Adventure Hook: The Town Meeting

by Sterling on May 4, 2009

How do you motivate the PCs to begin a new adventure? Meeting a guy in a tavern is old and overused. You want the PCs to go down the road you’ve paved with all your hard work. You’ve designed the campaign, chosen the adventure, drawn the maps, populated the dungeons, given stats to the important NPCs, balanced the encounters and planned your tactics. All you need now is a hook.

To begin the adventure you need to provide some reason the PCs to get engaged. There are as many ways to do this as there are adventures: from the dark stranger in the corner of the bar to the wisely sage living in the tower.

The Town Meeting (presented below) is an adventuring hook for PCs in the heroic tier. This is the first of a new ongoing series here at Dungeon’s Master. It presents a simple hook and looks at the many possibilities that it can spawn.

Baiting the Hook: The Town Meeting

Town meetings are meetings where the entire population of a certain geographical region is invited to attend. Usually these meetings have a purpose, be it political, religious or administrative in nature.

In a typical D&D hamlet or thorp, there are many reasons to call a town meeting: to elect civic officials (such as the mayor or sheriff), plan events (such as the harvest festival or end of winter celebrations) or some other mundane and uninteresting reason. What you need is an interesting reason for the meeting to be taking place and here are a few suggestions.

Concerns over safety

  • People or livestock are disappearing and the townsfolk are scared.
  • A strange sickness is spreading.
  • Strange figures are seen or heard in the woods.
  • Graves are found looted or empty.
  • Villagers are getting turned into newts (but they’re getting better).

Concerns over trade

  • Trade caravans are missing.
  • Merchants are being robbed.
  • Crops in the area are doing poorly.
  • Stored food is spoiling.
  • Sheep are balding, cows are producing curdled milk, chickens are laying eggs with no shells.
  • Forged money or documents are being discovered.

Concerns over religion

  • The sky is turning red and it’s raining blood.
  • Offerings to the gods are missing or are showing signs of rejection.
  • Statues in the church are bleeding, crying or broken.
  • The church bell has cracked.
  • An albino calf was born.

Once you’ve decided why the town meeting was called, you can determine the relationship the PCs have to the people gathered there. Perhaps the PCs are residents of the community and they have a personal interest in resolving this mystery. Perhaps they are just passing through town and they stumble upon the meeting as the congregation finishes a prayer for help.

Once the PCs have become part of the scene it’s important to ensure that they’re properly motivated, and the best way to do this is to offer some kind of reward. Since everyone in the area is present (or are they?) the town officials have the authority to enlist the PCs help in order to resolve whatever problem lead to the town meeting in the first place (major quest). Some of the townsfolk may offer the PCs an interesting treasure if they complete an unrelated task while they’re in the area (side quests). An elderly woman may ask the Druid to find her lost house cat or a farmer asks the Fighter to take his son on as a squire. The possibilities are endless. With everyone in one place it should be easy for the PCs to gather clues as well as dig up rumours and town legends. This may be a good time for the DM to employing a skill challenge.

Reeling Them In

No matter what purpose broght the town’s folk together or the direction you chose to launch the PCs in, a town hall meeting gives the PCs a sense of assisting a community and will likely be a lot more memorable than starting an adventure in a tavern.

What do you think of this adventuring hook? Is it something you are likely to use? Are you interested in seeing more article in this series? If you do use this hook, how did it turn out? We want to hear from you.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 hulkster May 4, 2009 at 12:33 pm

GREAT post! im about 5 game sessions into my campaign with a group of new dnd players and the adventure hooks were a problem for me…and for my players. i love the idea of create “concern”. instead of just saying “hey, go retrieve this artifact for me” or whatever, you introduce concern into the town/NPC group giving it life…but as a result, the term “concern” is very open ended and doesnt necessarily require the players to act. i definitely plan on using this in my next game session, but also consequences to the players for not being concerned. this is a good thing though :-)

2 Wimwick May 5, 2009 at 7:33 am

@ Hulkster
Glad you liked the post. We plan to run more adventure hook articles and will be looking at how to develop hooks that are appropriate for the different tiers.

3 Jon May 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm

I’m in the process of creating a 4th Ed. campaign (currently a player in one), and its funny that I came along your article, as I plan on using this same hook to start things off and introduce the PCs to each other.

The town meeting takes place just after nightfall in the town square, with a large fire roaring at the gathering’s center. Instead of discussing the upcoming fall festival, this emergency meeting has a much more somber and nervous energy. Local hunters and trappers have noticed the lack of wildlife in the Deep Wood over the last few weeks, and scouts say mysterious shadows have been seen creeping about the eerily quite forest. Will these shadows attack the town, and if so how will they defend themselves? All men able to bear arms are requested to help protect the town in it’s time of need…

4 rubburtrogdor September 30, 2009 at 7:17 pm

I really found this article useful. I am starting a 3.5 campaign soon, I’m having the PCs start in a dungeon. they were all captured and magically kept in a comatose type state. They are going to regain their senses and find that the dungeon they are held in is starting to flood due to the massive storm that destroyed the building above ground.

I will, however consider the town meeting scenario for the next campaign or maybe as a lead into some other quests in the same campaign.

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