase, it may be in a national park where mining is now illegal, and/or they could get involved in a race against time to file a claim for the area.
  • Famous memorabilia – Elvis’ wig, that sort of item.
  • Watches. Some of these are valuable in and of themselves; in addition, they could also be custom-designed in that their mechanism triggers special events at a preset time and date that unlock clues to finding a greater treasure or secret.

Unsurprisingly, treasures and treasure hunting is also covered by many sites:

  • Wikipedia has a short list of Lost Treasure.
  • Lost Gold is another site which could provide good material for treasure hunting games.
  • Geocaching is a modern type of treasure-hunting game that is played via GPS positioning. You might wish to read up on this for modern settings – plus, a harmless Geocaching game could turn into something lethally serious in your story when the protagonists discover something they were not meant to find.

Plot-a-Day: The Evil of Eugenics

In June, the BBC reported that North Carolina is dealing with the late fallout from a Eugenics program. Eugenics is, in essence, the attempt to improve the genetic “quality” of a given population. When you hear that you automatically think of the Third Reich, but few people realize that the Nazis actually took cues from the United States – they just pushed it into the extreme.  What I did not know – and I am sure most other people also do not realize – is that such programs were still going on until 1979 – twenty four years after the end of World War II!

The possibilities for plots are endless.

  • The players are hired to look into a Eugenics program that ended in the 1970s, and uncover that the program only served as the cover for something more sinister: Human experiments, where the early geneticists attempted to “play god”. It could be a simple political conspiracy – maybe a Presidential candidate was involved as a young administrator – or these experiments could have created monsters (Call of Cthulhu campaign) or been done in cooperation with the Greys (X-Files style campaign).
  • In a supernatural campaign, a ghost may be restless because he was subject of such a program, and the players’ motivation is to bring the evildoers to justice so the ghost can rest in peace.
  • Human experimentation or Eungenics in the USA, Argetine or other countries could be based on Nazi medical research. In a “secret history” campaign, the traces could eventually lead to the Nazi base under the ice of Antarctica, or to the secret Nazi moon base.
  • Whatever the case, an option is to have the experiments continue until today, which the perpetrators naturally would not wish to come to light.
  • If you are playing a Cyberpunk game, a corporation might start a Eugenics project – for medical research reason, most likely. Or Eugenics could become acceptable again; in a society that does not value individual human life highly, it’s entirely conceivable that criminals or the very poor might get sterilized.
  • In a Science Fiction setting, Eugenics could be conducted on a remote Terran colony world, or the corrupt Galactic Empire could be conducting large-scale experimentation on the Slave Caste.
  • In a fantasy setting, any demi-human race could be the subject of Eugenics at the hands of the dominant races – usually humans. For example, Goblins, Orcs, Kobolds, or similar species could be bred for more intelligence or could be sterilized to limit their breeding rates. This might be especially true if they are capable of interbreeding with humans: Half-Orcs are a likely target for experiments or worse. In some societies, even Half-Elves could be considered an abomination that should not be allowed to produce offspring.
  • No matter what the setting, the players could portray members of a race or class that is subject to Eugenics. This might add a sinister twist and more urgency to the old “You are slaves/prisoners and need to escape” plot.
  • For a good twist on Eugenics, see the computer game Mass Effects: There, the Kroogan (reptilian aliens) were hit by a genetically engineered plague that reduced fertility of their females radically, saving not only the Milky Way galaxy from being overrun, but also stopped the Krogan from constantly warring amongs each other due to population pressure.

At any rate, Eugenics – and human experimentation – provide a good motivation for players, or a complication to any other adventure.

Plot-a-Day: The Forbidden City

China was recently hit by a scandal: It turned out that the rich & powerful of the People’s Republic had a “rich man’s club” going – and used one of the most famous of China’s sites as their club house: The Forbidden City. This came to light after artifacts – on loan from Hong Kong – were stolen.

The Forbidden City used to be the palace of the Emperor of China. As such, it is one of those iconic sites with a lot of history that just lend themselves to all kinds of adventures.

Forbidden City, by Saad Akhtar
Forbidden City, by Saad Akhtar

The Club could aim to…

  • …set up a new political system in China, and the PCs are there to spy on the conspirators or to even stop them by assassinating their leader. Of course the PCs could be members of the conspiracy, too, and find out who the government infiltrator is before he signals for the start of a raid by special forces.
  • …ensure Cthulhu or another Old God rises when the stars are right. The Forbidden City is an ancient Site Of Power, so the dark rituals performed there are magnified a thousand times in potency. The PCs need to stop the ritual from being completed, which is made more difficult by the fact that all these rich guys enjoy strong government protection.
  • …enjoy themselves in all kinds of carnal and evil ways. For example, they could be doing illegal drugs and employ the services of girls kidnapped all over China – or even the World – and forced to work as prostitutes. The PCs were hired to shut the whole thing down – or at least rescue the pretty, young daughter of their patron.
  • …bring about an end to the world financial system, creating a neo-communist utopia. Only James Bond can stop them – and since he has been cancelled, that task falls on the shoulders of the PCs.

ForbiddenCity's Location in Beijing
ForbiddenCity's Location in Beijing

Naturally, no matter what you decide, China is rich in interesting locations that you could add to your adventure. Some quick ideas off the top of my head:

  • The Great Wall
  • Qingdao is an interesting mix of European and Chinese city, and its super-modern high-rise buildings are home to many rich Chinese.
  • Tibet with its monasteries
  • Xian – home of the Terracotta Army
  • The Gobi desert

Enjoy.

Plot-a-Day: Ghost Baby

Here’s another idea for a plot which would work great for both fiction and RPG sessions.

Michael Persinger, a Neuroscientist, investigated a case in which a teenager reported that she received nocturnal visits from ghosts. The scientists were called in at the request of the mother, and determined that a clock close to the girl’s head combined with a mild brain injury she had received as a baby caused the hallucinations. The clocks was removed, and the “visitations” stopped.

The article in the Scientific American goes into greater detail, especially on follow-up experiments designed to determine scientific causes for sightings of the “supernatural”, including experiments to test whether a person who wants to see a ghost is more susceptible to such causes and thus more likely to “see” a ghost.

This would work well in a setting in two ways; you can either take the “ghost baby” story and turn it into an investigation (and, since an electric clock is probably very anticlimactic, you may wish to use the devil / evil spirits / space aliens as the cause), or you could take the scientific experiments in general to kick-start a campaign. The investigators either come to delve into the “true supernatural” (Ghostbusters did it, why not you?) as a consequence of their inquiries or they uncover pranksters or frauds who may even be making a great deal of money off of the unsuspecting. The later works especially well if your players actually do expect ghosts.

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.