24 December 2006

Five Random Hooks

A week or so ago I posted a thread over on RPGnet asking for people to give me topics to write about - arising indirectly from the conversation that led me to write my post on what I think of Massive Attack.

Well one of the topics suggested were plot hooks or seeds for a modern RPG session for a GM plus single player. nWoD was mentioned and supernatural or conspiracy angles highlighted; I figured I'd put together a selection of hooks. I'm not too good at pre-prepping entire plot lines, at least as far as doing them for others is concerned since I am more inclined to provide the freedom of multiple resolutions that I would use in a hook. As a result I have compiled five different modern horror plot seeds, all of which have multiple interpretations.

Some are better than others, and some more suitable for certain types of play, but each could provide an interesting jump point for an investigation, a fight for survival, or other avenue of gameplay.

Here they are (I wish I knew how to attach files, if indeed it's possible; the help pages didn't help):

The Market

There’s this market on the east-side of town – only runs once a week, but it has been running for a few years now and has a good following. It takes shape around noon on Sundays so it manages to attract a varied crowd and people from all ages, not that you ever notice half of them. The market caters to all sorts with stalls – fresh foods, clothing, knock-offs and just about anything under the sun, seemingly arranged by some bureaucratic organiser’s own personal whim, much like any other. On the fringes there are some Fair Trade stalls: coffee and clothing mostly, but there’re a couple of stallholders trading in imported knick-knacks and jewellery. It is a prime hangout for some of the regulars; hell, it has spawned its own community, of which you like to consider yourself part, even if only peripherally. Why? Because the coffee stall is damn good (and if you’re real lucky the guys who man it might sell you a little something else under the counter; they only serve friends this way, but you’re sorted since you’ve stopped at their stall so many times over the last couple of years).

Today is Sunday. You wandered by the stall earlier to grab a brew to gulp down on your way to a meeting with friends over that way. On your way back, you decided to stop by the stall again for a snack since they do a selection of good cakes. It’s wintertime and it was just after dark when you returned to find the stall is gone, an empty lot in its place. The staff had not mentioned they were closing, and their custom was going up, not down. Questioning those milling about revealed nothing – no-one knew anything about it; in fact no-one had a clue about the stall at all, even that it had ever been there. It seemed to have vanished from the collective consciousness of the market-goers – even from those you’d seen hanging at the stall as regulars in the last couple of months; what’s more is that there was none of the usual paper and plastic junk – plates, lids, coffee grounds and the like – in any of the bins or scattered over the lot.

The only clue that the stall was ever even there was the paper cup the old tramp with the dog rattled when begging for change. And his dog looked different somehow; scared stiff, perhaps? Maybe the man and his ratty old hound saw something that others did – or could – not.

Maybe the stallholders got busted for dealing, but the cops had no record of the bust. And besides, that wouldn’t explain everyone’s blank memories…

Maybe the stall was dealing more than a little pot under the counter and got the wrong “people” annoyed/interested.

Maybe the stall-holders (or certain customers) are Mages (or otherwise supernatural) and it was all an illusion: the stall was still there but invisible whilst secret deals were carried out inside and those nearby blinded to it. Somehow the PC is immune to the mind blank.

Was there something in the coffee bought earlier?

This is probably my favourite, it's also the first one I wrote; I just love the idea of markets as points of interest in RPGs - the random milling of people of all different creeds and the organic nature of markets themselves lead to all manner of possibilities. OK, so the hook itself is probably more Unknown Armies than nWoD but still... to me it reinforces the PC as different from the average person (they notice it when everyone else is oblivious), whilst playing on the organic nature of markets - stalls come and go and get forgotten on a whim. Just not normally all within the span of an afternoon!

Street Frightener

His route home took him through the local Red Light District; it was late and the last thing he wanted was for his car to fail. Strangely it just cut out, dead, smack bang in the middle of the street. This stretch was not busy though – not a single hooker in sight – perhaps they were all busy or put off by the cold and fog.

