The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations; or: d36 NPC Plot Hooks

One thing I’m working on is making NPCs more vivid, memorable, and plot-hookier. Not only does this make the world more interesting, but giving the NPCs more plot hooks gives the players more agency. “Everybody has their own story,” I thought, “and problems they can’t solve”—and then happened upon the Wikipedia page for The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.

Now, not all of these are appropriate for a fantasy or sword-and-sorcery RPG campaign. For example, the myth of Oedipus is certainly dramatic, but is tonally quite at odds with most sword & sorcery ;) and also probably requires a content warning/discussion and some RPG safety tools ;) OTOH, there are dramatic situations where NPCs and PCs could fill differing roles. There are a lot of romantic plots here that won’t interest some people, and some things are to be used with caution, if at all (“two adulterers are conspiring to murder a spouse”, lol), but at the least this chart fronts some less-common backstories for NPCs.

How to roll d36? There is no d36, but there are senary dice, if you use a 6 for a 0. Roll 1d6 for the tens column and 1d6 for the ones column.

Table: d36 Plots & Dramatic Situations
d6 d6 NPC…
 6  1 needs help appealing to an official for relief from a persecutor.
 6  2 will need help to avoid justice for a wrong they did committed.
 6  3 will soon escape justice for a wrong they committed.
 6  4 seeks vengeance on a relative for a wrong committed against kin.
 6  5 is fleeing vengeance by kin for a wrong committed against a relative.
 1  6 is a fugitive from wrongful punishment.
 1  1 rightly fears a disaster will befall their patron or faction.
 1  2 is beset by unremitting misfortune and woe.
 1  3 is plotting rebellion.
 1  4 seeks to thwart a conspiracy against the rightful authority.
 1  5 will be the target of a coup attempt within their sphere of influence.
 2  6 has a quest for a special object, but which requires defeating a powerful adversary.
 2  1 is plotting the abduction of someone from their guardian.
 2  2 is guarding someone they fear may be abducted.
 2  3 has a riddle to solve.
 2  4 needs an arbitrator to determine whether they—or their adversary—should receive something of value.
 2  5 is conspiring with kin that they hate.
 3  6 is the rival of a relative for the affection of one they both love.
 3  1 is conspiring with their lover to murder their spouse.
 3  2 is in a cycle of madness escalating toward wrongdoing.
 3  3 has lost something important through ignorance or neglect.
 3  4 has unknowingly slain a relative.
 3  5 must make a terrible sacrifice for their ideals or family.
 4  6 will soon lose their lover despite making a terrible sacrifice.
 4  1 is vying with a rival to acquire an object.
 4  2 is conspiring with their adulterous lover against their spouse.
 4  3 suspects their cheating spouse is conspiring with a lover against them.
 4  4 is in a secret and taboo relationship.
 4  5 suspects a villain of dishonoring their beloved.
 5  6 is facing a challenge alongside their lover.
 5  1 is secretly in love with an enemy that their ally openly hates.
 5  2 openly hates an enemy that their ally secretly is in love with.
 5  3 is contending with a deity.
 5  4 seeks to thwart any investigation into how they have wronged someone else.
 5  5 just found something amazing.
 6  6 will soon attend the execution of their relative.
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