How To Create Powerful Plot Hooks – Part II

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0032

Tips 1-5 can be found here:
How To Create Powerful Plot Hooks – Part I

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Plan the Hook’s Basics & Leave the Details Open

Players enjoy feeling they are in control of the story and their character’s actions. If you need to have the PCs do something specific or go to a certain place in order to trigger a hook then you’re setting yourself up for some heavy stress. Because, if the players do not do what you need them to do then you only have three choices:

  1. Force the PCs to do what you want
  2. Scrap your plans
  3. Adapt your plans

Option c) is the best and by creating just the basics of your hook you will be able to adapt much easier.

For example:

  • the party takes a wrong turn and witnesses a duel-to-the- death between two lords
  • a PC’s relative contacts her about a sickness in the family
  • A PC finds an old map, encoded for secrecy

I would actually prepare a few more details about each hook beforehand, such as who the lords are, the nature of the sickness, the contents and code of the map, etc. But for our example here today you can see how each hook can happen at any time in almost any place.

With this technique, your job of integrating them into your campaign is so much easier now.

Use Hooks For More Than Just Plots

Hooks are a great tool to direct the course of play. Because they attract attention, create interest and generate action you can use them in a number of different ways:

  • introduce a world, or a special part of it
  • introduce a campaign
  • introduce a story
  • introduce an encounter
  • begin a game session and focus the players’ attention

In other words, use a rousing hook to launch any aspect of your gaming and start things off on the right foot.

Mix-up Events That Happen to the PCs vs. Events That Happen Around Them

There are two kinds of plot hook events:

  1. Active: events that happen directly to the PCs
  2. Passive: events that happen in the background and draw the PCs in

Players always enjoy games where things are happening around them and they have the responsibility of creating or choosing their own adventures.

They also enjoy having exciting things suddenly happen to their characters and being swept up into a great adventure.

So, use both active and passive hooks in your games at different times. This technique will add a sense of realism and depth to your world. It will also help your players enjoy your game even more.

Active plot hook examples (events that happen to the PCs):

  • character catches a thief’s hand in his pocket
  • party is attacked
  • party’s inn is lit on fire
  • character’s master gives PCs a quest
  • PC has inherited an item that has special significance

Passive plot hook examples (events that happen around the PCs):

  • a riot
  • excited rumours of a gold rush in the south
  • a public trial
  • a festival
  • the party sees a group of adventurers heading out of town

Recycle Existing Campaign Elements

It’s tough constantly creating new people, places and things. Keeping track of it all is also challenging. So, instead of creating new game elements for your hooks, try using existing ones. This also has the marvelous side-effect of adding great depth to your game and world over time.Examples of existing campaign elements you can recycle:

  • Family members & friends (i.e. they pass on rumours, get kidnapped, are robbed)
  • Places the PCs have already visited (i.e. their favorite inn becomes a victim of arson)
  • Places the PCs have heard about (and the more hooks you add to a place the more likely the PCs will choose to eventually go there)
  • Monsters and monster types already encountered (i.e. rumours of a mutated ogre, revenge of the orcs)
  • Items the PCs have (i.e. a torch–from when the character was created and will probably never ever be erased from his character sheet 🙂 –is discovered to be hollow and contains…)
  • Items the PCs have encountered (i.e. that boring old magic dagger they sold last week was just found buried in the police chief’s chest)

Turn Existing Needs of the PCs Into Story Hooks

It’s much easier to help your players choose the path you would like by combining something they currently need with a plot hook.

Examples of PC needs:

  • healing
  • information from an expert
  • revenge
  • a present for a fellow party member’s upcoming birthday
  • equipment
  • a new skill
  • family
  • job/income

Perhaps the doctor the PCs seek has mysteriously disappeared. Or the sage will trade her information for a service from the PCs. Or, the arms master will only accept new students who have passed “the test”. Or, the father-in- law will agree to co-sign the loan for the party to buy new equipment but suddenly a rock comes crashing through the window with a strange note attached to it…

If you can work mundane events into interesting plots hooks that lead the PCs into your plans, the flow of play will seem more natural and your game world will feel more realistic.

Reader Tip of the Week: Plot Hook Tips

From Casey Varner Dare

A good “plot hook” does two things: 1) grabs the PC’s attention, and 2) allows the PC to use his/her character’s abilities and his own ideas to solve a problem.

The use of plot hooks depends on my familiarity with the gaming group. If we’ve gamed together, I use something in a past adventure to hook them, and it works every time.

The other method I’ll mention (I can’t give away all my tricks!) is this: I always “interview” players before the game starts, to get a feel for what the player wants to do with the character. Then, after getting with all the players I take a few minutes to go over game notes, adventure plots, and the player’s “desires” for character development.

Then I devise personalized “secret” past experiences for each character, and also secret goals or journeys for each. There is no greater “plot hook” than a secret, special interest for a character, and when an adventure offers a chance for all the characters to realize their own secret goal, it NEVER fails that all characters jump on that chance. Then, after a few games they realize that all their secret goals are mutually exclusive, the result is interesting and always a great gaming night that the players (and GM) can sit back and enjoy. 😉