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View Full Version : How Do You as a DM Choose to Dispense Quests to Your Players?



BDRook
2016-12-08, 10:54 AM
So I've been gaming with the same group of 7 players for about 6+ years now. We're a pretty tight group, meeting about 3 times a week to play each others DnD campaigns. Playing this way has a certain number of advantages and disadvantages. As a DM I can pretty much predict how a particular person will act in the session, and can plan around it. But one of the biggest disadvantages is that things that I view as commonplace could actually be as odd in the broader spectrum of gaming, and never know it unless I play with complete strangers.

One of the biggest things I'm curious about is how other DM's handle the party's cooperation with each other. In the game I DM I just hand-waved it by saying that the parties known each other for a while and want to adventure and see the world. But I seem to be the odd man out in that. 3 out of the 4 games I've ever played have always had the party belong to some kind of government agency, who send the party on missions and are expected to report back after those missions are complete in order to get new missions.

Again there are advantages and disadvantages to doing it this way. It's very easy for a DM to dispense information and quests, and the party always has a home base to return to in order to rest up. But I always found it takes away some of the freedom of being a player, striking out exploring the land and discovering the fun quests/towns along the way. Plus you have to act according to the governments rules/laws with can be restricting from a role-playing perspective. My Half-orc barbarian wouldn't get into huge bar-fights because it would look badly on the government he's working for, despite how much fun it would be.

So I'm kind of polling you guys; is it common for other DM's to dispense quests in that way, or do you guys do more of free-form exploring games?

PhoenixPhyre
2016-12-08, 11:26 AM
So I'm kind of polling you guys; is it common for other DM's to dispense quests in that way, or do you guys do more of free-form exploring games?

I'm currently running a few parallel campaigns in my custom setting. The starting conceit was that the party is one of many who are serving a death sentence helping frontier towns. Yes, the "death" part of that is intentional. Most of these "adventuring groups" don't survive long. The first few quests, and the intent for some of the future quests, came from needs of the town. Others come from rumors they hear, people coming in and wanting to hire them, etc. The government per se pretty much stays out of it. If they make too much noise or find anything earth-shattering they'll get a visit from authorities.

The first two quests were pretty cut-and-dried:

The forest won't let us in--we're running out of wood. Oh, and the animals are stalking kids. Fix it.
There's an ancient mine we want to restart, but it's overrun by goblins. Clear them out.


After that the scope has opened up quite a bit. If they had decided to go off the rails on one of them, I'd have had to improvise. None of them have chosen that path yet, though.

PinkSpray
2016-12-08, 12:21 PM
It seems many GMs go with the classic "quest-giver" mode where the party runs into an NPC with a mission for "able-bodied adventurers" like them. It's what I do. If the party rejects the "mission" for whatever reason, things start to get bad in-game because of it, leading to an event that impacts the party enough to get them involved.

Doing it this way has always felt more "natural" than having the party begin as members of a group that performs missions professionally. I let the player-characters build to that point and it's usually fun getting there.

Honest Tiefling
2016-12-08, 12:41 PM
I don't tend to whole thing of a government agency thing very often, but I do ask my players to keep the PvP down, given the system and my personal tastes. Player conflict is fine and appreciated, player murdering is not, please don't put other characters in a position where murdering you is a logical option. I'm a bit more inclined to the Trial by Fire approach, where something bad happens forcing the players to rely on one another. Nothing like a zombie horde to make people friends!

So yes and no. There's no organization, but usually the goal is laid out to players ahead of time and I ask for PvP to be a very much last resort.

However, is it a matter that the DM is more comfortable with the set up of the Agency? Being a DM can be hard work for some people, so perhaps it is better to let the DM have a bit of a comfort zone. There is nothing wrong with breaking out of a comfort zone, but there is a time and a place to do it. DMing when you have schoolwork/very young children to take of, for instance, is not that time.

Perhaps you should consider a bit of a compromise with your DM? Keep the structure of an organization, but change the tone up a bit. Perhaps you are a part of a criminal organization, but one with standards! You are here to keep the peace so 'business' can occur but are often called upon to actually give the protection you say you will. Here, a bar fight could occur if it is in the proper bar, not one run by your organization. Perhaps starting a bar fight is a way to impress or cow rowdier criminal elements to be recruited or run out of town. Having a more violent person on the payroll does have its advantages for such a group.

Another would be infiltration. Of course your half-orc is making a bar fight! How else would they keep their cover? If you are infiltrating, you have to cover each other's backs unless one spills the beans, and it's harder to get close to the targets.

braveheart
2016-12-08, 04:43 PM
I've run several campaigns, and they are similar to the gov. Idea for quest giving, but twist it a little each time

One they were dragon hunters to collect the standing bounty on dragon heads, so they would follow rulers to the dragons

Another the party was students at a magic school and the quests were all class assignments

Another one was Star Wars and the part was bounty hunters who had a contact setting up jobs for them

And my current campaign is in a video game so questgivers literally have a yellow question mark above their head when the party can get a quest from them.

So 2 had one group/guy handing them out and 2 let the party find quests from alrandom NPC's

Freed
2016-12-08, 04:57 PM
I don't exactly have them work under a government or large guild-type thing , but I do something similar. Here's an example from my current campaign.
-Party all arrives in town, not a group yet, but two groups of 2 and 3.
-Goblins attack.
-They, naturally, attack the goblins.
-Shopkeeper, impressed with how they dealt with that asks them to help him get something the goblins stole back.
-They go do that, then split up.
-But the innkeeper assumes they work together and gives them free lodgings. But basically two rooms for 5 people.
-Then the leader of the town is kidnapped.
-They go rescue her in separate groups for separate reasons.
-The town throws a festival and gives them their own office for their "Adventuring party."
-Theatrical bard makes up a name and goes along with it.
-Now a whole town Thinks they're an adventuring party and gives them quests.
-And they go along with it, because hey, fame and money are nice.
-So now they get quests, can act however they want because they don't have superiors, and have a base of operations.

Cozzer
2016-12-08, 05:39 PM
Well, the way I see it, a quest can be one of two things: "do this, and a thing you want happens" or "do this, otherwise a thing you don't want happens". The very first quests of a new campaign usually have to be of the second kind or pretty generic, as you need to learn to know your group (so it's usually something trying to kill the characters, or someone offering money to the characters). Then, when you more or less understand what the party wants, you can start showing them opportunities to get something they want, which are quests of the first kind (they've been talking about how good it would be to have a home base, well, there's this rumor about an abandoned castle just over there...).

About the "questgiver"... I think it can work very well, as long as the players knows it beforehand (so that they can avoid creating Int 8 CN Barbarians if the questgiver will be a srhew politician looking to gain the upper hand on his rivals, or a LG Paladin if the questgiver will be a criminal). But I don't think every quest should come from the same questgiver. One in two, or two in three maximum. Otherwise, the game just gets too predictable. If the main questgiver is a serious government agency, have one "main quest" in three be something completely different.

Darth Ultron
2016-12-08, 06:17 PM
So I'm kind of polling you guys; is it common for other DM's to dispense quests in that way, or do you guys do more of free-form exploring games?

I very much dislike ''the NPC boss'' gives the PC's a mission. I try to avoid it, but so many players think it is the best game ever and want to do it. The game just does not work well when the players are feeling forced to do something so overtly. It's even worse when the players ''sort of'' want to do the mission, but don't really want to take the time and effort to do it.

I find it best to have the players want to do something.

HidesHisEyes
2016-12-10, 05:30 AM
I haven't actually played in or run such a game but I have often thought, from the DM's perspective it would make things a hell of a lot easier. The main thing seems to be that it would create a very clear line between the players being on a quest and not on a quest. When you've just finished a quest you know it's time to do downtime activities, buy new gear, goof around a bit. Once you get a new quest you know it's time to go somewhere and take care of business. I've often found these two "modes" bleeding into each other can really slow down the game with false starts to quests, too much goofiness, and tiny pseudo-quests that the DM isn't sure how to handle.

On the other hand, yeah, I can also foresee such a structure getting dull or feeling restrictive. I think a possible compromise is to have the PCs not work for someone specific but be something very specific. Think about Shadowrun: one of the game's basic assumptions is that the player characters are Shadowrunners, and a Shadowrunner is someone who takes on dangerous secret missions on behalf of giant corporations. That assumption provides a structure to the game that D&D doesn't always have, perhaps simply because the word "adventurer" is a bit more vague and less unique than "shadowrunner".

