Adventure Hooks – Moral Choices

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 23, 2012

Adventure hooks are indented as a way to get the PCs into the action quickly. Dangle something interesting in front of them and hope that they take the bait. It might be a greed trap where you offer them a pretty bauble or magical item, or it might be an interaction with a strange or unusual character. In most cases the adventure hook is simple and straight forward (which is not to say boring).

However, in some cases the adventure hook can be more than just a simple way to get the PCs interested in the next leg of the adventure. Every once in a while adventure hooks should be a little bit more complicated than the usual fare. DMs should provide the PCs with a dilemma in which they have to make a choice. Although there isn’t a clear-cut right or wrong answer, either outcome will have serious consequences.

Today we share four adventure hooks; each of which puts the PCs in situations where they have to make difficult moral choices. Listening to the PCs justify how and why they’re going to handle these situations will say a lot about the kind of characters that make up the adventuring party. In some cases the decision to act one way or the other may result in some in-party fighting. These are not easy choices to make and it could be very revealing once the PCs decide to act.

  • A local baron or other minor noble hires the PCs to help him keep law and order in his growing town. The PCs swear loyalty to him and agree to do as he bids for the duration of their contract. Over time they realize that he’s corrupt and see first-hand that he’s a terrible leader. One day a relative of the baron shows up in town. Although he does have proper claim to the town’s highest office, he has no desire to rule or lead. What makes it even more difficult is that the visitor is an exceptionally popular and good-hearted man – the perfect leader. Do the PCs try to help the visiting noble take over or do they remain loyal to a man who doesn’t deserve their loyalty?
  • The PCs are lost in a harsh environment (frozen tundra, arid desert, ocean, or underdark). They are getting to the point of desperation as their supplies are running dangerously low. They are already beginning to feel the effects of malnourishment and dehydration. They come across a group of people with supplies. Do the PCs try to take what they need or do they ask for assistance? If they ask for assistance the people will help. However, they demand that the PCs perform some service that is contradictory to the PCs sensibilities. Will they accept help under these terms? Alternatively the saviours are willing to provide aid, but the PCs recognize them as part of an extreme evil organization. Will they accept their help?
  • The PCs are recruited by a frontier town to handle a local monster problem. The monsters (Orcs, Gobbling, Gnolls, etc.) have become more brazen and their attacks on the town have become more and more frequent. After the PCs eliminate the warriors in the raiding parties they follow their tracks to a hidden lair. Once there they discover women, children and elderly monsters. Do the PCs kill them or spare their lives? There is treasure in the lair but if the PCs take it the monsters will have nothing with which to trade and will surely face extreme hardship since the PCs killed their hunters and gathers. If the town that hired the PCs realizes that they helped the monsters or took pity on them, it could reflect poorly on the PCs’ reputation. What do the PCs do?
  • The PCs witness a fight in which one man kills another. They don’t recognize the killer when the crime happens but eventually realize who he is. He’s famous – perhaps a popular politician or an up-and-coming noble. He’s also been a thorn in the side of the PCs recently. Before the PCs can report what they’ve seen, a reward is offered for information leading to the killer’s arrest. Any accusations made by the PCs may not be taken seriously given their ongoing issues with the killer. The killer secretly offers the PCs hush money, treasure or information they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Do they let his crime go unpunished? Do they turn him in or do they decide to take matters into their own hands? If caught they know they will certainly be prosecuted?

How often does your party find themselves faced with these kinds of moral dilemmas? If faced with one of these specific adventure hooks in your game, how would you react based on your character’s background and alignment?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alton January 23, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Honestly, I have not been subjected to many moral dilemmas throughout my characters career. I tend to DM them. I did use the children and elderly hook one time and the whole party hummed and hawed about what to do. They were divided. It was hilarious to see. They almost fought to prove their points.

These situations are great. They would depend on what character and class I am playing(I guess alignment would also come into play). Maybe one day I would be able to play in one of these situations.
Alton´s last blog post ..Review: Sword of the Gods, A Forgotten Realms Novel

2 jaana January 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

Hi!
So, I am mostly DMing our group of people. What I see is, how easily the PCs are influenced. They look at every smallest wink of mine – they don’t care so much what monsters to fight or be enemies with as long as they have a good relationship with the DM. :-) That is my experience.

I used the first adventure hook once – the one with the questgiver that turns out to be bad – and the last one, with the famous person turning out to be involved as the murderer of the emperor, which to find is the task of the heroes who, at the same time, need to struggle for their acceptance in the city. Both worked well and to me it seems, that it was more the way i plotted the adventure, knowing their personalities and “reallife alignments” that made the task easy.

A very good topic and interesting!

Keep up the good work!
Jaana

3 LordOcampo January 24, 2012 at 11:50 am

Madness at Gardmore Abbey uses a variation of the first hook, for one of the questgivers is to become the secret collector and ultimate villain in the adventure.

