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Hooks from Books: RPG Ideas from The Lies of Locke Lamora

There is a wealth of media out there waiting to be mined for roleplaying game (RPG) hooks, both for short term adventures and long term campaigns. With so much already out there and more coming every day, it can be easy to miss some of the best ideas.

For the GM who spends more time planning and running games than consuming media for hooks and ideas, Nerds on Earth is here to help – bringing attention to books and stories you can pull into your games.

The Book

With this inaugural post, let’s look at a favorite book around the NoE offices, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, the first in the Gentlemen Bastards series. Lies tells the story of Locke Lamora and his crew of highly skilled rogues as they help themselves to the riches in the city of Camorr through guile and intricate planning. Of course, no plan goes off without a hitch and soon Lamora and company are forced to improvise to keep their plan intact and their heads on their shoulders. Also intact.

Without spoiling any particulars of the plot, one of the characters spends time training to be a warrior in a school that contains a razor-sharp maze of flowers–The Garden Without Fragrance–made of glass where even the lightest touch results in a vicious wound. 

Too many cuts mean that you’ll be fertilizer for the glass garden!

In the book, it’s meant to teach nascent swordsmen how to move and be aware of their surroundings. The underlying theory contains two parts:

  • It’s better to learn the hard way in a training environment than the pointy end of an opponent’s blade because you coasted through training. Although, who would be sad about fewer nobles in the world?
  • If you do wind up being sliced to ribbons and feeding the garden, you won’t pass your incompetence on to future generations.

The Hook

Removed from the novel, this garden would be at home in a horror game like Monster of the Week or Dread. A killer who has seen one too many Saw movies creates a glass garden on the fringes of the city eager for it to become filled with the blood of victims. Of course, even if it does, it won’t stay that pretty shade of red forever.

The session begins as a normal day with subtle hints that something is amiss, like news reports on the uptick in missing persons or alerts across their social media. Those reported missing don’t appear to have any sort of commonality between them other than all going missing from roughly the same geographic area. It becomes enough of an issue that a curfew is announced and police presence is increased in the area.

Eventually someone close, or at least known, to one or more of the players goes missing and they uncover enough clues to bring them to the site of the glass garden and the ex-sanguinated bodies caught in its thorns.

Now the players have to find if there are victims still alive and where they are being held before experiencing their lethal tiptoe through the tulips, Can they can stop the killer before the garden is fully reddened?

This hook works well in games where the players are agents of clandestine departments waging covert wars on the evils that go chomp in the night. This includes the forth-coming (I hope it still is, at any rate) Satanic Panic RPG, Night’s Black Agents or The Orpheus Protocol.

GMs in these systems can run the story outlined above subbing out a single killer for cultists or agents of the Big Bad. Instead of being residents of the town directly affected by the disappearances, the players are directed to investigate the town by their superiors. 

They’ll have the advantage of knowing that something is definitely going on but they’re also at a disadvantage being strangers unfamiliar with (and to) the town. Is this an isolated incident or a small part of a larger plan?

Even if you’re not running a horror themed game, The Garden Without Fragrance can find a home in your adventure. The garden could be an obstacle or trap for the party to navigate to reach an important item or bit of information. 

For a more lethal encounter, the party could stumble into a combat in an area containing the garden. Populated with the incorporeal, undead, or other enemies resistant to bleeding, they would need to navigate the garden and defeat their foes without winding up sliced to ribbons.

Some zombie gnomes will do.

There is a wealth of adventure hooks, encounters, and challenges for your players to be found in all manner of pop culture sources and your friends at Nerds On Earth will be here to bring attention to those you may have missed or might not have noticed. Stay tuned for further installments and keep clear of suspiciously red gardens.