by Delos

Side Quests

If your group is anything like mine (post college and married) you don’t get a lot of time each week to play. My group tries to stay very focused on the main story and the very idea of side quests are left out. We have a hard enough time dealing with finishing off the BBEG, due to time constraints, that we never even think of trying to go off the beaten path and do something else and I feel in doing this my group doesn’t get to see as much of the world as I would like. Note that I’m talking about my live games, my play by post games aren’t really worried about time for obvious reasons. So here’s an idea I’m going to be trying that will allow side quests for all, and won’t eat up a lot of table time. This will be used whenever the party would have some down time to pursue some personal goals. Ideally you could do this once a session (at the beginning if fiction allows) but stick with the fiction and don’t force down time just to use this.

This idea can be used for either personal character goals or for those random plot hooks you set up but doesn’t necessarily lead to anything earth shaking. The side quest is optional and is a gamble for the PC. If they do well the PC will walk away with a boon for the next leg of their journey. If they do poorly then resources will be spent and the PC will be worse off, but that’s the risk adventurers take. As I write this I realize that this is basically a rehash of the D&D 4e skill challenge. I realize that some people (myself included at one point in time) hated those skill challenges for their abstract and odd pacing but hear me out. This could potentially add something neat to your game.

Step 1: The Goal

The first thing you need to figure out is the goal of this side quest. Now this can be as big or as little as you want, but I’m going to give you some guidelines to get you started. The goal should be:

  • Something only one PC could conceivably accomplish by themselves
  • Something that will help but not solve one or some of your current plot hooks, or just be important to the PC in question (personal quest)
  • Something that could go wrong/bad

A few ideas for a side quest could be:

  • Forge an orc-bane weapon to take on the Orc Lord
  • Find a map of the old fortress that the PCs are going to infiltrate
  • Discover what happened to the paladin’s sister
  • Look for herbs that an alchemist could use to make into healing potions

Basically the end goal should be an item or information. These make great side quests that could help the chances of your heroes, but just remember to not let them side quest straight to the final solution/weapon that would make your final encounter super easy. Ideally the PCs should come up with what they want their side quest to be all you need to do in this step is just figure out exactly what they are wanting. This is also a great way to hand out loot and items of consequence (i.e. magic swords and the like) to the players with out having all of your encounters filled with them. It also lets the PCs add to your world.

For an example I’m going to use the side quest of “The paladin wants to travel back his the home of her order and retrieve a holy relic to help fight the Lich King’s minions.”

Step 2: The Obstacles

All side quests should have something the hero needs to overcome. If you honestly can’t think of anything that would prevent the hero from doing what she set out to do, then it’s not a quest and you should just say “Yes, and…” and move on. If you can think of somethings that could possibly stop the heroes then you should start writing them up.

Ideally I would aim at 3 obstacles for each side quest. If you can only think of one or two, that’s ok. Just make sure that the reward is proportionate to the lack of challenge. These obstacles can be darn near anything you can think of.

For my example I’d use the obstacles of:

  1. Traveling  there
  2. Convincing the people in charge
  3. Passing some sort of ritual test

Now we just need to give obstacles some life. So now they are:

  1. While traveling the paladin is beset by a terrible storm that risks forcing her back to where she was
  2. The hierophant of the temple never cared for the paladin due to political reasons and will look for any excuse to keep her from obtaining more fame, even at the expense of the temple
  3. To be deemed worth of wielding the Sun Shard the person in question have to face a trial by literal fire and meditate in a sun powered furnace for a day

Alright now we have something for the paladin to do.

Step 3: Ask “What do you do?”

This is where it gets interesting. Instead of having some predetermined skills to roll, let your player come up with something awesome. A few of these will probably be super obvious and may only have 1 or 2 options but be sure to let your players really be creative. If you think that it’s possible to accomplish what they want to do then come up with the most appropriate roll. For example:

  • While traveling the paladin is beset by a terrible storm that risks forcing her back to where she was
    • The paladin could
      • Convince a horseman through intimidation to get her to where she wants to go
      • Just muscle her way through it and don’t stop for anything
      • Use her unwavering faith to see her through the storm

Now as the GM you need to figure out what single die roll will cover that kind of attempt. Since this is a side quest and there are potentially a few other people at the table that want to do their side quest you should try to do each obstacle as one roll. Now you want to figure out a target number they need to hit. This will be system specific so I’ll defer to your judgement at this point, but you should have a “success” target, a “success with complications” target, and of course the “failure”.

Keep in mind to only tell the player the first obstacle and not all of them.

Have the player make the most appropriate roll and see how they do.

If they succeed tell them how easy they surpassed they challenge.

If they succeed with complications then you tell them how they succeed, but maybe give them a choice to either expend some resource to succeed or you instead raise the difficulty of the following checks.

If they fail ask them if they want to push on or turn back. If they turn back then they are done, but if they push on raise the difficulties of the following checks and spend some resource that makes sense (HP, adventuring gear, spells used, etc.)

Note that if the PC uses up a resource they will not have it back at the start of the next adventure. This is the risk/reward of the side quest.

If the player succeeds or presses on, go on to the next obstacle and repeat.

Step 4: Success!

Once the player finishes up the final obstacle you hand out the reward. Now under this system a player will succeed if they through enough time and resources at this side quest, and frankly I think that’s ok. It’s a side quest and if it’s important enough for the player to force their way through then reward them for the trial, but remember that any resources that are used during the side quest will not be available immediately afterwords.

When I start using this in my games I’ll update this article and let you know how it goes. If you use it please let me know how it went. Thanks for reading!

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