If you’re playing a classic, “challenge-based” adventure RPG, you’re going to want things for your players to do that don’t involve the often deadly combat rules killing them. And if you’re playing a more combat-focused modern game, your players might want a change of pace from slaughtering monsters now and then!
Here are three types of quest “hook” I put in front of my players all the time. Remember that in a sandbox game there’s no guarantee they’ll go for these, but you never know. Pop these in your world and your players may surprise you.
The Sudden Proposal
Your players rescue the prince from the dragon’s tower, or save the daughter of the hog-folk chief. As well as a substantial reward, the most eligible among their party is presented with a dramatic proposal... of marriage!
The best thing about a proposal is that anything your players do when faced with it can have interesting consequences for your game going forward. Whether they accept, decline, or hatch some other scheme, they’re planting seeds for future events in your world. I wrote a bit in this short post about different angles you can take with a proposal hook depending on the tone of your game.
The Production Crew
A local playwright wants to put on a new theatrical event - or needs to, at the behest of an execution-happy monarch, if you want to raise the stakes - but all they have is a script. Your players will need to provide the rest: props, actors, special effects and the like.
This resembles a classic fetch quest, but manages to avoid the drudgery of those kinds of tasks by allowing the players to decide what items they’ll need and how best to get them, and then execute those plans themselves. Player-driven adventure is something ttrpgs excel at facilitating, so lean into it! Give vague prompts like “we need a monster for the final act” or “the fanciest costume you can find”, and let your players interpret their mission creatively.
There’s a similar prompt involving the world’s first cinema in my free micro-setting Calliope. (In fact, Calliope is entirely made up of non-violent adventure prompts, should you want any more!)
The Impossible Foe
The players need to get somewhere, or retrieve some item, etc. But in their path, set against the completion of this important task for their own reasons, is an enemy like none the party have faced yet... something or someone far beyond their fighting abilities.
I haven’t talked much about Combat As War on this blog, I guess because it’s such a simple idea that I kind of take it as a given, but if you need a primer Ben over at Questing Beast has a great introductory video on the concept. Pitting your players against a foe they simply can’t beat head-on forces them to think creatively and come up with other options. Let them use the world around them, hatch schemes, try communication, trickery or bribery. Don’t be afraid to really stack the odds against them - players will always surprise you with their ingenuity and ideas.
Combat will always be an option in ttrpgs, because the medium runs on freedom and player agency. To (heavily!) paraphrase Zedeck Siew’s great thread on colonialism in D&D, taking a non-violent option when violence is also an option is a moral decision, but it becomes a mercenary one when non-violence is the only given path.
Some of your most interesting and memorable adventures, and the very best of tabletop gameplay, will happen when you play against the restraints of the system and fiction and forge your own solutions.