A Three Part Quest Template

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0897

A Three Part Quest Template

Roleplaying Tips GM Iona asked me how to kick off new campaigns:

I am going to run a semi-blank character sheet game. The game concept is that players are normal humans kidnapped from Earth and sent to a planet where they can gather magical skills Pokemon style.

I am unsure on what to run as a first adventure when they don’t have cool magical powers yet and are still weak.

I’ve tried out a survival start (I’ve run this campaign before, for different players) and I haven’t been able to make survival work in a way that wouldn’t be too dangerous or repetitive (roll, okay, you didn’t find anything, roll again).

I’m at a loss for what would make a good starting situation and would love to hear your advice.

Great question, Iona. Also, cool campaign idea!

After just chatting about campaign starts with a subscriber yesterday, this topic is fresh in my mind.

Start Simple

I like to start out with clear goals and conflicts.

You can muddy the waters later with grey areas, dilemmas, red herrings, and such. But kick-off crystal clear.

For example, in a zero level game I once started the “farm boy” PCs returning from the field to find their house on fire, some family members killed, and other family members missing.

Kidnapping Is Tough

Note that your idea of kidnapped PCs as campaign start is tough, because most of the time there’s no strong motivation for the PCs to want to return home.

I encountered this recently while playing Out of the Abyss. It’s fine to write on your character sheet, “Wants to find way back home.” But it’s another thing to feel it, roleplay it, and really want it.

In addition, your adventure needs to support it.

Why side-trek if that time, energy, and resource cost takes players further away from escape?

The answer is to present a larger danger that jeopardizes the PCs’ home.

So maybe in your case you start the PCs out with others who’ve been kidnapped. The aliens set up a competition for Pokemon-ability discovery. However, there’s only a limited number of boosters and the PCs must team up to beat at least one other team of rivals.

This would get you instant short term unity and motivation. Then you start to reveal more of the aliens and their evil plot to destroy Earth.

This also gives you a breadcrumb trail the PCs can follow back home because, presumably, the aliens will need to travel to Earth or send to our planet whatever mechanism will kill, enslave, or Matrix all humans.

Repetitive Rolls

Any situation that devolves into boring checks to resolve gameplay needs your attention. This is true for traits, skills, and combat.

So good callout on making boring survival checks to discover magical powers a better gameplay experience.

Best case is to turn the quest to find Pokemon power-up things (what do you call them? I have not played Pokemon) into a puzzle.

The easiest way to turn this kind of quest into a puzzle is with a map. A map is visual, collaborative, communicative.

Booster spots have obstacles. The map gives clues about the properties of obstacles so players can anticipate and quest for counters.

Meantime, rivals also have maps.

Complicate by tearing the map into pieces so the party must find all the pieces. For example, orienteering or geocaching does this. Or simply have four physical parts of the map hidden in certain spots.

Your Three Step Quest Template

You now have a layered quest approach:

  • Assemble the map
  • Figure out solutions to the obstacles
  • Gather up the boosters before rival’s do

I hope this helps, Iona!