I hate plot hooks.

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robiswrong

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Lemme be clear. If you like plot hooks, good on you! Me, I have no use for them, and want nothing to do with them in my games.

So, let's define a plot hook. A plot hook is something interesting but fairly benign to get players interested in a direction. Once they follow the hook, they find themselves whisked away on a magical adventure!

"Hook" is exactly the right word. It's just like a fish - you see the interesting, appealing thing wiggling in the water, you bite on it, and you find yourself pulled along in a direction that may have nothing to do with what you wanted or even the appealing thing itself. The hook was really bait to get you to do something you didn't want to do.

This happens a lot in railroad adventures - you see something interesting and appealing, you do the thing, and then find yourself stuck on a railroad on some grand plot. Now, if that's not how you use the word, I'm not talking about you, so yay.

I think hooks are terribad. Why?

1) They are deceitful to the players. They explicitly promise one thing and deliver another.
2) They are usually used for railroads (or even railroads within sandboxes). YAWN.
3) If you're doing a railroad and your players are in on it, just fucking tell them. No need for a "hook".
4) They breed paranoia in your players... everything is evaluated as a possible thing to suck them in on something they don't give a shit about.

What I do like is plot grenades. A plot grenade is something you lob at the players that demands an immediate response, but doesn't specify a single specific response. They're anti-plot-hooks.

1) They're obvious and up front about the danger, and what they're dealing with
2) They explicitly don't demand the players go in one direction

So, yeah. I hate plot hooks. I love plot grenades.
 

Spellslinging Sellsword

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I'm a little confused at your use of plot hook as I've mostly seen it used just to describe the GM mentioning things that they players may or may not follow up on, but that gives them an idea of something to do rather than saying hey you are in this world, what do you do? For example, you've heard a rumor about a lost stronghold that holds great riches, the local baron is hiring adventurers to explore a new region, and the local merchants are looking for caravan guards. What do you guys want to do?
 

David Johansen

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"I hate fish hooks!" - Aquaman

As far as they go, in my experience, plot hooks seldom work, I can tell my players that there's an abandoned freighter in a radical orbit that's coming into a launch window for the first time in a hundred years, the local baron is looking for a few good men to hunt down a cell of raiders, and the local religious leader is leading an exodus into the desert to commune with the giant ruins of the ancients and my players just want to look for the best local Zho Pho joint. "Go into a space hulk? Do you think we're crazy?" At one point I had to outright tell a player in a D&D campaign that there were no experience points for murdering peasant children and the rewards are where the risks are.
 

Evilschemer

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My players call it "the Quest Wagon". It's an imaginary wagon of "things they have to do". Whenever they hear about a duke being menaced by pirate attacks, or a wizard creating a dragon golem, or an evil vampire lizard king in the swamp, they say, "Yeah yeah, throw it in the quest wagon. We'll get to it eventually."

Then, when they get board, they'll say "Well, that's complete. Okay, what's left in the Quest Wagon?" and they'll pick something to do.
 

Moonglum

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I don't like plot hooks the way you have defined them. I do like experiences and rumors that players can respond to. I guess the difference is intent - does the DM have an ulterior motive or are they prepared to 'yes, and!' however the players respond. Also, when people write plot hooks that don't really have a barb in them, I think they end up more quirky and interesting.

The best example of this I've encountered recently are the Rumors cards for The Fantasy Trip. Half of them are so ambiguous in their meaning that they could lead to almost any reaction and therefore almost any path of play. But they do catch your attention. There are a whole bunch of them and they vary wildly in theme, but a (totally random) example is: "No insects were seen anywhere around town yesterday, not even the flies in the street and the bees in the hives. Today they are all back." Does it mean something? Nothing? Everything? Only a bit of improv on the parts of the DM and players will answer. Here's another that is a bit more conventional but also could lead anywhere or nowhere: "Mysterious high winds have knocked down dozens of trees in nearby forests. Villagers salvaging a fallen oak for firewood found a skeleton in full plate in a crypt among the roots. How did she get there? Would there be interesting findings at other fallen trees? Was the wind natural?"