Once, I adapted my favourite quest from “Neverwinter Nights” into a full adventure hook: the players were hired by a wizard from a village deep in the forest to get some ingredientes for him, as well as to work as “RP” for him so the towsnfolk would get to trust him. He claimed he wanted to help the village because it was too far away from other civilized places. He also wanted to set a school for the village children. The players did all this, only to return after a short quest to find the village in an uproar and all the children gone: the wizard had taken them to his fortress to be sacrifices in his ritual to become a lich.

There are three women in that player group, including my wife, and they went into a rage. The adventurers stormed the fortress and discovered the wizard had already turned into a lich, which meant all children were dead. The players were touched and fought with all their hearts to punish the murderer. In the end, even if they destroyed the lich, the villagers had turned against them and chased them out of the village and into the woods.

4 Bigtowel January 24, 2012 at 11:03 pm

I’ve been running a campaign were I asked my friends to create characters who are complete dirt bags. So far I’ve had them choose what to do with a group of Kobold women and children whose clan they just wiped out. I tried to hint that they could sell them into slavery or just kill them outright. And I’ve had them pushing drugs (a mind altering potion), just to see who they would try to get hooked on it.

I haven’t really been expecting moral decisions. I just want to see the depths of sleaze that the PC’s will sink to. Sort of a “what is beyond even the scum of the earth” test.

5 LordOcampo January 25, 2012 at 10:21 am

That’s a wonderful idea, Bigtowel. How have your players reacted?

6 Bigtowel February 1, 2012 at 7:03 am

They eat it up. There is always discussion among the PC’s as to how low they really want to go while still being bad guys.

7 Arithravel August 14, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I’m creating my own universe at the moment (a lot of work). I am also a first time DM. These sort of moral dilemma’s would be quite useful. Hopefully I can make them more interesting and original though.

8 Hush May 2, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I recently put one of my players, a rather A-moral/self serving character who is mostly concerned with money, into an interesting situation.

He encountered a powerful group of monsters in a remote village who had killed all the adults and were keeping the children hostage and using them from sinister rituals. To make matters worse, the leader tricked him and placed a powerful curse on him. Simply put though, there was no way he could defeat them alone.

So he decided to hire a powerful Minotaur sellsword, named Foostus (also way more powerful than himself) as well as a less powerful human sellsword (Ricben).

Together they felt confident they could defeat these monsters and most importantly to his character, be done with the curse. Things turned out worse then the seemed and though they killed the monsters, Foostus had been to rash and was now dying from his wounds.

He had to decide if he was going to save him and see him home safe or let him die, steal all his sweet sweet level 16 gear and not pay him his share.

He decided to save his life. After they took their loot and an extended rest, it was time for everyone to get paid. Ricben happily took his share of gold and agreed to see the children to the nearby village. Foostus though insisted that he would take 3 of the young girls as slaves for his efforts. In the end he couldn’t stop Foostus and had to watch the poor children dragged away in chains.

So he learned that sometimes, making the right choice leads to something even harder to swallow. What do you all think?

9 Ameron (Derek Myers) May 14, 2013 at 9:41 am

@Hush
Great recap. I like when this kind of situation makes the players really get into the mindset of their characters. Too often it all comes down to hack and slash. In the example you describe I’d encourage the PCs to follow-up on the girls during later campaigns. Eventually they may be able to right the wrong that they were basically responsible for creating.

10 Hush May 18, 2013 at 10:26 pm

The interesting thing about my campaign setting is that its designed so that the ‘party’ can consist of 1 to 6 players from level 2 to 15 starting level. There are 8 characters, most of which are playing solo campaigns and they all started in different countries on a continent roughly the size of north america. They started at various levels, but all on the same date and i keep very exact records of what day they are on and what happened on what days so they are effectively playing in real time with eachother. Most are completely unaware of each other but big things that happen affect them all and they hear about things that the other players have done/ accomplished.

There is another player that weeks later has heard about the minotaur taking slaves and is working on correcting the issue even though he has no idea how it came to be and has never met the character involve in the scenerio i talked about in my pervious post. Its really satisfying how they basically end up creating quests for each other haha.

11 L January 23, 2014 at 8:55 am

@Hush

You sound like a great DM, man. Props to you for putting so much time and effort into your campaign. I think I’m going to have to steal that idea up there.

12 Hush January 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm

@L

Thanks! You have no idea how good that makes me feel lol. This campaign setting is the first that Ive ever run and it’s been a real labor of love. My inexperience has really showed at times but I’m always reading, discussing and thinking about DMing and where I can improve.

We’ve been playing this campaign for almost 2 years now and all the individual players are friends. It’s very satisfying that whenever we all get together they sit around and tell stories about what their characters have been up to and see where there is overlap. “Wait, YOU’RE the one who assasinated the emperor?!?!!”
It’s freaking awesome lol.

Anyways, if you’d like can could do a write up that is more detailed about that scenario if youre interested in using it. Id love to exchange ideas and stories with you more.

Again, thanks for the kind words!

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