18 Great story scenarios taken from films, to use in your roleplaying game
If you’re a GM of a text-based roleplaying game, you will need to come up with decent story ideas for your players. This can be challenging because coming up with new ideas all the time is difficult, the professionals even struggle when making films, which is why you might see the same plot idea being used over and over again.
But don’t worry about copying someone else’s story idea, because as long as you’re playing it with different characters, it will be a totally different experience. In fact it can be a good idea to look at films as examples of good story ideas. Here is a collection of good scenarios from films that will make good story ideas in your roleplaying game
Aliens invade a planet, and you have to kill their Queen – from “Aliens”
For: Sci-fi or fantasy games
It’s easy to start a story where an infinite number of aliens invade a planet, but it’s sometimes difficult to end it, just because there is an endless amount of aliens and only a few of your characters. You could start writing about killing some, but then it gets boring. You need a way to finish off all of the aliens for good. You could create a virus that kills them all, or you could wipe them out at the source.
In the film Aliens, a planet has been taken over by aliens before our main characters get there. The characters have to fight their way through hundreds of the beasties until Ripley meets the Queen, and kills it. In the film all of the other aliens are killed off by a massive nuclear explosion, and the main characters escape.
In your story however you might not want this kind of ending, for example if the aliens have invaded Earth, a massive nuclear explosion might cause more problems than it solves. So you’ll have to think of another way to get rid of all the aliens. It could be that they’re all being controlled by one source, the Queen, so if you kill the Queen, all others will drop dead (this is handy for robot monsters).
The bombing run – in “Star Wars”
For: Sci-fi games
Your characters are given a plan to achieve a goal. Make sure all writers are informed of the plan, and likewise all characters are informed of the plan too.
The goal at the finale in Star Wars IV: A new hope was to fire a missile into a very small target on the humongous Death Star. This involved flying close to the Death star, dogfighting with enemy spaceships, getting into the trench, avoiding and shooting more enemy spaceships, and then one character will launch the missile when they’re close enough.
In your story the goal might be an enemy spaceship or spacestation that you have to destroy. Getting close to the spaceship will be difficult, as you first have to dogfight with some enemy fighters. There’s more for other characters to do here, by having them figure out a way to turn off the enemy spaceship’s protective shielding or defensive turrets before they can get close, which might involve getting aboard the base to sabotage it first.
The Stay Puft marshmallow man from “Ghostbusters”
For: Scifi or fantasy games
Something happens which causes a single baddie to be blown up far larger than usually possible. This giant godzilla-sized creature is far too powerful for your characters to kill on their own, so they have to work together to lure the creature into a trap and kill it. But not before the creature causes lots of damage which your characters should get blamed for.
The creature could be given it’s enormous size by an accident involving chemicals, or radiation, or magic. For additional humour, the creature should be one which is normally unassuming (like an insect, hamster etc.), and only made threatening by its gigantic size.
Collect an artefact from a booby-trapped temple from “Raiders of the lost ark”
For: Historical or Fantasy games
Collecting a valuable idol or artefact can be the motivation for many dangerous adventures. The artefact should have a lot of value, either monetary value so that the character can sell this for a fortune, or the artefact could be something that the characters need to obtain to complete a quest. This means that your characters will risk their own lives to obtain this artefact, even if they’re a bit of a wimp. Some characters might want to turn around and head back, but this would make for a boring adventure, so they should be spurred on by the other characters.
Escape from a snake filled pit – from “Raiders of the lost ark”
For: Historical or fantasy games
Your characters are lowered down into a pit to find an important item. They know about the danger but it’s worth it, they can be pulled up the rope out of the pit at any time by their team-mates. But disaster strikes, your team-mates at the top of the pit are killed or distracted by an enemy. Your characters are trapped in the pit with no easy way of escape. But that’s not all, you realise the pit is filled with an infinite amount of poisonous snakes, or some other type of creature that your character hates.
You might be able to kill a few snakes. But there’s an infinite amount of them, so your characters know that they can’t kill them all. So you have to figure out how to escape from the pit before the snakes overwhelm you.
Escape from a room with descending spikes – from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”
For: Fantasy games
Your characters find themselves in a room which is a trap. The ceiling is covered in spikes and it starts to descend down on your characters. Leave this as a cliffhanger so that another member can post about how they get out of the room. It might be a good idea to put in a few hints of possible ways that they can escape, but sometimes it’s best to leave it up to the imagination of the other writers.
