member, 203 posts
Mon 7 Aug 2017
at 19:57
Plot advice needed: "What's up with the tile?"
So, once again, I kinda put my foot in it as a GM, and I need a bit of plot-help.

The game: Urban fantasy, set in the fictitious city of Rooksport on the east coast.

The characters: Two recently 'awakened' mages, both teenagers, one with supreme deductive skills, the other with a sort-of 'I will try anything to see if it works' and a lot of charisma and friends who might know things.

The relevant backstory: The PC's own a bigger-on-the-inside magical building that has a room in it that is made to be a 1930's/1940's diner. They've learned that it was made as an exact replica of an old diner from that time period, for reasons they're not totally clear on (yet). They know, however, that it has something to do with the fact that, almost immediately after that particular diner was built, all of the diviners in the city (and possibly the world) were banished to another dimension. (More to the story than that, but that's the relevant bits)

The situation: Within the diner is a jukebox that, when touched by anyone with possibly latent divining powers (such as, surprise, the PC's), either shows visions of the past, or leaves you on the floor in a puddle of your own vomit.

Most recently one of the PC's touched the jukebox and got a vision of the former owner of the magical building putting together the very room the jukebox is in. He stared for a very long time at a certain set of tile on the walls, and as he approached it, the vision ended.

My original reasoning for this was to let the PC's know that one of the 'wrong' things in the diner is that the tile isn't the same as the original diner. But the PC's are sure it's something other than this, and they're so insistent that I kinda -want- it to be more than that now.

They think there's something behind that bit of tile, but haven't been able to break it off yet (they didn't have tools. I'm sure they're going to bring some soon). Having a message there seems too cliche. Heck, having much of -anything- there seems too cliche. But I'm at a loss. Why would the builder of the diner-replica-inside-the-magic-building be staring so hard at a bit of wall tile?

(As a side-note- the long-term of the diner is, if it should ever be completely finished, build-wise, down to the last detail, the diviners will be able to walk into it from their dimensional prison, thus freeing them back into the world after having been gone for 70+ years.)
 member, 1418 posts
Mon 7 Aug 2017
at 20:14
Plot advice needed: "What's up with the tile?"
Well, to continue with your current thread, maybe pulling the tile out reveals that it has a date stamp on it from the 1960s.  It's a direct clue that it's a non-original tile.  Put a company name on it, too.  If they follow up, they can find out who did the work and that they're still alive.  They can talk to that guy to find out what happened to the broken tile.  Replacing and repairing the broken tile gives some benefit to them.

Alternatively, pulling out the tile reveals a major nexus of the spellwork that's laid into the building.  Maybe it's an arcane diagram or a gem or something.  Regardless, it's a hint as to the overall purpose.

Or maybe it's a key to something else.  Maybe adjusting that one specific tile causes the room to connect to the 1940s.  Which is totally the way I'd have been going with the diner, anyway, but I'm a hack sometimes.
 member, 132 posts
Mon 7 Aug 2017
at 20:18
Plot advice needed: "What's up with the tile?"
Do you remember that scene out of Ghostbusters where they talk about the construction of an old building as actually being some sort of focus for ectoplasmic energy or some gobbledegook like that?  Maybe you could introduce something like that as a hint of greater purpose?  Behind the tile is some sort of strange metal or glyphs inscribed on the wall underneath it?  Maybe it's something they'll have to do further research on to figure out, or you can plan to hand out more and similar clues in other places throughout the story?

IDK why the builder/owner was approaching the tile exactly.  Maybe something seemed off, and he got sucked into some kinda portal at that instant (hence why the vision/memory-left-behind ends right at that moment).
 member, 25 posts
Mon 7 Aug 2017
at 20:48
Plot advice needed: "What's up with the tile?"
The easy answer is a pet. Now hear me out! :p

They remove the tile. And hidden behind it, in stasis (up until the tile was removed of course) is a pet just opening it's eyes with a big sleepy yawn. It is of course original guy from the vision's prized cat/owl/rat/magical creature. Pristine, impressive, with a collar on. The collar has the creature's name on it and of course on the back, some sort of sigil or rune or other marking that unlocks a cypher they can find either among the original builders stuff or somewhere else in the dinner, or whatever you like.

