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1001 Story Arc Ideas

This is intended to be list of plot ideas that encompass at least several adventures, possibly up to and including a full campaign. These should be the events and schemes that drive all the action; things that the players don't necessarily realize is going on at first.

1. Evil Storage Artifact: Long ago, a powerful hero/villain/spirit/angel/fiend sealed away dangerous creatures, spirits, magic, or forces inside an artifact; either to protect the world from them or to use for their own sinister purposes. Now, a villain has arisen that either seeks the artifact or has already come to possess it. Mayhem and murder come to the PCs' attention as the villain either seeks more information about the artifact, or begins to make use of it to smite enemies, assemble armies, seize power, or conduct destructive magic rituals.

Sample villain: Ashael, cambion
Motivations: Increase the power of his innate magical abilities (of mental manipulation); gain personal power and influence
* Burglaries occur in several public and private libraries. Rewards are offered for stolen works.
* A well-respected historian is kidnapped
* Ashael and minions locate and take possession of the artifact
* A few townsfolk start to disappear; if / when located it seems their minds have been magically manipulated
* A prominent noble starts acting strangely...to the detriment of her fiefdom. The population begins to suffer.
* A wealthy merchant turns to the PCS for help regarding a strange and horrible legal judgment (required to hand over first-born son for a minor fine maybe).
* Local Society is transformed into a twisted, repressive mockery of what it once was. People disappear, the legal system loses all pretense of fairness, excessive bribes are required to get the government to work, any potentially threatening individuals or institutions are brutally repressed.

2 Displaced: A dragon or other powerful beast settles in a new lair where weaker but still dangerous enemies live. These others are driven from their former homes, leading them to raid / conquer / or settle in civilized lands for survival. The dragon itself probably needs to be dealt with once the PCs are powerful enough.

Sample villain: Skaladar Black-Death, adult black dragon.
Motivations: Find new food sources, new victims to extort wealth from
* Skaladar takes up residence in a bog near the duchy of Ernst.
* Increased goblinoid raids start to occur in and around Ernst.
* Livestock in the duchy start to go missing. Villagers report the beating of large wings.
* Large lizardfolk war parties begin attacking settlements.
* Lizardfolk refugees try to settle in places claimed by local peasantry. Conflicts occur.
* A township appeals to the Duke for help, reporting that a dragon has been demanding ever-increasing amounts of tribute. After making unpayable demands, the dragon attacked and killed several of the townsfolk.
* The duke sends an armed force to defend the township. All are slain. Rewards are offered to any who can free Ernst of the beast.

3. Alien Invasion: A cultist, mad wizard, or hapless explorer intentionally or unintentionally opens a portal to a place where fiends or nightmare creatures live. Some of what steps through is cunning enough to work together and to keep the existence of the portal secret as they work to undermine and take control of the new land they find themselves in.

Sample villain: A small group of allied demons
Motivation: Undermine and seize control of new territory; harvest souls.
* Pets and livestock start to go missing in the city of Pythagora.
* A court clerk appeals to the PCs for help, claiming that someone is following him.
* Acts of vandalism occur at a local church. Evidence points to worshippers of another deity.
* Reports of strange creatures being sighted start to circulate. Attacks occur on lone and vulnerable members of the population.
* A new criminal group appears to be taking out other gangs within the city. Disturbing reports of monstrous members of this group.
* Crime increases in the city. Citizens are demanding action by the governing body.
* Tensions rise within the city - zealots of religious institutions appear to be at each others' throats. Riots occur.
* Martial law is declared; the populace, however, is up in arms over real or fabricated abuses by the military.
* Full on demonic attacks call into question the ability of the government to protect this city.
* The new underworld group seizes control of the city in a coup.
* Very bad things happen.

4. Wages of War: Two nations, leaders, or institutions declare war upon each other. As the war presses on, the monsters that the military was previously able to keep at bay come to raid and lair in previously well-defended lands. Furthermore, any hero that makes a name for herself by defending the civilian population risks being conscripted into the military (leaving the people once again undefended); possibly finding themselves on the wrong side of the law if they refuse.

5. Conned Cultists: A clever scoundrel has convinced a cult that he can summon their revered demon or god. He just requires a bunch of very valuable things that are probably lost to antiquity or owned by someone else to do so.

