[RPG] How to effectively introduce hooks into a sandbox adventure


I will soon DM a new D&D adventure. It's in a setting of my creation, and new characters will be created for it, with backstories tied at least in some ways to the setting. I intend to give my players a lot of freedom on how they approach the world and choose what to do.

Now my concern is this: I have come up with many possible hooks related to the setting. But I am unsure of how to present them to my PCs without railroading them (for instance: the town cleric needs help, but I wouldn't like to start an adventure with the PCs in his office, and him already explaining them their mission), or overwhelming them with too many adventure choices. On the other hand, I fear that without some form of railroading, the PCs will spend too much time looking for hooks, and end up bored, which doesn't strike me as an exciting start.

How can I effectively introduce my PCs to hooks in a sandbox style adventure?

Best Answer

Make them stumble upon and want to bite the hook.

Expecially in a homebrew campaign, players will want to get their bearings: take a look around, see what the locals are like etc. This is where you come in:

  • They hit the tavern? Have the innkeeper talk about how it's not been going well lately because for some reason less visitors drop by for drinks and beds.
  • They go hiking? Monster attack!
  • They do go talk to the priest? Let him to his story!

Now, you do not need to have every event from killing dragons to going to the outhouse involve a plot-important event. Instead, let them use the village where they start as their sort-of home base, where they get invested in by doing things big and small. But here's the twist: after every second or third sidemission something happens regarding to the plot hooks: wounded travelers come in, speaking of bandits; one of the local lord's men is in search for people who could lend their swords to the aid of the realm, or have Sir Murder von Evilstabbings ride into town, off some folks, then go on. Eventually this will drive the players to want to take the hook, if only to put an end to the schemes of Larrenyyys the lich.

Have their actions improve the game world, then have setbacks (minor or major) kick in until the party kicks someone's door down and give them greatsword accupuncture.