Help me with a RPG plot hook?

I’ve posted this question on a more appropriate message board, but I’ll probably get more responses here.

I need to get a girl from here to there. The actual adventure will be something that happens along the way, but there has to be a plausible reason to get her out the door.

The places:

Harn – An island similar to England, but about as big as Texas. Technologically about like England of the 11th century.

Kaldor – A large powerful kingdom in the East of Harn.

Melderyn – A more powerful kingdom South of Kaldor.

Chybisa – A tiny, inconsequential kingdom in between Kaldor and Melderyn. The three kingdoms do not abut, there is a lot of dangerous wilderness in between. Both larger kingdoms have claims on Chybisa’s sovereignty. Either one could make a move on that front, but not without pissing off the other. The nervous king of the tiny kingdom is trying to play both ends against the middle. His throne is at stake.

Kanday is a large kingdom waaaaaaaaaay over in the west.

Sarkum is an Earldom waaaaaaaay down in the southwest of Kanday. The earl’s eldest son is king. (His late wife was queen). His daughter, the princess, was recently wed to the crown prince of Melderyn, thus strengthening an alliance.

More details on request.

What I need is a reason for a lowly lady knight from Cybisa to go see the Earl of Sarkum. It’s an extemely long and potentially dangerous journey. Distance-wise, it’s like going from Huntsville, TX to Presidio, TX. On horseback. In Winter. One doesn’t make that trip merely to borrow a cup of sugar.


Possibly to act as a courier. Or part of a pilgrimage to a holy site.

There are no holy sites there, though the adventure will have her stranded at a pretty important abbey along the way. In fact, the earl’s niece is the abbess there and her brother is bishop.

As a courier? I was thinking that. Maybe something about the king of Chybisa wanting to make overtures of an alliance. Why to the earl? He’s far smarter than his son the king. But that’s a pretty long-distance alliance. And what would Kanday get out of it?

If she’s lowly (and pragmatic) enough, she could accept work as a guard for a merchant’s wagon train. Good way to introduce other PCs or NPCs into the equation as well.

Excellent! Two things wrong with it, though. She holds a manor, so that’s her day job. And the caravan only goes about 2/3 of the way to Sarkum.

Courier or escort duty seem the most obvious options. Both can follow basically the same storyline:

Kaldor is making a power-play, and the king of Chybisa wants the Melderyn royals to know about it, so they can possibly counter it. He can’t send a message directly, because it would tip his hand; instead, he’s trying to work a family connection. He sends a messenger (either the knight or someone she’s escorting) to Sarkum. The Earl, looking out for his family’s interests, will pass the word to his daughter and/or son-in-law. With the information in hand, Melderyn can act to counter Kaldor’s play without any overt involvement on Chybisa’s part.

Do not knights need to go on quests?
Are not knights obligated to fulfill pledges or promises made by themselves or by family members?
Are not knights obligated to swear fealty to their lieges?

[bad DM]

Clearly you need to have her kidnapped by people far too crafty for her to elude and far too strong for her to overcome. Ideally, this could be accomplished without anyone rolling a single die; just tell her what happens. THese kidnappers should haul her off in the direction of Sarkum. They don’t need to give any reason. Then, at the next important plot location, have the kidnappers either die off from some exotic disease or have them driven off by some god, who then goes back to his home plane of existence, leaving the lady knight right where you want her.

[/bad DM]


The problem with a pilgrimage or caravan guard duty, is that they require the player to initiate the action. You’re better off with the courier or escort idea; it’s the kind of mission a king would call upon a low-level knight to perform as part of their duty. Tell your knight the king wants her to deliver this letter to the Earl of McGuffin and see if she gets the reference.

Indeed! :wink:

Balance, you’re thinking like a Harniac. Good show!

If the king of Kaldor dies (and he’s got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel), there is no named successor, but about 15 candidates. One of those is an ambitious baron, who has always lusted after Chybisa. And he has his own army already.


If it’s to be a courier job, either the king or prince will tell her personally. This also gives me a chance to get her into Harn’s most impressive castle.

Dispense with all RPG cliche’s and go with something juicy.

The Princess of Sarkum was recently married to the Crown Prince of Melderyn in order to cement the alliance between the two kingdoms. Melderyn is considering military action against Chybisa, but needs resource support from Sarkum in order to offset the threat from Kaldor. The king of Chybisa knows this and knows something else. The Crown Prince and his new bride are honeymooning in Sarkum for the Winter, but when the king of Chybisa attended the wedding in Melderyn, the crown prince raped our protagonist (who was serving a minor role in the king’s guard) right before the ceremony.

She is now pregnant with the Crown Prince’s bastard son and must travel to Sarkum to have the father of the bride dissolve the union, thus preventing war. Also, mama wants her revenge! The Abbey thing should work pretty well with this, too.

A pregnant woman traveling hundreds of miles in the snow on horseback to save her kingdom and exact revenge on the man who raped her? Now, that’s a hook you can seek your teeth into

Sounds like “The Androids of Tara”.

The crown princess is a bastard.

The lowly lady knight is, in fact the daughter of the former king, and would rightfully hold the throne by the laws of the land were it not for the machinations of the . . . continue as needed.

