Chronicles Forum
Questing 101 - by Noel LeFevre (formerly Seer Pann of Great Lakes); Edited by Xena Dragon
"Beware the smiling Dungeon Master," is the slogan on a large round button that my friend Chris wears when he DM’s a tabletop RPG for the old gaming group. It’s true. When the Dungeon Master smiles, you know you are in big trouble, but, at the same time, you’re also in for some great fun.

In UO, you have the same elements and potential for great adventures, with perks you won’t find in other RPG’s. It does, however, have some limitations, as well due to game mechanics and graphics. Still, questing is not impossible. All it takes is faith and trust, and something I forgot, pixie dust. No, wait, that’s Peter Pan’s recipe for flying. What you need to create a good player-generated quest in UO is plain old ingenuity, creativity and a limitless imagination.

Get Inspired
Inspiration for a quest idea can come from anywhere. Watch some movies, read some books, look over news from other shards. Take the fine threads you like from these sources and weave them into something wonderful. I have created entire scenarios from a painting that intrigued me or from an off-hand remark someone might have made. Jot down notes to yourself and keep them together. A certain element may catch your eye and spark your imagination that may not be useable for the current plot you are working on, but may fit into another.
Organization is a must
Create a sketchy outline of the story. Don’t bother with the small details or try to put too fine a point on it. The best quests evolve from suggested paths not predetermined ones. Keep track as you go along of what characters will need to be portrayed, what locations you will use to stage your events, and what props may be needed. Always double check that you have all of these things in place before beginning. There is nothing more frustrating for questors than to finally reach their destination and not be able to accomplish the task because they don’t have the necessary tools.
Don’t go it alone
The message boards are a great resource for those wishing to undertake creating quests. There you will find like-minded individuals who can help you by creating props, performing as a character in your plot, or to help you with plot development and organization. Many are willing to cross over from other shards to assist. Don’t be shy about asking for help. Small quests or one-shot events can be carried out alone, but on the grander scale, there’s no need to try to pull the load alone. You and your participants will enjoy the experience much more if you have delegated some responsibilities to others.

When using someone’s name or the name of a guild, player venues or tying in to other established player fiction, always get permission first. Discuss your plans with those you wish to include. This may seem painfully obvious, but some quest creators have neglected to do this and it had disastrous results. If you plan to make a clan of roleplayed orcs on your shard the bad guys, give them notice in advance. Talk it over with the leaders. Speak with the tavern owner before bringing your group of fifteen adventurers to their establishment for a confrontation with the rogue they are seeking. You will find that most of them are very willing to allow you to use their groups or venues in your storyline and you have made useful new friends to aid in your adventures.

Be resourceful
Despite its vast array of pixilated masterpieces, UO graphics are limited and, as players, we are powerless to manipulate them as we might like. Give credit to your fellow gamers, though. If we can believe that a small wooden bowl topped with two nightshade and a few balls of yarn dyed red is a rosebush, it’s a given that we can believe a purple potion can be the elixir of eternal youth or other equally fantastical things. Help players to see things through your eyes, as the smiling Dungeon Master perched at the head of the table and helped you picture a dragon breathing fire at you while you sat comfortably in your mother’s cozy kitchen. An arrow becomes a poisoned dart. A book becomes an ancient tome. A gem becomes a magical seed. Your imagination, and the ability to convey your ideas to others, is the key to the success of your quest.

If players are to discover secret tomes or items, make them work for it. Have a character hidden in the depths of a dungeon or in the woods somewhere. As players approach, the item could be dropped. Be sure that the hidden person knows how to identify the correct group for which the item is intended to avoid confusion.

Allow natural spawn to be included as part of your story. This adds an element of danger and some spice to your story. Don’t forget to warn your adventurers of the possible hazards involved. No one likes to walk through Mystery Gate Number One and find themselves in the depths of Hythloth in their best armor. Let them prepare for the trip, carrying only what they don’t mind losing. Try to have someone on hand who can resurrect the fallen or provide gates if the situation becomes overwhelming.

