Saturday, 19 June 2010

Hooks you can bank on

In this article, I’ll be offering up a glut of hooks, seventeen in fact, that involve bankers and banks in their various shapes and forms.

From the Lavish family in Terry Pratchett’s Making Money to Mauthis of Valint and Balk in the works of Joe Abercrombie, bankers in fantasy literature get short shrift from authors, and if we were to take a straw poll of gamers as to the image of money men in their campaign settings, we’d probably get words like greedy, amoral, sinister, scheming, with ‘evil’ popping in for good measure.

For sure, the events of the past couple of years have not done bankers many favours, yet the banking world is ripe with potential for tricky situations to throw in front of your players. These hooks should show that a bank is no longer just a place for the players to stash their gold, but a force in its own right with machinations and plans to match.

As usual, feel free to yoink as you wish; there should be plenty in here to keep you happy. Oh, and the tone of these banks is rather more modern than a strictly mediaeval setting would allow, so simulationists, stop reading now.

The party is out in the wilds, on their way to somewhere, when they detect something odd not too far off in some woods. As they approach, they smell the scent of rotting meat and when they arrive, they disturb crows and flies busy feasting on a collection of corpses. The bodies are fresh, only a day or so dead and they bear all the hallmarks of grotesque torture. There is, however, no sign of robbery, despite the bodies all being richly dressed and their jewellery and money still on them.

DM note:
The bodies are those of the bank’s head of operations and his staff who were out on a hunting trip before a big shipment of gold and gems is due to arrive in a few days’ time. Enquiries at the bank will be fruitless but a reward for the return of the bodies will be offered and another for the capture of the killers will be extended.

The twist is that the bankers were tortured not for any information they might have but to make it look as if they had given that information up. The delivery point for the gold and gems was too heavily fortified and secure to be raided but the bank had a back-up location in case anything went wrong and it is this second location that the killers have penetrated, albeit at a very low level. Anything is better than nothing, of course, and they had to prompt the bank to change the delivery point. Making it look as if the first venue was compromised was the perfect way to do it.

The party, if interested in the reward for tracking the killers, must find clues (there will be some but they will be obscure and difficult to understand) and follow the trail. The bank will not want to admit that its security systems are flawed.

A new and efficient security manager at the bank’s central office is keen to keep his subordinates on their toes. He hires the party to go to a distant town and test the security of the local branch by planning and staging a fake robbery. He will give the party a letter of authority that they can present to the local manager if things go wrong.

All is as presented. The security manager is on the level and really does want to test the local branch’s security. If the party play by the rules, nothing should go wrong. Except…

The local branch manager is keen on security too. So much so that he has a deal with the local thieves’ guild that he pays them an annual retainer and they ‘guarantee’ the safety of his bank. If he gets wind of the party planning a robbery (which he may well do if the party is not smart), he will assume that this is an unauthorised band of thieves trespassing on the guild’s territory and inform his contacts therein. The party will then have an angry group of thieves after them. If the manager does not twig what the party are up to, perhaps the thieves’ guild spies will do so.

A two-way hook: a sewer rat (an urchin or vagabond living in the sewers) or a small fry thief broke into an underground vault only to find it empty. He left again, careless of his own security since the vault was a dud. Except it wasn’t. It belonged to the city bank and should have been full of gold, backing up the national currency. However, through foolish investments, bad judgements or just profligacy, the bank has run out of gold and would rather no-one found out or the entire currency would collapse and chaos would sweep the city and the kingdom. The authorities realise the gravity of this and will aid the bank in keeping things hushed up.

The bank wants the party to track down the sewer rat and silence him (although they invent some cover story as to why this needs to happen)

The sewer rat is a friend or relative of one of the party and comes to them for aid when he realises that assassins are on his tail. The police/city guard/etc are in on it and have orders to detain and eliminate all who are with him in case he’s blabbed. Cue massive paranoia.

