Saturday, 5 June 2010
A Right Royal Bunch of Hooks
Back in May, I did a list of plot hooks for fun in the afterlife. It seemed to strike a chord with people, and Lawrence Blake suggested that I should do more, even offering a few subject ideas. While I couldn't really think of anything on holidays (sorry, Lawrence if you were really looking forward to that one) the subject of royalty ticked away in my brain and today, I give you fourteen (count 'em) intriguing ideas to toss into the path of your players.
As always, feel free to yoink away, chop and change, see what inspires you, use them and if you're feeling generous, let me know how they went. I think we all like to imagine that our work is being put to good use.
A king is dying and with the time remaining, wants to make amends for his past misdeeds. He once had an illicit affair and sired a son; now he wants that son to enjoy the benefits of royalty (though not necessarily to inherit) rather than live in poverty. The current crown prince and his supporters are rather upset and would like the b*****d to have a nasty accident. The party have been engaged by the king’s supporters (who think that the crown prince is an irritating brat) to locate and protect the illegitimate son. Local nobles who have nubile daughters are most interested in the potential prince, since the current crown prince is engaged to a rather vapid and vain noblewoman. Did I mention that no-one knows where the putative princeling is, and why, he could be anywhere or anything – like that mysterious assassin who’s been killing his way through the high priesthoods of the Southern Kingdoms, or glamming up as Madame Zsa Zsa in the strange club down by the docks. Now I come to mention it, have your PCs checked their backgrounds recently?
The kingdom is in turmoil – the King is weak and only wants a quiet life, frittering away his days hunting and lazing about at his country estate. Woe to him that his wife is such a profligate, with a craving for jewellery of all sorts. Double woe that the state treasury can’t seem to keep up with her tastes in shiny things. Now a jeweller in the city has a signed promissory note for a necklace that the Queen ‘borrowed to try out’ and has not got round to giving back. Palace officials, sick and tired of the shrewish harpy are determined not to pay it. The merchant wants his money. Republican-minded merchants of the Guild can’t help thinking that the state would be a lot better off under a more active King or possibly no King at all. The party is stuck in the middle, hired by either
The Queen’s ladies in waiting to get rid of the merchant and his demands by any means necessary (and possibly get hold of some more jewellery while they’re at it)
The merchants’ guild to ensure that this causes a scandal that could bring down the King and usher in a democratic (i.e. merchant-friendly) government
The Palace officials, who would love to see the whole thing sorted out to the best interests of the King, even if they Queen has to…disappear into a convent or something like that, wink wink, know what I mean.
Life as a father is rather frustrating. Pity the King, therefore, who – keen to see his eldest son inherit both the throne and the duties of the monarchy – was very disappointed to find that the boy actually wants to be an artist and paint landscapes. Violence? Brutality? Er, no, waterlilies, actually.
The party has been ‘approached’ in a way that leaves little room for manoeuvre by the King’s men to arrange that the prince be ‘kidnapped’ and exposed to the sort of dangers and trials that will bring out the King in him, his ruthless and warlike side. Then he can forget all this post-Impressionist stuff and get down to a bit of torture, executions and warmongering.
Unfortunately, there are those who would prefer to see the prince meet a sticky end and they have taken steps to ensure that he does. The party must therefore both ‘arrange’ some ‘dangerous’ things for the prince to enjoy and realise when their charade turns into the real thing to ensure the prince stays safe.
A neat twist would be for the prince to suss what’s going on and engage the party to help him end the King’s rule so that peace, justice and art schools can flourish across the land.
The stroppy 14-year-old daughter of the King has gone undercover in the slums of the city to find out what life is like for the poor after she saw paupers being harassed from her bedroom window. The party must find her and return her to her parents. They would send in the army but know that this might provoke riots and run the risk of the princess coming to harm in the violence or going even deeper undercover to escape what she sees as efforts to stop her “righting the wrongs of society”.
While she has been on this little escapade, she has come across exploitation of the poor and wants to do something about it. This will annoy the establishment and may expose corruption in the King’s secretariat. They will decide to either have her constitutionally sidelined or dealt with – and if the party could be fingered as patsies, well that’s just grand.
Either the King or one of the princes, in a bid to be with it and trendy has got involved in the arty culture of the city and has taken up a new artist who wants to paint the Royal Family. However, all his previous subjects have died in very mysterious circumstances. Coincidence or something more?
Prince X wants to be a warrior general but is in fact a bit of a no-hoper when it comes to military matters. His father has arranged for him to spend some time with a unit of home guard, old doddering reservists and callow youths to get the army bug out of his system. Alas, while he is there, in some quiet backwater of the kingdom, the unit comes up against a raiding band of humanoids and the party must organise the no-hopers into a credible fighting force (while keeping Prince X alive). He may try to interfere with some hare-brained scheme of his and ruin the party’s plans (the soldiers are loyal to him, not the party) but if they get on the wrong side of the prince, the party will have made an enemy at court.
7) The new-born princess – see her adorable smile, her little hands and feet, her tiny horns…
Yes, the queen has given birth to an alu-demon. The King wants it hushed up, sorted, dealt with. This is difficult in a castle palace with hundreds of staff at all levels. Is the tiny monster even the princess or is it all a horrible plot? The party must find out. Add to that the fact that the Queen has bonded with her daughter and believes that nurture will overcome nature.
The Princess wants a pet.
The eight-year old princess has heard about a legendary and dangerous monster (not however a dragon) and has decided that she wants one as a pet. The Queen spoils the girl rotten and nags the King into sorting it. The party must track down, capture, subdue and tame the beast.
Twist - the princess has stowed away on the trip.
