Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kill and Deliver: Are These the Only Types of Quests?

Good day, hero. The acorns you are holding are magical and may only be planted in a specific grove. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to deliver said acorns to our queen at the Windspear Hills. She will know where to plant the acorns. As always, should you or any member of your party be killed on your way there, we will not recompense you for your carelessness. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.

All right, that’s not exactly how my player character received this quest in Baldur’s Gate 2, but the gist of it is there. The type of quest described here, which is known as the delivery or Fed Ex quest, is a staple in many role-playing games. It is often done poorly, which is probably why players complain when their characters are asked to fill in for the mailman.

Another common type of quest is the kill quest, which involves having player characters kill one or more creatures or NPCs. Because a typical role-playing game is already brimming with hostile creatures, kill quests tend to feel like more of the same to players.

It would be great to spice up the role-playing experience by varying the types of quests that player characters receive. As an aid to accomplishing this, I created what I believe to be a complete list of quest types to draw upon. It may sound audacious of me to claim that my list is complete, but as of this writing, I haven’t found a more extensive list anywhere in the World Wide Web.

A Complete List of Quest Types

In the list below, I make references to characters that are the object of each quest type. In this list, I make no distinction between persons or monsters, lumping them instead under the category “characters.” These are almost always non-player characters, although I imagine that in a multi-player environment, player characters might be the object of some quests.

  1. Kill, incapacitate, or apprehend one or more characters.
  2. Destroy one or more objects.
  3. Find one or more characters who may be heavily guarded or well hidden (or both).
  4. Find or acquire one or more objects that may be heavily guarded or well hidden (or both).
  5. Go from Point A to Point B (preferably in one piece). In situations such as races, the PCs have to arrive at their destination before other characters do.
  6. Escort or follow one or more characters from Point A to Point B, with or without their knowledge and without getting them killed.
  7. Bring one or more objects from Point A to Point B or to another character without getting the objects destroyed.
  8. Change the physical or mental state of one or more characters (e.g., by casting a spell to heal them or talking to them in a manner that would change their minds).
  9. Build, modify, activate, or deactivate one or more objects (e.g., a bomb or a power generator), possibly at a specific location.
  10. Occupy an area for a specified period of time and prevent enemy characters from occupying the area during this period.
  11. Prevent one or more enemies from achieving their objective, which may be any of the above.

Building Interesting Quests

Most quests are built from more than one quest type. For example, to rescue a princess from an evil wizard, the following quest types may be used:

  • Enter the wizard’s castle without getting killed.
  • Find the princess.
  • Release the princess from her prison – pick locks, deactivate traps, or maybe bash the prison door in and try to heal whoever gets caught in the traps.
  • Escort the princess out of the castle without getting her killed.

Some quests may have a time component to them. For example, a bomb may be set to go off in one minute. The player character has to find the bomb, dispatch enemies that get in the way, and deactivate it within that period.

With all quests, especially those of the Fed Ex type, game designers must try to minimize the back-and-forth traveling that the PC has to do. Keeping everything needed to complete the quest in one area helps. If travel between areas is necessary, one may have “portals” to reduce travel time. These portals may be as fantastical as teleportation nodes or as mundane as horses that bring the PC to other areas when interacted with.

Some quests are deliberately designed so that they cannot be completed but must be replaced by some other quest. This is done to throw in a complication that adds dramatic tension to a game. Let’s take my earlier example of the princess who has to be rescued from an evil wizard. The quest may be scripted so that by the time the player character arrives at the prison, the princess is already dead, and the wizard has taken her memories and physical form. The wizard escapes through a passage that he seals, but not before summoning a bunch of monsters to fight the player character. In his new form, the wizard can get close enough to the king to assassinate him. The PC’s quest may then be changed to neutralizing the wizard before he leaves his castle. Of course, the PC may have to dispatch those pesky monsters that the wizard summoned first.

Every quest must have an appropriate motivation for PCs to engage in them. I’ve seen some quests that involve two or more NPC strangers bickering with each other over something that is of no concern to the PC. What breaks my suspension of disbelief is when the NPCs allow the PC to step in and settle the argument for them. In real life, if I were to attempt to resolve an argument between two strangers, I would probably be told to shove off.

The PC must have a stake in seeing the argument resolved (other than to get experience points) for the quest to make sense. In fact, all quests must have an appropriate motivation for participating in them. The profit motive is valid, of course, but if the motive can be made personal, players may appreciate the quest even more.


Jclef said...

More great wisdom from Elysius - I love it!

You know, if someone took each of those ideas and applied them all into one module, that would make for a sweet experience (of course, execution of said ideas would have to be well done)

Thanks again, Buddy, and Happy New Year!

AmstradHero said...

While I'd argue that some of your quest types are merely "subtypes" rather than distinct types on their own, you've still provided a nice list of possibilities.

Ultimately, quests should be organic and a mixture of core ideas. Formula and rules are no replacement for creativity, but guidelines are definitely helpful for determining whether a quest will be "interesting" or "fun".

One of the things I chose to focus on in my "Making a Better Quest" guide was providing the player with motivation and the rationale behind including quests. Shallow motivation for the PC's (or NPCs) involvement in a quest is something that I find definitely breaks the mood of an RPG in a very significant way.

Frank Perez said...


Glad you liked the writeup. :) Everyone is welcome to apply any of my ideas to their modules. I'm hoping to do so for Faithless.


I'm sure the quest types can be re-categorized between distinct types and subtypes. If I ever write this as a PDF document, I just might do that. (Not likely for me to write a PDF, however.)

I agree with you completely about the need for providing believable motivation for PCs to do each quest. Most of the time, I find myself doing quests in RPGs just for the experience points. The best quests are the ones that I feel my character would do because he actually cares to do them.

BTW, immediately after posting this writeup, I downloaded your "Better Quest" guide and read it. I skipped the parts that contained spoilers to games I hadn't played yet, but I got the gist. It's certainly an ambitious guide, describing not only quest types but also gameplay mechanics for resolving quests as well as setting the motivation and mood within the story. Kudos for coming up with it.


Happy New Year!

E.C.Patterson said...

Very interesting read Elysius, thanks for sharing. The funny thing is that I actually started last week to put together a similar list of quest-types. Yours will complete mine nicely! I too like to have these kinds of references handy.

A couple of quest types that could be added are the spy/scout type missions, where you don't need to retrieve an actual object but just information, and "plant" quests, where you must plant an object, or misinformation, not to kill or destroy, but to undermine a character one way or another (e.g. reputation).

Frank Perez said...

Hi E.C.,

I felt that I had information retrieval covered under various other quest types; namely (3) finding one or more characters (and presumably talking with them), (4) finding one or more objects (such as books or letters with information in them), and (6) shadowing one or more characters to find out what they're up to. If there's some other way to gather information that does not fall under any of the types I mentioned, I'll be happy to hear about them.

As for planting objects or misinformation, I hadn't really thought of that. Although I think planting objects might fall under quest type #7, the application is different enough to warrant a more detailed explanation if not a separate quest type. Otherwise, it's easy to overlook the possibility of this happening. I certainly did.

Planting misinformation might fall under quest type #8, but again, more detail is needed for the same reason that I cited.

Anyway, those are excellent suggestions, E.C. The one about planting objects or misinformation took me by surprise. LOL. I'll have to write an addendum to my blog post to take those ideas into account. Thanks for sharing.