I like this sort of hook, as it doesn't remove anyone's freedom of action, unless the DM plans in advance to do so.
 

TJS

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"I hit the town what do I find out?"

- Bandits are plaguing the road north - there's a bounty on the leader's head.
- Some miners are talking about how they dug a shaft to the north and broke into an underground crypt of some sort. As soon as they saw some of the skeletons get up and start moving they high tailed it back to town.
- A merchant's daughter has run off - apparently he's offering a big reward for anyone who can bring her back to town.
- recently there has been activity around the abandoned watch tower to the north. Travellers are reporting seeing flying monkeys of all things in the area.
- There's a rich alchemist who will pay money for any living exotic creature you can bring him.
There's a stranger in town asking lots of questions about a mysterious sorcerer with a blue crescent tattoo he's apparently looking for.

This is generally what people mean by 'plot hooks' in the context of a sandbox.

They're plots to the extent that they are things you can do- an excuse to get moving. They also serve double duty as the presentation of the situation in the local area. They may be connected - it may turn out the merchant's daughter ran off with one of the bandits - and you can of course try and capture a winged moneky and sell it to the alchemist. But they also know that any other fantastic creature they run across might be worth subduing and attempting to transport.

The fact that they are multiple and the fact that they are optional is absolutely key. The abandoned watch tower may be filled by a necromancer who is well beyond the party's ability to handle. That mere fact wouldn't be possible in a single hook plot situation. The party would know they are supposed to explore the tower because it's the hook the gm gave them and if the GM made it too hard they would just look like a dick. But in this case they don't know that, therefore they don't know if they can handle him.

Likewise if they find the bandits and decide they are too well-fortified and difficult to get to they can just go and do something else, or they can make allies of the bandits.

It's also key that, as none of the plots are 'the plot' the party are free to explore. If they come across an interesting looking path to a castle on a crag on the way to something else they might just go and explore that.
 
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robiswrong

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I'm pretty sure that what most of you are doing isn't what I call hooks... but I think what Fenris-77 Fenris-77 is talking about is.
 

TJS

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I'm pretty sure that what most of you are doing isn't what I call hooks... but I think what Fenris-77 Fenris-77 is talking about is.
The issue seems to me that you are redefining plot hooks as only something that leads into an extremely linear railroaded plot.

Personally I think that's mising the point. The idea that something is "linear" or "not linear" is a a dead end. (And as I said in the other thread kind of leads to the conclusion that anything not a sandbox is dysfunctional, making 'sandbox' just a synoym for any functinoal game).

The distinction is between more open and less open, or degrees of linearity. If the party have six hooks and they make the decision to choose one then they have collapsed the possibilities somewhat. You can throw in a hook that leads to something quite linear into a sandbox quite easily, and then once you resolve it the possibilities open again.

If the party decide next session they are going to travel to the city of Cremaster, then the game may quite literally become linear. If you pull out the map and see there's only one road to Cremaster then any encounters on the way are largely unavoidable.

If the party decide they want to take on a specific job for a specifc person then as long as they are doing that job, there is little distinction from an episodic plot of the week game. (There is one important difference, which is that in a sandbox the game doesn't fall apart if they decide to just abandon the mystery and skip town - but that actually means you can get away with more linearity in a sandbox at the micro level - because there's always that additional degree of freedom supplied by the ovearching context.).
 

hawkeyefan

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I feel like I kind of get what you were going for in the OP, although I was expecting that it’d be the word “plot” that was the issue. But then it’s used in the alternative of “plot grenade”.
 

Simlasa

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Plot hooks give information that can be used in a variety of ways...
The rich merchant with the missing daughter? Maybe we go find her and bring her back for the reward, OR... OK, so we know no one is sleeping in that room at the moment and it might make a good point of access when we go to rob the merchant's house!
Some sorcerer is looking for a guy with a blue moon tatoo? Maybe we want to get the reward for finding this person, OR... maybe this is a chance to cause trouble for an enemy, by surreptitiously giving him that mark and making sure it's noticed.
 

