Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Plot Traps Volume 1

I’m changing some things up with the blog and looking at a variety of new and old ideas in gaming.  I’d like to spend part of today talking about some recurring tropes and ideas that crop up in fantasy storytelling and how they can be used (and abused) in an RPG to some sort of effect.  Today’s volume is going to feature the Evil Twin phenomenon.  There are a variety of ways this idea can be used to great effect in a fantasy rpg.  Let’s take a look at how that can work.

Plot Point 1  The Evil Twin

This iteration of the plot trap involves an Evil Twin entering the story in some fashion. Evil Twins are usually twin siblings to someone in the setting, but feel slighted or wronged by something that’s happened to them in the past.   They are usually looking to reclaim a stolen birthright or get revenge on the people that slighted them.  Perhaps the Evil Twin is taking the place of a high ranking member of society.  Perhaps the Evil Twin is committing crimes to frame their twin.  There are two primary ways that an Evil Twin shows up as it relates to characters in an rpg.

Evil Twin targeting NPC

In this iteration of the plot, an Evil Twin has targeted an NPC that’s important to the world at large (like a Prince, a high ranking clergy member, or the head of a major guild), or one that’s targeting someone important to the PCs, (mentor, old friend, teacher, parent).  These Evil Twins are either seeking to replace the targeted individual, or are using the similarities to commit crimes that the innocent twin is then blamed for/arrested.  

Evil Twin targeting PC

This plotline is much more personal to the story you’re telling because it targets a player character directly.  This version of the plot works best if you have a player who’s willing to work with this, because it’s a complex theme and some players may not want to deal with it.  The other thing to consider is the motivation behind the Evil Twin.  Why is this happening, what triggered this crisis, and how is it going to be resolved?

Why is this a Plot Trap?

Using this plot device is a time honored tradition in certain areas, and it actually works fairly well for some fantasy RPGs.  If your game favors investigation, social interaction, and intrigue, this particular plot can be a lot of fun, the first time.  If you find yourself considering using this Plot device more than once in a given campaign, reconsider.  Variety is the spice of life, and there are many different options you can take a story after you’ve played the Evil Twin gambit.
Key Elements of this plot device
  1. A hidden or unknown twin sibling (Identical twins work best for this, because the Twin is either taking the place of the original or framing the original).  This sibling has to be unknown to everyone, with the possible exception of the parents (who can provide testimony of exoneration, if they live that long).
  2. Surprise is essential.  Characters that know they have twin siblings will be able to unravel this plot quickly.  
  3. Motivation is also essential.  This isn’t a by happy accident The Parent Trap style incident where the twins aren’t aware of each other.  One of them knows exactly who the other one is, and blames said twin for the circumstances of their life.  However the Evil Twin has decided to exact payback, they are motivated and not likely to be swayed from their course without being repaid in something of at least equal value in their own mind.  


There are several variations on this theme that all work roughly the same way.  Let’s take a closer look.

Shapechanging/magically powered monster

There are several monsters in the Monster Manual that have the ability to assume the form of another creature, and arcane spellcasters have access to similar magic.  In this variation of the Evil Twin plot, another creature is using its abilities to create a fake Evil Twin.  The endgame in this type of a plot is usually infiltration (the monster is attempting to gain access to something specific) or Usurpation (where the monster wants to take over the life of the original for a variety of reasons.


In this variation, there is an entity taking control of the target through the use of powerful enchantment or charm and forcing them to commit the acts described above.  This usually looks like a frame up or some attempt to discredit or defame the original.  Some of these magics are powerful enough for the creature to take total control of the character targeted, and in this application, the character is in effect their own Evil Twin.


Less Common in fantasy rpgs (but not impossible) clones or other magical creations are a potential source of Evil Twins.  In most cases, these clones are just tools of their creator (who is the actual mastermind behind this intrigue) but there are some instances of magical constructs gaining awareness of the larger world around them and desiring their own place.  They’ve been made with another person’s face, so they seek to take control of that person’s life.  

Parallel Versions/Through the Mirror Darkly/Visitors From Another Reality

This one’s shown up a lot of places, but is so common in fantasy RPGs that older editions of Dungeons and Dragons have a magical item that creates the effect.  Basically, in a parallel world/dimension/alternate prime material plane, there are evil versions of good characters from the world the PCs are from and vice versa.  The Mirror of Opposition (the aforementioned magical item) will pull the dark reflection of a character from that parallel world.  Now the one thing that most of these dark reflections want is to either kill the version of themselves from the PC’s world, or trap them in the Mirror while they raise hell.  (this is what happened to Lord Robilar, in Greyhawk).  This one is often used as a set up to heavy boss fight or as a boss fight of its own.  


The Evil Twin can have a lot of emotional impact especially if you use it as part of another Plot Trap The Evil Mastermind.  A long running campaign where the characters feel like they’ve been guided, manipulated, and directed to accomplish specific ends while being chased for a variety of crimes they didn’t commit can be an extremely harrowing adventure. Remember that the Evil Twin works best as a surprise, and you can use it as an amazing plot twist without it becoming a Plot Trap.  
I hope this gives all of you some insights and ideas on incorporating this style of a Plot Element into your game without it becoming a burden to your fun.  If you’d like to see more of these, or have a question about a specific plot element that you’d like to know more about, drop me a line on twitter, which you should be able to see over there on the right side of the screen.  Game On, Game Fans.  

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