No-one else seems to be having this problem as other cars zipped by infrequently. Worse, his phone had no signal – strange, it normally did, as he often made calls as he drove home and this was his usual route. He did not know whether to stay with the vehicle or start looking for a callbox – a quick fiddle with the engine had achieved nothing, for as far as he could tell the car was in working order – it just would not actually work.

The he heard it – guttural sounds from a nearby alleyway and a tearing sound he could not place. Cautiously he approached the alley and peeked around the corner…

The sight involves a dead body being feasted on by something. This could be supernatural (werewolf, vampire, other) or some carnivorous urban mammal – dog, fox etc.

The conspiracy angle could be introduced through the body, or if he presses down the alley to investigate further have the following happen behind him (this would also potentially combine with scaring off a supernatural threat):

He heard a gunning engine from behind him, the scream of a seriously powerful motor. Then the vehicle, black, sleek and official-looking, rushed into view, slamming into the corner of a building at the mouth of the alleyway. The collision left the driver’s door open, hanging limply on its hinges. He could see the driver, sprawled in his seat: he was clearly hurt, but alive. Suddenly a light appeared from the far side of the car – another man, suited and sporting a goatee casually walked up to the stricken automobile, opened the passenger door and executed the helpless driver with a silenced pistol. The man then glanced up and noticed his witness(es).

Have the car crash and the arrival of armed people scare off whatever was tearing flesh from the corpse (if the PC’s appearance didn’t spook it). The executioner fires once or twice into the alley (or otherwise make it clear the PC has been noticed) but then curses and is forced to flee by the sound of approaching sirens.

For a longer game: the PC can investigate what the supernatural critter was, who the killer was (both killer and victim being power players of some kind) or both.

For a shorter game: can the PC get to a truly safe place before one killer or the other tracks him down?

This riffs off a situation I used in Dogtown Life (the crash/kill witness mechanic), but that could be completely by the by as far as handling the situation goes. The crash is an option, nothing more. Probably the best set up for variant styles of game: survival, investigation or shootout are all possibilities. Conspiracy and supernatural elements could both be weaved in, or both left out. I favour the kill being some kind of government minister, civil servant or spook and for the player to find ID, and some sort of faux-incriminatory information on him: enough to kick start a conspiracy investigation, at least.


“A friend of mine, Jimmy, is really sick. I mean really fucking sick, but the crazy thing is the doctors can’t find a damn thing wrong with him.

“But you can see it, right? Dude is wasting away in there – can’t eat, can’t sleep. Only the bloody Coke is keeping him alive, man. We’ve been mates forever now… is there nothing you can do to help me help him?

“There’s gotta be some clue, right? I mean – people don’t fake this shit, and it can’t just happen, right? If it did the docs would surely know something.”

It turns out Jimmy has somehow contracted a disease usually only carried by which is somehow undetectable to the medical profession; he is being kept in hospital, but they haven’t got a clue what ails him.

Turns out a recent date of his was with a who seems to have a lust after humanity. It spreads through fluid contact – including both kissing and sex (or blood-drinking/biting etc). The hospital is filling up and no-one can determine cause, infectious agent or cure.

Or maybe the government are looking for a way to kill vampires by infecting their prey – they identify targeted humans and slip them something; but it turns out the cocktail isn’t only fatal to bloodsuckers.

Coke is a clue – caffeine and sugar in combination protect, but it is not enough to cure.

Can Jimmy and the others be saved? Or is it a question of stopping any others becoming infected by dealing with the origins?

Probably the weakest, but still open-ended enough to put to good use, especially if the PC is a hospital worker of some kind and has even more of a compelling reason to investigate.

The Knockout

You wake up feeling a little groggy and look around – you’re in your own living room. Strange; you don’t remember getting home last night. In fact you barely remember anything of last night.

Your temples are throbbing, and reaching up you feel a bruise over your right eye: did you get into a fight? A quick look at your hands suggests it is a possibility – your knuckles are bruised and dirty and there’re scratches on the back of your hands. Moreover, your shirt is ripped – damn, it was an expensive one, too. You force yourself up and head to the bathroom to wash and try and remember how the evening had gone – you had had a date, but it did not work out and you’d left to… That’s where the memory died. Surely you hadn’t drunk that much? Shaking your head and resolving that it will come back to you in time you wash off your hands then head to the mirror to clean and examine your wound. That’s when you see it – the strange mark on your neck. It looks like a couple of puncture wounds, but there’s also something between them, under your skin (which looks raw, scarred; it shouldn’t be like that!).