FreeGamer

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Nah. I reject the redefinition of the term "plot hook" in the first place. It's a broad category of which the OPs problems only stem from a tiny subset thereof. Then the whole "plot grenade" thing . . . requiring a more immediate response doesn't make it not a hook. It's just another subset of the larger category. Plot hook with a time limit is still just a plot hook. And if you require more immediate response than even that . . . well, you can hardly complain about railroading at that point w/o being a hypocrite, yeah?

"Plot hooks where you have the choice to interact with them or not are too railroady. Plot grenades that require immediate action, removing even that choice from the players, is totally the solution." . . . ok . . . sure.
 

Winterblight

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As a fish, I would take my chances with a baited hook over a grenade any day. It sounds like the OP is describing not only a baited hook, but rod line and sinker with an arsehole of a GM fishing from the riverbank. I would have no time for this kind of 'Hook' as described myself.

The idea behind a plot hook is to capture the player character's attention, not drag them thrashing and splashing on to the riverbank where they have no agency.
 

Ravenswing

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I think the OP's 25% dislike of the term and 75% having had some bad experiences with adversarial GMs.

For my part, I disagree with almost all of "plot hook" as the OP defines it.

1) Pardon, but what makes a plot hook "deceitful" by definition, and that it "explicitly promise(s) one thing and deliver(s) another?" Perhaps you've confused a hook with a plot twist. The merchant's daughter may have indeed run off, and the reward for her return to her parents is legit. You might not want to call that a "plot hook" (perhaps because you're sold on the term being pejorative), but it is all the same.

2) Plot hooks are usually used for railroads? Hardly, but stipulating so, so what? Railroads are a legitimate play style many players enjoy (even if I decidedly don't). Elements used in such styles aren't badwrongfun by definition.

3) If I were into railroads, I'd consider it very clumsy work for the GM to tell us, outright, "This is the plot and I expect you to buy into it. Hop to!" (Perhaps accompanied by a whiplash.) Using a hook is considerably less crass.

4) "They breed paranoia in your players... everything is evaluated as a possible thing to suck them in on something they don't give a shit about." Wow. That's a damn adversarial way to look on things. What we're doing, across most RPG tables, are adventures. I expect my players (however sandboxy things are) to want to have adventures, and to buy into the adventures I present. If they don't give a shit about this type of adventure or that, I expect them to be upfront about it, so we can calibrate expectations accordingly. And if they don't want to do adventures at all, then what the hell are they doing pretending to be RPG players in the first place?

In a hobby utterly dependent on the use of words to drive damn near everything, I am militantly indifferent to the passive-aggressive BS inherent in that quote. If you want me to do a certain type of adventure, use your words. If you don't want me to do a certain type of adventure, use your words. Without player feedback, I am left in the dark to arrange things as I think best, and I do not take formless grumbling well, or for long.

I am not The Enemy -- whatever prior GMs have done the players wrong -- and I've shown players the door for persisting in viewing me as one.
 

opaopajr

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:blah:

I reject your premise for ignoring my new and improved plot sous vide! (Which one day I shall define ad hoc using my single malt batch carpenter's parallelogram. :eat: )
 

finarvyn

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In my sandbox campaign I often put together a whole list of plot hooks and present it to the players. They get to choose which ones to follow and which ones to ignore. The ironic thing is often what they think is most interesting is what I thought was least interesting, thus I prepared less material for, and so I'm often scrambling to flesh out my hooks on the spot. :grin:
 

Picaroon Jack

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When my players reject the plot device and go about their own business they seem a bit shocked that the missing journalist turns up dead.

Them: "Someone should have done something!"
Me: "If only there was someone around to protect the innocent. Oh well, back to your daily lives."