6. Raising Legions: A powerful necromancer has found or created artifacts that can raise and command all bodies within a limited radius into undying servitude. Undead armies are brought to bear, invading, killing, and conquering the land. If the PCs can figure out what's going on, the artifacts can be destroyed and the armies put down.
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Lowcountry Low Roller
These look cool, but the missing element is the motivation for these villains. Why are they doing these things now? For example, to what purpose is the powerful necromancer raising legions and why now? Identifying the motivation unlocks all kinds of collateral content. Otherwise we're just left with a blunt conflict.

These look cool, but the missing element is the motivation for these villains. Why are they doing these things now? For example, to what purpose is the powerful necromancer raising legions and why now? Identifying the motivation unlocks all kinds of collateral content. Otherwise we're just left with a blunt conflict.
Yeah, I kind of made them to be generic. But it's easy enough to add some sample motivations. And maybe some ideas for plot/event development.



BACKGROUND: A lecherous satyr undeterred by the continuous rejections of a dryad he fancied, found an opportunity one day when the Dryad was far enough from the safety of her grove to demand her affections. Repulsed by him and afraid, the dryad made the conscious choice to flee, even if it meant risking death by being further away from her home tree.
The chase turned deadly when she unexpectedly ran straight into the strong tentacled branches of a shambling mound. Weakened due to being so far from her grove, the creature's limbs easily wrapped tightly around her body slowly crushing the life out of her, as sharp edges of off-shoot branches pierced into her soft flesh spilling blood.
The satyr turned tail and ran away, but was unable to block out the dryad's screams of pain and final death cry.

ADVENTURE: Every month the satyr, usually depicted drunk and sleep-deprived, seeks adventurers to deal with a shambling mound, which supposedly killed the love of his life and how he had failed to save her (all true). He informs them that the shambling mound returns to the dryad's grove monthly at night time on the date of her death and he would like to avenge his lover, but he needs assistance.
He leads the unsuspecting adventurers to the dead dryad's grove whereupon the shambling mound shows up, at this point a terrified satyr breaks down in tears and begins apologizing as the dryad's ghost directs the shambling mound in its attacks all the while praising the satyr for the sacrifice. (Yes a shambling mound that talks. It should confuse the players momentarily :))
If overwhelmed, the ghost possesses one of the adventurers evening out the fight. The trick is to keep secret the presence of the ghost as long as possible and keep the players guessing.

DESTROYING THE GHOST: The only way to truly destroy the ghost, so it doesn't rise again, is to destroy the amulet which hangs around the skeleton of the dryad which is embedded in the shambling mound's body.
When the shambling mound is near death, and losing massive parts of itself, the PCs may see a shiny amulet, reflected from moonlight or a torch, hanging around the neck of a small skeleton deep within the shambling mound.
(Grab check required during combat to acquire the amulet). Destroying the amulet releases the spirit of the dryad, vanquishing the ghost for good. (Simple DC to get through the hardness to break it).

The amulet was a gift by the satyr who left it at the foot of the dryad's grove. The dryad, admiring its beauty, put it on, not knowing then it was a gift from the satyr. He only revealed the amulet was his gift to her during their final chase in an attempt to make her stop. The amulet is what ties her spirit to the material world and keeping her anger fueled.

CURSE OF THE SATYR: Every month the satyr is plagued with nightmares (sent by the ghost) until he provides a sacrifice for the ghost whereupon she has him relive the screams and cries of the unsuspecting victims as punishment.
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7. ("Curse of the Satyr," above.)

8. Hellfire Club: A group of bored aristocrats are vying to outdo each other by committing ever-greater and ever-more-daring crimes. The nature and severity of the crimes can vary depending on how dark you want the campaign to go--anything from "stealing each other's possessions and returning them at the next meeting" to "kidnapping peasants to hunt for sport every full moon." For an added twist, a dark power learns their secret and blackmails them into carrying out its own agenda.
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9. Mercenary Games: A leader wishes to conquer nearby lands populated by "savage" humanoids, but doesn't believe that his vassal lords or his people would be willing to submit to the increased taxes and/or conscription of their youth necessary to wage war. So he conspires to motivate his people by less than honorable or humane means: He secretly hires mercenary groups composed of "savage" races, like orcs, kobolds, or hobgoblins to raid his own people. He might also consider hiring special agents, like itinerant adventurers, to make unprovoked attacks against tribes living in the desired lands in hopes of triggering reprisals against his people. If and when reprisals occur, he starts making speeches about the threat posed by those living in the lands he wishes to conquer.

