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Tips on Writing a Quest

Rooftops and Rainbows from Shadowrun 5ed.
Rooftops and Rainbows from Shadowrun 5ed.

Quests are short plot lines that give the players goals to work towards. Generally, quests should start a bit after the last one ended. I try to give the players some sort of reward for finishing a quest, be it treasure, experience or a great life-changing epiphany. 

Character opening up their own pub, from Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign
Character opening up their own pub.
picture from Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign

When beginning a quest you, the DM, needs to determine how the players learn about the quest in the first place. Do they enter a town with a strange old legend for investigating? Are the player’s home/friend(s) attacked by a mysterious being and need help? The ways of starting quests are as wide and varied as the quests themselves.

Players are often more involved in the game if they feel they have some sort of investment in it. For example, they could be interested in an NPC, equipment they just acquired, or some other task they are working on, like building a stronghold or running an organization. If the players like something, use it. To give players an opportunity to get involved in the world, I try to give them a bit of time between quests for downtime.

Downtime is important for PCs! This gap of time between quests allows for character development to happen. Generally, I find it works best to go around the table asking each player what they’re doing after the quest is finished. If they are stumped, give them someone to talk to or something to do. For example, in Shadowrun players have contacts. Maybe one of these contacts gets a hold of the character and wants to hang out or needs help with something insignificant. It both fleshes out the world and shows the player and character has importance.

By the end of the quest the players should have accomplished something. That could be character development or plot-related. Quests can end with defeating a bad guy, defending a village, dungeon/corporate diving, helping family, finding out about one’s self, etc… The world is your oyster: Do with it as you will.

After you know where you want to start and end comes the easy part. When developing quests, I create the intro, the end point and then some main points. The intro sets the players into action, makes them aware of the quest. The end is what you want the final result to be. Then the main points are little events you want to happen.

You never know what a player could be thinking.
You never know what a player could be thinking.

The main points are the meat of your quest since players cannot be trusted to follow your specific line of thinking. If you determine particular points in your story you can work them in regardless of what the players do. Just be ready to change and move your main points. It’s also a good to determine where good end points in your story would be in case things run a bit long.

Player-focused quests are another great idea to sprinkle into the storyline. A lot of roleplaying games have negatives that give the players more points. These drawbacks are often overlooked by the DM. If you throw in a quest here and there that really emphasizes the negatives of a particular character, you may be surprised at how your players respond. Keep in mind not to punish your players for their decisions, but expose them. It gives the characters some humanity.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on quest creation. Next week we’ll talk about putting together an adventure!

Quest Template:

  1. Quest - <name>
    1. Intro: <describe how the players learn/are brought into the quest (eg a friend calls for help)>
    2. Main Point: <One of the important set pieces to cover (eg the friend’s house is empty)>
    3. Main Point*: <Another set piece in the storyline, that can also work as an ending point (eg the player(s) get a call from the kidnapper)>
    4. Goal:  <The final part of the quest (eg the players confront the kidnapper and possibly rescue their friend)>

* Good checkpoint to end the session if the game is running long.


Not all those who wander are lost.” 
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring


Andrew Smith is one of The Spokesman-Review's IT gurus and resident dungeon master.