Treasure First: A Quick Hack For Creating Adventure Hooks

Treasure First: A Quick Hack For Creating Adventure Hooks

When players fail to trigger an encounter or adventure, our prep becomes moot and the game goes sideways. But how do you craft hooks so appealing that players bite on them harder than an orc at an all-you-can-eat troll BBQ?

Earlier this week, I gave a tip about dropping treasure onto your map first to act as a kind of Plot Compass. Stack a dungeon or adventure on top of each treasure to protect it, and you’ve got instant Player Magnets and irresistable hooks.

Then I received this question from Wizard of Adventure Arvindh:

How can I apply this to a standard campaign? As in…a non-sandbox campaign?

Great question! Thanks Arvindh.

Let’s assume you’re using a designed adventure, either published or homebrewed.

Adventures are basically plans. What happens if the players do this or that? Sandboxes are similar, but adventures add another layer of complexity of making you try to keep the plan on track.

We can use the plan to our advantage, though. (Note that the following steps can also be taken to repair broken or under-performing adventures.)

  1. Inventory Treasure
  2. Polish Your Treasure
  3. Pin Treasure to Map
  4. Pile On the Threats

Let’s quickly go over each step….

Step 1. Inventory Treasure

Comb through your adventure, going backwards from the last encounter (because the best treasure usually lies waiting at the end, sigh).

Make a quick list of all notable treasure. Include magic items, loot piles, and non-monetary rewards.

Step 2. Polish Your Treasure

Take a few moments to enhance the treasures to make them even more appealing as Player Magnets.

For example, start by swapping out generic rewards for ones specific and relevant to the characters and player interests.

Do the same swap again, but from your GMing perspective of plot enhancements and treasure-as-clues.

And if you can spare the time, make each magic item as unique as possible — even the minor ones. That isn’t a dagger +1. It’s Whisper’s Sting, a slender +1 dagger with a blade that shimmers like a moonlit river. Once per day, the wielder can use the dagger to cast silence in a small radius for up to 5 minutes. The dagger once belonged to the infamous halfling rogue, Lirra Quickfoot, who is known for her ability to infiltrate the most guarded places without a sound.

Step 3. Pin Treasure to Map

If using a published adventure, especially some of the modern ones, the emphasis is on the storyline as opposed to treasure for Player Magnets. So you need to look at where your best treasure sits in the adventure (or add some) and spread the news.

For example, an NPC might rush up to the party pleading for help avenging a death. And along the way to solving the murder, the PCs are supposed to stumble onto a dagger +1.

So you might start spreading the backstory and rumours of Whisper’s Sting now to catch players’ interest. And as the party discovers more about the magic weapon, the clues happen to send them to an adventure location also important to the storyline. Double rainbow.

Step 4: Pile On the Threats

Parties of characters can multi-task. Terry stresses over solving the murder, while Sandy makes a claim for the dagger, dreaming of how awesome it will be to stealth around better.

This lets us surface the existence of treasures often buried inside plans, adventures, and storylines without fear of derailing our schemes. In so doing, we can use treasure Player Magnets as backups in a Three Clue Rule way to make adventure plans more robust.

Put another way, create and keep extra details of treasures in your back pocket, ready to pull out should players wander off-track.

In addition, some adventures will add treasure just to meet some kind of XP budget, and they don’t necessarily make the best use of the treasure or guard it well. The rationale is often that “the storyline deserves the loot.”

So for all the good treasure, ensure threats properly protect it. Or better yet, have foes use the treasure as much as possible. Take Whisper’s Sting off that skeleton in the hidden alcove and sheath it on the stage boss’s belt — a lucky find for her while exploring the upper ruins one day.

Doing this helps you further surface treasure details as hooks and Plot Compasses without trashing game balance.

Graphic of section divider

In Summary

Arvindh, I advise you mine your adventure for treasure. Improve the treasure where possible so it becomes player catnip. Then spread rumours and clues about the treasure to get the party salivating. Finally, try to make treasure an active adventure ingredient by putting it into play.

I hope this helps!

Have more fun at every game!

Join a private community with Johnn