Looking (Again) At MMO / RPG Quest Types

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!

A barbarian killing a number of people.

"Sorry chaps, but a man down the road says I need to kill 15 of you and then he'll give me a slightly better axe."

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Kill [Named] Y: Some mob has gotten tough enough to earn itself a name. You are to assassinate it for rising above its station.
  3. 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!

Princess Peach from Nintendo's Mario games (and others)

The Princess will be available for saving between the hours of 8am and 5pm PST during the normal work week, and 10am to 3pm every second Saturday. Saving availability outside of these times can be negotiated by prior arrangement.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

A box being delivered.

Did you know that when you Google "delivery" for images, you get up-close vaginal shots of babies being born? I do now!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

Intro screen to The Incredible Machine

"Before the Great Arch Mage Mandigold left this world, he hid the Key of Destiny behind a series of increasingly intricate puzzles that must all be completed in the correct sequence or everyone in the castle will die. He was kind of a dick like that."

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Excel Saga's dating sim parody

    It's all about choosing the correct dialogue option.

    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.

Arc Welding

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.

Computer game characters made from building blocks

It is how you arrange the individual building blocks that gives shape to the greater whole.

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.

6 thoughts on “Looking (Again) At MMO / RPG Quest Types

  1. What is sad to me is that there is such a limited # of the quest types. I know I have stopped playing MMOs for the time being based on the fact I am burned out on these quest types and just can run them any longer. My brain has turned to goo doing this. I would like to see less “questing” and more experience gained from general actions in a game. I had a discussion not too long ago on forum about what we would like to see in MMOs for quests and I mentioned I wanted to see less “questgivers” and more random encounters that not only gave XP and rewards, but led to new instances. We were discussing a possible Tron MMO based in time between the first movie and “Legacy”. Your character would run around and be resented with moral choices and would gain XP and faction based on what they did. Example: You are riding your lightcycle and come across some Clu troops attacking another group. Do you drive by, help the troops, attack the troops and help the other group. Based on what you do, you could get XP, faction for one of at least 3 factions, or a reward (or some combo of the 3). Also, based on your faction, do the Clu troops attack you as you ride up or is that based on the fact that these particular troops are rounding up everyone they come in contact with. After the fight, whoever you helped could reward you are lead you somewhere else where you could get a reward. Something you couldn’t have gotten if you hadn’t helped them. You could also setup a “faction meter” that makes the person you are talking to “decide” where to send you next. Example again: In the previous example you decided to help the people being attacked by Clu’s troops. They are “renegades” and your rep with this faction is low,o they give you some creds and send you on your way. If it is medium, then they give you more creds and tell you where you can find parts for your bike. If it is high, they give you a lot of creds and tell you of a rumor about a really cool item you might be looking for…Lastly, if your rep sux with them, they might realize you suck and attack you after the battle is over with the troops.

    I think this would be a great new way of doing “quests” without the stupid “!” mark over peoples heads. It should add immersion to the game while creating a more diverse story for each character that is created. The increase in your character could be very different from character to character depending on your choices of actions in just general play.

    Lastly for groups, faction would be averaged and a leader would be appointed who would make decision on who to talk to or an option would be available for a popup “vote” window. And like in real life, you can live with the choices your group makes or move to a new group.

    I think it has a lot of potential, and definitely beat what is out there now. I am sick of running the same quests over and over and over again with every alt I have.

    • You could certainly try that approach, where the quest mechanic is hidden to the player, or assigned automatically (and naturally) as part of the game experience.

      Red Dead Redemption had something similar, where you would come across something – a broken down carriage with someone asking for help, a rider calling for you to help them – that you could then take part in (the broken down carriage was a “kill all bandits” quest while the rider was a “Save the hostage” quest).

      In the end, there are only a limited number of narrative options, but you can present them in interesting and novel ways to make them stand out.

  2. I have had your thoughts on this in my head since I had seen them in the discussions around some game that was being developed at the time (Champions Online, maybe?).

    I searched out the latest (I think) version of this since it occurred to me, in playing The Secret World, that there may be a new bullet, or at least a significant gameplay variation on Defend, and that is Tower Defense. TSW has some missions where you aren’t expected to defend just using your character’s abilities, and they go farther into TD than just “Oh, and we have a machine gun emplacement you can use here, too”. Like, you get X amount of time to collect and place defenses along the paths that the enemy waves will travel. Tower defense is a pretty recent game type, in and of itself, so you may not think it warrants its own bullet, but it is a pretty distinct playstyle type.

  3. I don’t much play MMO/RPGs, but I’ve found it strange how few “spy” type quests there are. Things such as “Explore”/”Map” an area, for example, would be, in my opinion, a much better way to hike around areas. Each area you enter could fill in a map in the upper corner. While it would be somewhat like an object collection quest, mapping an area as a quest would bring elements of activate and puzzle solving quests.
    Other such “spy” quests could be something along the lines of “non-kill” missions. (Not killing in an adventure RPG? Never!) The principle would be not getting caught by hiding behind objects when the guards turn to look your way (kind of like when you’re avoiding opponents because they’re above your level). It’s a major feature in many of the old-school adventure movies – the hero bound down hallways while the guards back is turned. Different levels could be added, depending on the game parameters, such as guards that hear you and go to check it out instead of just attacking something that was in his field of vision. If you *did* get into a situation where you had to kill, hiding the body from other nosy guards would be instrumental.
    The last “spy” quest would be something along the lines of “listen.” Go, hide in the dark of some alleyway where you know a group of assassins are meeting and hear their plan to abduct the princess or whatever they’re discussing, then take the info back to the guard where you got the quest from. The next step would, naturally, be to protect the princess, but I think it’d make a fun twist if you were dismissed.
    Which brings me to the next quest type, a macro-type, if you will, that most MMO/RPGs are missing: self-activated quests. You’ve learned of a secret plot involving kidnapping the princess, but instead of getting to help, you’re told to shove off. You have the time, date, location, etc., of the attempt, but no one’s told you to save her. Instead, you show up *GASP* of your own accord! Despite the guards’ best efforts, you are the one that manages saving the princess and receive a lovely reward, just like if you were completing a quest, but without being told to by an NPC. This could be done in a vast range of ways, such as stumbling down aforementioned alleyway and getting trapped by the assassins, being a brash hero and deciding on your own to rescue a kidnapped princess, or opening up an incredibly descriptive book of legends and choosing to hunt them down without being told by some wizened wizard inexplicably wandering through your village. It would be easy enough to program in with a small choice at the bottom of the screen after “receiving” the quest, such as “The guard has turned your offer to protect the princess down. What do you do? ·Leave. They don’t need me. OR ·Keep an eye on the princess, just in case.” It could be recorded as a quest, but it would liven up the same-old “quest given by an NPC” same-old.
    As a side note, would winning a tournament (PvP or PvNPC) be considered an achievement quest if it was necessary to progress, or would it be its own sub-category?

    • Spy quests are an interesting idea. Early MMOs probably couldn’t be ‘subtle’ enough to make them work (unless by ‘spying’ it was meant ‘murder every creature in the dungeon and click on the box at the end’) but these days they could work.

      PvP quests could be considered as Kill Quests, since that’s what 99% of PvP is. But it is a sub-variant worth considering.

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