The party must rescue a bank clerk captured by humanoids. He knows the bank’s activities and needs to be rescued before he can be tortured to give them up, causing financial mayhem for thousands.
Twist – the clerk actually knows all about the bank’s illegal/illicit dealings and they want him silenced before he spills the beans. The party is only there to provide cover for an assassin who has been charged by the bank with knocking the clerk off. And of course the assassin will vanish the moment the clerk is dead, leaving the party to carry the can.

A paladin and a lawful good cleric approach the party. A banker has bought up nearly the entire town and is squeezing it hard, turning it into a den of vice and greed. Only one man can stand against him and rally the townsfolk but he has been falsely implicated in a financial scandal and has disappeared. The party must find him, save him and use him to get the townsfolk to rise up against the banker (but without impersonating guardian angels).
Twist – the banker has a party of adventurers of his own, who match the party man for man and are out looking for the quarry.

The hard-nosed chief of the bank is running it as if it were his own private kingdom, corrupt and oppressive. A group of LG clerics approach the party and ask for help in arranging a Damascene conversion for the banker. He is very heavily guarded and a hard-nosed cynic and rationalist to boot (money is his love, full stop). Persuading him of a miracle is therefore doubly difficult.

Linked to 6
The chief of a large bank has suddenly got religion after a strange experience and is instituting an overhaul of the bank’s finance system to make it more ethical. This has greatly alarmed the bank’s officials who would rather it stayed the lucrative way it is, thanks. The party need to disenchant him, or failing that, eliminate him. Unfortunately, the chief is now best friends with senior church figures, delighted by his change of heart and philanthropy and are keen to protect him.

The new King, young and idealistic, is horrified to find that his kingdom is in hock to a powerful bank to the tune of millions. They are stymieing his ideas for social change and financial reform at every turn. He cannot trust anyone in his administration, having found out already that several of his officials are in debt to the bank as well, and therefore has turned to outsiders, namely the party. He needs them to investigate the bank and find out who runs it and how he can get his kingdom back. The party has its work cut out since the bank has tentacles everywhere and is not averse to swatting irritating little insects.

The bank has its eyes on property on the riverfront and would like to acquire it and clear it for luxury housing. Unfortunately, it is covered in old warehouses, derelict buildings etc and is infested with vagabonds, thieves, thugs and refugees from justice. Think Dickensian London’s slum underbelly. For a share of the new development, the party must work out a way to start the clearances without angering the city authorities who are happy to let sleeping dogs lie and don’t want the King finding out just how awful that area of the city had been allowed to become and what happened to all the funds they had been given to sort it out.

The bank’s strongroom is often used for storing valuables and other items that customers would like to keep secret. This has backfired on the bank because something in a casket has escaped and is now trapped inside the bank, which has been closed down and locked with the highest security. Rumours have got out that other strongroom items are compromised and the bank wants the party to go in and neutralise the thing and restore full security. They don’t know what it is, because of customer confidentiality and they are sending in a bank employee to make sure that the party do just what they have been told and don’t go anywhere that they should not.
Not that there is anything they shouldn’t see. The bank is law-abiding and everything is above board. Wink wink.

Imagine the looks on the party’s faces when they arrive back in town, stuffed with hard-earned gold and magic items, only to be arrested for theft.
What has happened is that the bank has had a clear-out of its old vaults and has found, stuffed away with the yellowing documents and other parchments, deeds to the land on which stands the very dungeon that the party have just raided. Keen to protect its investment, the bank is looking into sealing it off for its own investigation but in the meantime, some of those pesky adventurers need to be made an example of. And of course the bank has plenty of money to hire top lawyers, investigators, muscle, etc.

