Sometimes you don’t know how you want to grab your players’ attention. Here’s a handy table to create that hook, and give you an idea how to pitch it.
Table A: Type of Hook
1 Friendly NPC
2 Hostile NPC
3 Cryptic Message
4 Mission or Quest
5 Omen or Foreshadowing
6 Obtain an Item
7 Lose an Item
10 Roll twice more and combine results.
1 An old man answers one of the PCs’ questions. He wasn’t part of the conversation before, he just jumped in. Does he know the PCs, or is he a stranger? Where did he come from?
2 A little girl invites the PCs to follow her. Back at her home/hiding place, the PCs will find exactly what they need (to progress the plot).
3 “I’ve been sent to help,” the stranger says. The PCs have heard of the stranger’s sponsor, but are surprised to hear their interests and the sponsor’s align.
4 “Come with me if you want to live.” The PCs are in trouble, but this NPC shows up with a way out.
5 “Oh wow, you’re really them!” A fan of the PCs’ exploits is looking for help with the kind of thing they do.
6 An attractive member of the opposite sex has a proposition for one of the PCs… but not THAT. Well… Not unless the PC can do the job.
7 An attractive member of the opposite sex gets involved with one of the PCs in a whirlwind romance, but he or she is also involved in something big.
8 The PCs stumble across somebody in a running fight with the same kind of opponents the PCs usually fight, and it looks like they could use some help.
9 A childhood friend of one of the PCs shows up again in unlikely circumstances, with a surprising story, and a request.
10 Someone is selling exactly what the PCs need, at a fair price, and is even willing to make a deal if they need it but are short on cash.
1 An old enemy has a new way to get back at one of the PCs.
2 Somehow, the PCs have offended this person, and a fight breaks out.
3 1-10 armed thugs break in and start shooting at the PCs.
4 A PC is mugged in the street.
5 This NPC wants something the PCs have, and won’t take no for an answer.
6 One of the PCs is about to be an involuntary organ donor; this NPC needs an internal organ and one of the PCs fits the profile to give it.
7 The NPC is apologetic, but must do something terrible to the PCs.
8 The PCs might not realize it, or they might remember clearly why, but this NPC considers them all enemies and is back for vengeance.
9 A jilted lover from a PC’s past (or possibly someone messed up enough to hold a grudge over an unrequited crush) turns up to cause trouble.
10 Someone wants the same thing the PCs want, and isn’t shy about sabotaging their efforts to get it.
1 A note is delivered with the characters’ meal (in a modern setting, it’s perfect if this is inside a fortune cookie).
2 One of the PCs sees messages written on surfaces which nobody else can see.
3 A letter is delivered to one of the PCs. It’s addressed to the PC, but has no return address. The piece of paper inside the envelope is blank.
4 After making a normal purchase, the seller tells the PC, “they’re coming for you.” If asked for clarification, he/she says, “run, you fool!” What happens next?
5 A series of people come to the door and each says one word and then leaves. This occurs over the course of several days, no more than an hour separating each one, and when taken together the words form a message. If setting appropriate, the people who speak the words are actually some form of zombie.
6 The next time the PC is handed a receipt for a purchase, there is a message written on the back of it in a foreign language. The person handing over the receipt doesn’t know how it could have gotten there.
7 A public announcement (news broadcast in a modern setting, something publicly posted in town in pre-modern, etc.) mentions a PC by name, with an anonymous message, “You are almost ready.”
8 “They are coming,” a small child whispers to one of the PCs, and hands over a note, then runs off giggling.
9 A message is delivered in a usual way, from a PC’s normal contact (email in a modern setting, letter by a messenger in an older setting, etc.) – but it reads entirely differently from that contact’s normal writing, or if a voice recording, it isn’t the contact’s voice.
10 The wall catches fire, and the fire spreads into the shape of words on the wall. After the whole message has formed, the fire goes out, leaving it written in ashes and scorch marks.
Mission or Quest
1 Go and retrieve an item… but it’s big, so how will you actually carry it?
2 Go to a location and survive there for 24 hours.
3 Capture an enemy and interrogate them.
4 Extract a friendly from enemy hands.
5 Find the missing piece of this puzzle. A clue can be found where you want the PCs to go.
6 Destroy a specific item, before it can be used for disastrous purposes.
7 You can’t stay here! Escape to safety!
8 Fetch me a donut; the PCs are given an inconsequential task, but it turns out to be important once they complete it.
9 Fetch me a shrubbery; the PCs are given a task which is truly inconsequential, meant only to keep them busy and out of the way.
