This is How You Fix RPG Sidequests

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This is How You Fix RPG Sidequests

For no particular reason I'd like to bring up the concept of sidequests, and how to make them so much better.

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"No, I don't think it would matter so much if you left the choice in Colin's hands; after all, there should be SOME penalty for fobbing the quest off instead of doing it yourself."

You don't even need to penalize the player; you can just tie the decision made to the personality and experiences of the party member, so that the player has to get to know his mates if he wants to make sure missions are carried out in his best interest.

So for the rat mission the player could either send Colin, who comes from a mushroom farm himself and hates rats, or he could ask Peta-Lia, the elven animal rights druid.

Alternatively one could let the player play the quest himself as the party member, which might give further insight into the strengths and mechanics of that party member (since many players seem to concentrate on their own character whenever possible).

I've thought along similar lines, mostly in regard to the number of Elder Scrolls games in which becoming "leader" of various guilds still means that you're obligated to do fetch-quests that ought to be beneath your notice.

It speaks to a burgeoning issue of games in general: it's almost a paradox that the best games are often ones where people will put long hours of work into creating content that a significant portion of their users will never actually see.

It would be absolutely wonderful to be able to employ something like real leadership, delegating easy and menial tasks to others so that you can focus your attentions on what's important. But it also means that a hundred hours of content will likely be breezed through in a small fraction of that time, with the attendant inevitable reviews claiming that the dollars-per-hour ratio makes the game inadequate.

The other option being filling the world with procedurally generated content, a tack which generally fails to produce a real sense of a living world and often ultimately causes the quests the player bothers doing to quickly end up feeling rote and "same-y".

I think to create a delegation system that works in an RPG, you almost have to rip out many of the basic assumptions of a single-player RPG at the roots and start from square one with the notion that many tasks will be handed off to others in mind. Such a game ought to create a convincing web of interactions between NPCs where delegated tasks have their own consequences in the game world: Money being spent to buy supplies for the venture, alliances being forged or damaged by the delegate's actions, possibly even resentment on the delegate's part (perhaps leading them to break off to form their own group, or challenge the hero's role as leader of the party as they grow in stature).

It would be funny to send someone off to finish a sidequest, have them disappear for two hours, and then come back with a tale of peril and escalation that rivaled the hero's own experiences.

I'm not sure a game about delegating quests fits in with a heroic RPG. They're fundamentally different games. It's more appropriate in strategy games, where you can send your heroes on quests and hopefully they come back with something good.

This reminds me in a rather tangential way to one of my favourite games, Ogre Battle. It takes the detail of gameplay that most games focus on, the combat, and removes direct control from it instead forcing players to be strategic and plan in advance.

I could see games using this sort of style applied to questing. Especially if you build in failure conditions to more quests... make the player labour over who to send for what quest and which quests he should tackle personally. Have some built in timers or quests that overlap so they have to send allies at least sometimes. Opens up a lot of possibility for changing how things play out in the world.

"If so, please feel free to tell them to someone who gives a shit."

Well, I bid thee a pleasant day as well.

I am reminded of the second Song of Ice and Fire book, where a POV character had to relay on someone of doubtful loyalty in order to secure military assistance in an upcoming battle, and the reader would have to wait and see if the character would:
1. Attempt the task, and not simply abandon the mission.
2. Fail at the task.
3. Succeed with the task.
4. Succeed with the task, but offer more than the POV character wanted to offer.

That could probably be reproduced, the player has to chose who they consider competent/trustworthy enough for a diplomatic mission, alternatively do it themselves and instead nominate who should be ruling in their stead while they're away at the mission.

However that would mean making two expensive scenarios, of which only one would be experienced. Plus this task assumes that it IS an important scenario, and the objective of this column was to eliminate quests that would only be busy work for the player.

Another model I'm thinking of is the game Rebuild, where you must delegate survivors in a city after the zombie apocalypse(who will defend against the hoards, who will reclaim another block, who will scavenge for supplies/survivors etc). This could maybe be expanded to the player actually having to play a minigame of the corresponding task and in there encounter some scripted quests to give back story of the characters and the world. The other delegated NPCs could also encounter these and have their stats changed. This would however change quests from "things the player may do" to "things the player may encounter, and deal with". To get an impression of what the others are doing the player could confront the NPCs about what they've done outside and thus both get a picture of their compatriots and a hint of what quest lines are hidden within what daily tasks.

