How To Create Powerful RPG Plot Hooks, Part I

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #31

Hook PCs By Grabbing Their Attention

Effective RPG plot hooks grab the characters’ attention right away. They get players to stop what they’re currently doing and pay attention. If you try to make your plot hooks too subtle your players might not notice. Then your hook may need a hook of its own!

So, go ahead and point your hook right out to the characters. Be direct. Get things moving.For example:

  • “You see a man across the street staring straight at you.”
  • “A messenger shoves an envelope in your hand, nods at you and runs off to his next delivery. You look down to find that the envelope has someone else’s name on it!”
  • “You are going to work when suddenly a car rams into the bus you’re on. The car’s driver crawls through the shattered windshield and flees.”

Clearly Tell What’s In It For The Characters

Your hook also needs to offer something that will compel the characters to pursue it.

What is most interesting to PCs? Why, themselves, of course!

So, the best hooks reveal a potential solution to a problem the PCs have, or they relate personally to the PCs in some way.

Good hooks can also present mysteries that will catch the PCs’ curiosity and imaginations.

For example:

  • “You see a man across the street staring straight at you. You’ve never seen him before but he wears a lily on his coat–the same type of lily found near the victim last night.”
  • “A messenger shoves an envelope in your hand, nods at you and runs off to his next delivery. You look down to find that the envelope has someone else’s name on it! You notice that the envelope also bears the seal of your long-time enemy”
  • “You are going to work when suddenly a car rams into the bus you’re on. The car’s driver crawls through the shattered windshield and flees. You notice though, that the driver’s ear seems to have been ripped off and you see green blood running down the side of his face.”

Add A Call To Action

If the PCs do not immediately take action you may need to give them a little push. You can do this by making them react if they hesitate, or by providing a strong hint or suggestion.

For example:

  • “You see a man across the street staring straight at you. You’ve never seen him before but he wears a lily on his coat–the same type of lily found near the victim last night…after a few moments of glaring he starts walking purposefully towards you. But he doesn’t notice the van driving straight at him!”
  • “A messenger shoves an envelope in your hand, nods at you and runs off to his next delivery. You look down to find that the envelope has someone else’s name on it! You notice that the envelope also bears the seal of your long-time enemy…It looks like the seal was poorly done though. You could possibly open the envelope and re-seal it without anyone noticing”
  • “You are going to work when suddenly a car rams into the bus you’re on. The car’s driver crawls through the shattered windshield and flees. You notice though, that the driver’s ear seems to have been ripped off and you see green blood running down the side of his face…’Stop him!’ someone yells.”

Use Different Types Of Hooks To Prevent Your Stories From Becoming Stale

Here’s what I mean: “You are at an inn. An old man with a gray beard and pointy hat approaches your table and asks if you want to get rich quick.”This is a great plot hook, one of my favorites in fact, but it gets boring when every adventure starts out that way. So, change your plot hooks every time to keep your sessions from becoming predictable. Feel free to re-use hooks that worked really well, but allow some space between the times that you do.

Give The Characters A Choice Whenever Possible

Players do not like to be forced into things. Plot hooks that give characters no choices should be used very rarely.

For example:

“A dozen guards confront you. A fat merchant stands beside the guard leader. The merchant points his meaty finger at you and declares ‘That’s the man who stole my life’s savings. I want him arrested now!’ You are surrounded and fleeing will likely get you killed. What do you do?”Versus:

“You spot a guard patrol marching in your direction. A sweaty, fat merchant is wringing his hands and scanning the market crowd intensely. You are also astounded to see a man who could pass for your twin brother darting between two stalls nearby and into a shadowed alley. The merchant spots you, his eyes grow wide and he starts to point…”Here’s a hook I found the other day (sorry, the source escapes me):

“After going to bed one night in the hotel of a sleepy rural town, one of the investigators wakes up to find himself lying inside a padded coffin with air running out!”That one might just be odd enough that the player will forgive you for giving him no choices! 😉

Need more plot hook tips? Read tips #6-11 here: RPT#32 – How To Create Powerful Plot Hooks, Part II

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