19 April 2013
Q is for Quest
Quests and adventures are the meat of the RPG experience. Some might consider them to be the same thing, but I hold that a quest is something that a character undertakes while an adventure might be undertaken or might have it thrust upon them. Quests have clear goals and ends, adventures might be more open-ended.
Some quests are simple; given to the party by a mysterious figure in a tavern. Speaking of which, when I first started DMing I tried to avoid the cliché of a mysterious figure in a tavern, not wanting to seem like I was using the same old ideas that had permeated the genre for decades. But oddly enough now I relish in clichés and enjoy treating my players to the typical D&D tropes. Mysterious figure, dragon terrorizing town, mad wizard's death trap tower, the king is in need, save the princess! Especially with new players, these tropes provide a basis of expectations from the game. The first couple quests they are given will set the tone for the whole campaign; they are vitally important.
For religiously aligned characters (or comically, non-religiously aligned characters), some quests can be given by the gods themselves. This is particularly potent as a motivator in Forgotten Realms, where the gods are a very real and influencing force. In that campaign setting more than any other the gods tend to interfere with the everyday folk, sometimes just for their own kicks. Nothing motivates quite as well as the threat of being smote into oblivion. When it comes to god-given quests, these tend to match a particular goal of the god itself, perhaps to retrieve a lost artifact, or destroy a cult that opposes their will. Obeying a good god can lead to rewards, but being commanded to obey an evil god could lead to some interesting adventures, or chances for role playing. Does a good character obey? What happens if they don't? Does the evil god hold something or someone dear to the party hostage? Is gaining the wrath of a god of hellfire worth the moral high ground? What happens to their good allies if they do obey the command? Simply accepting or not accepting a quest can lead to quite a lot of questions.
Not all quests are given though, some are taken on by a character themselves. I would put a caution on self-accepted quests, as they run the danger of dividing the players if not everyone shares their conviction. I once had an entire party begrudgingly travel several hundred miles to get somewhere they never actually ended up getting to; fighting the entire way. It was definitely a mistake to allow a singular character to hijack the party based on a self-accepted quest. I could imagine a general motivation like "kill all slavers" being okay, but anything more specific or time-sensitive being a problem, particularly if it consumes their entire character.
Quests can be long or they can be short, usually depending on the DM. A mixture of the two is a good balance, to prevent boredom. I personally like to mess with player expectations and make the simplest sounding quests unfold into epic dramas and the epic sounding ones end confusingly fast. That way one never knows what to expect from me. I'll cover more on that topic in a future post about meta-gaming. When a quest goes on for a long time, sometimes breaking it up can be relieving for the players. Chasing down the evil wizard king can really take it out of them, maybe let them save a farmer's chickens from dire weasels just to break it up a bit. Who knows, maybe there's a way to weave that plot into the larger one, making you seem like a story-crafting genius.
That's an important note to touch upon I feel. Interweaving your quests into one another. Sometimes the way a quest plays out can lead itself to eventually playing into another. Done deftly, this seems natural and thought-out, making the DM look really good. A character saved in a throw away quest may turn out to be a helpful aid in another, or a mysterious object in one quest may reveal additional properties when exposed to the rocks in an unrelated underground dungeon. There are thousands of ways to tie your campaign together and make it seem like a cohesive world.
Adventurers without quests are merely treasure looters, no better than grave robbers or highwaymen. A quest gives them purpose, gives them a direction to focus their powers and efforts. No quests means little directed plot, little story, which leads to bored players. A sandbox world works great to a point, but in my opinion every campaign should eventually lead toward a goal that the whole party can unify around. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned tomorrow for "R is for Rule".
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