So, all you need is the queen’s former lady in waiting, now exiled from there, and hiding out here, to spill the beans to the Lowly Lady Knight.


In that case, could it be that Chybisan agents in Kaldor have discovered a plot by Baron Ambitiousguy to kill or discredit certain other candidates, and possibly even to give that banana peel a bit of a tug? If so, it might well be in the best interests of Melderyn to protect some or all of the Baron’s targets. Of course, meddling directly could have unfortunate repercussions. Perhaps a deniable third party could be employed…

(Random thought: My brain insists on pronouncing “Chybisan” as “Chibi-san” and picturing the agents as cutesy, big-headed ninja. I watch too much anime.)

On preview: Monkey, inserting that into the backstory might be problematic if the knight is a PC (as I assume). Not that it’s not a good plot hook, but it would be extremely jarring and require all sorts of odd justifications to insert it into the story after the fact. If this is the beginning of a campaign, and if the player is willing to insert it into the character’s backstory, it could work. In that case, I’d make it the key to a major story arc in the campaign.

The Earl of Sarkum is holding her brother/father/son/ etc. for ransom. Maybe she can’t afford the ransom, or can only afford part of the ransom, and is going in person to negotiate some other terms for her relatives release.


Hmm. I guess I thought that tdn was looking for a backstory, and I was intending my idea to be the backstory itself. “To get her out the door”, so to speak. Without knowing what kind of RPG he’s designing (video, D&D, or what) , and where he’s at story wise, I really can’t say if it would work. I think it would work great if it was explained in the very beginning as the entire basis for the game because you just don’t see something like that in most RPG’s. It’s so damn gritty, and not the typical save-the-kidnapped-princess kind of thing. But you’re right, if it was inserted after the story had begun, it would be way too jarring.

tdn, can we get some more information regarding this game? What kind is it, and do you have any story yet, or just people and places?


First, though, the timelines of your idea don’t really match up with the canon material. The royal wedding was three years ago, for one thing. And while I’m all about the gritty, that might be going a little far.

It’s a standard RPG, although I think a bit superior to others (hence why I play it). The feel is a good bit different than others. Less magic, more grit, fewer dragons, lots more political intrigue.

The main PC was rolled up years ago, in what was a 3-player game. One member moved away, and one died, so we just sort of dropped the game. The last player is moving away, so this is our last hurrah. We’ve been playing various RPGs for almost 20 years.

The plot of that game was that she grew up in a manor, the daughter of a knight. She never liked the idea of becoming a lady, so she trained as a knight. She was lucky enough to get a spot in Kaldor’s royal joust, and bested an earl from Kanday. (Not the same one!) This so impressed the king of Chybisa that he granted her a fief, 1200 acres. The idea of that game was for her to manage building a manor and aquiring serfs and generally managing things. All the while she had to protect her land from a ghost, a swarm of gargun (orcs), and a weird tribal cult living near her in the forest. When last we saw our heroine, she was about 200 pounds in debt and nary a floorboard had been constructed, and only 200 acres had been planted.

(The other two players played a serf and the knight’s cousin, a fire mage.)

This adventure will have to take place either 6 or 18 months down the road, just after the Autumn harvest.

Perhaps her quest can involve some debt relief.

I should give some background on the Treasure War, which was about 50 years prior.

The Sword of Calsten, a priceless artifact, went missing Kaldor’s treasury. Then-king Torastra got a clue that it was taken by an agent of Chybisa. He declared war, and besieged Burzyn Castle for three years. Just before he took it, then-king Balasir and a small cohort managed to escape, and fled to Melderyn. Chybisa became an earldom of Kaldor.

For 12 years Balasir plotted to get his kingdom back. He asked Melderyn king Chunel to help him raise an army. Chunel agreed, but only on the condition that Chybisa become an earldom of the southern kingdom.

Torastra’s armies retook Burzyn. When asked to pay his debt to Chunel, Torastra basically gave him the finger. Chunel is purported to have just laughed. Kaldor has not forgotten, and swears to take Chybisa again.

Torastra never did find the sword.

Melderyn is also rumored to be home to a great many wizards. It has never fought a war of aggression, and has never been successfully invaded.

I agree that it works as backstory (although Marion Zimmer Bradley was complaining about the rape-and-revenge theme being clichéd in women’s fantasy at least as far back as the mid-80s). I was operating on the assumption that this was a plot hook for an established character.

You have to be careful when establishing an element from one character’s backstory as a driving force in a campaign. While you can make it the basis of a major arc, it’s a bad idea to make it the focus of the whole campaign. It’s too easy to let the campaign devolve into “Lady Whosis and Her Amazing Friends”, which tends to breed resentment in the other players. At the very least, you should make sure it’s acceptable to the other players before you start, and include substantial story material for their characters as well.

On preview: Well, if it’s solo, then all the above campaign management warnings can be disregarded. <Litella>Never mind.</Litella>


One thing I don’t want to do, of course, is overshadow the main plot, which takes place at the abbey. Every day there will be a murder there, and it is up to our beautiful young knight to solve it. Once she does (thus preventing a war in the West), the adventure is over.