Adventure Twists

M.T. Black

Explorer
I really enjoy a nice twist at the end of an adventure. Following are some of my favourites -

* The adventurers need to join forces with the monster they came to kill in order to overcome a greater threat
* The Big Baddie turns out to be the Big Goodie in disguise
* Achieving the adventure goal ends up helping an enemy
* Achieving the adventure goal will require a beloved friend to sacrifice themselves
* A trusted ally turns out to be a spy for the Big Baddie
* The party must choose between fulfilling the adventure goal and saving innocent lives
* The Innocent Victim the party are rescuing turns out to be a Big Baddie
* The Big Baddie the party came to thwart turns out to be a Big Goodie
* The Big Baddie has an attribute that is very unlike most of its kind (for example, a highly intelligent ogre)
* Defeating the Big Baddie turns out to release an even Bigger Baddie
* A recent ally turns out to be an important NPC in disguise (e.g. the friendly ranger accompanying them turns out to be Queen of the realm)
* Instead of being rewarded for achieving the mission goal, the party find themselves punished
* The mission goal turns out to be a fake, set up by the Big Goodie in order to test the strength of the party
* The Innocent Victim does not want to be saved, and has become an ally of the Big Baddie
* Fulfilling the adventure goal requires the PCs to do something unethical
* The party think they've completed the adventure goal, but the Big Baddie has one more trick in store for them

What are some of your favourite adventure plot twists?
 

Jhaelen

Villager
That's a really good list you have there, already!

I also enjoy adventure twists a lot, so much so, in fact, that I need to be careful to avoid having twists all the time, because my players have learned to expect them and have started to become overly suspicious of just about everone and everything :)
 
[MENTION=6782171]M.T. Black[/MENTION] Back when we played 4e I put together a cheat sheet which also had a list of plot twists: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?307923-4e-DM-Cheat-Sheet

It's nicely formatted there (last page of PDF) and other cool system-agnostic stuff, but I'll copy-paste here:

d20 Twist

1 Face from the past
a. Defeated enemy new role
b. Old ally in new setting
c. Retired PC cameo

2 Secret from a PC’s past

3 Taken off the case
a. PCs become suspects
b. Corrupt NPC(s) takes over

4 Villain adapts to PCs

5 Forced collaboration
a. In face of greater threat
b. Need each other’s info.

6 Double mission
a. Second quest is added
b. Original quest is a ruse

7 Bad guys got there first

8 Unexpected reversal
a. Enemy < > Ally
b. Consequence of quest

9 A tempting offer

10 Bad guys kick in the door
a. Assassins ambush PCs
b. Massive attack on town
c. Summoned monsters
d. Duel challenge issued

11 Ethical dilemma
a. Lesser of two evils
b. Ally vs. rule of law
c. Prisoner’s dilemma

12 The enemy of my enemy…

13 Fighting good guys
a. Sectarian/ideological conflict
b. “Tragic Villains”

14 Mystery put into perspective

15 Ticking clock
a. Countdown to doom
b. Window of opportunity

16 Red Herring
a. Framed/mistaken identity
b. False evidence

17 This is personal

18 Outside event
a. Man (war, persecution)
b. Nature (storm, drought)

19 Villain’s false death

20 Power vacuum
a. PC(s) must take power
b. Underling promoted
c. Greater evil unleashed
d. Chaos and mass panic
 
* The Innocent Victim is the leader of the gang who "kidnapped" her.

* The Innocent Victim is a succubus. The quest giver knew this, but didn't tell the heroes because she's trying to become good and the quest giver didn't want her killed by the party.

* The Ancient Treasure the party is sent to acquire turns out to be a worthless trinket that was part of an ancient advertising scheme.

* The party is sent to rescue a dragon from a princess.
 

Sithikurro

Villager
I like placing spies in the party: one of the party members actually works for The Other Side (willingly or not). For example in "The Tyranny of Dragons" a player was brain-washed and her conditioning activated when she heard the phrase "we all praise Tiamat the Great." It was one tough fight! In a Star Wars campaign a PC was an Imperial spy (blackmailed), feeding information about the party (and rebel) activities.
Of course, the GM must discuss the idea with the player beforehand!
 

pemerton

Legend
I don't like twists that invalidate the players' choices - eg, for instance, the PCs (in good faith) go along with the GM's adventure hook, only to have it turn out that their patron was really the villain (a pretty common motif). I feel that's basically just the GM exploiting the players (who are under at least a modest duty to accept the adventure that is offered).

