Story Hooks v0.2 (a roleplaying system to replace backgrounds)

Part 1 of to do item: number 8. Part 2, Fudge Passions, will be online soon.

Update #1: Creative Commons LicenseStory Hooks by Mark Cunningham is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Story Hooks v2.0

Story Hooks is a system I created to replace the creation and management of players’ characters’ histories (see here for more). The first version, which I designed and wrote-up for L___ H_____, was very basic and involved a lot of hand-wavy “use as you see fit”. It consisted of the “Back-Story” and a non-delimited list of “Story Hooks”, which were practically Story/Adventures Seeds.

This version introduces mechanical checks and balances and in-game uses for Story Hooks. You can use it with any existing system that doesn’t have any rules or system for managing a player character’s background/history. In terms of integrating Story Hooks with an existing system, Experience Points are used when importing Story Hooks and should be replaced with the systems’ relevant character-development currency.

Instead of a background or character history, players create a set of short Story Hooks and a short Back-Story for their character. Over the course of play, the set of Story Hooks and Back-Story can be updated or changed at set moments, in discussion with the Games-Master. The Games-Master can bring Story Hooks into play as new elements (the player earns Experience Points for this) or the player themselves can bring them into play (costs Experience Points).

What is the Back-Story?

The Back-Story is a short piece of text no more than a few paragraphs that provides a context for the player character within the current setting and/or campaign. It should include any relevant points about the origin of the character such as nationality, race and/or gender and possibly their involvement in the current setting/game. It should be purely factual.

What is a Story Hook?

A Story Hook can technically be anything if it’s not long. Normally it’s a short piece of text (but it can be a picture or a piece of music for example). It cannot be big; at most a few paragraphs of text, and it can be as short as a single sentence (or even word if applicable). The important thing is that it describes something about the character that the player deems relevant or important (but is not actually covered by the rest of the character creation system).

A Story Hook can be (for example):

  • A fact about the character
  • An event from the character’s past
  • A powerful/defining memory (descriptive or factual) (vague, false or otherwise) of the character
  • An imagined scene involving the character
  • Story/Adventure seeds based on the character
  • An important relationship (family, platonic, love interest etc.)
  • Other related characters or groups (they do not have to exist yet as part of the setting)

A Story Hook can have an optional Title as well.

Characters’ have two pools (or sets) of Story Hooks. The Unallocated Pool has no limit and can contain as many Story Hooks as the player wants.

The second pool has only five Active Slots. The Games-Master can increase this to seven or decrease it to three for that particular campaign. The Active Slots do not need to be all filled; however during Character Creation several slots are reserved and must be filled.

Other elements of the system may require a Story Hook. These required Story Hooks must be, initially, placed in an Active Slot. These are called Linked Story Hooks. If the Linked Story Hook is moved to the Unallocated Pool or deleted, the requirement/link is unfulfilled (and may incur penalties) but if the Story Hook is imported into play than the requirement is considered fulfilled. You can also replace a Linked Story Hook with a different Story Hook. One Story Hook can also be used for several different requirements and there is no limit. Powerful advantages (such as supernatural/super Powers, high ranking Traits, etc.) or vague elements (such as wishy-washy flaws like nightmares, mysterious fate, etc.) can be thusly limited and expanded on.

As a recommendation, Story Hooks should not be recorded on the character sheet. A useful way of managing Story Hooks is to write each one on a separate Index Card (available from most good stationary shops). Players can then keep Story Hooks in the Active Slots in a separate pile from the Unallocated Pool. It also makes it easier to manage character development.

A good Story Hook should have at least one of these properties:

  • It interests or excites both the Player and the Games Master (the Games Master can import Player’s Story Hooks and award Player’s Experience Points)
  • It appears to add to the character concept/back-story
  • It appears to add to the setting or current campaign

All Story Hooks are subject to Games-Master approval but if a Games-Master decides to veto a Story Hook (or usage of) she must give a reason why. Discussion is encouraged.

