A long while ago I looked at the types of quests that MMOs (and indeed, even single player RPGs) are limited to and came up with 10 different types. However, over time I’ve thought that the list was incorrect in a number of ways, especially since it didn’t consider the ‘reverse’ version of each quest type to an appropriate degree.
So, here we go again:
Faster Dire Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Kill quests are the cornerstone of any mainstream RPG. As an adventurer, your unwritten instruction is to murder a significant proportion (if not all) of what crosses your path, be they humanoid, animal or something from the depths of imagination. In short: if they aren’t you, you should think about killing them because they could have something you can loot. There’s probably some social commentary to be made about this aspect of RPGs, western society, our aggressive expansionist mindset / history and current issues with environmental sustainability, but that’s a whole different topic.
- Kill X of Y: You have to defeat a certain number of the same opponent. This starts out as Kill Ten Rats and ends up at Kill 250 Elder Rat Gods. This is sometimes subverted as a “kill X until you recover enough of Z” or “kill X until you recover the Lost Artifact of Z” , but usually the developer has a number of opponents in mind that they want you to kill before you can complete the quest.
- Kill [Named] Y: Some mob has gotten tough enough to earn itself a name. You are to assassinate it for rising above its station.
- Destroy: A kill quest, but with the target(s) being inanimate e.g. shrines, weapons, jewellery.
There can be additional conditions put on these kind of quests, such as kill without being seen or kill within a set time limit as well.
Save Me! Save Me From Myself!
The flipside to the Kill Quest is the Save Quest – the player is tasked with protecting someone or something that others are trying to kidnap or kill. Given that the natural instinct of the RPG player is to murder all before it, being tasked with not murdering someone specifically goes against their natural instinct. However, the quest be accepted because the player knows that in order to protect this person / item a lot of assassins / thieves will die and will conveniently come to the player instead of the player having to find them.
- Save X of Y: This requires the player to save a number of people / items of the same type. It usually involves the player running around finding their targets and murdering the people / animals / fantasy creatures they find near those targets just to be on the safe side.
- Save [Named] Y: A single important person / item has been stolen and the player needs to find them. The target will inevitably be located in the last room of a complex that the player will fill with the corpses of its prior occupants.
- Escort: The player starts out with the target (usually a humanoid) and needs to ensure they get to their desired destination (which is typically 5 minutes or less away). This is possibly the most hated of RPG questing, since the kind of people who require escorting have the self-preservation instinct of a marshmallow going to a flamethrower contest.
- Protect: The player is asked to stop too much damage occurring to a person / item / location. A developer thinks the fun from this quest arises from the player overcoming the odds and succeeding; the player knows the frustration that comes from almost getting to the end of the quest but failing it because the assassins / thieves piled on the target in the final wave.
Variants of the above typically involve save for a set time limit, which developers sometimes use to hide the nastier variant of save for a set time limit but if the target dies after the time limit has expired you still fail the quest because if we told you that up front you’d never learn from the experience.
You There! Errand Boy!
People in RPGs have lots of packages and letters that need delivering and no-one has ever thought of setting up a formal organisation that could do this task. Good thing, or else a lot of adventurers would have to plan out their own journeys instead of just grabbing a letter and heading in the direction of the address.
- Delivery (aka Fedex): The quest giver wants something delivered to someone else. In a time of magic or ultra-tech science, the best way of getting it there is to give it to some wandering adventurer they’ve never seen before and have them deliver it in person.
- Collect X of Y: A character is tasked with finding a certain number of objects of a certain type to continue the quest. This starts out as Collect 10 Rat Droppings and ends up at Collect 100 Elder Rat God Droppings. Sometimes it involves collecting the organs of creatures you kill e.g. collect 10 Rat Noses – please note that not every Rat will have a nose to collect.
- Find [Named]: Find a particular character, location and / or item, usually by running up to them and clicking on them. This type of quest could be called Next Quest Chain Starts Here, but Find [Named] is so much shorter.
- Find [Named] And Deliver: Someone or something has been lost and it is up to the player to find it again and deliver it somewhere. It is different from the Collect X of Y quest in that this quest usually has the [Named] placed behind a wall of opponents who need murdering, while Collect usually occurs out in the open. This is a quest type that easily stacks, so players end up with Find and Collect and Find and Deliver (and so on) variations.
Occasionally the above conditions such as find / deliver within a set time frame, but most NPCs don’t care how long it takes to deliver a package provided it gets there within the next century.
Knitting Odd Socks
Every now and again RPG developers remember that they have more than just combat and movement systems within their title and work on a quest that goes outside of those realms. But not often, because that would be weird.
- Activate!: A switch needs to be flicked, a lighthouse needs to be lit, a desk needs to be searched, an engine needs to be fixed. Basically the player has to find a particular object and get it working. There are Activate X of Y, Activate X With Y and Activate [Named] variants, but all possess the same basic requirement of clicking on something in-game.
- Puzzle Solving: The super-advanced version of Activate!, the player is required to solve a puzzle before they can continue – the switches need to be flicked in the right order, the engine parts need to be fit together like a jigsaw, the pipes need to be connected so that the water can flow. Players and RPG developers aren’t hugely fond of Puzzle Solving since it doesn’t involve straightforward violence and the answers are looked up on the internet anyway, but now and again some developers want to look clever and throw some in.
- Craftskills: In order to complete the quest something needs to be crafted by the player (or developed by some kind of craftskill). There can be a lot of variation here – the player can be crafting weapons, armour, jewellery or something quest specific, but these quests require the player to convert raw in-game materials into something else.
- Reach Achievement X: The quest is to reach a certain achievement, such as a particular level or craftskill rank or even earn a particular achievement before you can continue. Usually this is used as a gating mechanism – the contact won’t even talk to you before you reach this particular achievement – but sometimes the quest itself states what achievement you have to get to before continuing.
Convince [Named]: A few quests exist that ask the player to convince an NPC of a certain position, usually through the selection of the correct dialogue options on a preset wheel. The three normal flavours of Convince are persuade (“Hey, how about you call off your army? Please?”), bribe (“I’ll give you the riches of A’ter’tzia if you call off your army!”) and threaten (“CALL OFF YOUR ARMY NOW BEFORE I DECIDE TO WEAR YOU LIKE A PARTICULARLY UGLY BOOT!”), with the occasional inform option (“You’ll call off your army once I tell you what I read in the previously lost Prophecy of T’cha’mand’cardia…”) thrown in. Again, the internet exists to ensure the player says the right thing the first time.
Building a story arc from the above is pretty easy – you simply add the components you want together either before or after you’ve worked out the narrative. So you can have an Escort followed by a Kill X of Y then Collect X of Y then Kill [Named] then Delivery. But that’s just the mechanics of it – it is how that the quest chain / story arc is presented to players that is memorable. The Lord of the Rings saga can be mechanically described as a very long Delivery and Escort quest with a Destroy end goal, but that severely understates the narrative that encapsulates the quest.
It’s in the area of quest presentation that MMOs are starting to move. Although developers still lazily put “Kill 10 Street Thugs / Troopers / Mushroom Men et al” in the mission goal box, the attempt is made to make individual quests fit within a larger narrative frame and thus make the player feel the illusion of being important.
The narrative can also be used to hide the true quest goal. For instance, the quest could actually be Kill X of Y, but the player is told to clear out a local bandit camp / space bandit fortress. Either way 30 bandits / space bandits die, but the player feels better about achieving a wider goal – clearing out a problem – than just watching a counter wind down.
Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything in terms of quest types and I’ll add it into a future update.