The Power of Opportunities

As Dungeon Master (DM) you have the hefty responsibility of generating and running a world for your players to explore. Within that world, whether it be a simple tavern or an entire continent, almost anything can happen. Yet, almost nothing will transpire without you, the DM, creating opportunities for your players to engage with.

An opportunity can be something big, like a quest hook so obvious it has a glowing exclamation point punctuating it. Or something small, like a character overhearing a snippet of intriguing conversation.

Big or small, opportunities give your party a lead to latch onto and interact with in the world. These opportunities help the players gather information and push the game forward.

Opportunity with Purpose

A good opportunity has meaningful purpose behind it. You can invent any number of NPCs, conflicts, or interesting facts to sprinkle into a scene for your party to interact with. But if you don’t have a purpose in mind for these people and things, then what will the party gain from engaging with them?

An opportunity should do at least one of the following:

  • Provide a source of relevant information
  • Move the party toward the next scene or point of interest
  • Build upon the world or characters
  • Establish a contact, ally, rival, or enemy
  • Give characters a chance to use their skills, make/lose money, or pursue a craft

If pursuing an opportunity results in maintaining the status quo (at no fault of the party) then it’s safe to say that opportunity lacked purpose. Without purpose that “opportunity” simply acted as filler or fluff. A hook with meaning will relate to the party’s current goals or arm them with new information and tools to better pursue their goals. Likewise, scenarios are more prominent scripted events that are designed with purpose.

Organic Opportunities

Give your players the freedom to choose whether or not they pursue a hook. Because it’s not an opportunity if they’re forced to engage with it — although there is nothing wrong with putting a person or event in their path that they shouldn’t ignore (see: scripted scenarios). Regardless, an opportunity ought to feel somewhat organic; a naturally occurring event in the world that doesn’t hinge on the party’s interaction with it. Whatever it is, it should run it’s course even if the party ignores it. Crucially, it shouldn’t be the only option for the players to investigate.

The power of opportunities is in empowering your players to choose how they engage.

Opportunities in Practice

That’s all well and fine. But what does a so-called opportunity in practice actually look like? Especially a purportedly “good” one?

A good opportunity starts behind the scenes with a DM that has established facts and secrets about the world and plot. Armed with this knowledge, you can spin up opportunities anywhere with next to no preparation.

OpportunityPlayer ActionOutcome
A curious NPC initiates conversation.Engage in conversation.Party learns new information.
Party makes a friend/enemy.
Overhear a snippet of NPC conversation.Eavesdrop.
Join conversation.
Party learns new information.
A runaway cart hurtles toward an NPC!Stop the cart.
Move the NPC.
Party is owed a debt: Info, discount, money, access to locations or people.
An NPC is asking around for help.Offer assistance.
Find an official to assist.
Party is owed a debt.
Party stumbles upon an event relevant to their goals.
An open game of cards in the tavern.Join the game.
Eavesdrop on the participants.
Use skills, earn money, or gather information.
An injured NPC delivers a message with their dying breath.Listen.
Pursue the attackers.
Prevent the NPC’s death.
Party learns new information.
Party stumbles upon an event relevant to their goals.
Party gains a contact/ally.
Party passively notices runes on the wall.Investigate (Investigation check).
Interpret (Arcana/History check).
Party learns new information.
Party detects a trap.
Party gets to use their skills.
A wealthy noble buys flowers nearby.Eavesdrop.
Engage in conversation.
Party learns new information.
Party makes a friend/enemy.
Party gains access to locations or people.
Party passively hears goblins camped nearby.Eavesdrop.
Engage in conversation.
Party learns new information.
Party makes a friend/enemy.
Party gets to use their skills.
Party finds useful loot or documents.

Any of these examples can be ignored by the party and the game moves on all the same. Likewise, any of these examples can be approached in a variety of ways and result in a different benefit or hindrance for the party. Attacking a goblin camp may result in loot, but may also create a hostile relationship with other resident goblins or close off potential threads of information. By defeating that camp, the party may have an easier time dealing with the main fortress of goblins, yet not know about the secret entrance the camp leader could have told them about. The party, hearing the camp chatter, may have avoided the encounter altogether and gathered information through some other means — perhaps an injured NPC collapsed at their feet with a message to deliver.

As Dungeon Master, you know what information the party needs to progress. It’s on you to create a few opportunities for them to pursue that information. Which method they choose for gathering information and progressing is on them and facilitated by you. If they miss the first couple opportunities to gather critical information, come at them from a different angle with a new source or conflict to engage with.

In conclusion, the power of opportunities is in empowering your players to choose how they engage. This generates more investment in the game than if information always came to them in a pre-defined, scripted way.



a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.

Oxford English Dictionary

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