At Character Creation

Players should create at least three Story Hooks in their Active Slots during Character Creation. All Story Hooks require approval with the Games-Master and should be used to discuss character ideas and concepts. While the Game-Master has veto, she should be offering alternatives or modifications instead of outright refusal.

For creating a character, the Games-Master may require (or setting/campaign dictates) certain Story Hooks must be created. These Required Story Hooks go into the Active Slots. Required Story Hooks can come with any sort of restriction. For example they may ask for a Story Hook based on a relevant Theme, detailed information about their living family, connection to the group or setting, details of the characters life during a certain period, etc. They can even specify the type of Story Hook. After the first adventure (or to the first downtime), these Story Hooks are no longer required and can be swapped out of the Active Pool. Theses are in addition to any other Story Hook requirements. A single Story Hook can be used for several Required Story Hooks and even for Linked Story Hooks, if it makes sense.

During Play

During a game or session, Story Hooks can be imported into play. When a Story Hook is imported it becomes a new element within the setting and is no longer considered a Story Hook for the character. An imported Story Hook can be used to add to the story, as a story seed, aid to roleplaying, for some benefit or disadvantage and so on.

If importing a Story Hook has a positive advantage for the player, the player will have to pay five Experience Points to import it. If it is a disadvantage for the player character, the Games-Master must be the one to import it and the player earns ten Experience Points. If the Game-Master imports a player’s Story Hook as part of the adventure (no positive or negative effect on player, at least for that adventure), that player earns five Experience Points. Players are free to suggest to the Games-Master when they think certain Story Hooks are relevant. Story Hooks that do not benefit or disadvantage the player can be imported for free with the Game-Master approval.

Players can only import Story Hooks from their Active Slots. If they wish to import a Story Hook from their Unallocated Pool, they must spend an additional two Experience Points. There is no restriction with a Games-Master imports a Story Hook, they can import from either of the players’ pools.

As part of Character Development

The Game-Master can specify periods during a campaign where players can update their Story Hooks. This is normally at the same time as when players are awarded, and can spend, Experience Points: such as during downtime or between adventures/sessions. Players can add new Story Hooks, export Story Hooks (Story Hooks based on in-game events), move Story Hooks between Active Slots and Unallocated Slots and delete Story Hooks. There is no cost required. However all changes require Games-Master review and approval. This should be a dialogue between the player and the Games-Master about the character.

Converting Existing Character Histories

There is no hard system for converting existing character histories to Story Hooks. One approach is to break down the character history into a series of bullet points such as a timeline of events in the character’s life. Then these bullet points each form individual Story Hook with the important ones going into the Active Slots.

L___ H_____ Implementation

The only change to the L___ H_____ version of this system was the addition of some Required Story Hooks. As a style guide, these required Story Hooks have a title, a main question and a “description”. There are three to four (depending on character type) required Story Hooks:

The Soul: What makes or keeps your character human?“A character in L___ H_____ is essentially human, no matter how they appear or what they have suffered. They cannot be played if they are not human. This Story Hook should encompass the humanity of your character.”
The Price: What did your character lose on becoming a one of the Chosen?“Becoming a Chosen can give your character great power but it is traumatic and removes the character from the only world they have known. The Story Hook should try and evoke what that loss has meant to the character.”
The Suffering: What did your character go through to fall (before or after)?“Relevant only to Renegade and Fallen characters, these characters had to go through a trauma worse than becoming a chosen. The difference this time is that the change was under their own power for better or worse. This Story Hook should try to emphasis the struggle that the character went through prior, during or after their fall.”
The Binding: What makes your character belong to the Divine Family?“All the player characters are part of the Divine Family which is formed from the pressures of the Veil. They are drawn to it and it defines their new place in the modern world. This Story Hooks should describe or evoke the characters relationship with the other player characters and the family itself.”

Related Posts: