Rapscallion is a daring pirate fantasy game filled with swashbuckling and frightening sea magic that takes the players and GM on a wild ride through the World of Law and the vast Great Sea. For some GMs—especially new ones to the game, or those who haven’t had much experience with pirate fiction in general—the prospect of coming up with a hook for the crew’s first adventure can seem daunting. But fear not! Here are five battle-tested hooks to kickstart your piracy adventures with the best foot forward!
Sea of Piracy, Land of Law
As it’s explained in the Rapscallion Quickstart, although you’ll define the world of your adventures in greater detail alongside the rest of the players, from the character creation onwards, the game (and these hooks) assumes three features your setting:
- a place of authority (The Ironclad Fortress)
- a place of lawlessness (Forgewater)
- a place of mystery (The Hole in the World)
I’ll briefly describe each of them, as they’ll be later used in the adventure hooks.
The Ironclad Fortress
This is the capital of the “civilized” world, the most populated place where “normal” people dwell as Law-abiding citizens. It is an oppressive place in the middle of a large landmass, far enough from the sea to be well out of most pirates’ reach. The people here are traditionalists, look down on anybody who doesn’t follow Law to the letter—or even their ridiculously complex rules of behavior—and are willing to go to extreme (and violent) lengths to defend their way of life.
The complete opposite of The Ironclad Fortress, Forgewater is the pirate “capital”, the main port town where most pirates go to have fun, sell their spoils (and acquire other goods), and get tips on new treasures to hunt down. It’s a chaotic, ever-changing place, violent, and not for the faint of heart, the type of place that is always on the brink of collapse. Still, there isn’t any other city or port like Forgewater a pirate could call home.
The Hole in the World
This legendary place is supposedly the origin of sea magic, the end of the known world, and a source of the greatest of all treasures, coming from worlds beyond this one. The only problem? No one that’s gone there has ever returned… Not at least with any otherworldly treasures, reporting they saw the end of reality, or with greater magical powers. Of course, that doesn’t diminish the place’s legendary status nor does it deter true believers still looking for it.
When adapting these hooks to your own world, feel free to change these locales for ones that fit your setting or make any other modifications you deem necessary to make them your own.
Hook #1: Race to the Treasure
Llewellyn “Snake” Barlow (he/him), pirate extraordinaire, found a great treasure which he supposedly brought from beyond The Hole in the World—or at last that’s what he’s been blabbing about in Forgewater. Now the rumors have spread and both pirates and the Law want to get their hands on it—and your crew too! This’ll be a race against time, fellow would-be plunderers, and the leviathans who wish to keep the treasure for themselves.
Pirate Competition: Crews aboard The Disrespectful Princess and The Killers Knave, captained Lady Luke (she/they) and Elder “Golden-Eye” Parrish (he/him), respectively
The Lawful Villains: Servants of the Law aboard The Holy Trident led by captain by Kaiden Ward (they/them)
The Leviathans: Sea-Sorceress Soyaashana (she/her) and her Mer Guard (assorted sea creatures of different sizes and genders)
Try to make this more about what each group will do with the treasure if they get their hands on it—the crew of your friends included! That should serve as a great way to create some tension and drama beyond mere fights, as well as some good roleplaying, I hope!
Hook #2: Escape From The Unbreakable!
You’ve been caught by the infamous pirate hunter Triston Butler (he/him) and are now being transported aboard The Unbreakable—the strongest pirate-hunting ship in all the seas—towards The Ironclad Fortress. You have to find a way out of here before it’s too late because, once you reach the Fortress, you’ll be beyond the help of most pirates—and in the clutches of the Law.
In the case of this hook specifically (but consider this a good policy to have in general), be sure to discuss the setup with the rest of the players at the table and see if they’re interested in starting their pirate adventures with their characters imprisoned and having to escape from the grip of the Law. And if they’re not enthusiastic about this prospect, you can modify the hook in such a way that they’re being hunted by Butler and the crew of The Unbreakable instead, for example.
Hook #3: Risking It All
The Wedding-Guest (they/them), a witch leviathan, knows your deepest and darkest secret—and those of the rest of your fellow crewmates as well! They have told you so and, in exchange for forgetting your secrets forever (without revealing them first), they’ve asked you to go to The Hole in the World to fetch a crucial component of a magical concoction they’re brewing.
In this case, you’ll need to define what The Wedding-Guest wants… But you don’t have to do so on your own as a GM! You can ask the players and see what they come up with and maybe create an answer together. We GMs—especially when we come from non-PbtA games—are accustomed to shouldering all the creative burden on our own, instead of sharing it and enjoying the cooperative creative process that can be had at the table. So I say, have at it!
In the case of the secrets, I also have a radical suggestion: have all players talk about what each of their character’s secret is and let’s make it clear which other crew members knows them in the fiction. Although this may seem counterproductive, in my experience, having the secrets be a known quantity for players creates a dramatic irony at the table that is delicious to spectate—and a very fertile ground for drama.
Hook #4: For a Pirate Queen
Garnet Silverhair (she/her), one of the greatest pirate queens still alive, has been captured and is currently awaiting the noose on The Ironclad Fortress! Losing her would be a huge blow to the pirates’ reputation everywhere but, apart from that, Silverhair is supposed to have a grand treasure hidden somewhere. Saving her would be a win-win, but is the risk worth the prize?
Although this hook presents two strong motivators for the crew, I recommend that you try and tie them even closer to Silverhair. Maybe give them a bond with her at character creation for free, and ask them to explain why they have it (remember that bonds don’t have to be positive connections, so maybe it’s a case of “I’ll be the one to kill her!” or something even weirder).
This hook also gives you the opportunity to display the opposite of pirates and their life in all its horrid opulence and boringness. Make use of it! Show them what destiny awaits them if they ever decide to look for assimilation in the “civilized” lands.
Hook #5: Murder On Forgewater
Clemmie Hades (he/him), pirate chronicler extraordinaire, has been accused of murdering a fellow pirate—the only law all pirates respect and abide by—through The Final Problem, a djinni he wrote years ago. You’ve been charged with investigating the killing and finding the truth. The life of a great pirate chronicler and the stability of the Forgewater pirate community is in your hands!
This hook is one that starts at a port, the hub of all piracy in your world. Although it’s a murder investigation, remember that it’s fantastical and a pirate one. In this case, ask your fellow players how they imagine pirate tribunals. They’re probably nothing like the high pomp “courts of law” the non-pirate people of the world think about when the word “justice” enters the conversation. As such, this is a great way to expand your world through an adventure, and to get to understand the pirates’ life in a better way.
Avast, we’ve reached the end, matey! Five ready-to-be-deployed hooks for your Rapscallion adventures I’ve delivered, and I hope they serve you well. Even in Quickstart form, this is already a great game and, armed with the resources already available and these hooks, you’re sure to have a great time sailing the fantastical seas of a world of pirates, magic, and treasure galore!
Helena Real (She/her)