Bride of Instant Plot Hook: Items I

More than a year ago we introduced the concept of the Instant Plot Hook – these are little things that you can drop into your game at a moment’s notice. They’re meant to give your players something to do when you’ve run out of material half-way through the night, or when you’re having a bout of non-creativity, but they can often be expanded into longer, more interesting plots. They also have a tend ency to go off in weird and unexpected directions, since they’re designed to be dropped into the game without much planning on your part.

In the last article we talked about interesting items you can drop into your game that can give the player characters (PCs) something a little “special” without unbalancing the game. These are items that aren’t overly powerful or valuable, but have other aspects that make them interesting.

This month we’re going to combine these two concepts. Provided for your amusement and use, instant plot items! Or should that be, instant item hooks? Or maybe… oh, right, not all of these are entirely “instant.” Some of them will need to be worked into the structure of your game world a little. Others you can drop in and then work into your game world. Still others can be used entirely randomly.

Note: we’re using the same categories of item that we came up with in the last issue, mostly so you can easily use this issue as a set of illustrative examples as well as a set of actual, usable items. As an additional note, remember to detail any powers that an item has in the terms of your own game system! If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to look at that last article, Creating Items that Won’t Unbalance Your Game, first.

Plot-relevant items

For obvious reasons this is probably the toughest category to give you good, usable examples for. After all, you want to give the PCs something that’s relevant to your plots, not mine. Hopefully you can use these as illustrative examples, however – things to guide you in coming up with items relevant to your own plots. You might also be able to adapt some of the concepts.

#1. Beloved’s Locket: Perhaps a tragic death sits at the center of your current plot. A prince was killed just before his wedding night by some sort of villain, who happened to take the locket given to the prince by his betrothed (it was a trophy, the killer needed proof that the deed was done, or perhaps the locket just looked valuable). In defeating the villain, the PCs get their hands on the locket.

The locket has a mirror inside of it. Anyone who gazes into the mirror sees the face of their beloved (or, if they have no beloved, they see a blank silvery surface that appears to reflect nothing). They see their beloved in her current circumstances. Although they only see a slight bit of the area around their beloved’s face, this might allow them to figure out if their beloved is in trouble. It might also allow them to see enough of the background to figure out where their beloved is.

The prince’s beloved might be grateful to the PCs for returning the one memento she has of him. Or they could use the locket to help someone else in a later plot who wants to find the love of his life. If one of the PCs has a beloved, he might find the locket directly relevant.

#2. Spectacles of Reason: The current plot involves a long-dead madman. Somewhere along the way the PCs found a pair of gold-rimmed glasses with a slight aura of power to them that used to belong to said madman.

What sort of glasses would a madman want? Ones that helped him to see the “truth” of the world (as he saw it)? Ones that allowed someone else to see what he saw? Might the visions induced by the glasses give the wearer insight into himself, ultimately strengthening his will or resolve if he can withstand the truths shown him? Perhaps the glasses would show the wearer things that are invisible – and hallucinations of things that aren’t really there. How do you tell the difference? What’s real and what isn’t?

Whatever the glasses show, it should be relevant to the form the man’s madness took – not random. It should be helpful to the PCs as well as difficult or warping!

#3. The Healer: Almost any plot involving someone whose life must be saved (or whose life was saved in the past) could yield an item with healing powers. If a life must be saved, then the item could be very narrowly focused (it will only heal wounds caused by cursed blades; it will only heal a certain class of poisons; it will only heal wounds inflicted by a certain race of people) yet extremely useful.

The value would come from what the person whose life needs to be saved is willing to do for the party once they save him – a valuable alliance could be forged; a favor could be owed. If someone’s life was saved by the item in the past, then part of the value would be the reverence in which it is held by those who know of its past. That mystique could rub off on the PCs if they have the item; they could be seen in a more favorable light by the people whose ruler or hero was saved by the item.

Items once owned by a celebrity

#1. Hero’s First Weapon: An old and respected member of society was once a great hero in his days of youth and strength. He is still approached for his counsel and wisdom, although he is too old and frail to take up arms. The PCs find the first weapon the hero used, whether a handgun or a dagger, axe or sword. It is rough, poor quality, and flawed, but lovingly made or cared for.

Carrying or using the weapon might increase a PC’s status in others’ eyes. Some non-player characters (NPCs) might see the weapon as a sign that the PC is the heir to the old hero’s legacy. Or returning the weapon to the old hero might cause him to offer the party something out of sheer sentimentality (his advice? An introduction to someone else who normally wouldn’t give them the time of day?). The item also might carry some small bonuses to damage or to hit, based on an enchantment that the hero had laid upon the weapon.

#2. Betrothal Ring: A twisted and terrible person was once a good man, on his way to becoming a hero, in fact. Something made him go bad, and no one knows what. In the process of fighting him and his forces, the party somehow gets their hands on a simple silver ring. They find out that he gave this ring to the woman he planned to marry, who died mysteriously and violently before they could be married.

