Ok, so I’ve been brainstorming with a close friend of mine. We’ve been discussing the concept of RPG Hooks. We’ve mashed up several ideas about how to come up with them, how to share them, and what people can actually use. I’ve come to realize that he and I occupy very different spaces when it comes to RPGs (and Politics!). But this is fantastic because having a sounding board that ends up being an echo chamber is incredibly unproductive. Ultimately I’ve come to the realization that what I want and need from an adventure hook is not necessarily what you may want or need. This is simple enough in concept, but presents certain challenges to the creative process. I will attempt to overcome these challenges as I sift through story ideas looking for interesting seeds of adventure.
I’m a guy who does much of his brainstorming in the shower. I get ideas. I think there is point where, as a person, you wake up, both physically and mentally. This for me happens in the shower. Once I realized this, I’ve started actually planning my brainstorming sessions around my morning shower. So far, it’s working out. Today is one of those days. Fueled by my recent discussions with my friend, and empassioned by my desire to provide others with that which I seek, I’ve decided to start a weekly feature, called “Hook of the Week”. Each week, I’ll endeavor to come up with an interesting story tidbit, a hook that you can hopefully adapt to your game. I’ll try to keep it suitably generic, allowing easy reflavoring to your game. At the same time, I’ll try to include enough detail and flesh it out so as to reduce the amount of work for a DM looking for ideas.
So lets get this ball rolling with RPG Hook #1: The Prodigal Brother
This hook takes place in whatever city your group regularly travels to or finds themselves in. It requires that the city has some sort of Nobleman, Mayor, Wealthy Merchant, etc who may come to find out about the adventurers and their abilities. This should be pretty readily available. The merchant has a younger brother. This brother was the black sheep of the family, always getting into trouble and causing problems. The Merchant brother was just the opposite. He was very astute, followed the rules and made good on all his lifes opportunities to get where he is today. His one failing, his weakness was his love for his brother. Because of this, he coddled and protected him, often using his own influence and personal wealth to protect and shield his brother.
Well, now, his brother has found a way to overextend even these acts of kindness. He has gotten himself into trouble with the local Black Marketeers, or perhaps with local slave traders or assassins. He has accumulated a rather significant amount of debt, whether through gambling, or perhaps his desires for personal pleasure and gratification. Those he is now in debt to have threatened his life.
He’s confused and doesn’t know what to do or to whom he should turn. In yet another moment of poor decision making, he decides to fake his own kidnapping, sending a note to his brother, asking for ransom in the amount that he owes. Knowing his brother is a “by the book” type, he fears he’ll simply go to the authorities. So he sneaks into a local graveyard and severs an ear off a corpse. He removes his own earring, something he knows his brother will recognize, places it on the ear of the corpse and includes it with a note and a warning that if the Merchant brother contacts the local authorities, “worse things will happen”.
The reason I like this hook is because it does several things and depending on what your players like, it can go multiple ways. The severed ear that is sent can be described as being old, or overly large or small. This can be a clue that gets investigative players interested. They could investigate around town, leading to lots of opportunity for RP and world building, perhaps via a 4E skill challenge to determine that the ear was actually recently stolen from a local morgue, off a pauper about to be buried. They may decide to investigate the bad guys who supposedly sent the ransom note (but who actually know nothing about it). This could lead to a face off with them, even multiple combats as the heroes work their way to the top of the food chain. They could learn about the gambling debts, or perhaps the bad guys are closed mouthed and would rather just eliminate the heroes rather than spill their guts about who owes them money. Perhaps the bad guys find out about the investigation and send an assassin to murder the heroes in their sleep leading to a late night combat and chase through city streets.
Ultimately, it could wind up that the bad guys decide the prodigal brother is more trouble than he’s worth and send a team of thugs to kill him as well. The heroes might then end up in a race agains the clock to discover the truth behind the letter and track down the brother-in-hiding before the thugs do, thus saving his life while solving the mystery in one epic conclusion.
If you’ve got ideas or different spins on this that might work in your campaign, please feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear them and perhaps steal them for my own game.