October 30, 2010

Hook, Line, and Sinker (Part 1)

Today, I talk about running the game, specifically, making memorable encounters, adventures, and campaigns in any system. My trick? Use narrative tools to plan your game: hook them with a believable goal, taunt them with them, drawing them deeper into trouble and excitement, then when the moment is right, explode with the final confrontation, and let them have what it is they want.

As has been oft quoted by GM resources again and again, you always need a hook.  I've seen plenty of hooks in my experiences playing and GMing, and they don't all appeal to different people.

Hook 1: Greed

This is probably the most common in combat games. Greed is present any time the players do something for gear, cash, or experience. That drive for more can be a useful tool, and for players who have this motivation, abuse it mercilessly. Offer extra rewards, cooler gear, or bigger experience rewards. (I'll talk about my thoughts on experience points and character advancement in a later blog.)

Hook 2: Revenge

This one is another very common motivation I've seen in players. They love tracking people who get the better of them, be it in combat, a deal, or other challenge. This is a tricky one to use on purpose, but if the players ever get the short end of the stick, expect them to go back for the rest of it.

Hook 3: Glory

This one is less common, but I've seen it enough to include it here. This is absolutely a pure story reward: getting 'in' with the king, being given a medal, anything of the sort. Giving the players a chance to do something foolhardy, risky, and above all important to the setting will set this hook.

Hook 4: Knowledge

This is probably the least common hook in some games. Players want to know more: who stole the ruby? Who left that note? What's beyond those mountains? Driven by a desire to find out what twist lay hidden beyond that next turn drives them to getting into places no one else has gone, and getting into trouble no one new existed.

Just about every hook you can think of will be one of these four, and, if you hadn't noticed yet, they all tie back to a desire for more. Greed drives everything. The biggest probably is getting your players involved. Most hooks beyond greed require some player-GM interaction: ask your players what their CHARACTER wants.

Each player has, in their head, an idea of who their character is; take advantage of it. Be formal if you have to, but really, just talk. Listen to your players, pay attention to why they do things. Unlike book characters, players are often talking out loud about why they want something.

Once you have these goals, whatever they are, short, medium, or long, you can put it in your plans somehow. Each encounter or conflict you present your players should lead them to one of these goals, and the more intricately you can combine them, the better.  If your group has a goal to save a kingdom, but there's an opportunity for one of the players to reach one of their goals in another direction, you have some drama built into the situation. Decisions are the thing that makes a game interesting, opportunity costs have a much more powerful effect on the players than a failed die roll. This is how you use hooks to drive a campaign.

For adventures, it’s much simpler, as your players have already told you their goal. The hook is going to be one of the above, but it’s going to be very short term, something they can get to at the end of the story arc. Maybe it’s the current McGuffin, drawing them to the end with Greed. Make the final encounter with a foe who had once bested them, focusing them with Revenge. Maybe Glory drives them after an enemy that has been tormenting the local lands. Sometimes, even important bits of Knowledge can drive an adventure.

For encounter level design it’s even easier, though you’ll gain points with your players if the goal changes a bit. If the only thing they want is to kill the goblins to get to the door it will get old fast. Give them another goal occasionally. Ambush them to draw them in with Revenge. Throw in a renowned foe to get them to act for Glory. Or maybe let it slip that one of their foes knows something they need to know and see how Knowledge drives them.

Hooks are awesome things, and without them, you won’t have players interested enough to have memorable games. How about you, readers, did I miss any hooks? Do you have any examples of the above hooks in play? Comment below! (Sign in with a Gmail account and you can avoid that nasty anonymous tag!)

Find Part 2 Here


  1. Characters are usually driven by their personal desires. The people playing the characters are usually driven by greed. They want their character to be the best at what it does. Sometimes, they forget their character's personality in the role-play (happens a lot, even among vets). Sometimes I think the GM needs to remind individuals that it's not what they want, but what their character wants.

    With that said, I'll add in my "fifth hook" character that I've seen. The only way that I can describe this character is the "Psycho" character. This is the character that likes to kill things. He/She is only there to kill every living creature that can be slaughtered. They don't do it for the glory, or the status. They just want to smash, bash, and slaughter. People who usually play this type of character are the ones who ask, "How much do I get for killing _____?"

    I find that these characters are played by 1): Individuals who are new to the game. 2): People who want a simple personality to use in a role-play. 3): Individuals who think the joke "you can't spell manslaughter without laughter" funny. And 4): Individuals who are playing a character with very low intelligence.

  2. I would definitely define that as Greed, though I'll agree, occasionally a player will do something that isn't good for a group game and play something literally 'insane.'

    The very question 'How much do I get for. . .', regardless of what that 'for' is, is Greed driven. The best way to use that hook to control the player from being truly disruptive is by making disruptive kills worth very little (or nothing) and the kills you want them to perform worth much more.

    Now, if they do it anyway, you'll need to talk to the players about the type of game they want to play. If they're just in it to kill everything in sight, you need to know that up front and minimize how much time you waste on story.