The proliferation of “Adventurers needed” notices is enough to make the printers of Oerth very wealthy. I can’t begin to count the number of times my characters were just sitting down to a nice meal at the local pub when in barged a messenger boy, minor noble, damsel in distress, unspeakable evil, or werewolf in a flowery dress demanding my character’s attention. Why can’t we ever go in search of adventure rather than have it thrust at us like day old fish?
Getting the characters into the story is the most critical part of the adventure. If the introduction alienates the players, the adventure has no hope of becoming a success. On the other hand, if you can draw the player in and make their character a key part of the world you are creating, the adventure will be a hit.
One of the underlying premises of Living Greyhawk is that the characters are the heroes and as such shouldn’t need hiring. This runs into two problems with the Living campaign model.
First, characters are usually strangers. How do you get a group of characters that may have very little in common to go down the same road toward the same goal? The cleric of Pelor may need more motivation to save a church of Heironeous than the other characters. Keeping the motivations tied to universal concepts like saving a village or defeating a monster work much better than racial or religious concepts.
Second, most characters are more motivated by coin than adventure. In a home campaign the GM has a good idea of what the characters need and can steer the adventures toward that goal and give the players the equipment they want. Living campaigns do not have that luxury, so the players have to get gold to get what they want. One thing players seem to forget is that the more gold they get up front, the less access they will receive on the AR.
So, how is a meaningful hook crafted? The hook must address the two big questions: how are the characters getting together, and why should they accept this adventure? If the hook can answer these questions it will have a much greater chance of success. The best way to fashion the hook is to see where your adventure goes after the introduction. Work backward from there to get an idea of where the party would have been before the hook and what they were doing. For example, if the first encounter takes place in a back alley, the party was probably not hooked in the palace attending a fancy ball. The more likely hook would be the party was passing through the slums when they witness something amiss.
Of course, there are pitfalls to making the perfect hook. Getting the elements in place to fit every class, race and character type is nearly impossible. There are so many conflicting elements that the players bring to the table that to try and cater to all of them is not fair to the majority of players.
In the end, don’t spend all your time working on the hook, it is just part of the whole after all. The most important part of the hook (or any other part of the adventure) is that it flows naturally into the body of the adventure and keeps the players inside the story.