For this instalment in the Hooks series, I've taken the city encounter chart from the back of the DMG and tried to cook up some hooks for each of the encounters listed there. I've come up a blank on a few (my ideas for those were a bit lame) and so I've filled things out with some random tables of my own invention for making city life that little bit more eventful - for quite a few of these, I'm giving the d12 some Old School love.
Because the list is so big (it kind of grew in the writing) I'm posting four parts over the next few days; here is part one - I hope you get some use out of it.
(PS it should be noted that these hooks do not all refer to the same city. Just to clarify)
Assassin – Two assassins, an apprentice and master have arrived in the city. The apprentice has been chafing at the bit for a while and the master has been getting tired, wanting to retire. Then something happened – now they are at daggers drawn and trying to kill each other. Both are more or less as good as each other, so their schemes are razor-sharp and they both can see how the other thinks.
The party may well wander into the middle of it all or be used as patsies by one or the other.
Assassin 2 – an assassin on a job has had an accident and suffered amnesia as a result. He was taken in by a group of kindly clerics and has now found himself a niche working in a soup kitchen and doing good deeds for charity. However, his former associates are terrified that he’s going to turn them in to the authorities and have despatched men to take care of the problem. So far, the former assassin has run into two of them, and killed them both using skills he’d forgotten he had. He’s just marked it down as thugs trying to rob him but the clerics are perturbed and wonder what it is about their new brother that makes people want to kill him.
Assassin 3 – a gang of snyads has been hired by a vengeful patron to infiltrate and kill his enemy. The little menaces are perfect for worming their way through tiny holes, sneaking about and generally causing a whole heap of trouble. The party has been hired by the target to protect him as he’s heard that there’s an assassin on his trail but he has no idea what’s coming after him.
Bandit – after a bad encounter with law enforcement, a bandit is hiding up in the city until the heat dies down. There is a reward out for him, and members of his old gang suspect that he was complicit in the fight that broke up the band. He is starting to wonder if he has had enough of the bandit life and should turn himself in or flee the city.
Bandit 2 – a gang of rural bandits has kidnapped some travellers from a wagon train and is intending to ransom them. They have sent one of their number into the city to deliver the ransom and conduct the negotiations. Unfortunately for them, the person to whom the ransom has been delivered is a high-level evil priest (no-one knows this; he’s passing himself off as a businessman) and he intends to capture the bandit, turn him into an undead and use him to lead the priest’s minions (who include undead) back to the bandits’ camp.
Beggar – one of the cluster of beggars outside one of the city’s grander temples is in fact the temple’s god in disguise. He has decided to manifest to test the charity of the temple’s clerics and has so far found it wanting. He has taken to making arch comments every time he sees one of the clerics and they are getting a little narked off with this.
Beggar – some different types (1d12)
1. war wounded
2. child beggar
3. blind beggar
4. limbless beggar
5. lazy good for nothing beggar
6. mad beggar who is prone to weird (and occasionally relevant) outbursts
7. unfortunate victim of bad luck
8. beggar who has been cheated and screwed and wants revenge
9. undercover thief
10. undercover assassin
11. undercover city watchman
12. child selling knick knacks for food
Brigand – a rather ineffectual gang of brigands, who have regularly been defeated by the city guard and local forces so often that they are no longer taken seriously and now hire themselves out to frighten people rather than rob them. Recently, however, they have actually managed to capture a rather wimpy young man and his harridan of an aunt and the youth, a keen student of military history, has seized on this opportunity to forge the brigands into an effective fighting force, using the tactics and strategies of history. His hatred of his aunt led to her death at the hands of the brigands and he is now planning to launch an attack on a nearby militia outpost where he will seize more arms and use this victory as a recruiting drive. No-one even suspects that the joke brigands are a joke no longer until it’s too late.
City Guard v City Watch – the boundaries of responsibility have grown up over the decades, as have the rivalries and enmities that exist between the two forces. Each is trying to make the other one look bad, sabotaging investigations, making witnesses disappear. Each has its particular rackets that go on and each is trying to eat into the other’s territory. Because of the way that the city’s judicial system works, guard and watch have responsibility for some very odd aspects of city life – policing of lunatics, dealing with drunks, the maintenance of the city walls, the upkeep of the gates, licensing of taverns and brothels, fire fighting (this is a lucrative source of protection money as businesses and homes have to work out in whose territory they find themselves on a weekly basis and ensure that the appropriate premiums are paid).
