Archive for December, 2010

December 30, 2010

Designing Quests

So, I spent the other day discussing some game rules I’m working on that use, more or less, “the list method.” At the same time, I was thinking about using the list method for designing quests in old-school D&D, mostly so that Dalamyr and William Parsnip (and others after them) have some systematized framework in which to pursue their individual quests in our Red Box game and feel like it’s a part of the game and not something we hand-wave (or ignore). And then I read Gregor’s post The Whole World is a Savvyhead’s Workspace, and I thought “yes, that’s right, exactly!”

And so I wrote up the generic list-based quest generator for my old-school D&D game. This is the first draft:

As the DM, you can offer quests and adventure hooks to the players. But you must wait until they tell you what quests they wish to undertake before you tell them what that quest entails. Players do not care about the quests you force on them.

Once the players tell you what quest they wish to undertake, use these lists to tell them what they need to do to accomplish their quest. Pick maybe four or five things on the first list, I guess more if you want a really hard quest, and connect them with “and” or maybe “or.” Then flesh out the details using the four other lists. Don’t pick too many things or the quest will never end.

When you tell the players what it will take to accomplish the quest, don’t keep details hidden, and don’t lie. This is a quest, not a mystery! If they are looking for a hidden lair or a lost treasure, fine, but put all the requirements out in the open, so they know what they have to do. Your job is to get them moving, not to hold them back.

Here’s the first list:

In order to complete your quest…
you need (suitable/specific) information;
you need to find a (suitable/specific) location;
you need to obtain (suitable/specific) equipment, material, and/or supplies;
you need to find a particular item;
you need to find a particular person;
you need to obtain help or assistance from others;
you need to protect yourself from something or someone;
you need to build/fix/figure out something first;
you need to create/set up/establish something first;
it will take days/weeks/months/years of labour.

And here’s the secondary lists:

You need information that…
you can only get at a specific location;
you can only get from a specific person;
you can only obtain by performing (suitable/specific) actions;
will allow you to find something, someone, or some place;
will allow you to use something, someone, or some place;
few people know;
many people know;
may be expensive to obtain;
requires research to obtain.

You need to find a location that…
is suitable for a particular task;
will provide you with a (suitable/specific) product;
you can find a (suitable/specific) person at;
is far away;
is dangerous;
is guarded;
is hard to get to;
is hard to leave;
is hidden;
is unique;
you have never heard of.

You need to find a thing or stuff that…
you can only get from a specific place;
you can only get from a specific person;
you need to perform (suitable/specific) actions in order to obtain;
you need specific skills or knowledge in order to use;
is far away;
is dangerous;
has side-effects;
is guarded;
is kept in a secure location or compartment;
is hard to get rid of;
is hidden;
is unique;
you have never heard of.

You need to find a person…
who can only be found at a specific location;
who is suitable for a particular task;
who will provide you with a (suitable/specific) product;
who has (suitable/specific) equipment, material, and/or supplies;
who has a particular item;
who wants something from you;
who is far away;
who is dangerous;
who is hostile;
who has their own agenda;
who is guarded;
who is hard to get to;
who is hard to get rid of;
who is hidden;
who is unique;
of a rare occupation or disposition;
of a common occupation or disposition;
that few people know;
that many people know;
that you have never heard of.

So, an example:

Dalamyr the 5th-level cleric of Stryxus has already begun rebuilding the abandoned village of Yew. Using these quest-building rules, let’s figure out what he needs to do:

In order to rebuild the village of Yew:
he needs suitable building materials;
he needs to obtain help from settlers (i.e. somebody needs to move in);
he needs to establish law and order;
and it will take months, maybe years, of labour.

Luckily, he has a suitable (and specific) location already, and it has roads connecting it to the surrounding area, so he doesn’t need to build those too.

In our game, he’s already spending most of his dungeoneering loot on supplies and labour. Now I’ve established that he needs to convince people to move in and he needs to get somebody to run the village. Where will he get those people from? I don’t care! That’s up to Dalamyr.

Thank you for reading this far. If you have any suggestions for how to improve these lists, or if you use them in your game, please comment. I want to hear from you. Also, please note that these are supposed to be generic, so that lists tailored to specific locations in the game (and in other games) can use this framework. I’ll be writing more setting-specific lists later.