LOL
 

Picaroon Jack

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In my sandbox campaign I often put together a whole list of plot hooks and present it to the players. They get to choose which ones to follow and which ones to ignore. The ironic thing is often what they think is most interesting is what I thought was least interesting, thus I prepared less material for, and so I'm often scrambling to flesh out my hooks on the spot. :grin:
This post gave me deja vu! It's my exact experience.
 

arjunstc

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I think you mean 'bait' when you say 'hook'. Specifically a "bait and switch".

I don't see plot hooks as fish hooks, more like a zipline kind of thing: you see a line you like to follow and you hook up to it.

But to further confuse things and get back to the railway metaphor, I see presenting hooks to my players as presenting several trains each moving along on their separate tracks. Most of the time these trains and tracks represent villains and their plots. The PCs may see or guess at where these tracks lead and where the train will end up, and it is their job as heroes to derail the villain's plot. There is not one way to do this - any way which they can think of to derail the train may be tried, but one of the problems with derailing a speeding train is that you never know where it will end up...
 

Tommy Brownell

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I think the OP's 25% dislike of the term and 75% having had some bad experiences with adversarial GMs.

For my part, I disagree with almost all of "plot hook" as the OP defines it.

1) Pardon, but what makes a plot hook "deceitful" by definition, and that it "explicitly promise(s) one thing and deliver(s) another?" Perhaps you've confused a hook with a plot twist. The merchant's daughter may have indeed run off, and the reward for her return to her parents is legit. You might not want to call that a "plot hook" (perhaps because you're sold on the term being pejorative), but it is all the same.

2) Plot hooks are usually used for railroads? Hardly, but stipulating so, so what? Railroads are a legitimate play style many players enjoy (even if I decidedly don't). Elements used in such styles aren't badwrongfun by definition.

3) If I were into railroads, I'd consider it very clumsy work for the GM to tell us, outright, "This is the plot and I expect you to buy into it. Hop to!" (Perhaps accompanied by a whiplash.) Using a hook is considerably less crass.

4) "They breed paranoia in your players... everything is evaluated as a possible thing to suck them in on something they don't give a shit about." Wow. That's a damn adversarial way to look on things. What we're doing, across most RPG tables, are adventures. I expect my players (however sandboxy things are) to want to have adventures, and to buy into the adventures I present. If they don't give a shit about this type of adventure or that, I expect them to be upfront about it, so we can calibrate expectations accordingly. And if they don't want to do adventures at all, then what the hell are they doing pretending to be RPG players in the first place?

In a hobby utterly dependent on the use of words to drive damn near everything, I am militantly indifferent to the passive-aggressive BS inherent in that quote. If you want me to do a certain type of adventure, use your words. If you don't want me to do a certain type of adventure, use your words. Without player feedback, I am left in the dark to arrange things as I think best, and I do not take formless grumbling well, or for long.

I am not The Enemy -- whatever prior GMs have done the players wrong -- and I've shown players the door for persisting in viewing me as one.

Yeah, this summed up my thoughts nicely. But I'll add a couple more anyway.

I use "plot hooks" a lot. And sometimes there's a twist and sometimes there's not. It just depends.

I alllllllllways tell my players there's no "supposed to". I do usually *anticipate* what they are going to do, because goddamn pal, if I'm gonna prep something I need some idea of what might happen...but this ain't my first rodeo. If they zig when I think they're going to zag, I'll figure it out. And for the paranoia part...well, my players tend to have fairly well developed PCs (not "five page backstory" PCs, but "consistently developed" PCs) and so it makes it easier for me to find ways to entice them to give a shit.
 

David Johansen

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She sauntered through the doorway of my office, even now though thread bare and fading she carried herself like royalty. She reached back, into her long coat and whipped out a .45 with a sneer that would have wilted the bravest soldier. She snarled, "I hate plot hooks," and pulled the trigger.
 

Duskwight

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Sometimes I think discussions would escape the defining of terms phase if locals would practice the "taboo your words" policy rationalists and LessWrong readers advocated. Especially when the focus is on colloquially defined hobby jargon that varies a lot based on personal experience.

