The Quintessential Subplot

The following subplots could serve as inspiration for a short and simple self-contained stand-alone adventure. Additionally, many of these subplots could easily integrate with each other for a longer, more complex, and interesting adventure. Alternately, they'll easily integrate with The Quintessential Adventure Plot Outline.


THE QUINTESSENTIAL SUBPLOT TYPES

A-B-C Quest
Accumulation of Elements
Deathbed Delivery
Encounter Recurring Villain
Escape
Explore Uncharted Territory
Frame Job
Gauntlet of Villains
Grand Gala
Grim Necessity
Legend and Rumor
Mistaken Identity
Mysterious Stranger
Old Friend
Offended Hero
Protect the Endangered
Retrieve Item
Retrieve Person
Settle the Debt
Survive Environment
Thwart Machiavellian Machination
Wage War

A-B-C Quest
The hero undertakes a specific task, but the path to victory is not so simple. To attain his goal of completing task A, the hero discovers he must first accomplish task B. When he attempts to accomplish task B, the hero discovers he must first accomplish task C. This results in several encounters with the bad guys. When the hero overcomes all these obstacle tasks, which prevent him from attaining his original goal, then the hero should be able to complete task A.

Accumulation of Elements
The hero must travel from one location to another, perhaps covering a small area, such as a city, or perhaps stretching across the world, and accumulate clues, allies, evidence, or multiple pieces of a single device to be used against the master villain.

Deathbed Delivery
A dying person makes a deathbed plea for the hero's assistance. The hero encounters a woman. She bumps into him, collapses in his arms, slips something in his hand, painfully whispers a few words, and abruptly dies. The dagger protruding from her back is likely the cause of death. Then again, maybe not.

What is the object? Perhaps, it's an artifact which has long been missing and presumed destroyed. Perhaps, it's an an object which should not have found its way into this poor wretch's hands, such as the royal seal or a sacred relic from the local temple. Perhaps, it's a birth record, proving some peasant is the rightful heir to the kingdom. Naturally, agents of the current "heir" will kill anyone who possesses it. Perhaps, it's evidence that an upstanding citizen is the head of a criminal syndicate. Perhaps, it's an ancient scroll containing a dark ritual to summon a fiendish demon whose standard operating procedure is suspiciously reminiscent of events currently occurring in the city.

What did she whisper? Perhaps, she named her killer. Perhaps, she's revealed where the hero should go next. The hero is likely to investigate, even if he isn't inclined to hand over the goods. Perhaps, she says something inexplicable, that sounds like "the red ant", and the hero is baffled. At least, until he later learns of  "The Red Hand" cult.

Encounter Recurring Villain
That pesky and elusive recurring villain from previous adventures repeatedly returns to bedevil the hero and his allies at the most inconvenient moments.

Escape
Early in the adventure, the hero and his allies are captured. The remaining adventure consists of gathering enough information about their environment to escape. They must become familiar with their captors, fellow prisoners, learn the prison's routine, inventory their resources, acquire any needed possessions, plan an escape, and execute it.

Explore Uncharted Territory
The hero and his allies are hired, convinced, or forced to enter, explore, and map some dark, mysterious, and deadly location.

Frame Job
The hero's reputation or that of his allies has been sullied or otherwise framed for a crime they did not commit and the hero must clear it. The hero must discover why the name has been smeared, who is responsible, and why the responsible party is doing it. Then he must locate evidence to exonerate himself or his allies.

Gauntlet of Villains
The hero and his allies are traveling from one location to another, on the run from some pursuing threat, exploring some labyrinthine subterranean environment, or investigating a tower fortress. All the while, they're set upon by a series of villains, each more lethal than the previous. Every villain or group of villains should possess a distinct personal identity, unique individual personality, unusual combat style, and bizarre weapon type.

Each encounter is a lethal battle for heroes and villains alike. The villains never flee. Even if the tide turns against them, they fight to the death.

This scenario becomes a war of attrition. The increasingly difficult villains gradually weaken the heroes, seriously injuring or killing some of them. It should become clear to the hero and his allies, before this is finished, one side or the other must perish. This could be a bit of a meat-grinder for the hero or the villains.

Grand Gala
The hero and his allies attend some grand event, carnival, holiday festival, fundraising soiree at a museum, masquerade ball, royal celebration, tournament, or wedding reception. They begin to notice clues that alert them something is afoot. As the event continues, they investigate. With luck, the heroes will connect enough clues to discover the master villain picked this event as the time and location to assassinate the ambassador, grab the girl, hold everyone hostage, blow up the building, or pilfer the priceless treasure.

Does the evil scheme go off without a hitch? Does the hero figure it out in time? If so, does the caper succeed anyway? In any case, are the baddies captured or do they escape?

Grim Necessity
If the hero doesn't involve himself with this adventure, he's going to find himself seriously suffering or dead. Perhaps, he's been poisoned and has only a few days to find the antidote. Perhaps, the hero's daughter has been abducted and will be executed, if he doesn't assassinate the king. Perhaps, the sewers are infested with diseased rats. If the hero doesn't exterminate them, the entire city's population will die from the black plague.

Legend and Rumor
The hero stumbles upon some new or long forgotten knowledge, which promises great treasure or gain. Perhaps an old, musty, rare document reveals clues leading to the exact location of some legendary site. The site must be famous for some treasure or thing the hero desires. Perhaps, the hero discovers rumors about some local spot, notorious for being very dangerous and having some sort of treasure. While it's precise location is commonly known, it's sufficiently dangerous so that no one has ever solved its mysteries.

