What Are Seeds And Hooks?

Anon GM wrote in with this request about seeds and hooks:

I need your help with something embarrassing. I have been DMing for years now and realized there is something that seems to be foundational to game play and I kind of don’t know anything about it.

I have read your tips and have read in multiple places about seeds and hooks. I can describe what these things are, but I truly don’t know why they are important nor do I implement them nor do I spend any time really thinking about it.

Do you have or could you write something about seeds/hook philosophy?

This is a great question, Anon GM. Thank you.

First, these are optional game elements. Many GMs use seeds and hooks in a natural talent way, and they don’t think about them intentionally. Natural storytellers understand how to get their audiences curious and engaged.

I’m not so lucky.

So I think, parse, deconstruct, construct, and then try to improve my GMing. Such is the case over the years with seeds and hooks. You can see I’m still playing with these ideas and learning about them in recent Musings about Idea Factories.

Player Hooks

Today, let’s talk about hooks.

In general, you want players to use the prep you have planned. Whether it’s a linear adventure or world elements you want to trigger in a sandbox campaign.

However, telling the players what to do is not what this game is about. Player choice makes RPGs different from books, TV, and movies. RPGs are interactive. So you need to allow player choice.

The amount of choice given depends on how you and your friends like to play. There’s no right or wrong amount. It’s based on what you all find fun.

To get players to choose your ideas and creations you first signal them as potential player choices.

For example, you could drop down a map with different adventure locations labelled in crooked script. Several hexes are left blank because no one knows what’s there.

Another example would be to introduce the players to several NPCs important to your plot.

Make Choices Interesting

Once you have shared with players, one way or another, some things they can choose to do, your next step is to make certain choices more interesting than others.

You do this for several reasons.

First, some choices might be more appropriate for your campaign right now. Perhaps monsters lairing out there too tough for the PCs and you run a balanced encounter style campaign. Or maybe some encounters can’t trigger until others have been played.

Second, you likely have a desired order or preference as to what encounters and actions the party takes. A murder mystery can’t begin with the solution, for example. The dungeon entrance lies at the end of the wilderness crawl portion. A minor encounter should not involve a fight to the death against the villain.

Third, it’s not fun when all choices seem equal to the players. There’s no game in that. Might as well flip a coin and move on fast. Instead, options should each have qualities to make players roleplay a decision. Should the party help the wizard PC’s family or quest after the magic armour for the fighter? You want to differentiate your key choices so players have a fun way to compare, weigh, and puzzle over what to do next.

Fourth, choice draws players in. Even most linear adventures offer decision points at key times.

Hooks are details you drop into the game to present interesting choices and opportunities for future gameplay to your players.

They’re called hooks because you want to grab player attention and curiosity and draw PCs deeper into your ideas and plans. Like a fisherman putting a lure on their hook.

Type of Hooks

You might have one kind of hook in mind while reading this. But be aware you’ll want to attract players to many types of game elements over time:

  • Adventures to embark upon
  • Locations to visit
  • NPCs to roleplay with
  • Treasure to find
  • Encounters to trigger
  • Monsters to defeat
  • Character goals to tackle

I hope that helps explain hooks a bit better, Anon GM. Here are more tips on how to create and use hooks you might find interesting:

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