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Creating plot twists for your D&D campaign

So, you want to create amazing plot twists that are gonna leave your Dungeons and Dragons players speechless? Of course you do. We all want to make a game that our players are super invested in and where they're clinging on every word. How do you actually go about doing that, though?

Well, there's no one size fits all approach, but let me share my own thoughts on the subject.

Start with backstories

So, the absolute most important thing for creating interesting hooks and twists is that your players must be invested in the story that you're telling together. This is pretty obvious right? If they don't care about the story to begin with, why are they gonna care when something changes or a new piece of information is revealed? So, where's the best place to start with getting them invested? Their character's backstory.

The backstory is the well that you can draw from to tailor your sessions to give your player a personal stake in the story that you're telling. If you want to run a session where your party fight a couple of bandits on the road then sure, why not? But if it turns out that the bandits were involved in kidnapping a player's sister, and they know the organisation that she was sold to - then god-damn right I wanna fight these jerks! You see what I'm saying? It's the same basic fight - but one is a much more compelling experience for your player - and a good player backstory is where you can draw all this inspiration from to tie their personal stories into the larger campaign.

A Session 0 helps massively in this regard. During this time you can explain a bit about the campaign setting with your players, which can spark some ideas for them about any NPCs or organisations that their character might be affiliated with. Further down the line, these things will give you threads to pull upon when coming up with plot hooks or twists.

A Session 0 also gives you a chance to discuss players' backstories with them (or for your players to discuss their backstories among themselves). This way, you can let them know if their backstory needs added specificity, and also gives them a chance to interweave it with those of the other players. Again, this should give you extra inspiration for any plot twists, and have them hit harder when you reveal them.

What do your players care about?

It's not just down to a player's backstory, however. In a good game, their character should be developing as the sessions go on, so the person they are at the end is not the same as who they were at the beginning. With this in mind, you should consider whether plot twists which would have hit hard at an early part in your campaign will still do so now.

Perhaps they've already reconciled with an estranged family member, or gained further information about an NPC or organisation - so revealing a plot twist centred on that won't have the emotional impact that it would have done earlier. The best way to check if your plot twist is still gonna hit hard? Ask yourself what your players actually care about. Hint: this often isn't the same as what you think they should care about.

Have your players fallen in love with the mangy dog they found three towns back? Well then, what if that same dog turned out to be an evil druid using wild shape to infiltrate their party and spy on the group? Cool twist, huh? Or does a member of your party love that magic compass that they found, the one which always points in the direction of adventure? What about if they found out that it's actually one of a pair, and the compasses instead just point to each other, and the bad guy is using the second one to find the group? Fun, right?

Of course, what your players care about may absolutely be what's written in their backstory. If their backstory states they want to find their estranged mother, and that's something they bring up every session - then absolutely build a plot hook around that. You hear news of someone matching her description being held hostage at that castle two towns over! Whatever.

But be prepared to change the subject of your plot hooks in accordance with how your players' characters and interests develop over time. By asking what they're interested in right now, you are much more likely to generate a strong emotional reaction from your players when your plot developments are revealed.


If you just spring a massive plot twist on your players without any notice, it will often fall pretty flat. There's a couple of reasons for this: consistency and tension. Foreshadowing any plot hooks or twists can really assist in increasing both the consistency and the tension in your story.

So, obviously you are building this world, and can do whatever you want with it - but as far as possible, it has to feel consistent. If you suddenly start changing rules and messing with people's motivations/ abilities, then it undermines your players' suspension of disbelief, and draws them out of the story. This is where foreshadowing your big plot twists is important - because by doing so, you are reinforcing the consistency of your world and subtly telling your players that the story they're taking part in makes sense.

If they start to feel that it doesn't, then what's the point in them being invested in the story? Seriously, if literally anything could happen at any point, then why should they care that good triumph and evil is defeated etc? If it feels like a real living, breathing world, however - then they will genuinely care about the characters in it and what happens to them.

Building tension

Foreshadowing also plays an enormous role in building tension within your story. In short, the greater the tension, the more rewarding it is when that tension is released and another part of the story reveals itself. If you don't foreshadow your plot developments, therefore, you're not giving a chance for the tension to build, before you then resolve things.

Example time: so I'm running an Ancient Greek campaign right now, and one of my players is a devout Satyr who was raised in the Temple of Zeus and never knew his parents. In our first session, one of the NPCs they met mentioned that the player's character was in fact one of two brothers, who had been prophesised to play a pivotal role in an upcoming war between the gods. Each of the two brothers were taken that same night and raised in different temples. One was intended to serve Zeus, and the other Hades - but the priests who had separated the children didn't know which was which, and had just hoped for the best when they gave them to the different temples.

That revelation introduced something of an identity crisis for the player, as he then had to wonder if he truly was a servant of Zeus, or was instead destined to serve Hades. A few sessions later, it was mentioned that the second brother had escaped the Temple of Hades several years previously, and nobody knew what became of him. Again, this heightened the player's anxiety - not only did he now wonder about who he really was, but also what became of his brother.

I played on this anxiety with several disturbing dreams that the player had over many sessions (check out the dream mechanic here) which further led him to question his own identity - with each dream slowly increasing the tension for a plot twist that I had figured out for several sessions later. It was probably only by Session 10 or so, when the players were at King Minos' court in Crete, that my player came face to face with the Minotaur in the labyrinth - and it became clear that he was the long lost brother. I really loved this reveal - and feel that it was only by really playing on the character's anxieties and by ratcheting up the tension over several sessions, that it landed as well as it did.

Don't make it too obvious

The line between dropping hints and making things really obvious is quite a fine one, so you will likely need a little practice with this. Keep in mind that your players know less about the campaign and the world than you do, and spend much less time thinking about it - so what appears obvious to you absolutely may not be with them. That said, a plot twist where they have to think back through the campaign and join together all the dots will lead to a much more satisfying reveal (for both you and the players) than a plot twist which is met with ('Yeah, we know. We've been expecting that for like 4 sessions').

As I say though, this is gonna be a bit of trial and error, so don't feel bad if you don't nail it every time. It's also quite likely some of your players will anticipate your plot twists and some won't - this is totally cool. You don't have to surprise everyone all of the time. The more unexpected your plot twists though, in general the more satisfying they will be.

Rope in other players

Depending on your campaign, this may be more or less difficult - but roping in one of your players from time to time can be a great way to build in a fun plot hook or twist. If you choose to do this, think a bit about how much information you want to give the player, how much you trust them not to spill the beans, and how you can do it in a plausible way that fits in with your campaign.

In my previous example with the Minotaur reveal, I roped in one of my players to try and increase the tension of the dramatic reveal. His character had been captured and imprisoned by an enchanter in one of the early sessions - so I mentioned to him privately that a spell had been performed upon him while he was unconscious, planting an idea in his head. That idea: to bring the Satyr character to Crete, to get him to the Minotaur's labyrinth, and to leave him there unconscious.

I didn't tell him that the other player's character was related to the Minotaur, and said he should just roleplay like his normal character would - only with this additional motivation somewhere in the back of his mind.

I checked with my player first if he'd be willing to undertake this kind of role (before spilling any of the details), and after knowing that he was on board, I gave him the details mentioned above. The great thing about roping in players from time to time is that not only does that give you a bit more insurance that the story will develop somewhat in accordance with your ideas (honestly, it's ok to railroad some of the time), but it also increases the drama of the reveal - as the moment this character first met his minotaur brother was the same moment that he was betrayed by a companion. Drama all round!

But be careful!

A word of warning with this though: if you have any doubts about how your party will react if they are betrayed by a party member etc, then don't go down this line! You don't want to risk bringing any animosity into the group for the rest of your campaign.

With the above example, I know all of the party well (and they all know each other) so I wasn't worried about any negative emotions within the group. Furthermore, I made it clear that the betrayal was the result of the player character being put under a spell earlier in the campaign - and that both the player's character was unaware of what was going on, and also that now their task had been completed, the spell was broken.

You know your party and whether they're likely to respond positively to these kind of hijinks - but if in doubt, maybe give this a miss.

Spin offs

Spin off adventures are another great way to add depth to your world and come up with potential plot twists and hooks. If I've got time on a week where I know not all my players can make it, I might create a one-shot adventure set in the same world as the main campaign, to add a bit of depth and interest.

This might be a fun way to play around with some of the things mentioned in player's backstories, or to bring to light other things going on in the background of the campaign. A good example of this might be to run a session of something your bad guy is up to while the campaign is ongoing (after all, your players aren't standing still, why should their enemy be?).

The cool thing about spin offs, is that how they play out can then influence the story development and any plot twists you have for the main campaign. For example, in the same Greek campaign, I ran a one-shot session focusing on the day that one of my character's home town was invaded and destroyed. He had mentioned this as a key motivator in his backstory. I drew this event into the story-line for the main campaign - alluding to the fact that the main campaign's antagonists were in fact also behind this event, which had happened several years prior to the events of the campaign's first session.

In my character's backstory, his wife had died when the city fell, but as the one-shot played out, my players bumped into her and tried to save her - leaving her fate ambiguous. This obviously gave me a spark of inspiration, leading me to wonder 'if she had got out alive that day, why had she not found her husband, and what had she done in the meantime?'.

About 20 sessions later in the main campaign, what do you know - it turns out she's alive and had been sold into slavery shortly after the fall of the city. Another fun plot twist, this time driven by a spin off one-shot that we'd never have had if it weren't for one of my players being away that week...

Have fun!

Cool, I hope these ideas help you to come up with some awesome plot twists and developments for your own campaigns! I'm sure your players will appreciate them and hopefully be talking about them for years to come!


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