“The 36 Dramatic Situations” is a 19th century book by french author Georges Polti. By analyzing Greek texts and contemporary French writings, Polti attempted to categorize every dramatic situation that might occur in a story.
This list of 36 situations remains, until today, very popular among writers and storytellers. Here now are the situations:
3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
4. Vengeance Taken for Kindred Upon Kindred
7. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune
9. Daring Enterprise
11. The Enigma
13. Enmity of Kinsmen
14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
15. Murderous Adultery
17. Fatal Imprudence
18. Involuntary Crimes of Love
19. Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
20. Self-Sacrifice for an Ideal
21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
22. All Sacrificed for Passion
23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
26. Crimes of Love
27. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
28. Obstacles to Love
29. An Enemy Loved
31. Conflict With a God
32. Mistaken Jealousy
33. Erroneous Judgment
35. Recovery of a Lost One
36. Loss of Loved Ones
In the book, Polti offers examples and explanations for each of the situations. While they are much too long to go into here in detail, I posted this article to introduce the work to those that may not know of it, with the hopes that it may spark some creativity in those DM’s looking for adventure ideas.
The most important thing in a story is the drama within it, and this list is a great way to start finding those dramatic situations that you may have trouble capturing.
The book is not under copyright. You can find many forms (txt, pdf, etc.) of it here.