City Official (1d12)
1. Debt chaser and collector – chasing up debt orders from the city courts. He could either be pursuing the party for unpaid debts or asking for their help in taking down a particularly big or powerful debtor who is laughing in the face of the city authorities
2. Constable – often commanded the city guard or city watch. What if he has two or more lieutenants who are keen to take on his mantle and something happens to him – might the city guard/watch disintegrate into a bloody civil war inside the city?
3. Steward of a noble household – what about if he’s being blackmailed to allow an assassin inside the house, or perhaps the noble suspects him of fiddling the accounts and wants him investigated to find out where the money’s going?
4. Officers of the Exchequer – perhaps a minor official of the exchequer is asked to undertake a bog-standard audit and uncovers evidence of high-level corruption. He takes it to his boss but the boss is in on it and bingo, assassins are on the official’s tail. The party might need to protect him and get him to testify in safety and see justice done
5. Tax collector
6. Customs inspectors – usually stationed at the city gates to check on suspicious loads, packages and carts covered with hay. The party could get caught in the crossfire between them and their arch-enemies, the smugglers who might try to hide contraband inside something the party is – innocently – escorting back to the city or perhaps have just looted from a dungeon and be taking to sell
7. Jailer – he and his men might be the ones locking up one of the party for some offence or other, or perhaps they might need help to defend the prison against a bunch of heavies intent on remaking Rio Bravo.
8. Judge – they like to think of themselves as incorruptible but they might also be seen as oppressors of the people, enforcing the city’s laws rather than justice. Are they appointed by the city’s rulers or do they form an independent judiciary?
9. Magistrate – making local decisions on minor quarrels and cases would tend to bring them into contact with the party or their friends, especially if the party was involved in some sort of altercation and got arrested
10. Liner - an officer in charge of tracing property boundaries in the city. Depending on which side of the line a property is, its owners might stand to lose a lot of money. People who make those sorts of decisions might become unpopular. They might need protection or help.
11. Summoner - officer of the court who served subpoenas. He might need help serving his summons in the rougher parts of town or finding a witness or some such who has gone missing.
During the Middle Ages, coroners had numerous legal duties that went beyond investigating sudden, violent or suspicious deaths. In some areas, the coroner was responsible for investigating all crimes that carried the death penalty. The coroner had to record details of all deaths he investigated on his rolls. The process was so cumbersome and convoluted that it often resulted in errors. As a result witnesses and other people involved in the investigation were often fined.
This led to cases of people hiding dead bodies to avoid an inquest. Some people would even drag a corpse by night to another village or hundred, so that they would not be burdened with the problem. Even where no guilt lay, to be involved in a death, even a sudden, natural one, caused endless trouble and usually financial loss.
This cries out for adventures!
City Watchman – a member of the watch has a near-death experience during the course of his duties and Comes Back Wrong. Now he can control the undead who worship him as a King. He uses these powers to take down hoods, criminals and gangsters. The city likes the cut in crime that results from this, but the dead criminals become undead themselves and the churches are getting edgy about the new wave of walking dead, who, while they are not fighting crime, are behaving like undead normally do.
City Watch 2
A city watchman has had a tip from a seer that a big shipment of drugs is coming into the city. He has taken this news to his captain who has ordered tougher searches of all convoys and shipments.
The truth of the matter is that a band of pilgrims is bringing the mummified corpse of their cult leader into the city for a ‘religious ceremony’. During the ceremony, the mummy will be broken down and ground up into powder which the cultists will imbibe to partake of a mystical visionary experience. This will fade away after a few hours and they will leave. If they are prevented from going through with the ceremony or if the mummy is interfered with, they will get very angry and violent. Their home country may get to hear about it.
Cleric – a new cleric from an out of town sect has been sent to the city to preach to lost souls but he’s making a right mess of it and can’t fill a pew, let alone a temple. He needs ideas. Perhaps the party might assist?
Cleric 2 – this cleric belongs to a religion that is perceived as perfectly harmless, preaching peace and harmony. 99% of the time, they are. Unfortunately, in order to maintain harmony, their doctrine demands a human sacrifice at the forthcoming festival and the party are just what the doctor ordered. He needs to lure them to his temple and incapacitate them.
Cleric 3 – a down on his luck con-man has decided to make some money by starting up a new religion. He’s pretty good at the patter and has started to attract followers from the indigent and hopeless. Although it’s all a con, he is liking the attention and wants to keep going rather than take the money and run. And the belief and worship of his followers is beginning to form power on the spirit plane, giving him actual but unfocused energy. The city authorities are keeping a watchful eye on the movement, worried about its potential for causing trouble amongst the underclasses.