Regardless of what language you use, I think if you create a strong sense that the players are a specific type of person who do a specific type of thing, as opposed to just "people in the world", then it may be easier to provide structure and hand out quests. You don't necessarily need to have them working for the king to achieve that structure.

OldTrees1
2016-12-10, 10:37 AM
So I'm kind of polling you guys; is it common for other DM's to dispense quests in that way, or do you guys do more of free-form exploring games?

I have handled dispensing quests 3 ways

1) The quest is handed out as:
DM: "Design characters that are on this quest."
This is how I ran modules like Expedition to Castle Ravenloft or The Tomb of Horrors

2) The quests are handed out as:
I describe an interesting dynamic world for the Players to decide what to react to and with.
Ex: A campaign on the frontier border between civilization and the wilds.

3) The quests are handed out as:
As #2 above, except the PCs are considered "people/targets of interest" by various initially stronger NPCs. The Players decide how to try to survive.
Ex: The PCs walked onto a region sized chessboard of a 3 player game. Now the chess players want to use these new bishops/knights* to their advantage.
*The PCs are not mere pawns in the game

While that last one can result in the PCs allying with and taking quests from one of the stronger NPCs, I think that possible outcome is the closest I come to the NPC boss case.

Delicious Taffy
2016-12-11, 08:04 AM
I tended to set up one overarching plot quest right in Session 1, usually a journey to find someone/something, and then occasionally spring sidequests on the party that could be resolved in maybe two sessions.

kyoryu
2016-12-11, 11:35 AM
I prefer to have the "quests" impede on the characters' lives in some way. Think of a TV show - generally, the characters get involved in things because something is threatening the things they care about.

Jay R
2016-12-11, 02:13 PM
There are several ways.

1. "You have joined the local fire brigade, so when you hear that a building is on fire, you hurry over to help."
2. "You see a column of smoke rising from a few blocks away."
3. "You hear screams starting to come from the building across the street."
4. "It certainly is getting warm in here."

Velaryon
2016-12-11, 07:55 PM
I try to use a variety of different ways, in order to keep things from getting too repetitive. It's often helpful to have a static source of quests early on, in order to provide motivation for the party to work together and an initial push to get things moving until the players get the hang of their characters and the party develops its own ideas and goals. From there, I like to mix things up with a combination of different sources for quests including others they run into and elements pulled from the characters' own backstories. See the spoiler below for details if you like. :smallsmile:

For my current game, the party met at a job fair for adventurers - they were literally encouraged to meet & greet to find teammates, then sign up with the adventuring guild as a group and take their first mission (a test for guild membership).

Early quests were usually pulled off the guild's bounty board, simple quests like "duel me 1 on 1 to see who is stronger" or "catch the half-orc that burned down my tavern" or "capture some live owlbears for my traveling circus." Mostly one-and-done things from a stationary quest-giver in the form of a guild outpost located in each of the country's major cities.

From there, they would occasionally stumble onto random people that needed help (side quests), or would be drawn into conflicts by enemies they had made while fulfilling previous quests. My favorite is the time two party members were hired as backup dancers for a dance contest, while the rest of the party were hired as bodyguards for another contestant (thus giving everyone a reason to be at the contest). Then at the actual contest, a riot broke out thanks to numerous rival guilds each trying to rig the contest and win the considerable prize (which the PCs ended up stealing in the confusion, thus getting several of these criminal organizations after them). It eventually led to their being hired by the king to exterminate the most dangerous of these rival thieves' guilds, while allying with a second and taking down a third in the process.

After that, one of the party members became a landowning noble as reward for their service, thus giving them an organizational tie to the government and another potential source of quests.

Finally, tying in backstory elements to provide personal motivation for quests works as well. The Dread Necromancer PC was looking for his missing girlfriend, and all previous attempts to find her had yielded nothing. He ended up convincing the party to slay a dragon at the behest of a wizard, who provided them with a scroll of discern location as payment for the creature's hide, then after locating her, traveled to another country to rescue her from the enchanter who had mind controlled her into being one of his servants. And then after rescuing her, the party discovered that her memory had been wiped by someone else entirely, and had to set out on another quest to find a wish to restore her memory and figure out what she knows that someone wanted forgotten... and why they didn't just kill her instead.

