When we talk about D&D, we love to talk about mid-adventure things. Characters triumphant in battle, mourning the loss of a friend in a fight, chatting up dragons and negotiating peace treaties, or thwarting the big bad at every turn are the subject of more players' fantasies in this fantasy world.
But how did they get there? What brought these characters together, and what drives them to keep going? This is your plot hook, and it can be difficult to figure out when you're running your first campaign.
Now, the excellent thing about hooks is that they don't have to make perfect sense. It's a game, and your players already know that they are expected to form a party that's going to go on a grand adventure. It's your job as a DM to set them up and watch them go.
So, to help you do that, here are a few fun adventuring hooks you can use for your next one-shot or campaign.
They All Meet Up At A Tavern
This one is the classic adventuring hook, practically a D&D trope at this point.
Your player characters all happen to be in the same tavern on the same night, fresh from their latest adventure and looking for trouble. As they're drinking and meeting up with each other, they are suddenly approached by a hooded stranger who offers them a stunning reward for a suspiciously easy task. With nothing else to do, they accept and begin their fantastic quest.
You can take this hook in a hundred different directions, but my personal favorite is a classic Chosen One plot. The gods put these adventurers together for a reason. What was it? Why them? Who is the hooded stranger, and how did they know everyone was going to be there, and that they'd accept his challenge? The possibilities are surprisingly vast and interesting. It's a good place for a first-time DM to start an adventure.
The Mysterious Letter
Another classic cold-open, this is similar to They All Meet Up At A Tavern, but goes for a slightly more practical approach.
Your player characters all receive an unsigned letter in handwriting they don't recognize, requesting their presence at a specific location at a specific time on a specific day without giving a solid reason. It might offer them a generically glamorous reward, or a personalized boon they might want to keep secret from the rest of the group due to its personal nature.
This is a good one to start a campaign that might have multiple characters with interwoven backstory and a few new-to-the-parties. It's also an excellent way to introduce new characters if someone wants to join the campaign after session 1. It gives you plenty of room to explore. Who sent the letter? How did they know where everyone was? How did they know exactly what everyone wanted most? Were the letters all for the same quest, or is there a saboteur in their midst?
What Happened Last Night?
Full disclosure, I have definitely used this one before. It was the hook for my current campaign, which is the first 5E adventure I've ever DM'd.
Your player characters wake up in an unfamiliar place. They don't know where they are, and worse yet, they don't know who they are. They haven't got a single memory except for their names and a desperate need to escape wherever it is they've ended up. Maybe they wake up beside a small chest with their starting equipment or notice little notes to themselves written on their skin. Whatever is going on, they need to figure it out and fast.
This one can be incredibly fun if your players give you some backstory details to work in as they go. It offers some great roleplay opportunities for those who take the RP part of TTRPG more seriously. What happened? Where are they? Who put them there? Why are they amnesiacs? Can they get their memories back?
Something Is Missing
This works really well for established adventuring parties as well as newly-met parties.
Your player characters are contacted by a local lord. Someone has stolen an important magical artifact from him! He's not sure who did it, so he needs your party to investigate the theft and bring back the item as quickly and quietly as possible. With something that powerful gone, the whole demesne is in serious danger, so time is of the essence! If word gets out that this artifact is missing, there are going to be catastrophic consequences.
I love this hook because it's essentially a Macguffin story; it doesn't matter what the artifact is or what it does, that never has to factor into the plot at all. What matters is that it's gone and you need to get it back. Alternatively, it could have a lot of meaning. What is the artifact, and why is it important? Was it stolen by a malevolent rogue thief acting alone in a great heist or by an opposing political power in the hopes of starting a war?
This one is a little silly and is the premise for a campaign that I'm set to be in soon.
Your player characters are in school, and for Adventuring 101, they've been assigned as a group for the final project: a real dungeon dive! Well, sort of real; the dungeon has been carefully vetted and chosen by the professors as the least dangerous option for the students to explore, with clerics on standby just in case. Your motivation? Passing class and graduating!
This one is all kinds of goofy fun and lends itself well to modern fantasy and low-level campaigns. I love the idea of adventurers running around in Converse with their spellbooks on their phones, quoting memes the whole way. I think it could definitely be done seriously, especially if the dungeon isn't as safe as it was promised to be.