Anyway I don't like it much when descriptions of things happening in the game that are potentially interesting and adventuresome for the players to engage with are reacted to by the players or other DMs with offense, on the assumption that the result must necessarily be linear. Well, what did you want instead?
 

CRKrueger

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I think it’s important to note that some people are GMing or playing happily and successfully, using practices that others will literally get up and walk out on (and probably have), possibly flipping the table as they go.

It’s ok for someone to do something you hate.
It’s ok for someone to hate something you like.
That something is different, doesn’t mean it’s superior, or inferior.
 

Brock Savage

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Isn't the classic rumour table a series of 'plot hooks' although I realize the term 'plot' gives some palpitations.
That's what I thought. "Plot hook" is the vague term I use to describe opportunities for something interesting to happen; they can take a million forms, be subtle or direct, misleading or true (although I do avoid straight up red herrings due to time constraints). Plot hooks can be handled in bad faith to screw the players over, take away their choice, or waste their time but I haven't experienced this since the bad ol' days of adversarial DMing.
 

Brock Savage

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Do we need to organize a Pub Spa Day or something?
About a nanosecond after the pandemic ends I am splurging on a visit to high end men's salon: haircut, shave, facial, massage, the works. And then I'm tipping like a rock star. That is, if there are any places like this still open after a year + of quarantine. :blah:
 

AsenRG

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I feel like people are really overthinking the idea of hooks. The players bite, things proceed. Its not complicated and the fishing metaphor works.
I agree:thumbsup:.

"I hit the town what do I find out?"

- Bandits are plaguing the road north - there's a bounty on the leader's head.
- Some miners are talking about how they dug a shaft to the north and broke into an underground crypt of some sort. As soon as they saw some of the skeletons get up and start moving they high tailed it back to town.
- A merchant's daughter has run off - apparently he's offering a big reward for anyone who can bring her back to town.
- recently there has been activity around the abandoned watch tower to the north. Travellers are reporting seeing flying monkeys of all things in the area.
- There's a rich alchemist who will pay money for any living exotic creature you can bring him.
There's a stranger in town asking lots of questions about a mysterious sorcerer with a blue crescent tattoo he's apparently looking for.

This is generally what people mean by 'plot hooks' in the context of a sandbox.

They're plots to the extent that they are things you can do- an excuse to get moving. They also serve double duty as the presentation of the situation in the local area. They may be connected - it may turn out the merchant's daughter ran off with one of the bandits - and you can of course try and capture a winged moneky and sell it to the alchemist. But they also know that any other fantastic creature they run across might be worth subduing and attempting to transport.

The fact that they are multiple and the fact that they are optional is absolutely key. The abandoned watch tower may be filled by a necromancer who is well beyond the party's ability to handle. That mere fact wouldn't be possible in a single hook plot situation. The party would know they are supposed to explore the tower because it's the hook the gm gave them and if the GM made it too hard they would just look like a dick. But in this case they don't know that, therefore they don't know if they can handle him.

Likewise if they find the bandits and decide they are too well-fortified and difficult to get to they can just go and do something else, or they can make allies of the bandits.

It's also key that, as none of the plots are 'the plot' the party are free to explore. If they come across an interesting looking path to a castle on a crag on the way to something else they might just go and explore that.

The issue seems to me that you are redefining plot hooks as only something that leads into an extremely linear railroaded plot.

Personally I think that's mising the point. The idea that something is "linear" or "not linear" is a a dead end. (And as I said in the other thread kind of leads to the conclusion that anything not a sandbox is dysfunctional, making 'sandbox' just a synoym for any functinoal game).

The distinction is between more open and less open, or degrees of linearity. If the party have six hooks and they make the decision to choose one then they have collapsed the possibilities somewhat. You can throw in a hook that leads to something quite linear into a sandbox quite easily, and then once you resolve it the possibilities open again.

If the party decide next session they are going to travel to the city of Cremaster, then the game may quite literally become linear. If you pull out the map and see there's only one road to Cremaster then any encounters on the way are largely unavoidable.