Tiktakkat
2016-12-12, 12:06 AM
It depends on the particular campaign.

My current campaign has the PCs as rulers with them also playing multiple cohorts on independent adventures.
For the PCs, adventures come as responses to actions by rivals, with the PCs attempting to thwart some effort to gain some item to use against them.
For the cohorts, adventures come as diplomacy-turned-adventuring party missions required by the PCs to expand their realm.
As a bonus, for the first few levels of the campaign the PCs were effectively cohorts of NPCs who sent them out on similar tasks before the NPCs were "called away" for a bigger quest by their ruler, leaving the PCs to take over ruling.

In the campaign before that, the PCs gathered in response to an exploration mission set up by a noble. Each had a minor connection worked into their background to be selected for the mission. Once it got underway, specific adventures were mostly about discovering "forgotten lore" that led to a series of adventures until the climax.

In the campaign before that, the PCs were again agents sent on a mission, but the mission turned out to be significantly bigger than expected, so the PCs wound up acting on their own initiative, though benefiting from their connections back home.

In the campaign before that, the PCs were "fated" to resolve a prophecy, and once gathered they followed a continuing series of clues from one adventure to the next.

In the campaign before that, the PCs were freelance adventurers/mercenaries who took on a series of assignments that led to them making major strikes at enemy bases during a war, several characters taking one over (they became the patrons of the PCs in the campaign up two), while one of them sacrificed himself to trigger an ancient curse that destroyed a major setting enemy in a completely ad hoc addition to the campaign derived from player choice.

In the campaign before that, the PCs were just casual acquaintances thrown together who teamed up as an adventuring party and just stumbled through the main action with limited NPC support based on one PC being a cleric of the temple in the settlement.

Knaight
2016-12-12, 02:20 AM
Again there are advantages and disadvantages to doing it this way. It's very easy for a DM to dispense information and quests, and the party always has a home base to return to in order to rest up. But I always found it takes away some of the freedom of being a player, striking out exploring the land and discovering the fun quests/towns along the way. Plus you have to act according to the governments rules/laws with can be restricting from a role-playing perspective. My Half-orc barbarian wouldn't get into huge bar-fights because it would look badly on the government he's working for, despite how much fun it would be.

So I'm kind of polling you guys; is it common for other DM's to dispense quests in that way, or do you guys do more of free-form exploring games?

It depends on the game. I'd break things down into four main categories, with another few coming up on the context of exploring but representing a fundamentally different axis. These are:

The PCs work for an organization.
The PCs run an organization that pursues its own goals.*
The PCs run an organization that helps others fulfill their goals.*
The PCs are not in an organization in any way.


The first and third cases are amenable to a quest/mission structure, where in one case the organization the PCs work for gives them orders and in the other they voluntarily take missions. There's a lot of variety in those categories - working for an organization includes both being an employee and something like being forced to do a job, taking others goals to fulfill could mean mercenaries, wandering heroes looking for wrongs to right, private investigators, the head of a private intelligence agency, whatever. The second one would be a game where the party has shared goals, real ties together, and they're pursuing their own goals. The last is really the special one, representing a case where there are individual PCs who aren't even in a party, but who likely interact with each other fairly often (including potentially doing so as adversaries). I've run games with all four of these modes, and they work for different things. As just an example:


Type 1: The two biggest examples here were a game I ran where the PCs were associated with a mystical/martial order on a small archipelago that suddenly got invaded by a vastly superior force (fantasy campaign), and a game where the thing binding the PCs together was that they all owed money to the same dubious medical megacorporation that was extracting labor from them (steampunk/cyberpunk hybrid). This is also how I tend to start my favored new player introduction scenario, as imperial investigators looking into solving a border conflict that turns out to be more than it seems - it has a tendency to change into a Type 2 or Type 3 pretty quickly though.
Type 2: In the context of larger organizations, this is why I have REIGN. I ran a game where the players were the head of a merchant's guild trying to survive and thrive in the cutthroat world of port city commerce, and have plans to run one where they head a resistance organization against a company behind the space opera equivalent of a banana republic. For small parties this is as close as I come to a default, with probably 40% of games or so being a small party doing their own thing. My Port Alhabri game where the PCs were the remnants of a destroyed guild in opposition to a powerful noble (plus various other enemies they made) is an example of this as a location based game without traveling; I'm currently running another game about the party discovering magic and being the catalyst for a world developing magitech that is more journey based.
Type 3: I've done the whole quest givers for a fantasy party thing, but it's pretty rare. A bit more common are games involving the crew of a small space ship seeking work in the future - mercenaries and smugglers are the two main types for type 3. Pirates would be type 2, but I've never actually run a pirate game.
Type 4: These are really tricky, and only work with small groups and short campaigns as a rule. With that said, I've had a lot of fun with the few I've run. The PCs all have their own interests, but there's something in common that ties them together. Most recently I had them all connected to the underworld of the same city (which they also all lived in), but there's options for all sorts of things. A game where each player bounces between several PCs can also do this particularly well.