You are trapped in an ever-changing maze – from “Aliens vs Predator”
For: Sci-fi or Fantasy games
Your characters find themselves in a maze which has been built as the ultimate battling arena, and it keeps changing. Each time it changes it gets worse, for example the walls are made of fire, or spikes come out of the walls, or the floor becomes electrified. Your characters have to get out of the maze before it changes to something even worse. For extra drama, they might be trapped in with some enemy or creature they have to fight.
You have travelled back in time and need to make your characters parents meet and fall in love – from “Back to the Future”
For: Sci-fi games
This ideas is more relevant to one character rather than all of your characters, but it could work if you’re all travelling back in time to ensure a certain event happens. For example all your characters might live on a spaceship, and have to travel back in time to stop someone from sabotaging the spaceship before it’s even launched.
If you want to keep true to Back to the Future, you could go back in time to make sure your character’s parents fall in love and conceive a child. That child could be your character, or an important character in the game, like the Captain, or President.
You’re trapped in a theme park where the attractions try to kill you – from “Jurassic Park” and “Westworld”
For: Modern or Sci-fi games
Your characters decide it’s time for a holiday, so all go to a theme park together. But the theme park is sabotaged, causing all the attractions to get loose and try to kill you. In Jurassic Park the electric fences are shut down, and the dinosaurs escape. In Westworld a malfunction causes the robot people to behave strangely, and a robot cowboy starts chasing the main character.
Your theme park could be full of robot cowboys, medieval knights, pirates, actors, TV presenters, or pop stars, all wanting to kill you!
Alien creatures evolve from tiny organisms to larger monsters and threaten to take over the entire planet – from “Evolution”
For: Sci-fi games
A meteor crashes in your city, or spaceship containing the seeds of life. At first you don’t think this is a threat and take samples from the meteor, until it starts to evolve into small monsters which evolve into larger monsters.
Your characters have to stop the creatures from taking over, whilst your players can have fun inventing different types of monsters.
A global EMP makes all technological devices useless – from “War of the Worlds”
For: Modern or Sci-fi games
Prior to an invasion, an EMP renders all technology useless. Modern cars won’t start, computers won’t work, telephones won’t work, cameras won’t work, laser pistols won’t work, anything with a circuit board will be affected permanently. This puts everyone at a serious disadvantage and they have to rely on basic technology and their wits to fight whatever caused the EMP.
If you want the effect of the EMP to only be temporary, you could explain that it’s some sort of suppression field which is causing technology not to work, so that your characters can find the source of the field and shut it down. This will allow everyone’s technological devices to work again.
Creatures under the ground – from “Tremors”
For: Sci-fi or Fantasy games
In the film Tremors, deadly creatures that live under the ground can feel vibrations of people on the surface. The creatures can spring up through the ground and drag the Human under. This means that to travel around, you have to avoid standing directly on the ground.
Your characters could have to travel through a place where a similar creature exists. An NPC is killed first, showing to your characters that they need to stay off the ground. They have to make their way over obstacles (rocks, houses, broken vehicles etc) so that the creature doesn’t get them. For extra drama, to cross from one obstacle to another they can’t reach without touching the ground and have to either run for it or create some sort of bridge?
An asteroid is going to hit the Earth – from “Armageddon”
For: Sci-fi games
A large asteroid is headed straight for Earth (or whichever planet your game is set) and your characters need to destroy it before it hits. The GM could either let the characters figure out how they should destroy it, giving them the opportunity to direct the story, or the GM could push the characters in the direction of taking a space shuttle up to the asteroid and destroying it with explosives.
An obstacle in the way of completing the plot could be that the asteroid is actually made of much harder rock than they predicted, or that their equipment was damaged when they tried to land on the asteroid. Another plot twist could be that one of the NPCs they brought along tries to sabotage the mission, or that the timer on the explosive doesn’t give them enough time to escape and they have to change it. Once they have planted the explosives, they could escape (or if one characters wants to stay behind and to detonate it manually, just like Ben Affleck, this would be a great way for them to die) and fly back to Earth, riding the wave of the explosion.
Mysterious UFOs appear in the sky – from “Independence Day”
For: Sci-fi games
Overnight, giant UFOs appear in the sky over every major city in the world. Nobody knows if they’re friendly or hostile, but presumably hostile. Your characters goal is to get onboard each ship (or the mothership like in the film) and either destroy the ships from within, or get them to leave without destroying anything. If you do mention a ship over every city in the world, don’t forget that the goal of the story will be to remove these ships as well, not just the one over your character’s city.