I now think of This war of mine where you are controlling a group and individual people may be sent out at quests, meaning they cannot help in the household work/cannot be the scavenger/ a guard during nighttime.

Where is the thumbnail image from?

Final Fantasy tactics had something like this. You would send a squad out to do missions and they would come back after a few days ( in game time) with rewards and exp. It helped aleviate some of the grind and bring back items and rare stuff. Sometimes giving tidbits of lore a long the way.

Completely agreed, have some respect for my time and the achievements of my character. There's no reason a king hero who has slain the greatest demons of hell should feel obligated to run around fetching cats from trees. If you want me to have a low level view of your gameworld give me a protagonist that fits.

Johnny Novgorod:
Where is the thumbnail image from?

That's a picture of Varic from Dragon Age: Inquisition. One of the many times he's looking up at the rift and just hating how messed up everything has gotten.

I like the idea of being able to send out other people to deal with the busy work. Rats in the basement again? Jansen, take Claire and Syndis and deal with it. I'm busy planning our next move against the world-ending evil demon thing we woke up earlier this year.

Because yeah, there are times where it's like, "Shouldn't I be dealing with something other than this?" Starting out having to take every miserable quest you're given makes sense. You need to build your reputation, and your party's level, but after you hit a certain point, you should be able to send out other people.
Of course, the choice to go yourself should also be there all the time too, because I'm one of those people that do fall into, "Is it going to be part of a story? I must know what happens!"

Pyrian:
I'm not sure a game about delegating quests fits in with a heroic RPG. They're fundamentally different games. It's more appropriate in strategy games, where you can send your heroes on quests and hopefully they come back with something good.

I'm not sure dealing with rats in a basement or collecting mushrooms in the forests fits either. Yet the chosen one who will decide the fate of the world is often sent to scavenge missions for the sake of... padding. I think giving to the players the option of delegating or doing those quests themselves would be an improvement.

Sniper Team 4:

Johnny Novgorod:
Where is the thumbnail image from?

That's a picture of Varic from Dragon Age: Inquisition. One of the many times he's looking up at the rift and just hating how messed up everything has gotten.

Ah, haven't played the game. Thanks!

Honestly, I think it'd work best in an RPG where party members didn't level up with you. Maybe party members who don't go on a mission with you receive a "Training" XP boost for every mission you complete, but have it be smaller than the smallest sidequest's XP boost for their current level. They don't fall impossibly far behind, but they don't keep up. Have the ability to delegate any quest to any party member at any time, but have a 'delegation limit' as such, where you can only send 1 or 2 party members on each quest, depending on how big and long it is. The others are required for administration or W/E at the camp.

Also, no guarantee of success. The character's class, alongside their level and average equipment level, would be used to determine what happens. If you want more fun, throw in their specialisation too [Is your mage AoE or Single Target Nuke?]. This is checked against what the mission throws at you - say you send your low level single target nuke mage on this Rat Killing Quest, but it turns out there's 20 low level rats, and they gravely wound him before he can complete it because he can't take on that many enemies at once. You should have sent your AoE mage, or tanky warrior, to do the job instead. Meanwhile, if it were one high level rat, you'd want to do the opposite - and if they pass a generic logic check of these things, they succeed at the mission. They receive the experience from it, give you the loot, and will make any necessary decisions among the party while away.

This means that for most of your level missions, you won't want to delegate them, as your weaker party members are likely to fail, and that should come with some penalty. Because of this, you'll personally do most of the important stuff, but the less important things you can send others off to do later, without hard locking it to be this way. All main missions, though, you'd be unable to delegate.

