|Autopsy of a Quest
I hate quests. There have been few (probably less than two) quests I have ever been in that I have enjoyed from start to finish. The reason is many-fold, usually, it starts with an ambitious quest designer and ends with lack-luster participation. In between are the three long hours of confusion, frustration, and consternation when the game is finally called.
Autopsy of a Quest
All quests that I have been in have had the same basic ingredients.
There are usually some monsters running around with some treasure, perhaps you have heard of the monsters, perhaps you have not; usually the person playing the monster has not really seen the write-up for it and is using abilities gained through hearsay and mis-communication.
There is a muddled goal, or objective that is as devious as it is nebulous (to quote myself: "If your team has to answer a riddle to get though a portal to kill a beast who has one of four keys to open a chest which contains a sword that will heal good's wounds suffered from evil...then I think you've lost your audience.").
Teams of questors are allied or not allied and timidly stare each other down until one team backs away. Weaker teams are often the whipping boys for the experienced teams (usually comprised of 6th level this-and-that).
Game boundaries and encounters are formed flea-market-fashion spattered with the occasional roaming menace.
Set these ingrediants on high-heat for a couple of hours and you will soon have a heaping plate of burn-out.
I saw an opportunity to run a relic quest for the Emerald Hill's midreign some years ago. It was an opportunity to test my cynicisms, to see if I could put up or should shut up.
And while rain kept the numbers down and forced me to adjust my scenario, I learned quite a bit. I wanted to address several issues in my quest (detailed below) that I felt quests previous have failed to properly tackle.
- How to Win
- Team Interaction
- Guidance and Reeving
1. How to Win
This might seem painfully obvious to the quest designer. Unfortunately, the average AmtQuester is not privy to the designer's twisted thoughts. Even if the goal is to kill monsters and take relics, two and a half hours of that are, to me, not as fun as 20 minutes of goal-oriented gaming where my team knows (approaching exactly) what we have to do to succeed.
Any good story needs a beginning and an end.
A quest should be designed around this concept. When I designed the objectives of the EH relic quest I kept my own advice in mind ("Offer the players tangible, simple, tenable objectives and winning and losing become clearer"). For example, in one encounter, in order to win, a team had to get all five members alive in a marked area for thirty seconds.
To make the quest interesting and more difficult, I added more encounters, each with their own mini-objective adding to the whole.
2. Team Interaction
Team interaction is a sticky point. A designer must weigh the objectives of the quest with the amount of team interaction. In my experience, the more team interaction there is, the less fun there is to go around. Usually, the weak are constantly snuffed out or fleeing for their pitiful lives. In my opinion, the goal of a good quest is to engage in and have a shot at completing the quest.
The result here was obvious to me: build a quest a gauntlet through which you run one team at a time. In other words, no team interaction. This gives the newbie teams an opportunity to face the quest itself rather than the brigands that an "every-team-for-itself" quest creates.
Having no team interaction cleared the waters enough for me to cure another problem: who the hell won the quest? Usually, with a relic quest, when the game is called, those who have relics in their possession win the relics. Running the Gauntlet allowed me to devise a method of comparing the performance of individual teams against each other.
So, instead of one team beating up the other teams and stealing their booty, or one team grabbing a relic and hi-tailing it into the woods until the game is called, each team has a record of how well they did (per player) based on the number of deaths, the number of monsters they killed, as well as the panache (vis-s-vis roleplay) with which they moved through the gauntlet.
Keeping track of this is as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. I made player sheets (linked below) that tracked items like armor, lives, kills, weapon modifications, etc. I am not a rules lawyer and you might have a better method of tracking a player's or teams performance.
The point is to find a way to differentiate and compare one team's performance with another's to see who did better. Be sure and publish this method as clearly as possible before the quest so that people know what to expect.
4. Guidance and Reeving
In quests past, Reeves and Non-Player Characters (NPCs) were either too engaged in judging a dispute, or too in character with their own character-agenda to aid the questers in being successful. With this linear method of questing, a reeve in the form of a guide can wear two hats and be way more focused and helpful than in the grand melee of "every-team-for-itself" quests.
In one instance, the reeve monitors the vitals of the team and its players, keeping track of lives, time, armor, scoring, outstanding roleplay, and other standard "reeve-ish" things.
In the other, the reeve can assume a role as an NPC guide to help the questors through a game. So, for example, if the team comes across a monster, the reeve can help them with specific information about the monster, or move the story along however the quest designer deigns necessary.
How can a reeve be an actor? Use your imagination! As a guide directing the team through an enchanted wood, as a magical hologram who can provide information only. The possibilities are limited only by your ability to tell a story.
Any Good Story Needs a Beginning and an End
A quest without a beginning or an end leads to what I call the "wander and wonder" phenomenon. Teams wander around and wonder where the next encounter is. They wander around and wonder whether the person (dressed in normal garb) is just a person (dressed in normal garb) or a 6th level black dragon.
Designing a quest should involve a beginning and a definitive ending so, at the end of the day, everyone, whether they win or lose, feels satisfaction in their experience. They weren't shattered by those bastard Rogues, they were slaughtered by a Dragon and they knew what was happening from beginning to end.
Here are some final thoughts on setting up your quest/game to aid in its successful and satisfying execution.
- Time on the Field
It should take a team about 30 minutes to run through the sample quest I have attached below. This is a boon. Instead of lamenting the fact that to be in an Amtgard quest, a player must give up half the day, he or she now has time to compete in the quest as well as attend any other kingdom duties (help with feast, gate duty, etc.), or ditch, or play in a battle game.
In detail, setting a time limit for encounters or for the whole run of a single team helps manage the game pace so that everyone gets a chance to play and to force the issue so people don't roleplay you to tears.
- Adequate Garb
Not necessarily "incredible" garb--but, especially for monsters, supply them with enough to help the questors know that they are dealing with a monster. So orcs could have face paint at the least and act orkish, a black dragon should be garbed in black. Every little bit more helps, fur, leather, masks, teeth--what-ever.
With Amtgard, a lot of the satisfactions comes from facing a foe who can do something beyond posture and look good. So a monster player that knows the class and executes it well is 90% of it as far as I am concerned. Good garb is just the icing on the cake.
An important step for the would-be quest maker to take is to provide in-hand information about all aspects of the quest. So the rules need to be written and handed out, if you have monsters in your quest, give the reeves the write ups from the monster manual to review on hand in situations.
Give the monster-players write ups from the monster manuals so they can accurately play the monster. If there are relics that can be used, print out the rules for their use and hand them out to people.
Don't leave important details such as these to hear-say and you will avoid a majority of the squabbles that happen on the field.
I have included the write-ups for a sample quest linked below. If you run a quest like this one, let us know how it went.
- Background Story - A little color to add some depth.
- Blue Print - This document describes the encounters of the quest, their point values, and scripted interactions.
- Rules - Not Amtgard Rules, Quest Rules. What are the teams? How can I win? What's at stake?
- Player Sheets - These are the sheets I used, though I am sure they are either too complicated or not specific enough.
- Riddles - These riddles apply to one of the encounters. I found them online.
- Monster Write-Ups - I chose to use standard monsters from the standard monster manual (at the time). No matter what beasts you intend to use, even if you make them up, it is imperative that you get write-ups of them to the people who will be playing them and the reeves.
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