[RPG] How to encourage the players to give me plot hooks


Related: How can I help a player craft a backstory that gives me plot hooks?

This question is about generating new plot hooks during play, rather than part of character generation, however.

I prefer the story of a campaign to evolve from player actions, rather than being set in stone. I enjoy a story crafted by everyone involved in the game, not just by the GM.

In that light, what techniques can I use to encourage the players to generate plot hooks, rather than simply coming up with my own and adapting to player action story arc after story arc?

The same question applies as a player getting my fellow players to generate story (and getting the GM to run with it!) but I think that's distinct enough to warrant its own question. Here, I want to focus solely on what the GM can do to get the players to help mold the game in a way that it can be enjoyed by everyone.

Best Answer

Fictize the act of plot generation. What does this mean? It means create a fictional reason for the players to tell you the kind of information you're looking for. It's best to make it something subjective, that way you can either roll with it or change it, and still be "right". Here are some examples:

"Abner, you have a dream that wakes you up in the middle of the night, all trembling and sweaty. It involved your future, and you wake up feeling a need to prove yourself. What was the dream about?"

"Babette, as you're watching the Queen's parade pass by, you flash back to a time you were young. You remember a promise you made to yourself. What was that promise?"

"Caliban, one of the people at the table reminds you of someone in your past who made a great impression on you. They taught you about the importance of following your dreams. Who was that person, and what did they say that you took to heart?"

"Dagon, while rearranging your gear that night, you find a note in the bottom of your pack. You're not sure how long it's been there. It says simply "help me." You think you recognize the handwriting. Whose writing is it? Why might they need your help?"

"Elsie, as you're waiting for the food to arrive you notice a person who enters the room and looks around slowly, as if they're searching for someone. You haven't seen them in a long time, but you recognize the face. Who is it, and what do you think they're looking for?"

"Falafel, the fortune teller reads your palm and tells you that you are in danger of slipping from your true path. There is something you have forgotten to do, some responsibility or detail from the past. What was it?"

You can also throw a question to the entire group for brainstorming. Don't be afraid to ask for a scene about it. Say you just came up with a weird random encounter or event, and even you don't know what it means. That's ok, just sit the characters down and let them have a conversation about it. "Ok guys, so that night as you sit around the campfire, you all begin wondering about (that weird thing that happened earlier). Like... What could it mean? Is there something that should be done about it? I want to hear that conversation."

The players will probably come up with several theories on their own, and you can choose whichever one sounds good to you. Maybe they're exactly right. Or maybe they're only half right, but it will give you something to go on.