2nd twist – she is either a very irritating brat or actually a spunky tomboy away from Mummy and Daddy and comes in quite handy.
Money has been disappearing from the royal treasury – the accountants have done an audit and there is a shortfall. The King is sure that it is an inside job and assigns the party the job of finding out who is pilfering.
The unfortunate truth is that one of the princes has got egalitarian notions into his royal head and decided that not only do the poor need money but that it would be a delicious irony if that money came from the royal treasuries. He and some of his servants have been robbing the rich to give to the poor.
An even more unfortunate truth is that where there is largesse, there are freeloaders and elements in the city slums have decided that they can use the prince’s charitable aims to line their own pockets by setting up fake charities, dubious paupers and money pits that look like good and worthy projects. They don’t like the idea that someone intends to put a stop to their schemes and mean the party no good whatsoever.
Yay! The rebels have been crushed and the royal family has been restored. Well, sort of. The fact is that during the war, the King and Queen plus virtually the entire family met with a sticky end and now the loyalists have only a stripling prince who is not exactly the most prepossessing of royal figures.
Also, before he can be crowned, the regalia of state, which glow in the presence of the true heir and therefore afford a legitimacy to the monarchy must be found. The party are given the task of tracking down the regalia and keeping the prince with them and alive so that his presence will verify that the true regalia have been found. The prince is rather a klutz, with a habit of wandering off, getting into trouble, that sort of thing. In an ideal world, one of his numerous older brothers would have taken the task of Kingship off the young prince’s hands but it’s not an ideal world any more and desperate situations demand desperate measures.
Oh, and there is the little matter of the band of assassins hired by the rebels to ensure that neither heir nor regalia make it to the coronation.
Something sinister prowls the night; people are going missing and turning up days later as mutilated corpses. The High Priest knows that he is has a member of the undead on his hands and wants it dealt with. More worrying than that – the killings are happening around the area of the Royal Palace and he is worried that the royal family may be amongst the targets of the monster.
The terrible truth is that the ravening monster is the Queen Mother, who died (or so it is thought) at the ripe old age of a hundred and something. Sweet, doddering old biddy with a taste for large hats and sherry – well, that was the public persona. Having been around for a long time (and intending to hang around for a lot longer), she knew a lot of people and didn’t see why she shouldn’t call on some of those contacts. On the night before she passed on, a mysterious hooded stranger visited her and turned her into a vampire. She lay dormant in her coffin and was then interred in the family crypt. Since then, she has been feeding her craving for blood on insignificant servants in the palace and, since they have been taking precautions such as talismans and garlic, has moved outside to pick off isolated townsfolk, always returning to the crypt before sun-up. The royal family suspect that Granny is now a blood-sucker but have been trying to hush it up. Now, push has come to shove and they must decide what to do about it. The Queen Mother would be perfectly happy with a supply of homeless indigents and criminals – she doesn’t care where the blood comes from.
So, it’s just the party playing the Scooby Gang who stand between the Royal Family and the greatest cover-up the kingdom has ever seen.
The Kingdom – land of plenty, peace and goodness. The King – a noble man, honest, kind and just.
Except of course years ago when he was striving to unite the warring peoples that now make up the kingdom and needed all the help he could get. Foolishly, he sought aid from a dark and menacing (yet strangely beguiling) stranger, who asked only repayment of the favour at some unspecified time.
That time has now come. The stranger was a demon lord who used his arcane magic to ensure that the King was victorious in his struggle and that prosperity and wealth came to the Kingdom. Now I come to mention it, those gold mines are perhaps a little too conveniently placed near the capital and the weather is just that little bit too perfect for the vast grain fields that power the economy.
The demon lord has a wayward daughter who, he believes, could do to spend time in the world of mortals and so he has brought her to the King and demands that she marry his only son, a callow youth but one whose line shall bear the mark of demonic greatness – if the King can’t think up a way to get out of it.
He is, after all, the only one who knows the deal on which the prosperity of his kingdom is built and the terrible price that the kingdom would pay if the demon lord were to withdraw his favours. Even the Lawful Good high priests don’t know what the king has let himself in for.
And so his majesty has turned to the party, desperate for aid. All the party has to do is work out a way to persuade an all-powerful demon lord to forgo his rightful claim on the king, whilst still preserving the Kingdom’s good fortunes, ensuring no-one finds out and keeping the prince out of the clutches of Miss Horny. Simples!
Of course the demon’s daughter may have her own views on the matter – like marriage, half-demon child, then killing her hapless husband and ruling as Demon Dowager.
Or she might actually find the mortal lifestyle calms her down and teaches her maturity…
Yeah, as if.
The King is dying and his heir is madder than Caligula. The party must find a more suitable heir or, failing that, make one – or fake one. The heir has, by dint of promises of reward and power, managed to suborn large sections of the army and administration.
The party is approached by an elderly and haughty Duchess who has a proposition. In the neighbouring Kingdom, a gang of evil revolutionaries has seized power and is hunting down the Royal Family and all who support them. She wants the party to go in and rescue them. The people groan under the iron fist of the revolutionaries and will be only too pleased to give the party every assistance, food, shelter, money etc. The Duchess will give the party letters and passes to vouch for their credentials. When they get back, she promises big rewards – land, titles, jewels, etc.
Except of course the Duchess is living in a fool’s paradise. The Royal Family and their secret police were hated and despised by all but a handful of their toadies and everyone wants them dead for their years of brutality, corruption and tyranny. The party won’t realise this until they get to the capital (if they realise at all). If they are captured by the revolutionaries, they will be offered freedom in return for bringing back the Duchess for trial (she is one of the worst of the bunch).
Needless to say, the Duchess is a penniless exile, living on the charity of her few friends and fellow nobles.