Mad Libs Adventure Design

This system allows a group to semi-randomly generate an adventure! Sure, this blog is geared to Cosmic Cutthroats, but this system will work for any game.

Each person things of some story, maybe a book, movie, TV show episode (has to be a specific episode), or whatnot. Then, everyone rolls 1d20. They answer these questions, going in order from lowest roll to highest.

If two people roll the same number, both of their answers are counted. If you have less than 5 people, then each person should pick another 2-3 stories, and their subsequent stories can count for later questions.

  1. What’s the problem the PCs need to solve?
  2. Who is a helpful NPC that might assist?
  3. Who is the villain that the group must face (if any)?
  4. Where does this all take place?
  5. What’s the final twist, or some unexpected element? The PC that rolled this one may keep it a secret!
  6. What’s the reward if the PCs succeed?

In many cases, there will be multiple answers. The group can choose the one they like best, or they can choose randomly. You can add more questions, too, to flesh out the adventure, but they need to be very open-ended, suitable for any kind of story.

So, for example, Abigail, Beatrice, Carla, Dave, Eddie, and Frank want to play Cosmic Cutthroats, but Abbie can’t decide on an adventure to run. It’s a universal system, and NPCs and creatures are easy to make in minutes, she just needs an idea for the plot. So, everyone thinks of a story.

  1. Abigail thinks of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
  2. Beatrice thinks of Crazy Rich Asians.
  3. Carla thinks of Nightmare on Elm Street.
  4. Dave thinks of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas.
  5. Eddie thinks of Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 5 episode 2, “Darmok.”
  6. Frank thinks of the novel The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi.

Everyone rolls 1d20.
Abigail rolls a 1, Beatrice rolls a 19, Carla rolls 10, Dave 15, Eddie 5, and Frank 9.

So the order goes:

1. What’s the problem the PCs need to solve?
Abigail thought of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Abigail really liked the parts of The Two Towers in Rohan, so the group decides this is a diplomatic mission, to go enlist the aid of a civilization in a neighboring dimension for their patrons in the transdimensional city of Uru Ulan.

2. Who is a helpful NPC?
Eddie thought of Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 5 episode 2, “Darmok.”
There’s an alien who might be able to help the group, but his language is so strange that neither technology nor spells can assist. They have to learn the alien’s culture (Brains rolls) to be able to interpret.

3. Who is the villain that the group must face (if any)?
Frank thought of The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi.
The most frightening enemies in The Quantum Thief are the keepers of the Prison, AIs who perform endless experiments on prisoners in a theoretical attempt to rehabilitate them. The group shudders and agrees that some vast, godlike AI, performing mass psychology experiments, would be a great bad guy.

4. Where does this all take place?
Carla thinks of Nightmare on Elm Street.
So the two main locations in Nightmare on Elm Street are the real world in the 80s, and the dream world. They agree they don’t want the whole plot to be “all a dream”, so the world they’re visiting resembles suburban Earth in North America in the late 20th century.

5. What’s the twist? The PC that rolled this one keeps it a secret.
Dave thinks of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas.
There was so much weirdness and so many twists in that movie! But maybe the problem with the “Darmok” figure is he’s so full of drugs that not a lot of what he says makes sense. If you can cut through the thick smoke that surrounds him and get him to talk plainly, his advice will be invaluable.

(Okay, so maybe this isn’t the twistiest of twists, but it does bring in an additional plot element and fleshes out an NPC a little more, but more importantly, Dave likes it and the group agrees, so it goes in. There’s plenty of room for flexibility when using this mechanic).

6. What’s the reward if the PCs succeed?
Beatrice thinks of Crazy Rich Asians.
The plot of Crazy Rich Asians is about an Asian American lady going to Macau with her fiancee, to attend a wedding, and the clash of cultures that results. The reward, really, is growing to understand her fiancee and get closer to him. We can add a subplot where one PC describes an attractive person they meet in this 1980s dimension, and if they succeed in formulating an alliance, the two have a chance to get to know one another.
Since Beatrice is playing a straight female character, she describes a good-looking guy the group can contact.

So here’s a plot summary:
The Ordo Custodes Noctis contacts the PCs with an important mission. There’s been a rash of mass murders recently. Artificial beings, synthetically designed beings made of flesh and cybernetic parts, have infiltrated Uru Ulan. They pass for “normal” visitors and inhabitants, have jobs, have friends, and lead a normal life, until they suddenly snap and go on a nocturnal killing spree. This has to stop.

They’ve traced the synthetics to a nearby Realm that resembles 1980s Earth, complete with Cold War tensions. It’s believed that a massive supercomputer there might have run amok, an AI designed by the local American military to defend the country against a Russian missile attack. This machine consciousness has the facilities to create synthetic spies, and as it grows more twisted and paranoid, it’s creating the mass murdering synthetics through some kind of social experiment.

You will travel to this world and speak with the President of the United Confederation of Vespuccia. He’s a senile old man who’s been in office for decades due to his “wartime powers” declarations. His top advisers are mostly or all agents of the aberrant AI, so you may need to deal with them to get the old man to give you permission to take out the AI itself. And of course, you need to convince him to do without the AI’s protection in case of an attack, probably no mean feat.

The OCN has a local contact, a retired mystic, but the PCs will discover that the contact is eccentric and unreliable, often addled by noxious chemicals, but his grasp of the local situation may be essential. Keeping on his good side will be most helpful.

Finally, a handsome Russian double agent with a background in programming is available to assist you if you’re able to get permission to deal with the deadly defense AI. You’ll have to determine if he’s trustworthy, and if so, gain his trust so he can assist you in disabling the AI without leaving the Vespuccian missile defense totally vulnerable.

Good luck!

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