I don't know if I can articulate my personal borderline for this - but in my 4e campaign, the PCs befriended a baron whose niece had gone missing. The PCs were worried for her, because her fiance was not only the baron's trusted advisor, but also secretly a Vecna cultists leading goblin and hobgoblin hordes in a war against the town and surrounding villages/homesteads.

The players decided to have their PCs go and rescue her. They got a shock when they discovered that she, like her fiance, was also a necromancer! Though they kept their promise to the baron and brought her home. (And then, in the next session, killed her as she tried to escape and killed innocent NPCs in her attempt.)

Overall, I prefer twists that arise from the play of the game, rather than being pre-planned by the GM. In this session, differences between the PCs in combination with some clever play by me on behalf of my NPC meant that the PCs ended up being obliged to spare the life of a prisoner whom they all would rather have seen executed: in order to extract information the "interrogation team" made a promise that the party paladin would speak to the baron on the prisoner's behalf; they had no intention of keeping the promise, but (despite the interrogation team having taken steps to ensure that the paladin was busy elsewhere) the paladin entered into the interrogation before it was over, and was held by the prisoner to the promise made in his name.

In this more recent session, all the signs were suggesting that the Dusk War is immanent. But the players were determined to have their PCs prove that the signs had been misread - and through a series of clever social plays plus effective combat against the tarrasque, they managed to pull it off!
 
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Imaculata

Adventurer
I don't like twists that invalidate the players' choices - eg, for instance, the PCs (in good faith) go along with the GM's adventure hook, only to have it turn out that their patron was really the villain (a pretty common motif). I feel that's basically just the GM exploiting the players (who are under at least a modest duty to accept the adventure that is offered).
I agree. Plus, this can also cause your players to distrust everyone they meet, which is not something I would want. It's good for the players to be able to trust some people. Sometimes the good guy, is really just a good guy.

The twist would be when that good guy is suddenly killed, thus giving the players emotional stakes.

I do like twists where the players have to (temporarily) work together with someone they know they can't trust. And as a DM I try to put the extra effort in to get the players into a false sense of security, where they start trusting this obviously untrustworthy character. But the inevitable betrayal should never come out of nowhere. You have to build towards a twist, and not drop a twist just for the sake of unpredictability. The best twists are a natural development of the plot, like the red wedding in game of thrones. It has to be set up first, before the twist can occur.

For example, one twist I had been working towards, was the resurrection of an ancient evil pirate lord. The plot already involved him quite a bit, and it was known to the players that his body had never been found. The whole campaign the players kept dreading that he might return as a ghost pirate. But, in a world that has scrying spells, it made sense that his body had to be in a location that could not be found with scrying. Once they had found his secret lair, and found his body, the players aided the daughter of the pirate lord in giving her father a proper burial. Thus removing him from the location that had prevented a group of evil wizards from finding his body all these years. So they inadvertently allowed this twist to occur. But it had a set up that had been in place since the campaign begun at least a year ago.

So the trick to a good twist, in my opinion, is that it should have some planning behind it. Like a Chekov's Gun, you want to set up the twist properly. It should make sense. The moment the twist is revealed, all the puzzle pieces that you left behind, should fall into place. So plan that twist several sessions in advance, and lay out the foundation for it. And don't panic if your players happen to predict the twist. Just stay the course.
 
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Eltab

Villager
I created a DMPC with a twist in mind: this individual is working for the good of the town, as defined by a certain social clique within it. He is willing to dump the needs and interests of other persons / groups.

At the beginning, he shows up as an ally in certain chores. Eventually he becomes a rival (for instance, by stealing a MacGuffin the PCs dug out of a hidden location). Later he is a foe the PCs are sent to defeat.

His "certain social clique" could be the Thieves Guild, or an alliance of ambitious nobles plotting to replace the King's Closest Advisor, or the young heirs to baronies in the kingdom, or "Silicon Valley venture capitalists" (merchants).

To give him distinctive flavor as a character, he is fascinated with insects. Everything he does has some sort of insect attached. (Ex: Light spell emanates from a big lightning bug; Ray of Frost spell creates a butterfly with snowflake designs on its wings) By the end of his plot thread, he is trying to turn himself into a buggy version of a Worm That Walks, or a permanently beast-formed 4e Swarm Druid.
 

