Tuesday 15 May 2012

To quest or not to quest

I'm a bit of a sandbox extremist and trust to the oracular power of the dice. If they want to throw ten ogres at a first level party, who am I to stop them? If they decide that the Staff of the Magi is in that hoard being guarded by a pack of kobolds, then that's the way it is. I sketch out dungeons in very sparse detail, improvise on the fly, guided by the decisions of the party. And that's the way it should be.

But recently, one of my young players wants to go on a quest to seek out a Holy Avenger, him being a Paladin and all. And I'm torn; do I yield to his enthusiasm and do a Quest, complete with clues, guidelines and...(gulp)...a Story Path or do I respond to his earnest entreaties with a scowl and the words "If it comes up on a treasure roll then it's yours"?

It's by no means impossible. There's a 1% chance on the Swords table for the Avenger to appear; it isn't even the highest XP value sword on the table so it's not even in gamebreaker territory. 4K of XP for a 4th level paladin isn't what I'd call Monty Haul.

So, guided quest (with deliberately placed treasure) or let the dice decide?  Or is there a middle way that will keep everybody happy?


  1. Guided quest with random stuff on the journey... better yet, throw in some research, have the sword in a dungeon somewhere, and see what happens.

  2. You could just randomly roll where there is a Holy Avenger (like, rolling how much miles (d1000) and in what direction...), how it is guarded (random encounter check for the Hex, maybe), then let the Paladin find ways to get that knowledge (check for history books etc) and give him a percentage chance per try to find a clue... ready. It shouldn't be too easy to find places, where there is enough knowledge to roll his check - libraries, high level NPCs etc. I would recommend 5% +/- modifiers (like +5% in the Great Library of the Capital, or -4% in a small, rural Church dedicated to his faith/alignment).

  3. You can always preserve the element of chance by deciding where the Avenger is and then letting him find it. That's generally how I run "quest" type situations.

    Let him consult a sage and learn of an ancient battle or what have you, but leave the power in his hands to do all the questing. It's really sandboxing, but it will FEEL like a quest because you already know where the damn thing is hiding.

    You can even roll to see if the sages get the information wrong, and thus send him down false-starts and dangerous dungeons for no sword at all...

  4. What Josh said. Deliberately place the treasure in some suitably distant and dangerous location, and then design and treat everything else in exactly the way you would a normal sandbox.

  5. A proactive player?? Encourage this!!

    1. Agreed! A rarer treasure than a holy avenger, to be sure. Especially a young one; this may decide whether it continues or is nipped in the bud.

      If you really want to be a purist, you could roll up dungeons until you get one with an avenger, then figure out how to get rumors of that to him. If you go this way, then it existed in the gameworld all along, but the dice just hadn't shown it to you yet.

    2. ^ This. If you hypothetically continue rolling treasures, one holy avenger will come up sooner or later. Such an item, once "brought into existence" into the gaming world by the dice, should have its own history, previous owners, etc. And it's only normal that someone (sages, historians, etc) know something about it. If you want, you can create a small set of tables to randomly determine one or more "clue paths" (e.g.: map; diary; wise man; etching; painting, etc), one leading to the other; then roll for the coordinates on your sandbox map. So: voilà: you have a "quest" that the dice gave you, with all your lairs and dungeons in between.
      Moreover: the cool thing about sandbox is the stuff changes constantly: if information about the existence and location of a powerful item leaks, many things should get moving fast: you may as well have npc and monsters try to put their hands on it, besides the players.

  6. Can I suggest combining the sandbox and the guided campaign. I did it in my Isle of the Earthshaker campaign and do it all the time. Stick the PC's in a limited geographical area (such as an island) give them an overriding goal and let them wonder around the map following clues. Every time they hit an adventure location, give them the prepared guided adventure for that location, whih may lead them back to places they've already visited by drawing clues they overlooked first time around to their attention. I wrote a huge article on this once. I'll see if I can dig it out for you.

  7. I'd definitely go the route of either finding a good place in the world for a Holy Avenger to be or have a nice long list of possible locations and then roll it randomly. Then come up with a good backstory as to why the Holy Avenger might be there.

    Then tell your player that such a sword is likely to exist in the world and it's up to them to do research/seek it out -- and see what they do. It's possible they might decide to try and find some archives of ancient knowledge, a long-forgotten shrine in the wilderness, etc.

  8. There is no conflict, here. Questing is not some thing that's anathema to a sandbox - it's having a wide-open world to quest IN.

    - DYA

  9. (in my best Obi-Wan voice)

    Envision your setting as a real place. Let it flow through your mind. And now think of where Holy Avengers could be found and who would know about it.

    That what you do for your player.

  10. Check out THE QUEST by David Emigh put out by Icarus Games. It is a great suppliment that has lots of Quest themes borrowing from common and ancient myth, midieval romance and modern fantasy. Each quest also includes a story illuminating the theme discussed. There is one chapter in there called The Broke Sword Quest.

    Maybe you could give the paladin the Holy avenger but it is broken and he has to find the rest of the pieces- but each piece gives him an ability- so if he finds the pommel it allows healing 3 times per day when grasped by the paladin, and if he finds the guard it gives him true sight ability, the blade another ability and the magic jewel to complete the sword gives it sentience and brings it to life and makes it the final +5 holy avenger- or maybe he has to find all the pieces but also go on a quest to find the infamous Gyrod the cyclops servant of Haphestus or Enturzil the Eefritti Swordsmith to reforge the pieces of the sword back whole again.

    So this way, you could still keep the Sandbox style of play, but have the Quest as a back story- it also allows you a way to "lead" the group toward an adventure you want to run for them. " You have heard that the Caves of Chaos are overridden with humanoid monsters, but there is said to be a minotaur who uses a spear whos head is made from the broken top half of the infamous Holy Avenger of Altorius the Stern".......

  11. Yeah, you have to put a Holy Avenger out there somewhere, and drop clues and such as to where it is. If you adhere to just "it's a randomly generated sandbox" then you're not actually rewarding people for research, making decisions about long-range plans, directing their own adventures. It's one thing to place whatever the dice say to place, it's another to say nothing is placed unless the dice say so. IMO.