Mistaken Identity
The hero is mistaken for somebody else. Perhaps, the hero is mistaken for a villain, by another villain. The villain reveals some cryptic or important detail concerning the master villain's current evil scheme.

Perhaps, the hero experiences a series of interesting, but confusing, encounters with characters who claim to have previously met him. They each have an axe to grind. However, the hero has never previously met these strangers. Perhaps, an impostor, doppelganger, or twin separated at birth has stolen the hero's identity. Whatever the case, somebody is going around causing problems and besmirching the hero's reputation.

Mysterious Stranger
Inexplicably, a fascinating and mysterious woman repeatedly appears in the hero's life. Perhaps, she's a master thief and steals the treasure out from under the hero's nose. Perhaps, she's in danger from the villain, but can never seem to stay around long enough to explain why. As he becomes interested and pursues her, he stumbles across the villain's plans and becomes inextricably mired in the plot.

Perhaps, she's a covert agent for local authorities. The hero becomes suspicious, because she never reveals the truth concerning her past and motives. Only at the end, when she produces the king's warrant, will he discover her true profession and motivation.

Perhaps, she only appears in the most unusual places and circumstances, in ruins, in darkness or shadows, in the absence of other witnesses. She's an intelligent undead spirit or ghost. She desires to help the hero redress an old crime.

Perhaps, she's the master villain's lover, mistress, concubine, sister, or daughter. Although, she genuinely prefers the hero. She's bound by honor or coercion to serve the master villain. Nevertheless, she provides assistance to the hero whenever possible.

Old Friend
The hero's old friend, mentor, former lover, or ally appears and pulls the hero into an adventure. Perhaps, he pleas for the hero's asisstance. He or his family is being menaced by some side effect of the villain's plan. Perhaps, he's a traitor and leads the hero straight to into the enemy's hands.

Perhaps, he dies on the hero's doorstep. The hero is obligated to investigate. There are clues on the corpse that lead the hero to the villain's evil scheme. As an interesting twist, the old friend has become a villain and was killed, leading to some confusion concerning the hero.

Offended Hero
Someone greatly offends the hero, so much that he'll pursue his offender right into the adventure. Perhaps, the offender is a minion of the master villain. Perhaps, he offended the hero precisely to draw him into the adventure or just as a side effect of his ordinary villainous activities.

Perhaps, he injured or killed the hero's ally or loved one. This is best done when the hero isn't around or isn't in a position to pursue the villain. Perhaps, he's stolen or destroyed the hero's property. Perhaps, he's cheated the hero and made off with the small fortune, paid by the hero, before the hero realizes he's been swindled.

Protect the Endangered
The hero must protect an ally, loved one, or innocent other from danger. It maybe some foul and mysterious lurking horror or a known, certain, and clearly identified threat. Perhaps, the hero must escort the endangered character from one location to another. For a twist, this supposedly identified threat may not be so certain after all and the threat is of an entirely different form, manner, from an unexpected source, or targeted at a character the hero isn't protecting.

Retrieve Item
The hero and his allies must acquire an object or multiple objects. This item may be an artifact, doomsday weapon, secret formula, antidote needed to save an ally or innocent loved one, document revealing the true identities of all agents working for a covert intelligence agency, evidence of a crime, trinket of sentimental value, or any item that a patron has commissioned the hero to obtain.

Retrieve Person
The hero and his allies must rescue a person, multiple people, abductee, hostage, witness of a crime, prisoner, prisoner of war, covert agent, loved one, innocent, damsel, pet, animal, or beast, probably from the master villain's stronghold. Obviously, the hero must locate the stronghold, infiltrate it, rescue the abductee(s), escape the stronghold, and return the abductee(s) safely home. Typically, this requires clever planning, careful execution, and a bit of luck.

Settle the Debt
The hero, his ally, or an innocent finds himself in the position of needing to settle a debt. He gambled away all his money, borrowed from a loan-shark, or made a devil's pact, and must repay the money, debt of honor, or favor immediately. Time is short and enforcers are on his tail. Alternately, the hero and his allies are intent on collecting a fee, object, treasure, reward, debt, or favor owed to them, perhaps in order to settle some debt which they owe to another.

Survive Environment
The hero and his allies encounter a lethal and hostile environment, a desolate desert, deep dark jungle, deadly dungeon, killer catacombs, terrifying tropical island, or some such setting. They must find food, water, shelter, resist the elements, combat creepy carnivorous man-eating death flowers, flee from fanged predators, fight off frightening native tribal head-hunters, and retrieve their stolen underwear from those pesky pilfering pygmy primates.

Thwart Machiavellian Machination
The hero must thwart some vile villain's despicably dark diabolical scheme before all is lost or destroyed. This unnerving undertaking usually requires the hero travel to multiple exotic locations, recruit allies, and gather resources, before battling the big bad master villain.

Wage War
The hero and his allies must raise an army and assault a fortress or kingdom. Alternately, they must defend a fortress or kingdom. Perhaps, they must defend a village of peasants terrorized by a bandit horde or a village caught in a battle between two warlords. Perhaps, they must suppress a rebel revolt. Perhaps, they must support a peasant uprising against a tyrannical ruler. This subplot could be a serious meat-grinder for the hero or the villains.


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