Build a mystery out from there leading them to essentially the instructions/information about the diner's long-term purpose and potential in a round about way. Let them be right without making you wrong. All the way down to the jukebox possibly still having other visions which might prove useful.

Maybe the pet can talk (telepathically or otherwise) and it of course has it's own personality and agenda and desires. Or maybe it can't. It may not even know anything about the diner itself. It never cared. If it can talk, perhaps it remembers it's master talking more to himself than to it <insert clues here via things it remembers him saying> along with something like "And now you'll have to nap, Meowlain, for you hold the key to all of this. Let us hope those who come after us are able to finish my work." or whatever you like before he sealed it away. You could skip the sigil/rune and just make the pet's name the key to a cypher or code. Or skip the cypher bit and do something different.

Essentially give them something that let's them swing out of your intended plan but on a curve that ultimately swings back in. Like throwing a boomerang I guess. It takes them somewhere other than where you wanted (they're not wrong) but then ultimately it's just a clue to lead them on track.

Plus fun NPC/pet to play with. My experience is players love a good pet/animal companion. Especially if it is inherently clever or cool. So acquiring essentially this familiar/npc feels like a reward for their curiosity and ingenuity but also lets you hook more stuff.
 member, 130 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Tue 8 Aug 2017
at 02:44
Plot advice needed: "What's up with the tile?"
The tile could have a bloodstain behind it.  The original was broken during some kind of struggle.
 member, 383 posts
Tue 8 Aug 2017
at 04:35
Re: Plot advice needed: "What's up with the tile?"
My original reasoning for this was to let the PC's know that one of the 'wrong' things in the diner is that the tile isn't the same as the original diner. But the PC's are sure it's something other than this, and they're so insistent that I kinda -want- it to be more than that now.

This is the key to the whole thing and it's a golden gift to you: something your players are bought into as interesting, without you having to have done much to make it interesting. Given the shattered ruins across the landscape of this hobby of things GMs invented to be interesting which the players subsequently yawned at, this is a thing of beauty.

So, decide: it is more now than you thought it was. Take whatever you had in mind and set it aside. You can bring it back later in part or in whole, if you need it.

Basically, your next step is to mine the players for their ideas. You know how when a TV show does something mysterious and the fans come up with tons of theories as to the meaning and often those theories are better than what actually comes about, and sometimes the show runners will actually use ideas that are popular with the fan base? Tap into your players for this. Ask them what they think is back there. Ask them what will happen when they take it off, or even just try to. Set the game aside and talk about it like it's a show and you're all fans of it. Build it as big as you want, then and there.

Then pick the game back up and play that.

You might be saying "but then there's no mystery." Right, not for the players, not any more. They solved in in the jam session you just had and it was fun and exciting and people were probably saying things that startled themselves as much as anyone else. Now the characters get to go through what you came up with, or some version of it. The character don't see everything, don't understand everything, don't know about the scene you imagined between two NPCs that they haven't even met or heard about yet. But they'll see the residue of those things and all of you can thrill to the idea of how the characters will react in due time when they find the next thing that is significant to all of you, but baffling to them.

I sort of roughed all that out, above. What it comes down to is asking them, at least a little. If they say "There's a message there" then guess what: They don't think having a message there is too cliche. They expect a message there, and to some degree want a message to be there. Maybe they don't come up with what the message says, maybe that's up to you, heck maybe the "audience" doesn't even get to see it yet. I'm pretty sure I've seen shows where all the characters knew was some message was, but none of the actors or viewers (or even the showrunners, think "Battlestar Galactica") did. It works.

I love discussing this, so feel free to ask what my babble is about.
 member, 204 posts
Tue 8 Aug 2017
at 14:53
Re: Plot advice needed: "What's up with the tile?"
I'm diggin' it. What's your babble about? (Feel free to rmail me, so we don't clutter this place too much!)

Also, love the other ideas so far!
C-h Freese
 member, 262 posts
 Survive - Love - Live
Tue 8 Aug 2017
at 14:54
Re: Plot advice needed: "What's up with the tile?"
Who says the tile there now is the one that they need maybe the reason the old one was gone is because there is something special about it.