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Session preparation and quest hooks

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A while back I discussed some concepts for creating adventures. These adventures are fairly short, I would equate them to a module in terms of game content. Which means, that it leaves you with some additional space in your campaign to fill up. There’s nothing wrong with creating bunches and bunches of adventure modules for the players to go through. The next real problem I faced was getting them to go there.

Its easy enough to just have whoever they are working for send them to the next place. Its just that that doing so is a little drab and not very immersive. There’s nothing wrong with having them get a few jobs from an NPC, but eventually you’ll need to have something or someone else prompting them where to go.

Its really a question of the type of game you want to run. If its largely tactical, then there’s not a lot of incentive to get creative with the quest triggers. If you are building up big story, however, then you’ll want a bit more variety. Your world will feel lot bigger if the players interact with different NPC’s and get the impression that more is going on than what they are doing.

My general rule is to try and include at least one plot hook or clue leading to a new area in every session. Ideally I’d like to put in one per hour of game play, but depending on what the players spend their time doing that’s not always possible.

This may sound like a lot of quests to be tossing around, particularly when each quest will need a module to support it. On the surface it looks like a ton of material to have to put together. What I tend to rely on is that, in general, players aren't very bright. That might be a little harsh, but its true enough.

The way this goes is that you throw out a quest hook; if its from dialog with an NPC you have to hope they catch the hint, if its some item they’ll see if it has magical properties and then stuff it in a backpack. There’s only some percentage of your quest hooks that they’ll even recognize as being quest hooks, the rest just get lost. If you throw out enough of them, then eventually you’ll have to find something that sticks with them.

So you’ve offered enough ideas and they finally liked one of them. They’re in the middle of one quest already, so that other one goes on their To Do list. They can't very well rescue the princess from a warlocks tower, while emptying the dragon hoard in some cave. Several more sessions go by, which equates to several weeks of real world time, and they finish their current quest. You now have to contend with people’s memories, what are the odds they’ll remember that detail all this time? Again with enough hooks one of them should stand out enough that they’ll remember to follow up on it.

Of course this still leaves you with the problem that you’ve given them a couple dozen options to choose from, how do you prepare for the next session when they could potentially go to any one of them? The short answer is: you don’t prepare any of them. Instead you wait to see where they go before doing your preparation.

You ought to be able to get some indication of where they intend to go next based on discussions around the table, both in and out of character. You should be able to weed out a bunch of quests that they won’t follow up on. Ideally you’d be able to figure out specifically where they are going before they complete the current adventure giving you some time to prepare. Even if you can’t figure that out you still won’t have to improvise the beginning of the next module. You can cheat by stalling them a bit.

I’m not talking about asking them to end the session early or anything like that, there’s always tricks you can put within the story. If they are the least bit cautious you can make them have to track down the NPC’s that have information they’ll need, the search and subsequent dialog should use up a chunk of time. If that’s not something that will hold your group up then combat can eat up a bunch of time; a couple random encounters on the road should get you through the rest of the current session.

On of the great things about being behind the DM screen is that you’re the only one that fully knows whats going on. All the players know is that there’s a new quest in their log, they might have some small details about the quest or where it will take them; but not nearly enough to predict much about it. This lets you cheat quite a bit. There’s nothing stopping you from making every single quest lead to the exact same module. As the GM it looks a little forced, but the players have no idea. They saw a dozen different quest hooks, so far as they know there’s twelve new NPC factions to contend with. Their limited knowledge of your world makes each thing seem larger than it probably is.

The point here is that too many plot hooks isn’t a bad thing, in fact it can be beneficial. It won’t increase the amount of work you’ll need to do. No matter how many quests you offer they can only explore one at a time, so you never need more than that prepared. The benefits is that you don’t need to worry about the players picking up on one or two clues, they’ll be bombarded with them so there’s no way they won’t have something to do. Furthermore it makes your world look large and full, they’ll keep running into something of interest that makes it seem like larger forces are at work all around them.

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