I realized something the other day while playing Dungeons and Dragons. Although we sit around the table to tell stories, nothing will really occur that matters in the game unless the characters in the story have a desire. As a dungeon master, I can place all kinds of interesting lore, evil villians, woes and grief, but nothing matters until the character decides they begin to want.
Let me use the story for The Lost Mines of Phandelver, one of the few modules I have tried out, and my first adventure I ran for my neighborhood game. In this story, a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker wants you to deliver a wagonload of supplies to a small mining settlement in Phandalin, and then you get paid and continue on with your life.
First of all, can I say, that if you wanted to run a western tale, this story is perfect for a wild wild west adventure, with all its romantic glory and satisfying comedic ending. At least, when I run the story, everyone has a accent from the deep south. Anyways…
Keeping in mind, that this hook is superimposed upon the characters to begin, I think it is a good way to prove how a story in Dungeons and Dragons can only progress as long as the characters desire to meet a goal.
So, in this story, the characters want to get paid. That is the why they begin the tale. Now, I like to sprinkle in a little economic pressure to ensure that they desire to continue the adventure, because if money doesn’t matter, then why are the sojourners adventuring? So, be sure to include in the background a solid reason they need to get paid. Perhaps, they owe a large debt, or family has fallen on hard times, so they leave their normal job to pursue a high risk-high reward delivery, or possibly, this is their employment and they own the wagon and horses.
The other reason to adventure, as listed in the module, is that the sojourners know Gundren from a familiar standpoint, and this bond ensures they complete the adventure and *spoilers* ensures they continue to pursue until they rescue him in the end.
The main idea: characters will only pursue a storyline if what they want is at the end of that story. In this case, they want to get paid, or be a good pal to Gundren, and so, the story continues.
But that’s a great way to kickstart an adventure, but what happens when you take off the training wheels? What happens when they find *spoilers* that Gundren has been kidnapped? What happens after they get paid by the shopkeeper in Phandalin? If what they want is then satisfied, the Dungeon Master needs to establish a new goal. Before laying down any adventure threads, the first question the DM should ask themselves: “what do the characters want to achieve?”
Let’s go back to the example in The Lost Mines of Phandevler. Now that they have discovered good ol’ Gundren has gone missing, they will be asked to find him. However, I promise you, they won’t care if they don’t care. Gundren can rot in Hades if what they want lies upon a different road. So, before writing tons of storyline, confirm that you know what they want to accomplish.
Say a few of the sojourners befriended Gundren to the point where they would chase down goblins to find him. If that’s so, then you are settled. Because if they want his safety, then all you have to do as a DM is upset that balance and the characters will go through hell and high water to restore that balance. But if they only wanted to get paid, and coin now fills their pockets, now what?
Might I suggest a few other hooks? By drawing inspiration from the characters backgrounds, tie them into the safety of Gundren and what that entails. If Gundren is safe, then more money shall be added to their account. If Gundren is safe, then knowledge of the Forge of Spells shall be share with them. If Gundren is safe, then a chance to please their mentor shall be accomplished. And if Gundren is safe, then they have a shot at fulfilling their vengeance upon the Black Spider.
Or even juicer, if Gundren is safe, then they can deliver him to the Zhentarim for questioning. The point being that unless the characters have a pot of gold, namely their choice reward, at the end of the rainbow, then they will find another rainbow.
So, when designing my adventures, once I have understood what the characters want, I can “set it and forget it” and the adventure runs pretty smoothly, because everyone is rowing the energy along well. But once a mission reaches accomplishment, then that’s when it’s my job to establish once again, “what does a sojourner want?”
May your story continue.