Welcome to this week’s installment of “Only On Tuesdays!” This week I will be discussing an effective and simple method that will allow anyone to start a brand new campaign, in less than an hour of prep.
I know many people out there who would love to try and be a DM. They have a love for the game, and are excited by the possibilities that this game can provide. They want to guide a party of adventurer’s down an adventure of their own design and show them the world that they have created. But many would be DM’s don’t go much further than this due to fear of not being able to entertain their players. They see the idea of building their own world as an insurmountable task, and are too scared to try. Starting a game can be a very daunting task, and becoming a DM can be a scary thing to try to attempt. This post here today is meant to help ease you into the task, while giving you a solid place to start your adventures from.
Allow me to introduce you to the idea known simply as “The Map With 3 Hooks.”
When starting a game there is often a whole lot of things that a beginning DM must pay attention to. Building a world is often part of that task, and even if you are using a prebuilt setting such as the Forgotten Realms, it is still important that you prepare a place for your adventurer’s to start. Due to all of the things that one must put effort into at the start of the campaign, I suggest a simple solution to keeping your prep for your first session manageable. And that is to create a map with 3 hooks.
What I am suggesting is as simple as the name implies. Simply draw out a map, and add 3 potential plot hooks for your characters to follow. However the technique is very versatile, and can even apply to segments of your campaign much further down the road. Let’s say your players are headed to a completely new kingdom with no idea of what to do when they get there? Make a map with 3 hooks. What about a new continent? Or even a new plane of existence? This idea should allow you to create new and exciting places for your players to explore, without burning you out as a DM.
When using the Map with 3 Hooks method for the first time I would suggest keeping it much smaller than most traditional maps you see. While creating a map like Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a very exciting thing to do, for the first session we want to keep the focus contained and easy to manage. To do this, start by making a village, rather than a kingdom. After drawing out this village of your’s, populate it with a few npc’s. Give them names, lives, connections, and flesh out a living breathing town. Doing this will ensure your players have a comfortable place to start in, as they start exploring the more dangerous world that lies beyond the safety of the town.
Designing this first town for your players is probably the most important part of the process. A poorly built town with great hooks, won’t give your players the motivation they need in order to complete your hooks. However a greatly designed town, with weak hooks can still motivate the party to do them, because they care about the inhabitants of the town. Therefore it is important that you put most of your design process towards making an interesting town.
One of the first places to start when designing a town is to go with the Npc’s. They are the lifeblood in this town, and will influence everything about it, from the way the party interacts with the town, down to how they will interpret the plot hooks. You can make a traditional farming village town where everyone is kind and worthy of saving, or you can make a town that is full of borderline criminals, that might not be worth saving. You can take this any number of ways, and that is mostly up to what you and your players decide they want for the campaign.
When designing the Npc’s, a quick way to start is to simply list off all of the occupations that need to be filled in town. Every town needs things such as a hunter, leader, caretaker, doctor, and trader. The flavor of the town will help you decide how you want to approach these roles, but in general if you can fill out the occupations of the town, you will soon have a fully fleshed out roster of Npc’s to choose from. This will not only help you for this first session, but in further sessions to come as your players decide to come back and visit eventually. A well detailed town can give you multiple sessions of play just from the characters living within it’s boundaries. The hooks only help to motivate your players into starting an adventure.
After you have the Npc’s fleshed out, it’s time to work on the next part.
The next step of the method is to create 3 plot hooks that revolve around your map. In our map of the village we have something simple to start with. Potential plot hooks can be anything that is a threat to the existence of the town. Maybe there is an unexplored cave that nobody has ever returned from? Perhaps there is a band of goblins who are attacking all of the caravans as they come into town? What if there is an Owlbear in the woods eating all of the livestock? Whatever the case is, people in the town are worried about it, and need help. And who better to help than the adventurer’s that just showed up.
Of course you are not limited to having 3 plot hooks. You can have as many as you are willing to put the time into designing. 3 however is a good number, because too many and your players won’t be able to explore them all. (Not necessarily a bad thing, as it can make your world feel larger than it is). But too few and you risk the chance of your players ignoring your hooks in favor of something of their own design. So I feel that 3 is a good number to start with. 3 is also a nice number because it makes it easier to link the 3 plot hooks together.
Now at this point you have everything you need to start your game. 3 hooks and a map are more than sufficient at giving you what you need for a fun and flavorful session. As long as your village is detailed well enough, you are more than prepared to do whatever your players want to do. This next part is simply something you can do to go above and beyond.
You now have a town full of unique Npc’s, and a few plot hooks to choose from. From here you can start a game and things should go smoothly. However, if you want to go the extra step, something great you can do is to tie all of your plot hooks together. Let’s take my 3 plot hooks from above.
1. Unexplored cave no one returns from.
2. Goblins attacking caravan.
3. Rogue Owlbear on the loose.
These 3 plot hooks are fine on their own in a vacuum, but combining them so that they lead to a single key piece can make for an interesting session, as your players uncover clues that lead to the other plot hooks that they did not follow. Let’s say the players decide to explore the cave. When they get there they find pelts of hide everywhere around the room, along with the supplies from all of the lost caravans. While exploring this cave they discover that not only are the goblins living here in the cave, but so is the Owlbear, and perhaps the 2 might be working together. If they choose to try and stop the goblins, they may be attacked by the Owlbear while there is a goblin riding on it’s back. If they choose to follow the Owlbear they will eventually be led to the cave, which will help them connect everything else together.
Linking your hooks in this way is very exciting for your players as it allows them to discover things about your world, while also making your world seem much deeper than it actually is. Discovering and making these connections will make them feel like they are on a mystery, and learning how everything links together can be a very satisfying experience that many will remember for a long time.
Another potential thing that you could do is link all of the plot hooks towards one common villain. Doing this can lead them to the recurring villain, and will allow them to have their first encounter with the bad guy.
You could also make it so that some of the hooks link with each other, while others don’t effectively making red herrings. If you happen to use this system a lot in your campaign varying what hooks connect with each other can make for more interesting sessions as your players have to be careful of taking the simple yet obvious path.
The Map With 3 Hooks is a very simple concept. It’s initial applications are of course geared towards starting a campaign, but the possibilities here are endless. Using this system whenever your players venture towards new areas, allows you to quickly create entertaining sessions, with very little prep. Taking some time to sit down and brew up potential hooks allows you to choose the best choices among them, and start with interesting ideas that your players can then pursue. This system also leaves the choices in the hands of the players, something that every new DM should learn how to do.
The Map With 3 Hooks can of course be The Map With 5 Hooks, or even 10 Hooks. The size of the map can be as small as a village to the size of a continent! The level of connections can be as little as none, to as intricate as 100’s of mysteries linked together. This may be called The Map With 3 Hooks, but it is as variable as you want it to be. Typically the larger a map your creating the more hooks you’ll need, and the broader the definition you’ll need for said hooks. Taking a kingdom sized map for example instead of it being the goblins raiding the caravans, it could be the orcs destroying the forests. Instead of an unexplored cave, it could a lost and forgotten tomb. Instead of a rogue monster, it could be a cult trying to summon up the Tarrasque!
To utilize The Map With 3 Hooks, follow these simple steps.
1. Decide on the scale of the map: (For the start of a campaign, village size is preferred)
2. Draw out your map and populate it with interesting npc’s
3. Lay down several hooks that your party can follow
Bonus Step: Link the hooks together to make for a more interesting session.
Hopefully this system helps you when it comes to designing your first session, or your next. It is intended to be a modular system that can help you plan out your next few sessions with minimal effort required by the DM. As for now have a great week, and an amazing Tuesday!