World Building: Quest Basics

Welcome to the next article in the series “World Building”. The first one was World Building: Initial Approach. That article talked about how you approach the world you want to create. It would help if you learn the two basic approaches to building a world, the Macro Approach and the Micro Approach, which that article outlines but it isn’t necessary.

This article will talk about the basics of setting up quests in your world. It has a heavy emphasis on game design. It will give you the tools to help you succeed in telling the story you’d like to tell.

The Five Quest Types

There are five basic quest types, Acquisition Quests, Delivery Quests, Defend Quests, Attack Quests and Disable Quests. These five quest types are the basis for just about any quest you can think of. You can combine these five different quests into interesting quest lines and add various quest modifiers to change them, making them more challenging. No matter what modifiers you apply, when you boil it down to the basics, you’ll still have these five basic types of quests.

Acquisition Quests

The first type of quest we are going to talk about is the Acquisition Quest. This quest is any type of quest where you must go, find an item and return or use the item. For example, there is a missing child and you must go and find that child and return them to their home. The key here is that you are finding and obtaining something.

Delivery Quests

Delivery Quests, as the name suggests, is any type of quest where you must deliver something. This can be as straightforward as delivering a piece of mail or it might be more complicated such as having to deliver packages throughout the countryside. The key is that you are taking something from point A to point B.

Attack Quests

Attack Quests are quests in which you are attacking some sort of area. For example, you must attack a castle. This is not to be confused with killing an individual, that is the Disable Quest type, which we’ll talk about later. This is simply attacking and overcoming an objective. For example, attacking a castle.

Defend Quests

Defend Quests are the opposite of Attack Quests, you must defend a place, an area or maybe even a person. This basic quest is one of the easiest to understand and doesn’t take much explanation. For example you might need to defend a merchant from being attacked by bandits.

Disable Quests

Disable Quests are probably the most ambiguous quest type and hardest to grasp. Many people would identify this as the Kill Quest but I found I needed to broaden the scope. This quest type is something of a catch all. As the name suggests the goal of these quests is to disable a person or object. In some cases, disable, might mean kill. A dead person is certainly disabled. However the objective might not be to kill, perhaps the goal is to overcome a trap, or to find a way to disable a person, without killing them. If a quest doesn’t fit the first four quest types, it probably fits this type in some fashion.

Using Quest Types

Now that you know about the five quest types, it’s time to learn about how to use them. There are two basic ways that you can utilize them, that is by adding modifiers and by linking them.

Quest Modifiers

You can modify the five different quest types in different ways to create a more complicated quest. Doing this can create some of the more familiar types of quests. For example, the escort quest. The escort quest is typically a combing of the Delivery Quest and a defend modifier. In most escort quests you need to deliver something to some place and defend it while doing so, thus adding the defend modifier.

Another quest modifier might be time. Perhaps the quest has a timer, requiring you to finish it in a certain amount of time. Perhaps you need to defend an area for a certain amount of time to succeed.

Quest modifiers are anything that modifies a quest in some way to alter how you are required to achieve the basic quest objective.

Linking Quests

Linking quests is how you create a longer quest. This is effectively adding quest segments to an overall quest. For example you might want to create a quest where your players attack a castle and then turn around and have to defend it from invaders. This is the combining of the Attacking Quest and the Defending Quest. You now have two quest segments that add up to an overall quest.

Linking Modified Quests

The height of complexity is linking quests which have been modified. We’ll be talking more about this later in the article. In most cases when creating a quest you’ll be doing this. Let’s take some previous examples and combine them.

We’ll link the Attack Quest and the Defend Quest with the time modifier. Perhaps you have to attack a castle which is the first quest segment and the second segment you need to defense the castle. We can add the time modifier to the second segment, making it so you have to defend the castle for 5 minutes to achieve your goal.

Creating a Story with Quests

Now that you have learned the five basic quest types and how you can connect and modify them, it’s time to show you how you can create a story using quests.

You can take two approaches, very similar to the Macro and Micro Approaches talked about in the previous article. If you have certain mechanics that you’d like to use you can expanded upon those mechanics and then situate them in story. This would be similar to the Micro Approach of world building.

The second approach is to create a story and then apply mechanics to tell said story. This is very similar to the Macro Approach to world building, where you look at the larger picture first.

You can also combine the approaches, which is often the case in my experience. For example you might have a basic idea for a quest mechanic, then you apply story to that quest mechanic. You then might find you need to make the quest more complex to fit the story.

No matter which approach you ended up using you’ll probably take an overall basic quest type and create a longer quest by sandwiching in linked and modified quest segments.

Let us take a story and work out a quest for it. The players are tasked with going to Castle Wyvern and retrieving the Orb of Chaos and returning it to to King Theleos. The problem is the Horde of Chaos is also hunting down the orb. This sounds like a simple Acquisition Quest, but let’s make it a bit more complicated by linking quests and adding modifiers.

Lets go ahead and break the quest down into three different quest segments. We’ll link an Attack segment, a Defend segment with the modifier of time and end with a Delivery segment with the modifier of defend. Overall this will create a more complicated Acquisition Quest.

The first segment is attacking Castle Wyvern to get inside. The second segment is defending the castle from the Horde of Chaos for 5 minutes while the players “look” for the Orb of Chaos. Once they find it the third segment begins, which is the delivery segment with the defending modifier. The players need to return the Orb of Chaos to King Theleos while defending it from the Horde of Chaos.

Final Thoughts

Once you have become well versed in the five basic quest types and thought about the various modifiers that you can add to them, you’ll be well on your way to mastering quest building. When you get down into the minutia of quest building you might start to see some other patterns emerge, such as quest modifiers sounding like basic quests.

You’ve probably noticed the defend modifier shares the same name as the basic Defend Quest. Despite this similarity they are slightly different. The big difference is that one modifies the effects of one of the other basic quest types and one is a quest unto itself. It’s a minor distinction but can be important when you get into more complicated quest mechanics.

This approach doesn’t just help you create quests for LARP and other role-playing games. It can also help you tell a story. The basic principles written above also applies stories. The hero journey is just one big quest. Perhaps you’d like your character or characters to encounter certain obstacles but you aren’t sure about the story driven aspect of those encounters. You could in theory map out the hero’s journey through the quest mechanics listed above and put a story onto the mechanics later.

Now that you know the basics it’s up to you to take them and create something amazing.

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