Cleric 4 – unlike Cleric 1, this guy has charisma and lots of it. He is, however, a preacher pure and simple and regards organised churches as an institutional evil. He will have a strong influence on those who listen to him long enough (including the party) but every time the authorities turn up to try and stop him, he seems to slip away. Is he just a manic street preacher or is there more to him than meets the eye?
Demon – a summoning spell has gone wrong and a demon is now trapped in the body of a gerbil. It’s a mean and evil gerbil but a gerbil nonetheless and the cult are looking for it to release the demon within. Big city, small gerbil – it could be anywhere.
Devil – a delivery of stone statues of angels, gargoyles and such like is expected at the big Lawful Good cathedral in the city. An evil cultist is planning to conduct a ceremony whereby he anoints them with innocent blood and other magical ingredients and causes them to come to life just when the high priest and his friends are having their main ceremony of the year. The statues are devils of some kind who have been ‘petrified’ or placed into some sort of pseudo-petrification stasis for the plan.
A doppelganger has taken the place of a kidnapped girl in order to infiltrate her family and rob it from the inside but whilst there, the doppelganger starts to take to the life and in fact wants to stay there. Meanwhile, one of the family suspects that all is not what it seems and hires the party to track down the real girl who is being held in some sort of tough prison. When they eventually get her out, the doppelganger has the family member killed off or disposed of and then challenges the party to prove that the girl is not a doppelganger herself.
A nobleman returns from war and a few months later, a raggedy man who looks very like him arrives, claiming to be him and alleging that the other one is a doppelganger who had him kidnapped and imprisoned. Which is the real one?
Druid – what’s a druid doing in a city? Well, that’s a long story. The druid is on a quest to uncover and restore a sacred spring that has long been built over and by so doing release the spirit of the waters. Unfortunately, the spring is now deep within the city’s sewers and catacombs and is in fact under a subterranean fastness built by wererats. The druid is a bit of an idealist but not above using the power of fiction to persuade parties to follow him and help him fulfil his quest.
Fighter – a travelling show has come to town and they have a new attraction this year – in a cage, they have a huge and brawny man who, they claim is a champion fighter. Anyone who can take him on and beat him will win a handsome purse.
The fighter is indeed tough – at least three levels higher than whoever decides to challenge him. If any of the party is going to beat him, it’ll have to be by luck and guile.
If anyone does beat him – and it’ll be a fight to the death – there is a surprise coming because the travelling showmen have enchanted the coins in the purse and the night before they leave the city, they will track down the winner and kidnap him. The first he’ll know about it is when he wakes up in the cage on the way to the next city.
A farmer has found out that he is descended from nobility albeit many generations removed. He is determined that his son should aspire to be a gentleman and sends him to the city to a finishing school. For a while, letters arrive home but after some time, they stop and he does not know what has become of his son. He suspects that the boy has now become a gentleman and is ashamed of his family but determines to find out, therefore spends his hard-earned cash on good quality clothes, a haircut and a trip to the city.
When he gets there, he finds that no-one has heard of the finishing school and that there is no sign of his son. He starts to ask questions and make a nuisance of himself and when the party encounter him, he is in the process of being beaten up.
The ‘finishing school’ is of course a con – its operators take the money and either imprison or sell the hapless would-be gentlemen into slavery for profit.
Ghost – on their way from somewhere to somewhere else in the city, the party is jostled by some urchins and a small but significant item is taken from one of their pockets or pouches. The urchins run at full pelt and despite the party’s best efforts, the urchins give them the slip in some warren of alleyways and back streets.
A few days later, the party catches sight of the urchins again, following and taunting them. This time, the party can follow them for longer before they lose track of them. The area is more run-down and derelict, with a level of poverty that makes civilised men shudder. Nevertheless, the urchins still manage to vanish.
This is repeated and this time, the last of the urchins is seen vanishing into a run-down building, a warehouse or townhouse that has definitely seen better days. If the party go in, they can hear the sound of laughter and movement that seems to be leading them down to the cellars. When they get down there, all that can be found is empty cellars.
The fact of the matter is that the urchins are ghosts – formerly street kids, they were causing a nuisance to local businesses and ‘respectable’ folk and so a committee of concerned citizens (aka vigilantes) tracked them down to their hideout and – realising that they would stand no chance in the warren of tunnels under the house – walled up the only exit, leaving the urchins to starve to death. The urchins’ ghosts have prowled the city, trying to lure someone to the site of their deaths so that their bones can be uncovered, huddled together in death, and given the proper funeral rites. However, investigations into the house and what went on there will alarm the original vigilantes who might want to take steps to ensure that their crimes are kept covered up.