The ring and the woman’s tale could lead them to information about the villain that could help them to defeat him. Some old friend of the villain’s could decide to talk to them once shown the ring – it could be a reminder to him that something needs to be done. Or showing the villain himself the ring could distract him just long enough with his memories to allow the PCs to defeat him. Perhaps the woman’s ghost is connected to the ring, and she would be willing to help the PCs if they convinced her that they didn’t actually want to harm the villain.

#3. April Fool’s/Top Hat: A PC gets his hands on an old top hat that once belonged to an excellent stage magician (no one knows exactly what happened to him – he disappeared in a puff of smoke after a show one night). The hat has the wonderful property that as long as someone wears it he cannot be tied up or shackled – any such devices simply fall away from his wrists, ankles, and so on exactly ten minutes after he is bound.

After the first few times he wears it, however, something strange will happen every time the PC removes the hat. Real flowers will tumble out over his head. A rabbit will be sitting on his head. A handful of fireflies will fly out of the hat. Streamers or confetti will shoot out of the hat and over the wearer’s head. Occasionally one of the surprises might even be a little bit dangerous.

All the wearer has to do is keep the hat on his head. Which is easy to do, right? Until a strong wind comes along, or someone takes offense at the fact that the wearer hasn’t respectfully removed his hat! And then there’s the matter of taking it off to sleep…

Historically relevant items

For obvious reasons these will overlap a bit with the last category – celebrity-related items – since historical events are often intimately wrapped up with the people involved with them.

#1. Revolution’s Symbol: Many years ago a revolution occurred (there’s always a revolution). This particular one wasn’t successful. The mastermind of said revolution (now a martyr, of course) had adopted a particular symbol as the sign of his movement. In fact, he’d had that symbol cast in gold and inlaid with some sort of precious stone. Or maybe there are words in an odd, alien-looking script across the back. Maybe he didn’t design the symbol at all – he used it because he found the item somewhere.

This item can have several layers of significance. If there are people around who still wish to revolt, and who still think of this man as a martyr, then the symbol could provide something for people to rally around. If the symbol existed before the revolutionary, then maybe it gradually shapes its wielder into a revolutionary by causing him to see actions of the government in the most negative light possible – a mild twisting of the senses. You could add in a little something nice to balance that out, like an increase in the wielder’s ability to attract followers to his cause (an increase to a Leadership skill or a Charisma-type ability).

#2. Journal: The PCs uncover a hand-written book – the actual accounting of what happened during some mysterious event in history, written by someone who was there at the time. It could give valuable plot clues; it could simply fulfill the players’ curiosity if you’ve built up a great mystery around this event. It could tell the PCs where something valuable is hidden, or how to use some technology that no one understands any more. It might contain hints that could guide the PCs in creating rituals that have been lost for centuries.

These sorts of books make great plot hooks, but try to make the book an interesting item in its own right! If you have way too much spare time on your hands, you might even pick up a nice blank book from a book store and fill it in.

#3. The First Tree: The PCs find that a certain ancient tree in a forest nearby was the first tree ever planted in their part of the world, when the area was colonized or settled some centuries ago. The significance of this depends on the type of world you run. If there are spell-casters who use material components, then perhaps parts of this tree substituted for similar components might have unusual and beneficial effects on spells (they might inflict, reduce, or heal slightly more damage than usual, increase the range of effect or number of people affected, or have even stranger effects).

If herbalism is a skill, then perhaps the leaves, bark, or roots have unusual (but not spectacular) healing abilities, or can be used to magnify the effects of other herbal preparations. Alternatively, the town or colony’s founders might have buried something important in the tree’s roots. Or the tree could house a spirit that watches over the town – perhaps that spirit sleeps now, but it could be woken if the town were ever in great danger.

Personally relevant items

#1. Guardian Angel:A PC inherits her mother’s wedding band. As long as she has it the spirit of her mother will watch over her in little ways. This ghost cannot entirely interact with the real world, but she can move very small objects, and uses this to try to warn her daughter of dangers or help her in other ways. It’s a little like having a weak guardian angel.

#2. Inheritance: A PC is given a weapon handed down in her family through many generations. It has strange powers, but those powers work differently for each wielder, so her parent cannot tell her how it works. Such powers might take the form of visions regarding people she must help, or a berserker battle-frenzy that allows her to stay standing past the normal point of unconsciousness in battle. It should be something related to her own personal hopes, dreams, and abilities.

#3. Token: Upon completing training with a particularly harsh taskmaster of a teacher, a PC is given a token by the teacher. This token could take the form of a ring, a pendant, pin, brooch, torque, circlet, or any other small and mysterious item that is worn on the body. The PC is told only that the item is a symbol of his achievement during his training. However, if a significant amount of the wearer’s own blood is ever spilled on the item (for example, during a fight the wielder is injured and bleeds on the ring he wears), some sort of protective effect springs up around the wielder.

Depending on the system, the wielder becomes more difficult to hit, or the first couple of hit points or health levels of any blow dealt to him doesn’t affect him, or something similar. Define the amount of blood that must be spilled in terms of hit points or health levels (or whatever your system uses) dealt to the PC in one blow. Yes, this does mean that if he ever figures the amount out he can activate the effect by deliberately injuring himself – keep that in mind when deciding how effective it is!

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