Quest Writing

So I’m about to come out of hiatus for the Nemo crew and their DnD game. We took a break because during the holidays we couldn’t consistently have everyone there. It was a good time to take a break as well.

I used some of that time to talk to them about alignment and character motivation. A couple times now characters have used a version of the phrase, “Why are we doing this again?”

That’s fine if you are losing track, or your attendance hasn’t been perfect, but there was one line said that made me really start thinking about characters and quests. The tiefling cleric player said to the other players:

“I know Dan is trying to steer us towards this…”

I have been thinking about that line basically since she said it. I want my players to feel like they have choices, but more importantly that those changes matter and will affect the world around them.

Around the same time, my Rogue Trader players were busy trying to figure out where they belong in war on Port Footfall. Without any discussion, or even any questions, they sided with one merchant over the other. The decision made sense to them emotionally so I wasn’t too worried, but what I found interesting was that they sided with him without knowing what he was asking them to do.

It occurred to me (and was revealed to me by some more experienced GM’s online) was that I was doing this all wrong. I was writing grand scenarios and plot twists and stuff, when really that should be on the players. They were playing like they were actors in a play. There was a script, and they followed it.

Now— that’s not a bad way to play. But what was missing was character engagement. The players were doing what was asked of them, or picking from a limited number of choices instead of making their own.

Players making their own choices is what the core mechanic of RPG’s is. In my quests, I still put plenty of things in their path that they could choose to interact with and would change the course of events, but even more fundamentally, the players didn’t choose this quest for themselves. They didn’t say to themselves, “Hey! Let’s bring a Merchant Fleet to the Koronus Expanse and establish Battlefleet Koronus.” or “Hey! Let’s go bring down a rival merchant and steal a bunch of his assets.”

I had inadvertently made the choice for them. This gets tricky the more you think about it though, because the GM needs to prepare and the like. But what I missed was that I didn’t provide them options. I can still prepare quests, but it needs to be their choice to go on them.

It’s why my players went to Rain all died that one time. For the first time in the game I had let them loose and they chose an adventure to go on.

It’s why some of the greatest stories are simple. It’s why the heroes journey is so prevalent. There is a deed that could be done, and the hero wants to do it. Whether it’s taking down Darth Vader or riding eternal on the Fury Road; adventures need to be fun because someone wants to do it.

So I’m going to change the way I write quests. I will present issues and let the players decide what to do. I’ll still write all of my planned quests, but they will have to be the ones to choose to do them. I will instead present them with some primal reward, whether its rewards or revenge, but I think the possibilities will be a lot more satisfying to discover if the characters are finally in the story. So to speak.

—DTM

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