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I’m a big fan of plot twists. They keep stories and adventures fresh, new, interesting, surprising and exciting. It can get tough, however, to come up with new plot twists for every adventure. Sometimes you’re tired, sometimes you have trouble thinking of something new, and sometimes your players are just too good at predicting your line of thought. I posted an article on plot twists that includes resources (web sites and books) as well as a genericized randomized chart of plot twists for those times when you need some inspiration. Since I’ve been playing SG-1 recently, I’m also going to do a version that’s tailored to that game.
As I mentioned in that other article, each game and GM requires a slightly different list of twists. You’ll have different ideas than I do about what makes a fun plot twist, perhaps. Or you want the probabilities to be different than what I’ve listed here. I also think a good list of plot twists should be ever-changing — add new twists you think up, remove ones that are getting stale, lower the probability of a twist you’ve used once but could potentially still get some mileage out of, and so on. Many plot twists also represent a range of possibilities, so you might simply cross off that specific possibility but leave the generic twist on the list. For example, if you introduce an impending earthquake into a plot you could still leave the “natural disaster” twist in the chart, since it also encompasses things like volcanoes, floods and hurricanes.
|The team’s destination possesses exotic conditions that complicate the plot (exotic plant life, animal life, atmosphere, gravity, temperature or weather conditions, past man-made disasters such as extreme pollution or nuclear war, etc.). Look at the planet generation charts in the main rulebook for some ideas.
|The population at the team’s destination has been affected by unexpected conditions (religious wars, political upheaval, seclusion or segregation, invasion by outside forces, disease, starvation, mass amnesia, civil war, scientific revolution, etc.).
|The team stumbles into a trap left behind by an old civilization, or they stumble into protections laid down along a border of some sort (building, town, civilization, compound). Check the trap chart in the main rulebook for ideas; it should be something that alters the plot in some way, perhaps revealing unexpected information or resources or setting a chain of events in motion, rather than a simple obstacle.
|Something happens to change the mission into a totally different type of plot. Choose a new mission type. If you use the standard mission generation chart, roll on it again to determine the new plot. Otherwise, print out a plot list, cut it up or number it, and choose a plot at random.
|Something happens to add a new goal onto the team’s responsibilities. See the previous item for methods to determine this new plot.
|The enemy has fewer or greater resources than expected (ships, troops, weapons, supplies, etc.).
|A non-player character (NPC) expected to be absent–probably an enemy — is present. This should derail some aspect of the plot and send it off in a new direction.
|An NPC expected to be present is absent. Again, this should send the plot off in a new direction as the team scrambles to re-plan some part of their mission.
|An unexpected sacrifice must be made in order for the mission to succeed.
|An unexpected sacrifice must be made in order for the team to survive or return home.
|The characters find their way home barred, removed, destroyed, guarded or otherwise compromised.
|The characters lose communication with each other, the SGC, their allies, their backup, their advance team, or a contact they were expecting to meet.
|The characters come across someone (an individual, group or civilization) in need of rescue or aid.
|Another government or military organization (such as the NID or Kinsey) gets in the way of the team’s job.
|One or more characters are exposed to something that will change them physically or mentally, or change their lives in a major way. Examples of this would be: becoming a Tok’ra, gaining an unusual ability, experiencing a particularly traumatic event, being physically changed by an alien technology, being “possessed” by an alien power, etc. This could be a short-term, long-term or permanent change.
|The characters stumble across a situation that is easy to misunderstand, and thus they may act inappropriately to the circumstances.
|The SGC is under attack, taken over, or otherwise placed in danger.
|A character’s family member(s) are put in danger.
|The SGC’s forces or allies have been infiltrated.
|The population of a location the team is visiting has been infiltrated by someone.
|One or more characters are exposed to something dangerous-radiation, poison, disease, a drug, an alien virus, etc.
|Something doesn’t add up. A civilization possesses anachronistic bits of technology, an NPC possesses information he shouldn’t, there’s something unnatural about the ecosystem on a planet, etc.
|The team is stalked or attacked. This could be the equivalent of a random encounter, but it will be more interesting if it’s part of the plot. It could also turn out to be a red herring, however.
|The characters stumble across unexpected guards or sentries and stand a chance of alerting them. They may need to alter their plans in order to deal with the unexpected obstacle.
|A team member or major NPC ends up in a hallucinatory, hypnotic, feverish, or similarly altered state of mind.
|Equipment, resources or information important to the mission is destroyed, stolen, lost or captured.
|The team was given false or incorrect intelligence information.
|A location important to the plot has been overrun or occupied by hostile forces or dangerous creatures.
|A natural cataclysm has changed the landscape in a way that interferes with the planned goal. For example, it may have obliterated important landmarks or cut the team off from their destination.
|Someone important to the mission dies, gets captured, becomes injured or ill, is delayed, etc.
|The team stumbles into someone else’s problems and gets caught up in them.
|The team uncovers evidence of hostile activity beyond the scope of their original goal or mission. (For additional complication: due to access or time pressures they can’t simply go get reinforcements, more equipment or new orders.)
|Someone isn’t who or what he says he is.
|An NPC disappears or leaves without explanation.
|Someone is being coerced or co-opted (blackmail, threats, seduction, mind-control, drugs, etc.).
|Exotic plot twist–one-of-a-kind alien encounter, major character develops amnesia, PCs trapped in a virtual reality device, major character turns up dead, or similar one-time-only (or only rarely repeated) plot twists. You could create a secondary chart to roll on when you get this result, hand-pick something nifty that fits the plot, or just put one specific twist here and, any time it gets used, replace it with the next one-time twist.
|The characters discover that missing or presumed dead allies are being held captive.
|The characters were misled about details of the plot.
|A relationship (romantic, friendship, business, familial, etc.) between two unlikely or unexpected characters throws a kink in the works.
|A supposedly safe or innocuous location has been compromised. Its location is known, it’s been bugged, there are troops waiting in ambush there, etc.
|The mission (or some portion thereof) is a ruse intended to capture the characters, get information from them, or something similar.
|Someone is attempting to use the characters for their own ends.
|Someone believed dead turns out to be alive. (This might deserve a second complication, such as that person having new allegiances, not remembering who they are, being captured by the enemy, having new resources if they’re a villain, having been involved in odd things in the missing time, etc.)
|A natural disaster occurs, is about to occur, or has just occurred (volcano, flood, tornado, hurricane, earthquake…).
|Someone ambushes, betrays, or gives away the characters (intentionally or by accident; willingly or unwillingly; by desire or threat).
|An enemy turns out to be an ally (or at least a potential partner), either temporarily due to specific circumstances or more permanently.
|An ally turns out to be an enemy (or at least in competition with the characters), either temporarily due to specific circumstances or more permanently.
Although I set one slot aside for the revolving one-of-a-kind plot twist, there are other twists you might not want to use more than once either. Use your best judgment. Sometimes by dressing things up in different ways you can use things over and over again without them seeming stale; at other times you can really only get away with something once.