Crafting Quality Side Quests

Started by GrimTrigger, May 29, 2012, 11:37:43 pm

Previous topic - Next topic


Tips on crafting quality side-quests

Side quests are an important part of an RPG, and often can be just as enjoyable as playing through the story line. Here are a few things I take into consideration when making side quests for my game.
1.  Relevance vs Randomness
2.  Challenge level
3.  Rewards
4.  After effects

1) Relevance vs Randomness

Any good RPG is going to has plenty of side quests, and it is important to fully utilize them to further the players enjoyment of the game. When crafting a side quest, I try to take into consideration the current events of the game. Put simply, if there is break in the heart-wrenching, tear-jerking madness of your storyline and the party has time to breathe.....throw in something fun and light-hearted. Maybe a rescued pet, or a pie eating contest. If the story requires the player to become emotionally upset, consider tying the side quest to the story, but only slightly. For example, if the main story calls for a big upcoming battle, a decent side quest could revolve around recovering a treasured artifact the warriors carry into battle with them. The quest can reference the main plot, but the focus is on the importance of the artifact, and hearing a bunch of unique and interesting background information.  Side quests can serve many functions, and can be used to break the grips of despair, or similarly give the player another connection to the main story, from a brand new perspective.

2. Challenge Level

Side quests need to be interesting, but not always challenging. I find having a healthy mix is ideal to keeping the desire to complete them high. In my opinion, certain side quests should be too difficult to complete right away, and can serve as an extra incentive to fully master your combat strategy, and gain as much power as you can. This can come in the form of a difficult dungeon, a collection quest with items that are rare, or simply a level based quest you must wait to be eligible for. Furthermore, the difficulty can be evented to match player strength, allowing for a custom-fit feel. I personally like hard side quests, but I make a lot of smaller, easier ones that can grant extra leveling opportunities, rare items, and fun to those looking to prepare themselves for together stretches of the game.

3.  Rewards

Few people are going to want to round up 5 chickens if there isn't ample reward. I like to make side quests deliver the goods so to speak, thus I use them to grant the player all manner of unique, powerful items. One of my most favored side-quests is the ongoing Runestone Quest. With this one, you simply need to explore the off-road areas of the maps, and search for ancient Runestones. Each Runestone contains specific passages inspired by the Havamal (
and will grant party bonuses, skills, items, etc upon reading them. After enough have been read, you are given access to a special dungeon that will test your understanding of the Runestones. If you succeed, you will be granted the Master Skills for every party member. These skills are a tier above even the best naturally learned skills, and greatly enhance you characters. Another side quest I am fond of is a merchant quest, wherein you assist a young female entrepreneur in the busiest city on the map. She is looking to break into new markets, and asks you to find increasingly rarer and harder to obtain items. Each time you complete her request, she rewards you and gives you another assignment. Once you complete enough quests through her, she can serve as a shop that sells items you couldn't obtain otherwise, and can be very useful.

4. After Effects

A good way to efficiently employ side quests is to have them be remembered. If you're going to spend an hour or three making this quest, it shouldn't be forgotten the moment it's complete. In my opinion, side quests don't happen in a completely separate universe, they are merely independent of the general story line. Put simply, if your side quest involves a heavy use of violence in the middle of the town square, the townspeople should remember it. In addition, I like to make NPCs from across the land "hear" about current events, and mention them. I have shopkeepers that have a "News" option in their dialogue, and this is regularly updated to include both main story and side story events. It adds a lot to main story dialogue to incorporate, on occasion, certain references to side quests you've completed. This simply requires conditional branches during dialogue, and can add a great deal of immersion to a game.
Imagine the following:

(No connection)

Sven: ...Hey Fritjof, do you ever wish we had simply stayed in town that day?
Fritjof:  Sometimes, but I'm glad we are a part of this struggle....
Sven:   I can't seem to agree when we're crawling through this swamp....
Fritjof:  Ha! Deal with it, you're the leader after some composure.
Sven: Ya, ya....
Sven:  Let's keep moving....

(Conditional Branch: Finish Lake Quest => switch =ON)

Sven: ...Hey Fritjof, do you ever wish we had simply stayed in town that day?
Fritjof:  Sometimes, but I'm glad we are a part of this struggle....
Sven:   I can't seem to agree when we're crawling through this swamp....
Fritjof:  Ha! Well if we hadn't left town, we'd have never run into that cute girl at the lake. I think she likes me, so at least things worked out for me.
Sven:  I feel like your priorities are out of order....
Fritjof:  You're the leader, so I leave the heavy stuff to you. I'll take the babes.
Sven: ........

Sven: Let's keep moving.

In all, side quests are useful tools, and should be carefully integrated into a game as much as possible. Too much randomness can break immersion, while too much relevance can narrow the experience greatly. Given the work that goes into making even small side quests, game makers should strive to capitalize on every ounce of impact they have on the player. Whether it be light hearted fun, or compelling drama, the use of side quests can take your game to the next level.