If the party decide they want to take on a specific job for a specifc person then as long as they are doing that job, there is little distinction from an episodic plot of the week game. (There is one important difference, which is that in a sandbox the game doesn't fall apart if they decide to just abandon the mystery and skip town - but that actually means you can get away with more linearity in a sandbox at the micro level - because there's always that additional degree of freedom supplied by the ovearching context.).
...and I have a hard time expressing how much I like these two posts. The reasons are personal and have nothing to do with the thread (though they're a fine contribution), but I just wanted to mention it:grin:!

I think it’s important to note that some people are GMing or playing happily and successfully, using practices that others will literally get up and walk out on (and probably have), possibly flipping the table as they go.

It’s ok for someone to do something you hate.
It’s ok for someone to hate something you like.
That something is different, doesn’t mean it’s superior, or inferior.
And this post should have been in the other thread as well. For that matter, there's enough people on the Pub which would feel this way about their respective games, too!
 
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Justin Alexander

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So, let's define a plot hook.

I don't think you actually did a great job providing your definition of "plot hook." You kind of talked about how what you defined as "plot hook" is typically used, but didn't really spell out what it is. My understanding of your definition:
  • An element of the game that promises an interesting experience to motivate the players to engage with something.
  • But does not actually provide that interesting experience.
  • And, furthermore, once the players have engaged with the plot hook, they are not able to disengage from the deceptive experience it's attached to.
My observations would be that:

1) I have never seen the term "plot hook" used or defined like this.

2) Most examples of plot hooks in RPGs are, in fact, painfully direct and comprehensive in summarizing the experience they're pointing at: The plot hook says "there are goblins in the old mine," and when the PCs go to the old mine they... find a bunch of goblins. IMO, it's usually more effective to use surprising scenario hooks that allow the players to discover hidden truths about the scenarios they engage with.

3) I agree that, at best, a GM should be very cautious about forcing the players to continue doing something that they aren't interested in continuing to do. (There's a bajillion provisos to this statement, but it can be broadly understood as true.)

But insofar as we're agreed on #3, I'm confused that...

What I do like is plot grenades. A plot grenade is something you lob at the players that demands an immediate response, but doesn't specify a single specific response. They're anti-plot-hooks.

... you like plot grenades so much, since you define them as literally forcing the players to do something that they may or may not be interested in.

I guess you're OK with forcing the players to engage with scenarios as long as deception is not the method by which you force them to do it?

I'm not saying "plot grenades" are an inherently bad device. But in most situations I would certainly use them with a lot of caution.
 

arjunstc

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About a nanosecond after the pandemic ends I am splurging on a visit to high end men's salon: haircut, shave, facial, massage, the works. And then I'm tipping like a rock star. That is, if there are any places like this still open after a year + of quarantine. :blah:

It's been ages since I've had a straight razor shave...
 

Trippy

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Sorry to be dismissive, but I think the OP over-specifies what a plot hook is, while ‘plot grenades’ aren’t really a thing.
 

Duskwight

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Sorry to be dismissive, but I think the OP over-specifies what a plot hook is, while ‘plot grenades’ aren’t really a thing.

Closest hobby jargon equivalent I can think of are "Bangs" from Ron Edwards' Sorceror, wherein there's a problem that occurs in-game and must be dealt with immediately and in some dramatic fashion. I don't think that works for non-narrative games though because a combat can be considered a Bang under the same definition.
 

TJS

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I'm not saying "plot grenades" are an inherently bad device. But in most situations I would certainly use them with a lot of caution.
I tend to use these as more of a response to things the PCs have done that demand a reaction.
 

Stevethulhu

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I dont see the problem with hooks. The hook is what gets you interested enough to follow it up. It's the cold open or the earworm.

I'm not sure that's a bad thing, myself.

But then, the way I see the GM role is that I'm there to pose a problem and its up to the players to find a solution. Only I won't tell you how amd there's no wrong answers.

I'm not sure where that fits in the railroad/sandbox split. But I do know Bryan would make it look effortless.
 
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