I'd also tie this more into the role playing side, and knowing your party members and getting to know them, rather than a purely mechanical thing. As another poster suggested, your Mushroom Farmer dwarf might make a different choice than your Peta-style conservationist druid when it arises in this rat infestation mission, but I'd take it further than just that. Each character will do their own thing with the mission, and balances a few things. For example, send your kleptomaniac thief on the mission, and he'll steal some of the grain from the cellar. This will worsen your relationship with the farmers of the land, which should be something you want to manage if you're the leader of a large organisation they're no doubt supplying food for. You might send your farmer-dwarf, who asks for less pay from the mission as he understands the troubles that a rat infestation can have on a farm, which will earn you less money, but a greater reputation with the land's farmers. Each character would have a modifier they'd apply to each mission's rewards, based on their personality. This would have to be carefully balanced, so as not to turn this into a min/max exercise, and instead make it a role playing one, but I feel its still a good idea. In fact, if you were clever, a min/max experience could be a role playing experience; if you are the leader of one of these big organisations, you're going to want to make the best choice for your organisation, rather than make it fail, and setting it up so that that is more advantageous, and its less of a Meta choice, would help solve this problem.
As a final layer on this, on missions where multiple party members are completing them, you'd want to know how much they like each other, and talk to them to figure this out. In Dragon Age; Origins, sending Morrigan and Alistair on a mission would result in a greatly reduced chance of success, as they'd be fighting each other as much as the enemy, reduced rewards on success, as they'd stop each other from doing their little reward bonus thing, and when it came to choices, you'd never know which choice they'd take - though if there was a third, bad, choice for failing to make a choice, they'd take that. They'd come back with reduced relationship modifiers as well, for you making them spend time with each other.
Conversely, if you sent two people who really liked each other on a mission together - say Anders and Justice from Dragon Age; Awakening - the opposite would occur. They'd receive a synergy bonus to success, their reward bonuses would both receive a boost for that mission, they would make a choice that largely agreed with both of them, and would come back with improved relationship modifiers.
It would encourage you to talk to and get to know your party members.

The system overall would serve as something to do to keep your party members relatively up to level, complete these quests, and be able to focus on the main story, and the stuff that is really important to save the world, but still receive the rewards for, and not ignore, the lesser problems in the world that are less urgent. It would require some good design work such that the limitations on completing missions aren't too strict and stringent that it becomes a strategy game, but that they exist enough to not let you ignore all the content, and also to make you understand and consider your party members in-role as well, such that they aren't just an off hand ignored thing. It should all make you feel like the leader of the organisation, and not unduly pull you out of the role playing experience thanks to meta reward concerns. But a deep system despite all this, would make RPGs a lot more fun to play.

Lufia Erim:
Final Fantasy tactics had something like this. You would send a squad out to do missions and they would come back after a few days ( in game time) with rewards and exp. It helped aleviate some of the grind and bring back items and rare stuff. Sometimes giving tidbits of lore a long the way.

Yeah, but then you found out you couldn't assign unique characters, only the generic one. And the party limit only had room for exactly the 3 generics you would need to for the tavern requests. And some quests required you to have specific jobs or levels, so you actually had to train your generic units. And all you usually got was an awesome description of some awesome far away land they discovered that you will never explore.

BareHope:
Alternatively one could let the player play the quest himself as the party member, which might give further insight into the strengths and mechanics of that party member (since many players seem to concentrate on their own character whenever possible).

That just ruins the point of it all. If you have to do the quest regardless you might as well just do it, instead of delegating it in the first place.

Personally I just generally disagree with Yathzee that one didn't want to do the Witcher 3 sidequests after a while. The monster hunts, treasure hunts and questionmarks, sure. Those were generally not too exciting. Though the monster hunts usually had a fun story in them as well. But the heavily involved actual sidequests in that game with great story. Yeah, there's no chance in hell I will let those slip through without experiencing them first.
And that's my personal solution for the "sidequest problem". Make them good. Don't make them a chore or an item on a freaking checklist. Just make them good, with story and nice gameplay. There. Done. You now fixed the "sidequest problem".

That would be a really good idea. You could even have fun trying to preempt who'd be best for the task: perhaps there would be a funny or disastrous outcome if you send Barbaricos the Destroyer to collect flowers, which you'd find out only a few days after assigning them to the task. Picking the right person for the job is, in itself, giving you the decision that you missed by dodging the quest yourself, because you'd know which kind of option your party member might pick.

It definitely sounds like a good way to handle things in games where the number of sidequests becomes unreasonably lengthy.