A twist to the story would be that they’re actually not hostile at all. They’re actually friendly but they’re just stopping on their journey to another solar system to collect some air or make a study of our planet. If so, the story could all be about how paranoid this makes everyone.
A deadly contagious virus break out all across the world – from “Outbreak”
For: Modern and Sci-fi games
A virus spreading throughout your world can give you a a lot of scope for different small stories in this big story. If your characters are scientists, they’ll be employed to create an anti-virus, and might need some other characters to bring them some infected as test subjects.
Military characters might have to section off large areas of a city or region, or part of your spaceship which are infected. A dramatic order might be given that your characters are told to kill the infected, allowing your members to write about the painful decision of whether they should follow the order or not.
Be careful with how you describe this virus however. If it definitely has no cure, then let all your players know that they shouldn’t easily find a cure – otherwise this would put an end to the story straight away. Likewise if the virus has no cure, don’t let your characters be infected, otherwise you’ll have to write that they died – or have to come up with an explanation why they recovered while hundreds of thousands of people didn’t.
If your intention isn’t to kill off most of the inhabitants of your world, you might want to think about a way for this plot to finish. In reality, a virus would take years to go away, even if an antidote is developed. You might want to think of a way of administering the antidote to the entire population in one go, just to finish off the storyline. Pump the antidote into the air perhaps? Put it into the drinking water?
An advanced robot is sent from the future to kill your characters – from “Terminator”
For: Sci-fi games
Your characters are a target by a future organisation. You could explain that perhaps your characters go on to invent something terrible in the future, or become the President that causes a terrible nuclear war. A robot is sent from the future to kill your characters before any of that happens. The robot is incredibly advanced, and can’t be killed by conventional methods. It might also have special abilities, like the ability to shapeshift (Terminator 2) or control other machinery (Terminator 3).
Your characters have to escape the robot and work out how to kill it or stop it from killing you. A lot of this can be down to the players making the decisions, with the GM writing on the behalf of the robot.
Explore inside a character’s body – from “Innerspace”
For: Sci-fi games
Your characters are shrunk so small that they enter a character’s body and float around their internal organs. They would probably need a spaceship or submarine to travel around in, as there’s no air. The reason for doing this could either be for a medical purpose, to heal some part of the character’s body, or to remove some alien technology which was implanted.
Things could get fun when the tiny adventurers make mistakes or do something which will change how the character behaves, for example they might catch a nerve which causes the character to twitch, or take control of the characters motor system, allowing them to control his or her movements.
There needs to be a way to get the characters back to normal size, either they start to grow back to normal after a while, meaning they have to get their task done and exit the body as soon as possible, or they need some device which changes them back to normal size after they leave the body.
Defend the base – from “Starship Troopers”
For: Sci-fi and Fantasy games
There’s a scene in Starship Troopers where the team find a base on an arachnid-infested planet. The base is a simple fortress, made by four metal walls, with a walkway around the top – like an old-fashioned castle. It’s a timeless defensive structure and with the vantage point allows you to see enemies from all around, and shoot them from a distance.
But in the Starship Troopers film, the amount of Arachnids that attack the castle seems infinite, and even though hundreds of them are killed, it’s only time before they win with sheer numbers. Dead Arachnids pile up at the base of the fortress, eventually allowing new ones to climb over the walls. The characters have to hold out against the bugs until their pick-up ships arrive, when they can escape.
The GM should set up multiple perimeters for the enemy to breach, and in each Action Post the enemies advance further and further into the base. The members could write a lot of action about their characters fighting, combined with the constant change of scenery. Members could write about traps their characters have set for the enemy, and also the drama of leaving an injured character behind when they fall back to a different perimeter (a similar thing is also done in sci-fi’s when a spaceship has to be sealed off section by section).
In fantasy games, replace the base for a castle, and you have to defend the castle long enough for your allies to arrive on horseback, or on the backs of flying dragons.
Look at films and TV for other ideas
Scriptwriters have a full time job to come up with interesting story ideas, so it’s a great idea to take some from the professionals. Like I said at the start of this article, it doesn’t matter if you’re copying a scenario or a story, as long as it has your own characters it can be totally different, and the story might even end in a very different way.
Apparently there are only seven basic plot types so you’re going to overlap eventually!