Using Player-Owned Property to Generate Plot Hooks

Recently in my Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign, I opted to run a premade module for the party’s latest adventure. I wanted to do this because I didn’t feel like prepping an adventure (if we’re being honest). Also, I wanted to get a better idea as to how to make interesting encounters in the system.

Needless to say, it was a success in both regards. The adventure took place in a town that had been corrupted by a group of demons which was super easy to slot into my world with a few minor changes. The premise of the adventure was that the town’s population had been sacrificed by the priest that the demons corrupted.

The party valiantly fought the demons and won. They collected their treasure and I assumed they would proceed to their initial destination. The keyword here was “assumed”.

One of the players said jokingly “so we’ve got a town now, right?”

I mean, they technically didn’t. They had no ownership of this town. But… who did? Surely whoever did was dead, and they had been dead for some time.

The party latched onto this idea after asking if I was cool with this outside of the game. I mean, who was I to refuse when the players are all getting attached to the game? So we’re running with it. They’re going to figure out how to legitimize their claim, clean up the town, and build the town back up.

Yet this is Shadow of the Demon Lord. Who would I be if I just let them build a happy life for themselves? No, no. The town, the people, and everything in it is a vehicle for delivering a boatload of plot hooks!

Let’s talk about how we can crush the party’s hopes and dreams use a player-owned property to generate plot hooks for the party to explore!

a ghostly town center with a broken-down carriage next to a stone fountain. Ghosts appear to be rising from the fountain and there is a full-moon in the distance.
This spectacular beach property could be yours! If you can get rid of the ghosts that is. Credit: WotC.

Using Player-Owned Property to Generate Plot Hooks

Player-owned property is a fantastic reward to give the party, assuming they are interested in managing such a thing. Giving the party a slice of land in the kingdom (or outside of it) can work well as a vehicle to get them invested in the politics of the world they’re in.

Player-owned property is also a fantastic gold sink. The players will invest money into their house, castle, town, etc. but they’ll be able to customize this property and potentially gain some mechanical benefits from their investments as well. Think of this as an unintended side-effect of owning property though.

These locations are all ripe for throwing plot hooks, adventures, and other such tasks for the party. You could create a problem that affects the party’s staff or villagers. There could be some issue that has arisen in the player’s house. Not to mention all of the potential political problems you could face with neighboring towns and kingdoms.

Adventuring parties are constantly having to weed through plot hooks and solve problems. That’s a given. However, it’s not typical or these problems to hit home and cause disastrous problems in the party’s personal lives.

Having a plot hook spurn from the player’s property should also force them to weigh their options carefully. The most efficient way of solving the problem could cause more harm to their property and pocketbook in the end which is something they don’t typically have to consider when they’re aiding a city or town that they don’t have a financial stake in.

Involving the party’s property brings the problems of the world to their doorstep. It becomes considerably harder to ignore these plot hooks. On the other hand, it’s also a great way to generate side-quests and problems with much lower stakes!

Something Need Doing?

Property ownership comes with a laundry-list of chores. Not to mention the various accidents or disastrous events that could randomly occur to your property. Simply put, there’s always something that needs to be taken care of regarding the property.

High-level or powerful characters may opt to hire someone else to do the job for them. That’s certainly a valid option, but there’s always a potential problem that will be easier solved by the party.

For example, a group of enemies show up to the party’s town and ransack the place. The party could seek out and hire some mercenaries and solve the problem with their coin, but that takes a lot of time. Plus, the surviving NPCs that lived in the party’s town would certainly wish to be rescued sooner rather than later.

A Handful of Examples

Player-owned property is the perfect vehicle for generating tons of plot hooks for the party to explore and hopefully resolve. To show you just how easy it is to create a bunch of property-themed plot hooks here is a handful of plot hooks I came up with while writing this article!

  1. The Mystery of the Crystalline Crops – All of the crops in your town have mysteriously turned into rock-hard crystals overnight. The townspeople are panicking due to the quickly-approaching date of the first frost of the year!
  2. A Missing Friend – Your property has ample space for a dog (or cat) to roam around during the day. In fact, yours always does. But it appears that they never returned from their expedition in time for dinner yesterday which is unheard of! Where could they be?
  3. Buried Treasure! – The workers found a treasure chest full of gems and gold when adding an expansion to the castle. Oddly enough, there’s no indication of whose treasure this is, or if they’re still looking to collect it.
  4. Somebody Poisoned the Waterhole! – An awful illness swept through a portion of your town. Upon further investigation it seems to be due to a poisoned well. Who did this? Why would they do this? Have they already poisoned another well?
  5. Monster Hunter – Strange noises have been heard coming from deep within the nearby forest. You’ve also noticed a distinct lack of game in the area in recent weeks.
  6. Who Watches the Watchmen? – The guards on nightshift were found slumped over in their guardposts with their toungues cut out. Who or what could’ve done this?
  7. The Entrepreneur – Someone has been throwing a lot of cash around lately and asking to meet with the owners of the town. No one knows who they are or where they came from.
  8. Demonic Possession – A trusted friend and ally of the party has been acting strange lately. They are constantly slurring their speech and laughing at inappropiate times. However, they don’t appear to be ill or intoxicated…

The Consequences are Personal

There are tons of plot hooks, quests, adventures, etc. that you can generate by using the party’s property as a launchpad. The more property the party has, the more innocent NPCs will be involved in the party’s lives. After all, someone needs to maintain the property or live in the town that the party owns.

The consequences of failure are certainly not a new concept in TTRPGs. The party has to make decisions as to what they’ll do to solve a problem and sometimes those decisions are the wrong ones. Other times, the party may flat-out ignore an important plot hook or they may not understand the gravity of the situation.

Ignoring or failing to complete a quest or resolve a plot hook doesn’t always affect the party. It almost always affects innocent NPCs and the world around the party, but it may not necessarily affect the party directly.

However, when the plot hook or problem spurns from the party’s property, leaving it unresolved could prove to be devastating for the party and their allies.

While you shouldn’t use this connection as a tool for railroading the party, it is a way to force the party to make tough choices. Do they resolve the issue that’s plaguing their town, or do they need to ride off and resolve an adventure with higher stakes?

There are no wrong answers, but ignoring either of those will hurt the party somehow.

Post apocalyptic scene with a broken-donw house and three people standing in front of it. There is a broken helicopter laying a few yards next to the group
It may be a shit hole, but it’s still home! Credit: Vladimir Manyuhin.

Conclusions

Player-owned properties are a great way to directly involve the party in the world around them. The party now has a stake in whatever government decisions are made by whoever is in charge of the territory their property lies in. They also will have an incentive to work with those people to ensure their safety and prosperity.

Plot hooks are abundant in TTRPGs. Oftentimes though, the party can more or less ignore a plot hook and not feel a direct consequence for whatever happens due to their inaction. The party may be less inclined to completely ignore problems when the consequences involve their home.

Player-owned property is an awesome reward to get your players invested in the game. In my experience, it’s a fun mini-game that the players love to tinker with between sessions as well. For the GM though, this is a perfect avenue for delivering juicy plot hooks and adventures for the party!

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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1 Comment

  1. I cannot second this recommendation enough! In my current group, one of the players owns an orphanage and will do anything to protect it (and before he owned it, he would do anything to get money to fund it!), and one of the orphans is acting as a sidekick to the group now. Leverage like this makes the game so much more fun for the players to be invested in the storyline.

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