Sample villain: Human Noble or Fighter (of appropriately threatening level).
Motivations: Increase land holdings, for purpose of increasing personal wealth or prestige.


Victoria Rules
10. Slow-Motion Overthrow: Some halfway-powerful individual (a Mage, when I used this one) wants to overthrow the King and take his throne. The villain is patient and is running this as a 5-10 year operation; he also realizes the biggest threat to his plans will be mid-to-high level adventurers. But, he also knows that if he can kill off or drive away all the local low-level adventurers now they won't grow up to be high-level ones later, so he sets it up thusly: a famous adventuring company* - a company with the sort of reputation that absolutely anyone would give their right eye to join - is holding a recruitment drive for new members. All who are interested must appear in the main town hall at [date and time x]. So all the low-level types show up (including the PCs)...but villain doesn't just kill them there; he (through a hired actor) divides them up into adventuring parties and sends them out on "trial adventures" - which are actually almost total suicide runs. The PCs all get sorted into the same group, and their mission doesn't turn out to be quite as hard as planned (in other words, it's a typical 1st-level run). They get back to town and the company has vanished...and so have all the other adventurers from the meeting. Now things can start in earnest - the PCs could try to track down some other groups, or track down the company, etc., and much later oculd end up defending the King.

* - this company is ideally one the villain (but not everyone else) knows to have either been wiped out or to have left these parts for good.

Sample villains: An ambitious Mage; key underlings being a solid Fighter/actor (who plays the role of an experienced Company member); a Thief or two (these act as spies and crap-disturbers); and a crowd-pleasing Bard who subtly turns public opinion against the King as time goes on.
Motivation: power; or greed (the royal treasury is full o' gold, don't'cha know); or just the sheer hell of it.

11. A Series of Unfortunate Owners: A sentient evil weapon causes strife in the land by raising up one would-be despotic warlord after another. This magical artifact can bind itself to a willing creature's soul, giving it partial possession of that creature. Not full possession - the personalities of the host and weapon effectively merge. It seeks to raise its owner to a position of power and then join itself with them. It is not above deceiving an owner into accepting the possession through lies and deceit - promising increased power if the owner agrees to undergo the appropriate ritual. The weapon communicates with owners and potential owners telepathically; urging them to intimidate enemies, start fights, and take command. The artifact has several properties that make it troublesome for PCs and others would might want to stop its reign of terror. It can read minds as per Detect Thoughts at will, and uses this ability to find suitable owners and advise them toward its goals of conquest. The weapon can changes its shape at will to become more suitable for a host or to disguise itself from potentially hostile creatures that take physical possession of it. However, the weapon cannot ever disguise the distinctive faceted black-onyx gem buried in its handle. The artifact can disguise its magical aura as per Nystul's Magic Aura at will, to make it seem more innocuous. It can also teleport itself at will, to escape and to find itself new owners. It probably has several other powers such as extra damage dice - as deemed appropriate by the DM. The weapon has a long history and knows much about dominating others. It readily shares its expertise with those who are not too arrogant to listen. When a previous owner has been slain, the artifact patiently waits to find a suitable new host; someone amenable to conquest and appropriately ruthlesss. It listens patiently to the thoughts of those who pick it up or wander near it, only revealing itself to the individual it chooses as its owner. It prefers to be subtle when using the teleport ability so as not to give its nature away to those it deems unsuitable (aka teleports when not being watched). The weapon can be destroyed by somehow disabling its ability to teleport and then destroying the onyx gem embedded within it; probably necessitating that the thought reading is bypassed as well - since this tends to provide the weapon with advance warning of impending attacks.

Events surrounding the artifact probably manifest themselves as the rise of one warlord after another, causing violence in the land. It might be an orc at first, then a goblin, then a despotic human noble, then a giant. Since the item can shapechange and hide its aura, it might not be recognized by the PCs the first few times they manage to defeat an owner. The black onyx will probably clue them in to the presence of some link between the owners after a while though. Some research about the gem should reveal a terrible history of bloodshed and slaughter. Perhaps the identity of the weapon as well if the time is appropriate for story purposes.

Sample Villain: The demon-blade Halskaros
Motivation: Raise up and join with a host placed in a position of power. To enjoy the benefits of successful conquest.
Powers: Shapechange, Telepathy within a 60' radius, Detect Thoughts, Nystul's Magic Aura, and Teleport all at will. Counts as a +2 weapon and adds +2d6 necrotic damage on a successful hit.
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Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters