An area that a singular author or gm has an advantage in storytelling over a team of players is in the area of misdirection and plot twists. If the players collectively plan these in advance, the drama in the twist may suffer or even be lost in play.
Plot twists are not required in all story games, but they are essential color for many types of genres, such as the caper, noir, tragedy, soap, etc. Though plot twists may be required for these genres, for more ordinary dramas they also can serve as glue between acts — connecting together disparate plotlines, styles, or episodes of a story into a larger continuous thread.
The gm-less cooperative Fiasco (2009) accomplishes plot twists by using what they call a Tilt. The Tilt happens in the middle between the two acts of a standard Fiasco game. The player with the most dark dice picks a category, and the player with the most light dice picks the sub-category on the Tilt table, and then vis-a-versa. This results in two surprise attributes that are added to the game in subsquent play, such as Guilt: Someone develops a conscience or Deception: A secret goes public. The players then decide together when to “discover” those twists in the second act, or establish retcon (retroactive continuity) into play with a flashback scene to create the twist.
Fiasco offers two different tables, the dark and often cruelly humorous “Hard Tilt” table in the original book, and a second “Soft Tilt” table in Fiasco Companion (2011), which offers lighter, more socially-focused plot twists suitable for more light-hearted Fiasco playsets.
Fiasco rules require two plot twists at once, which is probably overkill for many story games. However, the use of multiple plot twists is particularly important for the tone of caper and noir plots, which is what Fiasco does a great job simulating. Thomas Leitch in Crime Films (2002) observes:
“ambiguity and irresolution are at the heart of Fargo’s comedy, which […] works by systematically depriving viewers of any single privileged perspective from which to interpret its outrageous events”There very few Fiasco playsets that offer their own custom Tilt table. Most notably the Star Wars spoof Lord Doomicus and His Giant Battle Planet has its own Tilt table with such thematically evocative results as an (Un)natural Disaster: Alien virus with un-expected side effects or It's Business: Embarrassment leads to rage for Lord Doomicus, and the Secrets of NIMH-like Rat Patrol, has results like Withdrawal: “We’re all getting stupider” and Retrieval: In Dr. John Sutcliffe’s soft hands.
Seeking more varieties of plot twists, I dove into a variety of sources, most notably:
- The original two Fiasco Tilt tables
- the excellent TV Tropes wiki
- a sidebar in S. John Ross’ useful The Big List of RPG Plots
- Harvey Ismuth’s comic illustration of the 42 Essential 3rd Act Twists (which led me back to Aristotle’s advice on Tragedy in Poetics).
- Johnn Four's Left Hooks: 24 Plot Twist Ideas & Design Patterns from his Roleplaying Tips blog
- Chuck Wendig's 25 Turns, Pivots, and Twists to Complicate your Story
- a variety of list of best (and worst) movie and tv plot twists,
- and and some excellent organizational advice by Stephen Morffew of Step Into RPGs, a reader of an early draft of this table.
As I comment in my Fiasco Relationships post, I believe that the best Fiasco playset tables should offer customized results that fit their theme and setting, rather than using this Generic Plot Twists table. But I've seen very few playsets to date that offer custom Tilt tables. Thus you can try using my Plot Twists table as a subsitute for the default Hard or Soft Tilt tables, or if you are a playset author, use it as inspiration for creating your own customized Tilt table.
These plot twists also may be generally useful to GMs of other story games, such as Fate Core (2013) or Powered by the Apocalypse games, or even authors of fiction. I’m currently using it as part of a cooperative game that I’m designing. The table itself is licensed CC-BY, and I always welcome advice on how to simplify/clarify it.