10 It’ll be dangerous… The PCs must do something which seems suicidal, but failing to do it would be even worse.
Omen or Foreshadowing
1 A bat in the daytime: The PCs must soon take a long and dangerous journey.
2 A butterfly in the bedroom: The PC will soon have a great joy, but could destroy it by doing the wrong thing.
3 The broken chain: A PC’s wallet or watch chain breaks, and (s)he will soon suffer disappointment.
4 Crossed knives: Soon there will be conflict and strife in the PCs’ future.
5 Shooting star: What the PCs desire will come true, but it won’t necessarily be good.
6 A gun on the table: The plot device you will use to introduce the next challenge is in plain sight in an establishing scene.
7 An instant dislike: The antagonist is first introduced in a friendly setting, but at least one PC doesn’t get along with him (or her), for some reason.
8 Hidden meaning: An NPC tells the PCs something which seems straightforward, but also foretells something in the next encounter you have planned.
9 The gods must be crazy: an important plot device literally falls from the sky.
10 Retroactive: pick a scene that’s already happened in the game – something from that scene is now a key to your next plot device. (Preferably pick a memorable scene; if you’re just starting the game, pick something in a PC’s background.)
Obtain an Item – an opportunity to get something useful or interesting can motivate PCs and drive a story.
1 A weapon
2 A tool
3 Something magical (or symbolic)
4 Something foreign/exotic
5 A gift from a friend
6 A gift from an enemy
7 A prize in a contest of skill
8 A prize in a contest of luck
9 One man’s trash
10 Something written
Lose an Item – losing something valuable or even the threat of such loss can give focus to the PCs’ actions.
1 Something personal, of sentimental value only.
2 A favorite piece of equipment, which is used all the time.
3 An expensive piece of equipment which is used rarely.
4 One of the PCs’ homes.
5 Somewhere the PCs often meet.
6 A favorite food stops being available.
7 Communication with the rest of the world – in the form of the ability to write or phone calls or whatever items would normally allow such.
8 Transportation – a mount, vehicle, or other equivalent. Even a pair of shoes.
9 Luxury – a source of relaxation or comfort, such as a bed, pillow, food, etc.
10 A hat – something worn on the head.
Abduction! – Players love rescue missions. It’s a clear focus and grabs the attention of most PCs instantly. When someone important is kidnapped, the PCs will follow after them.
1 A family member (child, parent, sibling, cousin, etc.).
2 A lover or spouse.
3 One of the PCs! (Make sure the PC still has things to do, even if escape isn’t possible without help from other PCs)
4 A mentor or teacher.
5 A trusted NPC supporter – someone who isn’t usually part of the adventure, but provides things the PCs need in between.
6 A contact the PCs need to achieve their current goals – best if kidnapped right in front of the PCs or otherwise under their noses when they are about to get what they need but haven’t quite yet.
7 A POTENTIALLY useful but not current NPC contact/supporter
8 A political figure (1-3: local, 4-6: regional, 7-8: national, 9: roll again and add “aligned with the PC’s views”, 10: roll again and add “opposed to the PC’s views”)
9 A cultural figure (same chart as above, or roll for type of cultural – entertainer, artist, etc)
10 Roll again, ignoring this result if rerolled. Add “…and the PC is a suspect in their abduction” to the result.
1 Roll for initiative! Someone has jumped out and attacked!
2 Surprise! Perception checks, to see if any PCs notice the ambush.
3 Opportunity! The PCs have a chance to surprise some enemies, who they’ve noticed before being noticed in return.
4 Sports – the PCs are challenged to a form of sporting mock combat appropriate to the setting.
5 Duel – a PC is challenged to one on one combat.
6 Standoff – a tense situation arises where one wrong move could result in a deadly battle.
7 Bystanders – battle erupts between two parties other than the PCs in the PCs’ presence!
8 Nonviolent – a conflict in some form other than physical violence, such as an argument or hostile corporate takeover.
9 Misunderstanding – the PCs get involved in a fight they don’t want, because an NPC takes something they said or did the wrong way.
10 Outnumbered – The PCs are surrounded by a more numerous enemy, and must escape; cue chase music!
Ian Price is the creator of Kitsune: of Foxes and Fools and Bad Decisions, and has contributed to the Ghouls, Carthians, and Chronicler’s Guide books for Vampire: The Requiem.