Story Seeds Design: A Polti Plots Approach

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve chatted with Keith J. Davies more than a few times about some of my encounter/story seeds design questions – from the content to the presentation. It’s been quite helpful (thanks Keith!) And it’s forced me to reexamine a few things, which is always good. 🙂

Comedy and Tragedy MasksBut one of the things that’s come up is the idea of using Geroges Polti’s The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations to help guide or group some of the story seeds that I’m coming up with. If you’re not familiar with Polti’s plots, he came up with a list of plots to group common situations that show up in dramatic performances or stories. This list has been around since the 19th century in French and found its way to English in 1916. Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters from Engine Publishing (the guys behind Gnome Stew) used the plots to great effect a few years ago and is still an inspiration. (How I forgot about the book until Keith reminded me is beyond me at this point…)

So looking back to Polti as inspiration, I decided I’d start with the first plot – Supplication.

Per Wikipedia:

  1. Supplication
    • Persecutor; a Suppliant; a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.
    • The Persecutor accuses the Suppliant of wrongdoing, and the Power makes a judgment against the Suppliant.

Using this as a baseline, I came up with a few ideas:

  • Lady seeks relief from a stalker
  • Child seeks escape from an abuser (parent/orphanage/streets)
  • Assistant seeks relief from an evil boss
  • Parent seeks safety of a child

Then I started looking at the traditional definition of narrative conflict… (Man vs. Man. Man vs. Nature. Man vs. Society. Man vs. Himself.) … wondering how I might be able to weave some of those ideas into the product as well. Still toying with the idea, but that led me to come up with three new lists of possibilities: persecutors, supplicants, and authorities. These could then be combined in a random way to inspire new story seed ideas.

Some sort lists include…


  1. Powerful lord or lady
  2. Vengeful deity
  3. Organization
  4. Country or Kingdom
  5. Thief
  6. Weather


  1. Parent
  2. Child
  3. Pilgrim
  4. Priest
  5. Artifact
  6. Beggar


  1. Merchant Guild
  2. Government (Agency)
  3. Law
  4. Collector/Museum
  5. Church
  6. Knight Order

Some Example combinations

  1. Thief/Artifact/Collector – Artifact is threatened by a thief and needs help from a collector. A bit awkward, but I could see a collector seeking the PC’s help to secure an artifact from a thief dedicated to retrieving it.
  2. Country/Pilgrim/Knight Order – Pilgrims are being chased by their former country and seek the protection of a knight order. This is a bit more straightforward. The PC’s might stumble upon a group of folks escaping some form of religious or racial persecution in their former country who ask them for help in escaping or surviving their pursuers.
  3. Weather/Beggar/Powerful Lord or Lady – A beggar seeks refuge from a horrific storm in the keep of a powerful lord or lady. Again, not too bad. Perhaps a yearly wave of horrific storms works through an area and the local beggars seek shelter from the storm with the PC’s…

Next Steps

So obviously these ideas would need further fleshing out in the style I was working on before. And the lists would need to be greatly expanded. But they could also be used as-is to inspire more free-form stories in campaigns pretty easily. And there are 36 more plots to explore!

Yes, I think this is definitely a possibility. Perhaps each product could not only offer a generator portion, but a collection of pre-defined plots and a worksheet for GMs to help develop their own?

What do you think?

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