Also, unrelated side-note, I wouldn't worry too much about the kid going missing near the forest. With a name like Plopknickers, I expect the lady can get a replacement pretty easily. Fuck me, I'm starting to sound like Yahtzee.

Variety is a huge part of this. It's fine if you have to clean out someone's basement of rats, but you should only be doing that once in the whole game unless there's a twist on it. (Like the second one you do, it's not rats at all but there's some cave in the basement that leads to an ancient evil and blah blah blah)

Dragon Age Inquisition has the LAZIEST quests I have ever seen. Half of them are simple "Fill up the bar" quests (Collect all 13 shards in the area! Claim all 17 landmarks in the area!) and most of the rest are split between "Go to a place and hit accept" and "Collect some flowers/ore."

The storylines often repeat too. Early in the game you get a quest from a guy in Redcliffe to bring flowers to his wife's grave, because he doesn't want to wander out of town since the roads are so dangerous now. You do it, he thanks you. Then later in the Emerald Woods place you get another quest to bring a candle to some woman's son's grave, because it's too dangerous for her to reach it. Then in the same area you get ANOTHER quest to bring some guy's ashes somewhere because his wife can't risk going there.

COME ON! That's the exact same quest repeated 3 times, not just mechanically but the exact same plot! You think the player doesn't notice?

Amaror:

BareHope:
Alternatively one could let the player play the quest himself as the party member, which might give further insight into the strengths and mechanics of that party member (since many players seem to concentrate on their own character whenever possible).

That just ruins the point of it all. If you have to do the quest regardless you might as well just do it, instead of delegating it in the first place.

what if it were an option though? I was actually going to add the same idea. What if you have an important party member that is a bit behind and you will need them in some upcoming event? Maybe it is a task that would be usefull to get done, but not important enough for you main. So you send them, and choose between a sort of auto-complete like yatzhee is talking about, or their could be an extra reward for playing as the party member.

If I remember correctly KOTOR had a few instances of solo missions as your other party members.

I feel like saying "well, I've been making my characters pick up apples, slay level 1 slimes, kick stray cats, and do severe finger waggling after beating the last boss for years and year." But I think that anyone who even plays RPG's MMORPGS, or Open World RPG's can lay claim to that statement.

But I guess I'm just resilient to the whole questing process, I think I have another year or two before I finally get as fed up with the whole process. What can I say? Apparently I like grinding out trivial processes when I finish them by flicking little sparks of fire from my finger tips and watching the "boss" burst into flames and die.

From a game development perspective, I would think that some game designers would be offended by having NPC's complete a quest they personal designed for the player. "What? You don't like collecting flowers for our house? Well then!" I definitely agree that the arbitrary questing really does feel pointless and it would be nice to have an NPC to just go do it for us, thereby also solving an additional problem: Collecting companions. Specifically I think of how you manage your "party" in Star Wars The Old Republic, where you can send away everyone and then quest by yourself. (I'm a loner, what can I say?)

But I do wonder what kind of impact that would have on people who actually get some enjoyment out of completing the game without NPC assistance? If I was given the chose to have Colin the dwarf to a mission FOR me, or do it myself... what would I choose?
Maybe the addition of a "non-player-quest" option would be nice. People always say "Give the player the power of choice", more decision is good right? ....unless it gets overwhelming.
Anyway, I don't know how to wrap up my thoughts... It would definitely be an interesting mechanic to see in games, I think it's worth at least a few games giving it a try.
The whole facebook-app feel for having your companions go out and do unseen things to unseen creatures has definitely lost it's novelty for me. I get plenty of that from clicker heroes.

I don't get it. Didn't DA:I have the exact same idea Yahtzee is proposing here? You could delegate tasks to party members, but didn't have to go through the drudgery of performing them. You just came back a few hours later and they were done. God knows that game's gameplay is awful enough that I sure as hell didn't want to have any more menial tasks to do.

BareHope:
You don't even need to penalize the player; you can just tie the decision made to the personality and experiences of the party member, so that the player has to get to know his mates if he wants to make sure missions are carried out in his best interest.

This isn't a bad idea. The outcome depends on who you send. It doesn't just fix the problem of side-quests, it also makes you think about your team members more. It give mores weight to their personality. It makes it meaningful.

