You may have noticed that many of the previous posts are kind of explicit or obvious about the dangling of an "adventure hook" before the players. C'est la vie, I suppose, but if you go this route as a DM, I'd suggest also trying to balance these with other events that are NOT necessarily going to lead to a pre-planned scenario. Thus, this post contains tables of no-hook hooks that can be used to pepper in some flavor and verisimilitude into a campaign... and which can subvert players' expectations that every event must be meaningful.
Aside: How are these different from other similar tables of random events, like Michael's or Zak's? Well, maybe they aren't... but my goal here is probably a bit more sneaky; i.e., to provide events that SEEM like "real" adventure hooks, but really lead nowhere special.
Aside to the Aside: Of course, if the players really get interested in one of these events, an enterprising DM may choose to make something more of it on the fly. It makes no sense to just cut off players with "Oh, sorry, there's nothing behind Door Number Two." Balance and moderation be the watchwords...Anyway, on to the tables. One for town and one for country. These can be used when visiting some place for the first time, or when returning to a familiar area.
- Showmen have come to town! The town is plastered in posters for an upcoming circus, play, sideshows, etc.
- A hobo accosts a PC and says some crazy stuff.
- There's a going out of business sale somewhere. Why are they closing their shop and preparing to rush out of town?
- Tomorrow is a big religious festival. The locals are VERY eager for the PCs to participate. (Is it a death lottery or something? Nah...)
- A main building in the town burns down in a huge fire. Everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else afterwards...
- The river is rising, and the place is about to be flooded out!
- A major crime just occurred. (Big-time heist? Murder of prominent citizen?) An angry mob may be forming soon if nothing is done to get to the bottom of it!
- A mysterious stranger comes to town. The dude just got out of jail, and either (a) he's looking for revenge, or (b) he don't want no trouble.
- An NPC known to the players (an innkeeper, blacksmith, etc.) wants to leave home and become an adventurer with the PCs, but he/she is completely "hopeless" -- in personality as well as in ability scores.
- Strange disappearances! Last night marks the 3rd person to disappear in the last 2 weeks. Rumors include a serial killer, a monster prowling the streets, and those spooky gargoyles on the church coming to life. But it's really just a set of coincidences: one was a mob hit for owed money, another was a random stick-up gone bad, and another was a jealous boyfriend killing a dude who was talking to his woman.
- PCs arrive to find martial law in the town! Why? (a) An evil prisoner escaped and is on the loose. (b) The Emperor is about to visit! (c) Who was it who scrawled that horrible (but true) graffiti about the mayor's bedroom proclivities? No matter the reason, outsiders may be looked upon with greater suspicion than usual.
- Everyone's windows are shuttered and the people are hidden away in fear. A bad omen occurred -- pigeons pooping on the eyes of the statue of the main deity or something -- and that CAN'T portend anything good.
- There was a big battle here... yesterday. Who fought? What's left to find in the carnage?
- An empty cottage sits in the middle of nowhere, with smoke coming out of the chimney and a fire burning in the hearth. But nobody's around for miles....
- If the PCs get within a few yards of a certain tree, they spot an empty crystal
potion bottle lying among the roots.
- An absent-minded sage is found, exploring for rare plants and insects.
- Hey... that's an ominous-looking cave. What could be in there? (Sometimes players need to be reminded that there are big bad monsters in the world that aren't guarding any treasure whatsoever!)
- Freaky weather: Snow in July? Locusts falling from the sky? Ball lightning? Huge hailstones? Light rain, but flash flood!
- Freaky terrain: Mudslide? Quicksand? Earthquake? Avalanche? Why is there a sulfurous smell coming from that ravine?
- A lone horse is grazing in a field. No saddle or tack, but it's obviously well-trained as a riding horse.
- There's a perfectly circular ring of toadstools (a "fairy ring") in a glade. Not magical at all; just naturally occurring!
- The PCs come upon a large grassy hill, with a number of wide, chalk-like ruts carved into its side. If they move back to a point where they can see the entire hill at once, they see the overall design: a centaur!
- The PCs find a small caravan of religious pilgrims who were just robbed. "Please help us!" But the robbers are long gone and will never be found.
- The PCs spot some activity in a nearby hillside, and see the opening of a mine. A half-dozen grizzled, filthy dudes are working there, and they're also prepared to defend their turf if needed. Unfortunately, they bought the mine from a swindler, and there's really no gold or gems inside.