Stepping away from combat for a post or two, at least until I can get some play time in with the new rules, I figured I would talk about adventure hooks. Now, from what I have heard of other games, it seems that there is generally a low number of adventure ideas thrown out at any given time, usually 2-3 at most, and that basically as one is used it is replaced by another. This is not a bad way of doing adventure hooks, there is a manageable amount of data for the DM to work with, and minimal prep time as there are only 2-3 ideas to fall back on each game.
I however find only having 2-3 options boring. If I am going to run a game and make it feel realistic, then there must be a multitude of options for the players so that they feel they can go do anything they want, as my Paladin Luther once said "Our quest list is bigger than Skyrim's". Along with this is the dynamic state of adventure hooks I strive to achieve. Nothing is static and if they leave the hook for long enough when they come back it will have changed, sometimes worsening and sometimes solving itself. This dynamism is necessary to stop the world from feeling as if its waiting for the players, making it different and more engaging than the aforementioned video game.
As for the style of adventure hooks, they are generally in the form of travelling information, a request or learned from investigating something. Though they do generally boil down to "Have you heard of the illness town X is suffering" or "The raids in the east have gotten larger recently, but they refuse to send the army". Not subtle but I find that getting much more subtle than that and players go "Well, there's not much to go on, must be info to save for later".
Now that I have given a brief explanation on how I use and deliver adventure hooks, here are my steps to creating them. I both pre-plan and spontaneously generate adventures, though most adventures are pre-planned. My spontaneity I use to make scenes to fill the adventures in. So,
Step 1 : Develop a premise or multiple premises
This can be as simple as "Orcs are rading a nearby town" or as convoluted as you wish to come up with. The premise should be simple to state though and easy to remember. It should also be fairly general. The premise is what the delivery will be made out of so you do not want to have to much detail in it. Another reason for a simple premise is that the adventure hook may never be used. Do not sink time into an adventure until after the players embark on it, many of the adventure hooks will only every be thrown out there for the players to turn down or come back to later, but this helps add to the dynamic feel in the world.
I personally went with "An army is invading so as to find the location of their long dead god and raise it" and added a few other small adventure arcs on the sides based on the characters back stories and some side arcs that can help with the main arc. Properly layering different adventure hooks together to add variety to the game helps give the feel of a dynamic world. Trudging along on one single quest is fairly boring, and we can look to The Lord of the Rings for this. The story of Frodo and Sam is straight forward with minimal plot twist or thought behind it. The real adventure actually happens far from the ring with Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas as they embark on a multitude of different adventures from save the hobbits, to save the king of Rohan from being a mind slave, over thrown Saruman, gain the alliegance of the undead etc. Similarly Merry and Pippin have an interesting story as well, due to the variety of adventures they go on.
Step 2 : Create 3 points to over come in the adventure
Lets go with the easy premise of "Orcs are raiding a nearby town". Lets call the town Digsby. So orcs are invading the nearby town of Digsby. There needs to be a bit more to make an easy to use adventure here and so we come up with three points the players must over come which will also help generate some background for the town of Digsby. The point to overcome is in italics and the rest is background generated from it.
Point 1 - When they arrive the town is either under attack or about to be under attack. This is one of a multitude of raids and as such there are limited supplies in the town so the players will not be able to resupply here until the orcs are defeated. The people are also wary and exhausted. Some are filled with grief for those recently killed and some are past that to a state of hopelessness.
Point 2 - The players must find the orc camp/base. There must also be a reason that no one else knows where it is, or that no one has gone to remove it. Maybe the terrain is to forested or there are fierce wild animals. Maybe the towns folk are all pacifists and refuse to fight. Maybe the Lord does not care or has actually hired the orcs to raid his lands. Plenty of options to add background here.
Point 3 - The players must make the orcs leave Digsby alone. Note I do not say slaughter the orcs. They can just as easily petition people to raise and army to kill the orcs or talk the orcs down through some means. Or simply show such a display of might that the orcs leave or pledge to follow the characters. To add background here, we get stuff like the orc encampment is well defended with palisades and an extraordinarily strong leader. Or a sorcerer is controlling them all and coercing them to raid towns so far from their home. Or the simple one, that the orcs simply enjoy killing other people. It really all depends on what you want to deliver.
Step 3 : Create a way for each point to deteriorate( or improve if it suits you)
With the three points made, create a way for each one to either get worse or better, and assign a number of in game days to it. The number of days for deterioration do not happen simultaneuously, but stack. I am going to go with deteriorate and at a fairly fast rate.
Point 1 - When they arrive the town is either under attack or about to be attacked. For this point I would give probably two stages of deterioration. Stage 1 is that the town is largely uninhabited, the people fled or slaughtered, and it would happen after 5 in game days. So if the players are on their way but slow in getting there they may still come upon a devastated Digsby. Stage 2 would be that the orcs have moved on to terrorizing the region instead of just the town. This would happen after 10 in game days. Note that the stages can go in either order, and it would take 15 in game days fr both to happen.
Point 2 - The players must find the orc base. This could go a few different ways. Having heard of the orcs success in the area more come and beef up the current base. The base is built in a stronger fashion as the haphazard war band becomes more disciplined. Multiple bases begin to appear as other war bands come to prey on the area. I would probably assign a time of 15 in game days to this.
Point 3 - The Players must make the orcs leave Digsby alone. This point probably doesn't really need much of a deterioration as Point 2 deteriorating makes it much harder already. However, you could go with some thing along the lines of the orcs taking hostages to make the towns folk more pliant, or to ensure the payment of a tithe. I would give this a 20 day time line, and make sure not to do stage 1 on point 1.
So, for everything to really go to shit would require 45 in game days. Plenty of time for the players to finis up what they were doing and go investigate, or even do something else first then investigate. It all really depends on the players. Hell if they never go look at the situation then they may have allowed a small orc nation to form in the area, or the Lord in the area would be forced to commit men to a war here and leave the country open to attack else where. This is why dynamic adventure hooks make the world more alive, and even simple ones such as "Orcs are attacking a town" can lead to big changes in the world. And all of this only takes nine bullet points.