DM How To: Creating Adventure Hooks

So you know how to DM. And you know how to build an adventure. And you know how to build an encounter.

The next question, then, is this: how do you get those @#&$+%! players to jump into your awesome adventure filled with equally awesome encounters?

You give ’em a hook, a PLOT HOOK!!

So let’s go fishing.

There are basically only a few kinds of plot hooks: agnostic/general, background-based, story-based, and Deus Ex Machina.

AGNOSTIC/GENERAL

These plot hooks are the ones you may be most familiar with. These are the plot hooks that involve helping a random stranger, for riches and glory, etc… These ones only work if your players are the kind to do things for riches and glory, or out of the kindness of their hearts with no true promise of reward. Examples of this one would be a mysterious stranger approaching the party about an ancient legend of a dungeon guarding an ancient treasure, or the party coming across a strange house in the middle of nowhere. The possibilities here are endless, but many of them have been overdone and not too many players are willing to bite on these poorly baited plot hooks.

BACKGROUND BASED

These plot hugs require quite a bit more work on both your and the player’s parts. The player, out of necessity, should have a background on how and why they became adventurers and what they were doing beforehand. I’m not just talking about that character trait on their character sheet that gives them a proficiency and languages and maybe some gold. I’m talking at least a paragraph of backstory on why that character is the way they are. Using this, you can craft plot hooks that reel in a single player, who can turn to his party and ask for help. Some examples of this are the family farm is going to be overrun by orcs, or the players uncle is leaving the player a keep on his deathbed, or bandits have captured a character’s mentor. With a decent background, there are lots of possibilities here.

DEUS EX MACHINA

This sort of plot hook should be avoided, unless absolutely necessary. These kind of plot hooks involve someone or something of great power pushing the characters into action. An example of this would be a commandment to a divine caster from their deity, or a powerful NPC threatening the characters with total destruction unless they undertake the quest. These sort of plot hooks make players feel as if their characters are being railroaded.

STORY-BASED

These are easily some of the best plot hooks you can find. These are the sort of plot hooks you find in continuing campaigns. The plot hook from Adventure to Adventure revolves around something left undone or some new information that the characters get from a previous adventure. In this way, the characters are prodded on by their own willingness to be part of the story. Examples of this can be found in so many places and in so many pre-published adventures that they are too numerous to list. Practically, one technique that I use is keeping a sort of “quest log” for the party. I list out all unresolved story points that the players haven’t addressed, that I can later exploit for writing an adventure. A recent example, if you’re reading this blog, is the fact that the party is looking for a magic item salesman / wizard named Connor. Why are they looking for Connor? Because Connor has something the party needs that they previously sold to him by mistake. Therefore, the party is willing to undergo a number of tasks in order to get the information and ability to travel to Connor’s location. The party spent the better part of a month and a half simply trying to find where Connor was and gaining the ability to travel to his location. This doesn’t even include the adventures had along the way while they were traveling. an example of this would be the trip from Waterdeep to Memnon, the trip from Memnon to Calimport, the events that occurred there, and their trip back to Waterdeep. These were all story-based adventure hooks. With the party have willingly escorted the princess to Calimport from Memnon? Maybe, maybe not. but the fact that the party needed to get to Calimport anyways made their willingness to accept the plot hook all the easier. Many agnostic / general plot hooks can be made into story plot hooks.

So there you have it. Now you know how to get your players invested into your adventures.

Next week we’re going to talk about campaign building. If there are any other topics you would like me to cover, comment below.

Until tomorrow dear readers.

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