Friday, March 16, 2012


With all the talk of 'hooks' in game running, I wonder if people give much time to thinking about the metaphor, and where it comes from.

Hooks are used to catch fish.  Good for the angler - not so good for the fish.  Still, that is the point after all.  Hooks work well to catch fish because the fish cannot see the hook.  The fish sees the bait, or the fly or the spoon attached to the hook ... and while rushing up to swallow the spoon, it gets the hook in its mouth.  Excellent, that's breakfast.

So if you are a DM, and you are dangling hooks in front of your party, and they're not biting, don't be surprised.  Fish don't bite at hooks.

Now, I am a spoon hook fisherman.  I screwed around with fly-fishing once, but I'm not looking for reasons in the wilderness to keep myself busy.  Nor am I a big fan of bait.  I like my fingers clean.  For me, the easy toss of a spoon out into the lake, the soft clicking of the reel as I draw the spoon back, this is for me.  No muss, no fuss.

As a kid, I used to think that it made a big difference what spoon you used.  I had a favorite one that was a frog, with six black spots on it, and I had one that was white with a red stripe, and one that was neon green and orange, with two red jewels on it.  They were standard hooks, and if you fished in the 70s and 80s, you know exactly which hooks I mean.

But experienced anglers learn that what catches the fish isn't the pretty painted pattern on the one side, it's the flash of chrome or gold on the back.  The spoon, with its dull and shiny side, spins as it drags through the water, and the spin is what catches the fish's attention.  The spin also nicely distracts the fish from the hook, dragging behind.

In fishing, you must be careful not to reel too slowly, or the hook will drag the bottom, or it won't spin well - it will ride with only the dull side showing, and the fish won't see it.  You must be careful not to reel too fast, or the fish won't have time to see it and pursue.  You must reel in just right.  It's a learned skill.

The flash of the spoon, my gentle readers, is the treasure or the reward the party wants to have.  The dull side is what the party can't quite see - the obstacles or the terrain or the monsters, if you like.  The hook is invisible.  The hook is what the party is well and truly caught on when its too late to pull out.

The tendency is to think the treasure is the hook.  In a way it is, since going after the treasure is going to get the party in trouble.  It's very, very important, however, not to let the party see what the trouble is.  That is what I discussed on the previous post.  As an angler or as a DM, you do your utmost best not to let the fish or the party know there even is a hook.  By sphinx and merry catoblepas, you want your party to think the treasure's so easy to get, their biggest trouble is going to be having enough bags to carry it back home.

Never, ever, show the hook.


Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I'm confused.

On the one hand, you were somewhat surprised and the party was gently berated for not seeing the hook in the case of the Arnsberg door crashing.

On the other hand, it seems to me that here you are saying ideally the successful DM does not show the hook... that the party shouldn't see it if all is going well.

Alexis said...

Yeah, it is tricky.

I was completely surprised by the party deciding to raid the door; but of course it's a sandbox game, and anything is possible. But truth be told, I wasn't trolling for the party to do it, and the hook inside that particular bit of bait was a lot bigger than anything I might have planned.

But I did shut the hell up, didn't I? I made the gate, I created the guards, I set the scene, I let the party argue out thier plan - and I did not say a damn thing about it, until ... well, until the party was suddenly a man down.

I did not want to follow that stupid event with killing the other three people immediately after, did I? Possibly, with four of you, I'd have had time to throw in some help, but with three players left, that was going to get pretty nasty.

So I showed the party the hook; and it killed the momentum pretty soundly, didn't it?

Special situation; special action on my part.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I do understand the distinction. Yeah, it is a tricky business.