Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Such a Simple Yet Amazing Adventure Hook

One of my friends has recently stepped back up as a GM at an online game. She's doing it in order to help the current GM team wrap the game up, so that it can move on to the next one, and has been tasked with getting certain people involved with the end game without it looking like they're being forced. Being the clever GM that she is, she worked up a couple of hooks that can be used multiple time, and can bring in multiple people at once, all without forcing anyone into the position. She showed me one of them, and it is amazingly simple, and yet very compelling while giving the player everything they could possibly want out of a hook. What was it? Well, read on.

So, the idea is quite plain and simple. A random person, important but not super important, has heard of the Player's reputation and is writing to them out of the blue for help. Not for themselves, but for their Lord, and their Clan. This second part is important for L5R, but it is the simplicity of the hook, that still hits so many elements at once for a great intro that really grabbed me. I'm almost ashamed to admit that this never occurred to me, except that I'm also so damn eager to geek out about it, and you just can't geek out about your own ideas.

So, what is it that is so amazing? Well, take a look at the brief description I gave above again. Right off the bat, we have the problem. Someone is in danger, they need help. They need a hero to come over and save them from their plight. Classic, simple...perhaps a little too simple, but very good, especially since it is so quick. The person isn't just asking for themselves though, they are worried for their lands, their family, their clan, their lord. This makes the scope bigger, this isn't just something small and paltry, this is a personalized invitation to glory and adventure. It also gives the person asking for help some depth. At face value (and this is an honest society with honorable people) it shows honor. They are glad to do their duty, and realize that they are unimportant compared to what is at stake. This also gives the plea for help even more meaning, it is something that someone can not do, but the PC reportedly can. This marks the PC out as being special.

The best part though is who the letter is from. Namely, it is not from someone the PC has ever met. However, it is from someone who has heard of the PC. Has heard of their reputation. Has heard of their actions. This is absolutely amazing because it puts everything into scope. The PC has been heard of. This means that people are talking about them. Someone, from some far off place, has heard of their deeds, has heard of their heroism, and they need their help. It gives a real sense of being someone known in the world. More to the point, being known for good qualities (and we all know news of those travels slower than bad stuff). You are known as a hero, so much so that someone - with a pressing issue they can't solve - has turned to you for help. Knowing that you don't know them, that you don't owe them. But praying that you are the hero they have heard about, and that you can protect what is most dear to them.

Then, there is also the lack of pressure. What is done with this letter is up to the PC. They can discard it if they don't believe it. They can look into it. Make sure it isn't a forgery. But what really grabbed me with it was the simple way that it really grabs the player, grabs the character, shows them that they matter, and gives them a prompt to go off to the next adventure. This is something that we, as GMs, should be striving to accomplish with our games more often. Low pressure hooks that can just sink into the skin and never let go.

So what about you guys? Anyone else have stories of hooks they're particularly proud of? Or ones that just made them go "damn, why didn't I think of that?"


  1. A hook I was particularly proud of is actually a bit cliche. But.. well, Cliche works. Especially when it is introduced unexpectedly. The situation was this: One of my players is very low key when it comes to his characters. He tends to make folks who are, by design, less capable than their team mates. In this way, he secures a 'niche' in the party of being the schlub who kind of sucks- the comic relief guy. He's done this in more than one campaign, so I know it is something he enjoys.

    His character in my Star Wars campaign is a would-be swashbuckling space pirate, only he's usually operating well out of his league in terms of combat ability. He seems 'okay with' being almost a sidekick to the team. All of this was the perfect set up to what happened.

    In my game, an ultra-powerful alien race is invading the galaxy, and the forces of good are having a hard time holding them back. However a crack has shown in the alien's seeming invincibility- there is a 5th Column among them that seems to want to end the war. They made contact with my group to try and work out a way to do that. Upon doing so, however, the alien representative notes that this 'sidekick' character is the spitting image (skin color aside) of a legendary leader among the alien people. He is suddenly seen as the reincarnation of that leader. So much so that the entire 5th Column seems willing to follow him.

    So that is the hook. A 'sidekick' who had willingly relegated himself to the sidelines of the campaign is suddenly forced into the spotlight and has to start making big decisions with lots of repercussions. He's still the same old 'loser' when it comes to combat, but he suddenly has 'power' of another sort.

    What did my heart good was to see the player rising to this challenge. The change was remarkable. He started speaking with authority and even 'gravity', starting becoming a 'leader' just like that- just because it was expected of his character.

    Of course, the player and character are still something of a smartass- and the loyalty of the aliens is still somewhat in question- but.. all in all, it was an awesome way to get a 'sideline' character suddenly thrown into the mix.

  2. I blew up all the PCs with a terrorist dirty bomb in the opening scene of a superhero game in order to "awaken" their powers. It's what I call my enforced captivity method which I've used a few times, I blogged it at:


  3. I ran a sci-fi one-shot using the plot hook from the Cowboy Bebop episode "Waltz for Venus." Basically a fan comes up to one of the players and asks about him and pretty much demands his attention. He then suddenly shoves the box or bag or whatever he was holding into the player's hands and runs. The players noticed some guys go after him and the hook was set. The box had a rare plant inside with a little note attached that gave a name "Cynthia" but no location or anything. It's pretty simple and easy to pull off.

  4. All pretty awesome ideas and great ways to do things. It's still amazing to me how much better the simple, and cliche, hooks can be over more elaborate or drawn out ones. Especially in the "there it is, take it or leave it" department.

    Much to think on. Very much to think on indeed.