Have you ever had a hard time coming up with plot hooks in D&D for your players to aimlessly follow? Good news!
Plot hooks in D&D are easy to come up with but hard to make work. It requires players to be engaged, want to do it, and get a great reward.
A dime a dozen
Plot hooks in D&D are easy to come up with. You can just look in the monster manual and think ‘wow that monster looks scary or cool. I am going to use it.’ You can also look in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) pages 69-81. That section should give you ideas for plot hooks and if you need villain inspiration the DMG also has you covered on pages 96-98. You should be able to find an idea very easily.
Is the DMG too far away from you? Are you for some reason not able to check your DMG? I fully understand since I am lazy as well. In order to help you out further here are a few random plot hook generators to get your ideas going, but keep reading since these plot hooks area dime a dozen. I want to teach you how to make good plot hooks.
Between all 5 resources, you should have probably around 200 plot hooks or more. Now let’s work on making your plot hooks have actual quality!
This is how plot hooks in D&D are generally given in a sandbox game. Read here to learn more about sandbox and linear games. This is where you throw a job board at your players and have them choose from 3-infinite quests.
The shotgun approach gives the players the ability to choose what quest they actually want to do. This takes care of a huge hurdle but it creates another hurdle. How do you plan for these quests?
The simple and short answer is that you do not plan for these quests. You need to be very good at improvising to do the shotgun approach effectively. If you are someone who wants to plan things out and is not alright with making quests up on the spot, the shotgun approach is probably not for you. I have seen people try to prepare 20 pages for the shotgun approach. That is way too much work. If you are a person that wants to prepare for your plots a lot, then go with the linear approach.
Linear plot hooks in D&D
Linear plot hooks in D&D are where you set the players upon one specific path and then have them follow it into a grand adventure that you have planned. This takes care of the weakness of the shotgun approach but loses the shotgun approaches strength, players wanting to follow your plot hook.
What if you make a plot hook that the players don’t like or just don’t follow? Hopefully your players will just go along and everything will go well. A lot of the time this happens, but what if your players don’t care for the plot? This is a question that the linear model has a hard time answering. In order to get your players to play you have two options. Forced plot hooks and hybrid plot hooks.
Forced plot hooks in D&D are the worst. This is where the players are unable to have any agency and they know it. The players don’t want to help the beggar? Fine. A crowd gathers around them and they can’t leave. The party pushes through the crowd and a civilian falls. The guards now arrest the party. The party upon release sees the beggar on the street. Don’t ever do this!!!
If you have a linear idea you can repurpose your encounters by making a hybrid approach. Give your players many options to choose from but ultimately they will come into contact with your idea of the plot. At this point the players are invested because of their previous quest and will want to follow the plot. Most shotgun plot hooks in D&D usually end up like this. Games cannot go on with just one meaningless job after another. There has to be something more to most games.
How do you make a good plot hook though? Let’s go through the steps.
We mentioned that players have to be invested in the plot or they will not follow it. This is where you need to think about your players. What do they want, and what are their motivations? Is your group a band of murder hobos or righteous paladins? Find what motivates them and use that to your advantage. Give your murder hobos things to kill and people to save for the good group.
There are many other ways to motivate characters. Let’s take a look at a few.
Taking a beloved NPC hostage
Do your players have a non player character (NPC) that they love? If so take that NPC hostage or kill that NPC. You do not want to abuse this since it will make your players turn into edgelords of the highest caliber if overused.
Only harm the players’ beloved NPCs when the stakes are dire and you really need the players to stop this bad guy. Generally this is a reason for your characters to go after the enemy and should only be used for dastardly plots like taking over the world! This could be used for something smaller but the impact should still be quite big.
A golden rule to always go by is ‘the more you take from the players the bigger the threat should be.’
Making it personal
You thought killing the players’ favorite NPC was personal? No, that was just a friend who they loved dearly. Affecting the players’ stuff is where the true hatred lies!
Have you ever stolen from a player? I have and I was surprised at the result. The first time a goblin stole a cheap musical instrument and a few
Did your player get tricked? Recently one of my players decided to hire a teenager to send a message in a city instead of a boy. This teenager was running errands and was asked to drop whatever he was doing to deliver a message. At first, the teenager was going to say no but the player kept talking and gave him a gold now with the promise of
That player for the entire session wanted to have the city help her find this teenager and was going to spend 50 gold to hire a private investigator until her other players implored her not to.
Property damage is a great way of making it personal. Does the party own a wagon? If so burn it. The party will go after that person to the ends of the earth in order to get vengeance! Just make sure your destruction of property is fair. (they left an
These all have a common theme, but making it personal is a great way to motivate your players. Once again, do not do this too much or your party will become tired of these tactics.
An offer you can’t refuse
Here is where you give your players an offer that they can’t refuse by giving an item, making a situation happen around them that they cannot ignore like a shootout happen, or making it personal.
The thing is that your players can always refuse to interact with the plot hook. If your players drop the item, run away from the shootout, or ignore the situation others could see what happened and follow the players. Now you can make it personal and give a sense of danger to your party.
These are often forced plot hooks in D&D and I don’t like them. They take away player agency and instantly makes them feel like they are being railroaded in the worst way possible. Instead, I like to make players retain their agency by making them ‘find’ a plot hook.
An odd event
Players don’t like being forced to do things. Instead, make following a plot hook their own idea.
Out of the corner of their eye a random clown is walking by, entertaining children, and then suspiciously looks around. The clown goes down an alleyway while looking still looking left to right and reaches into his shirt.
Do you want to know what happens? I do and your players probably do. Make an odd occurrence happen that just doesn’t make sense. If something strange happens we want to know! We all want to know and not miss out. Use this and make some extremely odd situations occur.
After these situations take place your players will naturally want to find out and think that it was their idea to follow the plot instead of being forced to like a ‘call to action.’
Addressing calls to action
You see an old man being beaten in the road!
An item is mysteriously handed to you but it was not addressed to you. Who does it belong to?
These are typical calls to action. Providing some interesting event that the players have to deal with. Many dungeon masters praise calls to action but I have a different opinion.
When asked what a call to action is most dungeon master’s give examples as I did in ‘an offer you can’t refuse.’ If a call to action is instead broader and encompasses everything to get players involved in a plot hook that is fine, but people only use examples that relate to plot hooks in the ‘an offer you can’t refuse’ section when talking about calls to action
When someone says a turtle is bread that turtle is still a turtle. Don’t let calls to action fool you and have you think that they are good. Most of the time calls to action take away player agency and force them to follow a dungeon master’s desires. Keep that illusion of player agency when following the plot and they will do amazing things. Force the players to follow your whims and they will either revolt or follow and not be very creative.
This is not universal. If you have players that want to be led in a certain direction and will follow where you lead them then by all means use calls to action. Just make sure that your group are these types of players.
I hope that I was able to give you some insight into making quality plot hooks in D&D. If you need plot hooks they are a dime a dozen and very easy to find. Making good plot hooks and refining those early ideas are what makes your game truly shine.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!