As far as exploring goes, any of these are conducive to it and a game that doesn't involve exploring (or even traveling) can be run in any of them. The PCs could explicitly be explorers, tasked to go out into a frontier and bring back information while funded and supplied by a larger entity to do so - that's Type 1, but the organization certainly doesn't get in the way of doing exploring. The restrictions of being a representative can similarly be played up and played down, and they can also show up in games where the players aren't a member of some organization that gives them missions but are still treated as representative of more than themselves.


*I'd consider "the party" an organization, but it is worth distinguishing between a game where there's just a party with a goal and a game where the PCs are in charge of something bigger.

Stealth Marmot
2016-12-12, 10:04 AM
There are several ways.

1. "You have joined the local fire brigade, so when you hear that a building is on fire, you hurry over to help."
2. "You see a column of smoke rising from a few blocks away."
3. "You hear screams starting to come from the building across the street."
4. "It certainly is getting warm in here."

This is a surprisingly good summary.

1. You are part of an organization, such as a guild or government squad, military unit, or even a prisoner, being assigned a particular job or task. The advantage of this style is that you don't need to create a bunch of hooks or coincidences, you can just have the jobs handed down. The disadvantage is that it can limit player exploration and freedom, leading to players being reactive rather than proactive.

2. This version is the tease. It doesn't force players to do anything, but gives them the option. This is usually best reserved for a DM who plans on throwing more than one plot hook at the players.

3. This version is similar to the last, but also adds pressure on the players to take part. Instead of the players being far away and the problem seeming more of a tease, the players are immediately aware of the suffering happening and will probably feel involved in some manner. They are the closest, or among the closest, to the actual event, and they are thus the ones who are most responsible for saving lives.

4. This version pretty much throws the player into the situation, like it or not. This does take away some player agency, but still provides a lot of choice in how they react to the situation.


4 different levels of DM insistance.

SirBellias
2016-12-12, 11:25 AM
In the most popular game I run, they started in the same tavern every session. Same npcs, same town. There is a quest board, however, and the town reacts to what they do. They decide what they do from there, and I make up most things as I go until I don't have to. It works out.

kyoryu
2016-12-12, 11:32 AM
4. This version pretty much throws the player into the situation, like it or not. This does take away some player agency, but still provides a lot of choice in how they react to the situation.

I really don't see that as taking away agency necessarily. It can be used as a way to control/funnel players, but it's not inherently so.

Non-agency-removing:

GM: "Okay, you notice it's getting awfully warm in here."
Player: "Oh, crap. I head downstairs."
GM: "Okay, as you get downstairs, you notice some flames coming from the kitchen door."
Player: "Crap. What exits are there from here?"
GM: "Well, the front door, and you think there's a back door. There's windows upstairs too, and as you recall, there's other guests here."

Agency-removing:

GM: "Okay, you notice it's getting warm here."
Player: "Oh, crap. I head downstairs."
GM: "As you head downstairs, you notice flames coming out of most of the other rooms. As you go down the stairs, the stairs catch fire and fall apart as you reach the ground. The room is on fire - the only available exit is to the back."
Player: "Um, I guess I head to the back exit?"
GM: "As you do so, a gang of thugs appears out of the shadows in the back alley and draw their swords..."

Stealth Marmot
2016-12-12, 12:48 PM
I really don't see that as taking away agency necessarily. It can be used as a way to control/funnel players, but it's not inherently so.


Agency is not an absolute. Any level of control you take over a situation that limits a players choices or impresses upon them a choice is limiting agency, but that is not a bad thing. Like all things, you have to strike a good balance of presenting a path and allowing for agency and choice.

