July 2, 2024

You Don’t Need Hooks, You Have Been Lied To

I’ve seen a lot of critics and readers talk about the strength, quality, quantity and absence of hooks in adventure modules - often held up as an important indicator of quality.

This metric is bullshit.

What is the use case of a hook? It’s a reason to engage with the content of the module/adventure/whateverthefuck.

First and foremost - if the content itself isn’t interesting enough to drive players to want to interact with it, maybe that is a more important problem to solve rather than having someone point at it and say gee I sure wish someone would interact with this!”. Of course, your players might still not interact. This is the beauty of agency - the ability to not do things, and possibly face the consequences of that. Of course, these consequences should probably be hinted at or signposted, allowing for actual, informed decision making to be made.

Next up, specificity. The author of the module doesn’t know you, your players, their characters or your game - how on earth are they meant to write something to cajole your playgroup into engaging with the module? If, instead, they wrote something generic, then they wrote something boring - and ultimately, worse than whatever the GM would come up with having possession of all the information above. Of course, this isn’t questioning the logic of wanting to so heavily influence what your players do, but let’s not get into all that again.

Finally, the value proposition - you bought the book, and you want to make sure it gets used. Just talk to your friends and say hey I would like to use this module, do you all think it looks fun?” - ditto for a one-shot. If you’ve got pre-gens, give them a motivation - otherwise, just ask players to make characters with a reason to be there.

The takeaway is to read the fucking module you are going to run and find the reasons to go there that make sense for your players and your world. If they’re skint, highlight the valuables. If they love old books, drop some rumours about the wizard on level 3. Or, of course, just drop it in to your sandbox and wait for them to find it themselves, possibly providing some rumours as lead-ins.

Rumours are generally the best way to seed information about modules, dungeons, whatever, into your game world - but you’ll need to think about what the people of your world will talk about in relation to each specific place. My elves might talk about the Elixir of Forgetting in the Deathswamp - yours might only care about the hobbit-chef who lives there. (He is a guy who cooks hobbits, to be clear.) This brings us back to the idea of specificity and its challenges.

Alternatively, pretend I wrote A wizard teleports them there.” at the front of every adventure.

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