Think about story hooks like pieces of a puzzle. As a GM, you're trying to make these pieces fit together meaningfully. When you come into session zero, the first piece you put on the table is the premise. And if you went so far as to write a setting overview for the players to consider prior to session zero, you might also have a good corner of the puzzle pieced together already (factions, a world map, archetypes, some fun facts about the setting, etc).
Even so, session zero is a process of discovery. You should be as excited as your players to discover what the game will be about. And part of the process of discovery is developing these puzzle pieces—story hooks—that function as a means for you to tie your PCs into the fiction.
Story Hooks Are Ways In
As it says in the core rules, story hooks are ways in. You take the hooks your players create in session zero and use them as a basis for developing the adventure.
During session zero, you'll give each player five story hooks: a bond, person, place, thing, and group. You always want to establish the bond first, but the order after that doesn't matter. You might consider assigning the thing second, because it tends to be the easiest for players to brainstorm. After discussing bonds, let them talk about their thing (round-robin style), then assign all the other story hooks at once so that they can think about how each other puzzle piece fits together in their PC's backstory.
Below are tables for each type of story hook.
|1||A magical artifact or dangerous machine of great power|
|2||An emblem, crest, or insignia of your people or country|
|3||A book you read, tale you were told, or law you are subject to|
|4||A tattoo, scar, or mark on your body|
|5||A calling card such as a distinctive attire, flourish, or social tick|
|6||An armament, tool, or instrument of your craft|
|7||Something beautiful or priceless|
|8||A fear, debt, or burden you carry|
|9||A vice or addiction that you can’t escape|
|10||An irreplaceable artwork from your past|
|11||A song or poem that haunts you|
|12||A dear pet, magic familiar, or strange homunculus|
|1||A fortress or great city|
|2||A tower or prison|
|3||A festival or celebration|
|4||Part of the wilds (desert, forest, jungle, plain, sea, wasteland)|
|5||A sacred place|
|7||A font of magic or power|
|8||A site of death and evil|
|9||A distant land or trade route|
|10||A hidden place|
|11||A forgotten village|
|12||A site of industry|
|1||A monastic order or secret society|
|2||A dangerous cult or hermetic commune|
|3||A noble house or ancient lineage|
|4||A military branch or command structure|
|5||A thieves guild or criminal syndicate|
|6||An academy or magical school|
|7||A religious sect|
|8||A rebel bloc|
|9||A merchant company|
|10||A political lobby|
|11||A itinerant circus or art troupe|
|12||An immense bureaucracy|
|1||A family member|
|2||A lover, ex-lover, or crush|
|3||A mentor or authority figure|
|4||A hero or celebrity|
|5||A best friend or business partner|
|6||An enemy or rival|
|8||A student or mentee|
|9||Someone who died|
|10||A master or servant|
|11||A supernatural patron|
|12||A missing person|
If you're playing a full campaign, you might consider introducing setting-specific story hooks. This will help tailor the ideas coming out of session zero.
Each world of OSR+ offers an additional, unique table of story hooks specific to its setting, and may also give you a slightly modified set of tables that better suit the setting.
For example, here is the additional table offered by The God Beyond the Portal, which requires each PC to have some connection to the Church of Illumination. Players are instructed to use these story hooks to A) build the Church of Illumination and B) describe their personal connection to the Church.
|1||A unique trait of the Church's leader|
|2||A secret ritual|
|3||A telltale sign (attire, a secret handshake, tattoos)|
|4||A secret power|
|5||A fear or weakness|
|6||A sacrilege or profanity|
|8||A reification (statue, relic, wafer, scepter)|
|9||An act of kindness|
|10||A place of worship|
|11||An impossible secret|
|12||A core teaching|