Something that just seems to make D&D (and RPGs in general) better is having lots of options. I wont go into detail there because I believe most of you would agree with me. This is easy to accomplish when designing a dungeon by incorporating branching paths, moral dilemmas, and junctions where sides must be chosen – or abandoned. But what about a larger scope?
The scope I’m talking about is around the level of quests. But not just the contents of quests: the quests themselves. Simply put, there’s usually only one. Sometimes that’s appropriate, such as when things culminate in a climactic scenario, but for the bulk of our adventure, we should have options.
Large-scale RPGs like Elder Scrolls and Witcher tend to be okay in this area, but D&D campaigns often fall into a one-track story with only one plot going on at a time. A quest might have branching paths, but the PCs are still marching towards one goal, even if it is one of their choice. Having multiple quests or objectives opens up the options for PCs to change things up, or fulfill different parts of their character motivation. Depending on how they’re constructed, they can also offer different parts of the setting if the characters want to change things up.
The structure that I tend to look at for inspiration for my campaigns is the kind used by Guild Wars 2. In Guild Wars 2, I identify three types of quests. On the smallest scale, you have the quests given by NPCs; classic side quests like those seen in many games. Next you have the regional “quests”. These are usually ongoing tensions between NPC factions or environmental factors that PCs can assist in. These are intentionally infinitely looping in Guild Wars for replayability, but don’t have to be in D&D.
As we move up to bigger scales, you run into your character quest. This is the traditional “main quest”, where character-specific goals drive you to travel across the land (or across town, if that’s your D&D scale). Finally, the developers have a world-scale quest that spans multiple updates over around a year. These quests tend to be world-changing and leave permanent changes in how the setting functions.
This is an excellent blueprint for how you can have different kinds of quests going on simultaneously in D&D. The DMG already encourages player-driven objectives, and chances are your main campaign story can fit into one of the other three. If you round out your roster, you’ll have a multi-leveled quest structure that leaves your PCs with a lot of freedom to operate on different scales.
Quests given by NPCs might sound a little supertypical, but they’re game staples for a reason, and you as the DM have the freedom to dress them however you want. If you think they’re cheesy, think about how it would go down in real life. Realistically, people ask other people for help all the time. If you run through the scenario in your head, you might come up with a way someone might ask for help getting a rare item or exacting revenge that just feels right.
On all but the smallest scales, there’s room for some regional struggle. Try identifying who the local NPCs are, if any, and ask yourself what they want. Then, in classic story-building fashion, identify the challenges they could face. The trick to get the PCs invested is to have some sort of consequence of the region whether the PCs get involved or not. It doesn’t have to penalize the PCs, but it should be a visible change, or at least a visible threat of change.
World-scale quests can be tricky to pull off, especially for lower-level parties. If it isn’t the focus of your main storyline, you risk overshadowing your hard work designing the main event. The only real requirement for a world-scale event is that it spans either a large region or a large period of time – it doesn’t have to be particularly impactful. Instead of a dragon threatening to overthrow the kingdom, maybe there’s simply a new law and the PCs can get involved through protests or politicking – or just let it go entirely. As long as the quest doesn’t somehow force the PCs to address it, it should be safe to include without threatening the main quest.
That’s the basic idea anyway. I could probably give each type of quest a blog post (and maybe I will), so it’s a bit hard to cover them all and maintain a tight focus and constrained length. Hopefully, though, I got across the basic idea: having multiple kinds of quests increases player options, which is a good thing.
Whew! Some of these topics seem a little too big to squeeze into a tiny little post. Did I get the message across well, or was it too confusing? What kinds of quests do you like to run? How do you handle player choice in your games? Leave a comment below!