Mass Effect did have the shell of this idea at times - when choosing from your party members who to give specific responsibilities to. The suicide mission at the end of MS2 is a prime example of this, where people would permanently die if you messed it up.

I'm all for seeing this in more games, particularly those in which you described; where it's you and a dozen other people but for some arbitrary reason you can only bring like 2 of them with you on missions, and everyone is staring at walls while you're away.

Blood Brain Barrier:
I don't get it. Didn't DA:I have the exact same idea Yahtzee is proposing here? You could delegate tasks to party members, but didn't have to go through the drudgery of performing them. You just came back a few hours later and they were done. God knows that game's gameplay is awful enough that I sure as hell didn't want to have any more menial tasks to do.

Not really. He does bring up the Inquisition system of sending NPCs on invisible missions that you can't do yourself a la Assassin's Creed but it doesn't change the fact that the game still hands out entirely inane and pointless quests that are often little more than "fetch x" or "kill y and bring me their z." Plus it wasn't the other party members, just an endless force of mooks and redshirts.

What Yahtzee is suggesting is something to cover those sidequests you can't be bothered to do because you are too horribly over levelled/far in the story for them to be worthwile but could have actually completed yourself.

Pyrian:
I'm not sure a game about delegating quests fits in with a heroic RPG. They're fundamentally different games. It's more appropriate in strategy games, where you can send your heroes on quests and hopefully they come back with something good.

You may be the only hero, but if you could do it all yourself then there wouldn't be any point in a party system. I think OP's suggestion should fit well with party-based RPGs, particularly ones like DA:I in which you're meant to be running a vital organization. It'd be nice to have more to reminisce with your companions about whilst enjoying a crumpet back at base.

I hope developers decide to try this system out in the future, because the last Dragon Age was a lot of fur coat and shamefully little knickers.

I don't feel like this would improve side quests, rather it would give developer's an excuse to make them worse, since the player has an out.

What if that rat sidequest actually has greater implications or twists into an optional but awesome quest line. Why would anyone bother doing that, if the player is only going to do the quests that seem awesome from the outset?

Barbas:

Pyrian:
I'm not sure a game about delegating quests fits in with a heroic RPG. They're fundamentally different games. It's more appropriate in strategy games, where you can send your heroes on quests and hopefully they come back with something good.

You may be the only hero, but if you could do it all yourself then there wouldn't be any point in a party system. I think OP's suggestion should fit well with party-based RPGs, particularly ones like DA:I in which you're meant to be running a vital organization. It'd be nice to have more to reminisce with your companions about whilst enjoying a crumpet back at base.

I hope developers decide to try this system out in the future, because the last Dragon Age was a lot of fur coat and shamefully little knickers.

MiskWisk:

Blood Brain Barrier:
I don't get it. Didn't DA:I have the exact same idea Yahtzee is proposing here? You could delegate tasks to party members, but didn't have to go through the drudgery of performing them. You just came back a few hours later and they were done. God knows that game's gameplay is awful enough that I sure as hell didn't want to have any more menial tasks to do.

Not really. He does bring up the Inquisition system of sending NPCs on invisible missions that you can't do yourself a la Assassin's Creed but it doesn't change the fact that the game still hands out entirely inane and pointless quests that are often little more than "fetch x" or "kill y and bring me their z." Plus it wasn't the other party members, just an endless force of mooks and redshirts.

What Yahtzee is suggesting is something to cover those sidequests you can't be bothered to do because you are too horribly over levelled/far in the story for them to be worthwile but could have actually completed yourself.

Yes, but doesn't levelling up in DAI apply across your whole party? Meaning there are no weaker party members?

Blood Brain Barrier:
Yes, but doesn't levelling up in DAI apply across your whole party? Meaning there are no weaker party members?

Yeahhh, but this is meant to be an epic RPG with a compelling cast of companions, right? So show, don't tell. Rather than having it happen silently in the background like so much else, let's see them level up by being able to have a hand in their training! The more time we spend with these characters - as these characters - the closer we will become.

This is the kind of solution that would never exist or, if it existed, would almost never be used. Developers too lazy/cheap to make good quests are also too lazy/cheap to make an elaborate system to avoid them. Developers willing to go through the effort to make this system would make fun, engaging quests that people wouldn't want to skip.