Eltab

Villager
* The Ancient Treasure the party is sent to acquire turns out to be a worthless trinket that was part of an ancient advertising scheme.
The last Han Solo Trilogy book used this variation:
The Ancient Treasure was cutting-edge 500 years ago but is technologically second-string today. (IRL blueprints for muzzle-loading flintlock pistol, say) However it does have historical value. And it is HUGE - bulky, heavy, too difficult to move, and not very valuable in small amounts. It can be monetized with time and effort, but is not make-a-quick-buck -friendly.
Give the PCs a chance to decide if they want to "plant roots" or are "just passing through".

The Ancient Treasure is all artworks but they are obvious copies of really good stuff, of indifferent craftsmanship, made of inferior materials (polished bronze instead of gold). It looks good from a distance but will not hold up under close inspection. The ancient owner is also a wannabee - bastard child of nobility, youngest daughter's el cheapo dowry, general who deposed rightful king, traitor to his master, &c.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
I had my players discover a treasure map, but the map didn't make any sense at first. The players themselves eventually figured out that if you fold the map a certain way, it becomes an all new map (I actually made a functional prop for this).

But there was a second twist regarding the location of the treasure. It was later revealed that the treasure was located on a different plane all together; the map showed how to find the treasure in the realm of the dead! This complicated matters, since the realm of the dead is a very dangerous and cold place.
 
The last Han Solo Trilogy book used this variation:
The Ancient Treasure was cutting-edge 500 years ago but is technologically second-string today. (IRL blueprints for muzzle-loading flintlock pistol, say) However it does have historical value. And it is HUGE - bulky, heavy, too difficult to move, and not very valuable in small amounts. It can be monetized with time and effort, but is not make-a-quick-buck -friendly.
Give the PCs a chance to decide if they want to "plant roots" or are "just passing through".

The Ancient Treasure is all artworks but they are obvious copies of really good stuff, of indifferent craftsmanship, made of inferior materials (polished bronze instead of gold). It looks good from a distance but will not hold up under close inspection. The ancient owner is also a wannabee - bastard child of nobility, youngest daughter's el cheapo dowry, general who deposed rightful king, traitor to his master, &c.
I got my idea from a certain quest in Fallout: New Vegas.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
One of my favorite twists (one I haven't pulled off, but want to try sometime) is that the PCs invade a dungeon, and defeat an enemy force, when an even BIGGER enemy force comes in behind them (perhaps as a rescue force to the first bad guys) and the PCs must withstand a seige in the VERY dungeon they just busted into. Suddenly, spending all those spells and dailies, and wrecking all those doors, barricades, and traps wasn't such a good idea... :)

And if they didn't decide to wreck the defenses, it plays to their favor!
 

Eltab

Villager
If you can locate a copy of "If I Was the Evil Overlord", it suggests a number of plot twists that can be set up and sprung on the PCs.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
One of my favorite twists (one I haven't pulled off, but want to try sometime) is that the PCs invade a dungeon, and defeat an enemy force, when an even BIGGER enemy force comes in behind them (perhaps as a rescue force to the first bad guys) and the PCs must withstand a seige in the VERY dungeon they just busted into. Suddenly, spending all those spells and dailies, and wrecking all those doors, barricades, and traps wasn't such a good idea... :)

And if they didn't decide to wreck the defenses, it plays to their favor!
This reminds me of the time I let my players use the traps in a dungeon against an invading army. We were playing a monster campaign, and one of the players played a Lich. I told them that the quickest way to their goal, was through the lair of the Lich, and it was up to him to guide them safely through the maze. So I gave the player a map of his lair, and where all the traps were. The map also told him of any illusory walls, and where his phylactery was located.

And about at the same time this demon army invaded the dungeon, and now the players got to lure them into all these traps. It was a lot of fun.
 

hopeless

Villager
1) Turns out the nemesis party of adventurers only has one evil aligned character, the reason they're so effective is their leader is a charlatan paladin whose actually heroic, is genre savvy and actually likeable!
2) You were hired to kill a supposed evil sorceress except she is the only local who brews healing potions and refuses the local church's demands she converts to their faith!
3) Remember those legends about the God of Murder being reborn?
They aren't legends but you're the ones who will get the blame for it!
 

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