QPC Character Sheet
Context: the non quest-specific details, which are decided by the DM outside the QPC, and which it has no control over. What land/world is it set in? What’s the mood of the campaign? (e.g. fantasy-adventure, horror, western, etc.)
Main Characters and their Abilities: the PCs and important NPCs. The PCs are obviously main characters but it’s important to be aware of their abilities so that the subgoals can be defined appropriately.
Main Goal: the ultimate purpose of the quest. The PCs should virtually always be aware of this goal when they begin the quest, although sometimes people lie. (ie the quest the PCs think they’re on need not always be the quest they’re actually on.) In any case, they must be provided with the motivation.
Subgoals: the players must accomplish the ultimate goal by completing a series of smaller goals. These subgoals must be clearly connected to the main goal or the PCs will have no reason to pursue it. The subgoals (or at least the next few) should be obvious to the players, to maintain their motivation to continue. Obvious progress towards the main goal should be made whenever a subgoal is completed. The subgoals should probably not be entirely linear (e.g. you must reach A to open B, you must reach B to open C, etc.), because this makes for a boring story, although small linear subsets are fine. Subgoals have the following attributes:
Subgoal Skeleton: the structure of the subgoals on the path towards the main goal. The PCs should not be forced down any one path towards a solution, since this is irritating and causes the game to lose realism. Instead, there should be a variety of ways that the main goal can be accomplished, and the players should be able to choose their own path towards it. A DM can build a subgoal skeleton to try and anticipate those paths.
Level Range & Quest Income: the approximate beginning and intended level of power of the PCs (rated in number of experience points). Why include this? Because it allows the DM to pace the game more easily, so that the PCs don’t go experience- or money-starved for a long time, then suddenly get a huge boost (or vice versa).
RULES FOR SKELETON-BUILDING, DUNGEON-BUILDING, AND PUZZLE-BUILDING SHOULD ALL COME AFTER. Why in that order? Because you can’t know what’s an appropriate puzzle until you understand it’s place in the dungeon. You can’t understand the dungeon until you understand it’s place in the quest. Monster and NPC placement and behaviour are discussed within all three of these rulesets, since, for example, a monster designed as part of a puzzle has a different meaning than a monster that doubles as a major obstacle in a dungeon, which too has a much different meaning that a monster doubling as a major NPC in the quest.
- Puzzles: Each subgoal may include puzzles that need to be solved, in order to achieve the subgoal.
- Challenges: Unlike puzzles, the challenges aren’t meant to be solved, really. Instead, they are just obstructions placed into the PCs’ path to stretch their abilities and make their lives just a tad more difficult but entertaining. Note the puzzles must never be used as obstructions; for example, figuring out that the pattern on the gem is actually the path through a maze is a hollow victory if there’s only regular +2 sword at the end of the maze and the sword is not important to the story.
- NPCs: Each subgoal will have a set of NPCs that are important along the players’ path to completing the subgoal. These may be long-running important NPCs, the same characters from other subgoals, or NPCs that are new altogether.
- Monsters: The monsters may technically be a category of “Challenge”. They make the PCs lives’ difficult and make sure the rewards are really earned. However, they are more flexible in that they CAN also take on the role of other NPCs. There may be a “meta-challenge” introduced by the monster, in that it can be more important to the story if the players don’t outright kill it. (However, hints should be given.) Furthermore, unlike D&D, monsters do not automatically grant treasure, since reward-granting is under the purview of the quest or subquest.
- Rewards: Rewards should be small and granted incrementally, during the players’ progress towards the subgoal. A given reward may be as simple as opening up a previously unexplored area in the game or revealing interesting information about the quest or game world.
Here’s a rewrite of Gilbert’s Rules, tailoring them to the building of a quest-design system. This does NOT describe how to build a quest itself, instead it describes rules to keep in mind when building the quest design SYSTEM.
- Final objective of quests needs to be clear.The final objective could be a QPC attribute.
- Subquests need to be obvious.They don’t have to be revealed to the players all at once, but at least the next goal should be made obvious once they’ve completed the current one. These too could be made attributes of the QPC, which define the overall structure of the beast, the skeleton. Note that subquests need not be linear however, and probably shouldn’t be just for the sake of making gameplay interesting.
- Subquests must advance the story.If a subquest has no connection to the main quest, it is an obstruction rather than a development (though side-plots are okay).
- Events must not be arbitrarily connected.If certain events must happen before the quest can continue, you must make that clear to the players. For example, if the players need to pick up a magic ring before a mysterious door will open, connect the ring to the door or at least to the quest. Otherwise, the players may ignore (or sell!) the ring and quickly get frustrated looking for another solution. To facilitate this, the QPC should include “roadsigns” in it’s design that point towards each subquest. These roadsigns may be sneaky and subtle, but they must be there. The fewer paths that are available to the players, the more obvious the roadsigns must be.
- Build puzzles forward.Present a problem before you present it’s solution. Don’t expect players to remember something they weren’t looking for in the first place.
- Solutions to puzzles must not be arbitrary.Though the solution to a puzzle need not be obvious, it must make sense. If a puzzle can only be solved by trial-and-error or dumb luck, it’s a bad puzzle. That said, a puzzle can (and probably should) push the limits of the characters’ abilities, to make each feel that their character is useful.
- Keep the solution available.As long as a puzzle is unsolved, the players should always be able to get what they need to solve it, at least for those puzzles that are important to the story.
- Reward Intent.If it’s clear that the players have the right idea, let it work. Don’t penalize them for coming up with a solution that is correct in spirit but which doesn’t work by the rules or set-up.
- Grant incremental rewards.Smaller and more frequent awards provide motivation to continue. Sometimes, simply revealing more story elements, characters, or areas to explore can be enough.
- Real time is bad drama.Tailoring the clock to the players’ actions will heighten the excitement.
Excluded from these rules is Gilbert’s “Puzzles should be like boxes, not cages” and “Let them Live and Learn”. The former rule is more appropriate when talking about dungeons, since quests typically involve the PCs moving around all over the place. The latter rule rule should be discussed elsewhere. (ie the GM is not on a mission to kill the PCs outright)