And with this one fix, all those 100+ hour games become 15 hour games. The quests are timesinks so the devs can pad out the runtime of their games. I don't know, we want big games that take weeks to complete, but once we have one we all (myself included) complain that the sidequests are annoying.

Maybe fewer quests, but flesh them out more so they are their own little mini-stories. Maybe then it won't feel like grinding.

(And Witcher 3 has a fun little option in the menu that enables enemy scaling, so you can never be too high level for quests.)

Barbas:

Blood Brain Barrier:
Yes, but doesn't levelling up in DAI apply across your whole party? Meaning there are no weaker party members?

Yeahhh, but this is meant to be an epic RPG with a compelling cast of companions, right? So show, don't tell. Rather than having it happen silently in the background like so much else, let's see them level up by being able to have a hand in their training! The more time we spend with these characters - as these characters - the closer we will become.

I know what you mean, but honestly, it's so far from being an epic RPG that watering it down with even more "meaningless journeys with companion Z" is going to kill the illusion off entirely.

BareHope:
"No, I don't think it would matter so much if you left the choice in Colin's hands; after all, there should be SOME penalty for fobbing the quest off instead of doing it yourself."

You don't even need to penalize the player; you can just tie the decision made to the personality and experiences of the party member, so that the player has to get to know his mates if he wants to make sure missions are carried out in his best interest.

So for the rat mission the player could either send Colin, who comes from a mushroom farm himself and hates rats, or he could ask Peta-Lia, the elven animal rights druid.

I was gonna post this. Sending a "Lawful Good" party member to solve a crime will give a different solution that sending the "Chaotic Neutral" one. Quest completion will still be achieved, but in the first instance the criminal might get apprehended and the villagers avenged, and in the second the criminal might bribe the party member to let them escape.

I think it's too simple an answer even if it's a good start.

I'd just leave it at someone else's hands when I know shit-all about the quest. Let's say the Farm McGee's daughter has been kidnapped by some raiders. So I send my bruiser type companion to deal with the mess because I figure "hey simple kill-all quest, right?". Problem being in that particular quest Farmer McGee's daughter wasn't kidnapped, she went willingly, and the raiders were actually just some run-of-the-mill rebellious young adults who were mostly harmless. But my bruiser companion was a bit simple minded, so he just slaughtered everyone without asking questions first, McGee's daughter included.

Realistic? Sure, but you gotta think replayability. If a game's good and I wanna play it again, I'm already going to know that the outcome isn't that simple. So I'm going to plan around it, ruining my immersion. Or I'm gonna stay in character and do what feels like the right thing but I as the player will know that what I'm doing is shit, and feel bad for it (or at worst, apathetic, which is never a good thing to feel on an emotionally driven sidequest).

I'd support this idea if you could spend some resources to have some initial intel of the situation. Like, using Dragon Age Inquisition as a base for this system, you could spend some money to have your scouts do a preliminary report on the person needing help.

First quest description would read "Farmer McGee's daughter has been kidnapped"

Second entry could be something like "Farmer McGee claims his daughter has been kidnapped, but there's no sign of forced entry and all her private possessions have been taken but not her valuables. Perhaps the situation is more complex".

If you wanted to go real deep on this, combine it with Skyrim's radiant system. So when you start a new game all sidequests get a random roll dice to determine what would happen if a companion were to do it (just for the record, they'd remain unchanged if you did them personally because programming multiple dialogue options for all sidequests based on a RNG system must be a bitch to get right). So sometimes Farmer McGee's daughter would actually have been kidnapped, and the scouts would note that indeed that was the case, by signs of forced entry. Some other times she'd have faked the kidnapping to get her pa's money and start a new life. Others it was as per my first suggestion.

Could give an interesting system, but it'd be the type of thing you build from the ground up.

Blood Brain Barrier:
I know what you mean, but honestly, it's so far from being an epic RPG that watering it down with even more "meaningless journeys with companion Z" is going to kill the illusion off entirely.

Whaaaaat??? Sir, you are the mayor of Crazytown! Good quests and character development should be the core of that game, rather than just reading reports of other people's more interesting tales and pushing chess pieces around the war room board!

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