If you are looking for a gimmick to get your plot rolling, I’m here to help you out. We get some random search results on our site from time to time, and one person rolled in and looked for “a gimmick for a plot.” Well, I’m the gimmick guy around here so I couldn’t really pass up this opportunity.
The key to generating gimmicks to use to help get you started is to realize that EVERYTHING around you can be turned into a plot idea. A person’s name might be the start of a story. Tripping over the street, burning yourself on your coffee because you’re a klutz. Reading a great book is a *normal* way to get plot ideas, but it’s not quite gimmicky enough, is it?
1) Hot Pies!
The baker in Waterdeep has an important order for pies that need to be delivered to a shady part of town. He reaches out to the party to see if they would be willing to act as guards for his pie shipment. Worse, a rival baker has hired members of the thieves’ guild to ambush and steal the pies. It’s not just a gimmick, it’s a McGuffin at the same time!
How to use this: Pie motivates me. I’m confused if it doesn’t motivate you.
2) Changelings Invade Elysium
The local freehold has fallen on hard times. The Troll lord has fallen. He was killed by a dark, gloomy prodigal calling himself Prince Modius. The freehold is up in arms over this outrage! They have gathered a war-band to avenge their lord. They are sending the Sluagh skulking through the sewers seeking the court of this so called Prince. They think they’ve found it too. The beast they traded a favor to called it Elysium. The Freehold girds itself for battle.
How to use this: You decide if using Modius or the Changelings is the gimmick? Honestly? This is a fun story whichever way you roll with it.
3) Savage Rifting Nightmare Before Christmas Style
Rifts is presented as a serious universe. Rifts drop into serious worlds with serious troubles. That doesn’t have to be the case though. If we assume the Multiverse theory is true, then there are worlds that follow all sort of ‘Cartoon Logic.’ What’s the gimmick here? Clearly it would be awesome to have Jack Skellington piloting a mecha! Or maybe Santa Claus joins a group of dedicated misfit toys, fighting valiantly against the rifts ripping through the North Pole.
How to use this: This is a great one-shot concept for any game that includes trans-dimensional travel in any form.
4) Who? Dr. Who!
Running through a ship, 10 seconds remain before you run out of air. There are three buttons. One is red, one is green, one is cyan. Clearly cyan! Who makes a button cyan!? Quick thinking is the only thing that will save you. That, and the Doctor. The Cubicle 7 Dr. Who game is pretty smashing, and you should look into it. You can also use this gimmick in any game system. Start in-media-res. The players have a short amount of time to make a decision; that decision will have a massive impact on how the rest of the story goes. Provide a silly, eccentric, but helpful NPC to help them. Or, even better, give a random player the chance to play some form of the Doctor.
How to use this: This is a great method to start a new campaign, or liven up a steady style of gaming. Your players might be confused at first, tell them what you are doing and have them play through things. Give them the chance to fill in the gaps before the story starts. Push them to develop some story of why and how they got where they are.
5) Gimme The Gimmick (Make It Dark)
A hook, a murder, a toy, a random passerby: the gimmick is a reason to start playing. It’s the thing that gets you started. The plot that drives you forward. Think of something silly, something funny, something that gets you thinking differently. A gimmick plot can be dropped into any game of any type without too much trouble. That doesn’t mean it has to be funny or silly. The hidden story behind the bakers above might be that they are a family of cannibals that are now at war, brother to brother. Changelings might die off in a panic of banality when they attempt to attack the Vampire court. Jack Skellington might be an actual skeletal nightmare that gleefully rips up Santa and his minions. The Doctor might not be the Doctor, but might be a nefarious menace (perhaps an Illithid or other mind manipulator) who is using the Doctor trope to feed on human brains. The gimmick is a way to start, and you can go as light or as dark as you’d like while using it.
How to use this: Gimmicks are a great start, but they aren’t the end of the story. Use the gimmick as a launch pad into the story you really want to tell.
I hope that was gimmicky enough for you. If not, please let us know what sort of gimmicks you’d like to include as plotlines. I’m ready to hear them, and ready to make them even more of a gimmick than you asked for, anonymous search friend.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 19 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s preparing a Changing Breeds game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
Artwork by Jeshields, whose work can be found and supported at https://www.patreon.com/jestockart .
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.