Then the phone goes – it’s Dani, the mate you were going to meet after the date crashed and burnt; (s)he’s wondering why you didn’t show last night and if you’re OK. What the fuck happened, then? How did you get home, and where did that mark on your neck come from?

Conspiracies abound! The government are installing chips under the skin of a few people, why?

Or perhaps a vampire’s tooth snapped when they were surprised whilst feeding?

Immediate avenues of investigation include:

Þ Returning to the location of the date – anyone see anything?

Þ Questioning Dani on where you were supposed to meet and when, and walking between the two – where was the “attack”?

Þ Digging the “object” out by himself – what is it?

Þ Getting the wounds – puncture and bruise – checked out in hospital: what do the professionals make of it?

Either way, play on a feeling of paranoia and being watched as life goes on.

One night, late, he sees a scuffle – same thing is happening to someone else.

Þ Men bundling a guy into the back of a truck – government kidnap & chip scheme would explain getting home?

Þ A “kissing” couple who are doing anything but – after effects of the “bite” killing memory.

There's just something appealing to me, game-wise, about the idea about waking up in one's own house with no idea of how you got home and trying to piece together what the hell happened. It plays on an experience that many people have experienced to some degree by virtue of alcohol (or other such substances). Not everyone's cup of tea though, and the suggestions above might be a bit strong or unsupported for some.

Spirit Breath

The bar was rocking. This place didn’t serve beer but their selection of spirits was second to none, and the rowdy crew that passed as patrons had all been deeply imbibing that night. The music was the key though – just upbeat enough to keep people rocking but tempered enough to not send them over the edge.

He was sure that there were pills going around; one or two looked far too out there for drink alone but he’d not pegged the dealer(s) yet. Besides, it was a night off so it didn’t matter either way, and the whiskies slipped down one after another soon meaning he could do nothing about it either way.

As it tends to on these occasions, sooner or later nature called. It was there it wend all weird. There were only a couple of stalls in the loos, and one of the cubicles was taken, locked. The other was open and visible in the mirror as he entered; all he could hear was a hushed argument from the closed stall. Figuring it was a drug deal going bad he hung back from the stall a moment, eying proceedings in the washing mirror. As it did he noticed that the taps were running and the mirror was fogging up from the vapour. Strange – the taps hadn’t been on before had they? Certainly he hadn’t heard them. As he watched his view become more and more obscured by the condensation, but something was happening behind the screen of steam. He could just make it out as a figure “appeared” in the formerly empty stall, seeming to coalesce from the vapour in the air. A second later and the steam and fog on the mirror got to thick to see through – washroom taps aren’t that hot, are they? – and barely a moment after his sight of the stall was taken, he heard a crash: the sound of breaking glass.

Was it real or just an artefact of the whisky on his breath?

Who, or what, was the figure? Was it real? And who turned on the taps?

The crash was the window breaking; the figure is nowhere to be seen but the window is a second story one. Broken glass can be seen on the street below.

The “closed” stall contained just one person; investigating finds him either dead and pale, or collapsed over the toilet in a drug and alcohol-induced stupor. He is ice cold to the touch. Perhaps someone else then finds Him standing over the dead/passed out guy.

“He” (in the paragraphs above) can refer to the PC or a friend of the PC’s with whom he is on a night out.

This was the last one I wrote, the fifth and my second-favourite after The Market. I had a glass of whiskey in my hand last night whilst just wasting time online when the idea came to me. Definitely more supernatural than conspiracy but the exact nature of the events is left entirely up to the reader, and the status of the guy in the closed stall is based on the GM's whim and what might make a better game for him. I would probably lead with alive but off his face, and have the club's bouncers be very interested in "his" version of events, but that's just me - and my penchant for starting games with PCs in a bad place!

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