D&D General Not Another Cunning Plan

Writers sometimes plan things, when spinning fiction. And sometimes those plans even work out more or less as intended, but that’s another topic, for another day. Just now, let us consider merely the ways of planning—and they are many.

One of those many ways is to ask, again and again as the narrative unfolds, “In this scene, what does Character X want? And what does Character Y want, or is trying to do/accomplish?”

Roleplaying game referees, similarly, may ask themselves: what does the monster want, in this encounter?

Well, unless it’s insane, or lost in grief or rage, it wants to survive.

Not throw its life away battling motley intruding adventurers—and certainly not wasting its life by taunting them or villainsplaining itself when they’re down and hurting, giving them a chance to heal or regroup or ready smackdown magics.

So the monster will act according to its own plans.

If all it wants is privacy, and no intruders to reach it, the traps will be many, and the barriers (portcullises, closed stone doors, and all the rest) require real work to get past—work that will take time, allowing the monster time to prepare or relocate, and showing it who’s determined to reach it, and who’s just lost and blundering about.

If on the other hand, the monster wants to capture intruders alive, the traps will reflect that. And it will seek to arrange means of disabling intruders before they have a chance to use up any magic items they have. One such means is sleep poisons. As venom on the tips of darts is the classic real-life method (fast-acting knockout gases being more fantasy than reality), but what if the monster is immune to the sleep-inducing venom of certain spiders? It could then cage scores of said arcachnids, and release them onto the heads of PCs in this room and that, taking down the PCs so it can strip them of everything useful, and keep what’s left as food. Or fertilizer for food it prefers, perhaps leading to PCs, er, enjoying the classic “You wake up naked, in a huge pile of rotting refuse” situation.

Yet on another hand (evidently my monster is an octopus), the monster wants the fun of a good brawl, it will arrange the site and specifics of the battleground to give itself cover and perhaps a bit of sport, but will likely have means of healing itself at the ready, and matters arranged to give itself opportunities to land satisfyingly devastating attacks on foes (perhaps a shooting gallery).

But first and foremost, a sane and sentient monster will have an escape route. Not to mention traps or distractions it can trigger in its wake to slow pursuit.

It does, after all, want to be able—even if things go very wrong or it has badly underestimated the abilities of attacking adventurers—to live to fight another day.

Giving Player Characters a new ongoing foe, a creature that now wants revenge and can work to achieve it through underlings and framing the PCs and otherwise working behind the scenes.

Ideally, if the PCs want to find and come to grips with this annoying enemy, they’re going to have to undertake new expeditions into danger. New adventures for the game runner to inflict on them.

Perhaps they’ll even have to painstakingly solve mysteries to discover where the ongoing villain has hidden. And if the villain can shapeshift, through natural abilities or magic, that hiding-place might well be behind the face of a trusted ally, supplier, sponsor, or even servant. A case of the villain judging the safest place to hide is right out in plain view, close to the PCs so it always knows what they’re up to and can manipulate them as much as possible to eliminate its own opponents, creditors, and rivals.

Yes, I’m well aware that everyone reading this has already faced such situations in play, or read about them or thought them up on their own. There’s nothing new under the throne, as the old Stormtalons saying goes.

This isn’t “Ha ha! I thought of it first!” Rather, it’s: “Let’s think over these old tropes again, because they’re delicious for a reason.”

They could work in this new way, and that one, and be played on the PCs again with this new wrinkle, so half the fun for game master and players will be how soon suspicions arise, or a player spots something definitely awry and starts taking steps to sort matters out.

A dry-at-first jest that was old in my youth involved an illustration of an early-era car in midair, having driven over a cliff and now plunging towards the waiting sea. As the driver said to his passenger, “Quick, Agnes! Check the map!”

In like manner, a monster that thinks its disguise has been penetrated can flee wildly, offering a comedy of chaos, items smashed and upended in its wake, as the PCs pursue it. (A game master can happily borrow favourites from whatever movies they like, the Bond films offering an often-hilarious array.)

And in any developed, ongoing FRP campaign that has depths in intrigue, every haughty noble or smouldering would-be rebel or usurper will seize on such chaos as cover to advance their own plans. Courtiers who are obstacles to something will be murdered, arranged “accidents” will happen to particular persons or their businesses set afire or pillaged, and so on. Perhaps the stronghold of the PCs will be robbed, or have a castle tower toppled over onto it, or undermined from below so it falls into a vast hitherto-unknown dungeon network that the PCs will have to explore—or fall into along with their digs, and be forced to find a way up and out, fighting other monsters along their route.

And even players whose characters have lost everything and been wounded unto the brink of death have been known to laugh when this sort of runaway chaos brings down the villain’s own plans into utter ruin, and they watch the villain pick themselves up, rearrange despair into a sneer as they kick their battered underlings into more-or-less upright obedience, and claim, “Just as I planned it. So let us crack on!”

In like manner, in real life as around the gaming table, let us pick ourselves up out of the latest debacle, and crack on. Why should imaginary characters have all the fun?

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Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

Forgotten Realms Creator
Another plan that go wrong!
Npc and monster are not clockwork machine, obedient, loyal, disciplined. they can mess around almost as players can do.
Pc go on mission with incomplete intel, conflicting goal, personal flaw and bound.
Npc and monsters are not better prepared.

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