Plot hook. It’s a term most GMs are familiar with. We often drop what we think is a plot hook , expecting the players to jump into action, yet we often get frustrated as they look at each other, befuddled, paralyzed with inaction.
Two things go into a plot hook, and both are important for compelling action from the PCs.
One: A Reason to Get Involved.
Without a compelling reason to get involved in the story you’re trying to start, you’ll get two types of reactions. Some players will struggle to come up with some reason for their characters to get involved, and others will simply choose not to get involved.
A good plot hook must compel the PCs to do something. This could be the form of hitting on a PC’s disadvantages or hindrances. If a PC has a sense of duty to protect the innocent, put innocent people in danger. If a PC is curious, give them a strange mystery to unravel.
You can also use an outside for the impetus into action. Perhaps the PCs are subjects of a king who orders them to complete a task. Maybe they’re part of a hierarchical organization and are given orders from time to time.
The important thing to remember is you should ALWAYS be prepared to answer the question, “why do the PCs care?”
Two: A Clear Course of Action.
A good plot hook should always have at least one clear course of action. With out it, it’s not a plot hook. It doesn’t have to be as explicit as “go talk to NPC X and ask Question A,” but it should be readily apparent.
It can be as simple as a crime scene with several obvious clues (and many in-obvious clues). The clear course of action is to search the scene for clues. Perhaps orcs have raided a small village and there are tracks leading into the forest. The course of action? The players can follow the tracks.
The important thing to remember is that the clear course of action should NOT be the only course of action. It’s not the tracks for your railroad. It points in a direction. It gives the party an indication of where more story might lie.
The clear course of action might not even be the smartest course of action. I ran a GURPS Infinite Worlds game where the party was tasked to take out a spy for a rival organization. The spy, who was an influential and wealthy man, was going to hold a big grand party at his estate. The party had a clear course of action: Infiltrate the party, take the spy out and make their escape.
They chose to ignore the course of action I provided and came up with their own: the party, not wanting to try anything on the spy’s home field, chose to lure him out and assassinate him.