Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Random Encounters

I was surprised to hear that Encyclopedia Brown creator Donald J. Sobol passed away earlier this month. Those books had a big effect on my 7th grade self. I rarely ever figured out the mystery, but I loved lifting those stories and incorporating them into my adventures.

When it comes to writing adventures, I'll include a strange mystery plot line. It's an old habit I can't break. I had more cliff hanging endings than most, and worked up more " Whodunit " revelation-scenes before the end of Act 2 (being an Ellery Queen fan at the time also had a lot to do with that). I would whisk the players to a flying city or an undersea kingdom, and there would be a mystery to solve, a score to settle, or a criminal to catch (and punish). It's not that surprising, given the fact that I was raised on everything from The Avengers to Mission Impossible  to Star Trek re-runs, and caught the peak years of Scooby Doo cartoons. Plus, I read Sherlock Holmes all of the time. I cannot tell you how many Sherlock Holmes adventures I either designed and ran or was run by somebody else, but it was something of an obsession back then. And of course, Encyclopedia Brown.

The problem: It became one twist and turn after another. A series of surprise endings can quickly end up becoming quite dull and boring. And reveals a more serious defect. I couldn't tie up loose ends. Over time, I realized the benefits of the non-lethal, yet still surprising, unpredictable encounter. That brings me to the matter at hand. Below are five clever- "didn't see that coming"- plot twist to place in your game. So, when you need to get something done before the next gaming session, but your suffering from writer's block, see if any of these mini mysteries are up your alley...

1. Strange cloud gives the nearby villagers mild insanity, telepathic/telekinetic powers, and strange treant like powers: People can hear the trees speak, but they cannot understand the language. Some turn into trees (or at least, gain bark-like skin and receive visions relating to events that occurred thousands of years ago in their area). Later, the  cloud is the result of decaying piles of dead leaves left behind by treants.

2. One of the court wizard's apprentice has created a living 'back lash' from a spell gone wrong. The back lash arrives in the shape of an invisible ochre jelly which slithers around the castle,  causing blindness and (later) starts devouring a few royals, sending panic throughout the town. Unlike a normal ochre jelly, this monster is immune to fire and cold attacks, but can be turned like a wraith.

3. A criminal was executed last week ( death by decapitation), and it's head still lives on (singing a bard's curse) that wrecks havoc on the townspeople ( the pitch of the song is so high people cannot hear it, however, dogs, cats and especially, monsters are drawn to the source of the music). Pandemonium ensues!

4. An evil leprechaun runs around the town and hits unsuspecting villagers in the knee caps with his magic shillelagh of polymorphing others. He turns the people into non magical pixies and starts bossing them around. First order of business: Brew more wine!

5. A lizard man (disguised as a human, with an ring of illusion) arrives in town, carrying a large wooden chest. He's friendly and open minded (quite charming to boot). He books a room at the local hotel, visits the bars and cavorts with the "ladies of the night". Later, he lures them back to his (or her) place, with the promise of fine treasures held inside his wooden box. The box actually contains a hungry young lurker above (shaped to look like a fabulous dress that's 'too die for').

Have fun!

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