A local bank manager has been visiting old people on their last legs who owe money to the bank, and agreeing instead to write off their debts in return for some of the old junk that old folk have lying around their houses. Now his vaults are stuffed with all sorts of stuff, both valuable and completely useless. Chances are that one of the old folk had a son or grandson who was probably looking forward to inheriting and now sees their legacy sitting in the bank. Or perhaps something that one of the oldies acquired (perhaps when they were young adventurers themselves) is in fact rather valuable and desired by all sorts of interested parties.

An impoverished nobleman (of whom there seems to be an endless supply) seeks to marry into money and has borrowed a great deal of money from a local moneylender. However, his intended and her family would be horrified if they knew and so he has decided to smear the moneylender and have them arraigned for treason or some such. Their assets will then be confiscated and his debts go up in smoke.

He needs the party to fabricate some really juicy evidence of high treason against the moneylender in question (of course, the moneylender has plenty of debtors who he can use to help him)

The moneylender himself offers to hire the party to uncover the conspiracy against him.

If the DM doesn’t mind something a little contentious, the moneylender could belong to a particular ethnic group and the nobleman could start whipping up prejudice and hatred, hoping that a handy pogrom could sweep away his troubles.

The authorities are perturbed when it is rumoured that a big bank (that has branches in more or less every town on the continent) is eyeing up the city bank for a take-over. Hostile, probably. Surely there is something the party can do? The big bank has bands of mercenaries that could get rid of ‘uncooperative elements’ and its links to business and merchants mean that it can use economic muscle if military power doesn’t work.

A woman approaches the party, very concerned about her husband who works at a major city bank. He puts in long hours and works hard to improve his position. Just recently, there has been talk of him joining the Senior Partners as recognition for all his hard work. He should be delighted. So why is he terrified?
The truth is that the Senior Partners are all vampires. They monitor the best employees and then turn them, recruiting them into the Partnership. Those who join are never seen again, except perhaps very late at night, getting into carriages with blacked-out windows. The families of new partners are given generous pensions…seemingly forever. Some pensions are paid out to grandchildren of partners.
The vampires, having such long perspectives, make much better decisions than those who have only a few years to see the fruits of their actions. In fact, the bank is very good at what it does, but the partnership prefers to keep a low profile. Nor are they evil as such – they regard their unlife as a way of carrying on doing what they do best. For sure, they feed but only on poorly-performing employees and general low-life that the bank has a problem with generally.

As can be imagined, they would be less than pleased if the truth got out about their bank. Religious bodies and ignorant masses might start causing great trouble and that would be a shame, considering just how much the bank has invested in the kingdom over the centuries.

The bank is in trouble. Loans have been made that can’t possibly be paid back, confidence is waning. The King has been advised to send in the auditors to sort things out.
Of course, these are no ordinary auditors. They’re more like the worst debt collection agency you’ve ever seen. They have heavy duty help in the form of invisible stalkers and demons. They take souls in lieu of money if the borrower can’t pay. The law means nothing to these guys because they answer to a higher authority. And if their fees can’t be made up from what they recover, they make up the difference in some very unpleasant ways.
I hope the party don’t owe the bank anything.

The war in the south between State A and State B seems to be endless. Well, actually there’s no ‘seems’ about it. It is endless. Every time there looks like peace on the horizon, something happens to derail the peace process and the war breaks out all over again. It’s almost like someone doesn’t want it to end.
And that someone is the bank. Yes, for years innumerable, the bank has been sending supplies of weapons, mercenaries, agents provocateur etc to the war zone to ensure that there will be no peace until both sides have fought each other to a standstill and there is a desolate wasteland instead of two prosperous states. A wasteland that will be very cheap to buy up; lots of resources just lying around waiting for a visionary bank to grab and exploit. Lots of lovely property to develop. Through middle men, the bank has approached the party to either run weapons into the war zone, provoke another truce breakdown or just get down there and get their blades wet.

Bad bank.


  1. Very nice indeed. Yoinked for great justice!

  2. Those may be the most awesome hooks I saw yet. Together with ACKS trade system this opens a whole new experience.