GungHo
2016-12-12, 02:42 PM
I have a big yellow question mark dangling from a rope above my head.

True story.

Stealth Marmot
2016-12-12, 02:43 PM
Shouldn't it be an exclamation point until they actually finish the quest?

GungHo
2016-12-12, 02:47 PM
Shouldn't it be an exclamation point until they actually finish the quest?

I only had so much rope.

Stealth Marmot
2016-12-12, 03:36 PM
I only had so much rope.

I...but...how does that...

*Head explodes*

Stryyke
2016-12-12, 05:40 PM
I prefer events, rather than quest givers. A properly sculpted event guides the group, rather than sending them anywhere. The trick is always to get the players to think it was THEIR idea to leave town, and THEIR idea to investigate the ruins, and THEIR idea protect the town from hoards of undead, and finally THEIR idea to eliminate the necromancer.

However, it is good to sprinkle proper quests from quest givers into the mix. That way they'll be focusing on all those quests, thinking one of them will become the primary goal; and they won't realize that the main goal has nothing to do with those quests. The less those side quests have to do with the primary goal, the easier it is to guide them to the primary goal.

For instance, have the players running an errand to a nearby town. And at some point have one of them "spot" a tower above the tree line a quarter of a mile back. But you have to hide that clue amidst other clues so that they don't realize it is a clue. So one quest they may see some ruins. A different quest they might "spot" a recently used campfire. And a different time they may pass a remote graveyard.

Then, on one trip, they "stumble upon" a walking corpse. This is always the most difficult encounter to sculpt, because if you just drop an undead in there, good players will say "This is the one that leads us to the primary goal." So maybe they just see a shape in the woods that seems to be walking weird. But they are under a time crunch, so they have to press on. Then on their way back, they might try to find the "person" they saw.

Then it's important to give them at least one more unrelated quest. Then someone from town hasn't been seen in a few days. They think of the person they saw in the woods. They tell the Mayor about the "person" they saw in the woods, and 9 times out of 10 they offer to go back to the place without any prompting. They'll jump on it because it's a bit more interesting than running errands.

Then have them find some sort of trail between the remote graveyard and the tower. With luck, they'll go towards the Tower first. Then at the Tower, make it so they cannot find an entrance. They'll likely go back to the trail and follow it to the other end in the graveyard. This is where you are getting to the climax, so you might have them notice that some of the dirt looks fresher. And if you've done it right, they'll go back to the tower, and find a way in. While exploring, they encounter some undead, and finally find the necromancer. Now if this is the end of the campaign, start the final fight. If not, you might have the necromancer kick their butt, forcing them to retreat and come up with a plan of action. But they'll hopefully grab the missing townee on the way out.

Maybe the group needs to find a way to deal with the necromancer, forcing them to journey to where they can get information, and then to where some item is that let's them handle the necromancer. And while they are away from town, there might be an event in the town where they are staying. That may cause the local guards to go to the players hometown. Which then leads to them going to the capital city. Which leads to . . .

Bear in mind, this is all off the top of my head. In reality I sculpt the encounters much more effectively, but I think that gives you an idea. And generally speaking this would be part of a larger questline. The key is that you have to be ready for the PCs to do exactly what you don't want them to do. Maybe they go to the tower on the first day, and somehow find the entrance. Maybe the PCs decide they don't want to do menial tasks. Maybe the PCs don't want to come together. So many things. This is where improvising is so very important.

RazorChain
2016-12-12, 10:28 PM
Ok lets just take a basic plot where an evil necromancer is going to conquer a city.

A) The OOC
The GM and players agree on that they are going to play an adventure where the PC's have to stop an evil necromancer from conquering a city

B) The Railroad
The GM decides that the players WILL partake in an adventure about stopping a necromancer from conquering a city.

C) The Quest
An NPC asks the PC's help to stop a necromancer from conquering a city

D) The Event
The PC's hear that undead have the city under siege

E) The Plot Grenade
The city comes under undead siege while the PC's are inside the city

F) The Background
One of the PC's father is an evil necromancer and the PC's uncover a clue that he's going to conquer the city.

G) The Proactive Players
The PC's decide to conquer the city and raise an undead army to do so.

In all these instances the PC's have full agency except the railroad.