Be a good sport
Keeping people interested in your events means that you have to give up the reigns now and then to let them drive things forward. They may not necessarily travel in the direction that you want them to go, but that’s okay. Take the variation from your original plot as a challenge and you’ll find that it makes the quest more exciting for you, too. Sometimes, you may find yourself incarcerated or dead. Be a good sport about it. As much as we’d all like to be the conquering hero in everything that we do, someone’s got to be the bad guy or the scapegoat.

Many quests have gone sour when someone refused to play along because they didn’t like how things were going for them. If it is in line with the quest, if it is true to the nature of your character - not you personally, but your character - you owe it to the participants to follow the flow of the storyline. This doesn’t mean that you cannot rally some troops in your defense to bring you back to life or spring you from the pokey, so long as it is done in a roleplaying fashion, rather than as a bunch of spoiled children threatening to pick up their marbles and go home.

You know what they say about assumptions
To borrow the old cliche: Do not assume; that makes an "ass" of "u" and "me". Not to negate what I said in the previous section, but you must carefully balance being the guiding hand of the quest and letting others guide it. As the quest originator, it is your job to keep the participants on track. This is why it is important to convey the essence of the storyline as concisely as possible. Each new step should be relatively obvious to the party.

Don’t assume that your puzzles are easily solved or that the next step is crystal clear. Remember that you have the benefit of knowing the whole story or the answer to the riddle. It’s why Alex Trebeck seems so darned smart on "Jeopardy!" - he’s holding the answer card! If you see that your group is having a hard time solving the mystery or determining their course, find a way to drop additional clues, either by introducing a soothsayer type character, letting them find a message to decode or, if they are desperate and disgruntled, giving outright instructions.

Expect the unexpected
It’s a fact of life and an even truer fact of life in Britannia. Stuff happens. Maybe the person who’d agreed to portray a leading character in your quest has had a computer problem that prevents them from participating. Maybe the 1,000 diamond ring you needed as a prop was stolen by a thief as you made your way through a Felucca moongate. Expect the unexpected and have as many backup plans as possible. Always be sure that you have duplicates of the most important things in your quest, especially books. Whenever possible, have a stand-in on stand-by for significant roles. Have an alternate date and time selected in the event of a server crash. Think of all the ways that a quest can go wrong, address those issues in advance, and you will drastically reduce your stress level.
Believable fiction
Don’t use "prime" characters such as Lord British, Nystul, Dupre and the others. The oxymoron "believable fiction" carries a lot of weight in Britannia. People want to believe the story as much as possible. Introducing characters that are impossible to interact with ingame or storylines which would seem to alter the realm is asking for trouble. If you wish to send out a group with a special commission to apprehend a criminal, do so by the authority of a judge of your own creation who sits on the bench at the Court of Truth in Yew, for example.

The same standard holds true for scenarios which include town politics. Bear in mind that you cannot force-feed recognition of your Ocllo senate, for example, to every player on your shard. Be prepared to deal with these non-participants and avoid confrontation with them. They are as entitled to their style of gameplay as you are. Respect the differences and go on with your own storyline.

Guidelines, rules and penalties
Dependent upon the type of quest you are running, you may find it useful or necessary to establish some ground rules, rules of engagement or possible penalties for rule infractions. Discuss these with the people involved with your quest. Make sure that everyone understands them. Write them out and make them available for future reference. This may prevent disaster down the road.
Types of quests
There is a variety of quest types that even the most novice roleplayer can undertake. Here are some basic examples:

Pursuits: Send players in search of objects or people.

Escorts: Have players escort a damsel in distress, a gate-shy priest or a caravan of goods from Point A to Point B.

Mysteries: Who-dunnits are an excellent roleplaying opportunity and a way to involve large casts and adventuring groups.

Scenarios: The soap operas of Ultima Online. You may have heard Calandryll make reference to the "Divided Lands" scenario he was involved with as a player before he went to work for Origin. This particular political scenario involved over one hundred participants and lasted over two years.

One-shot events: Start small and get a feel for how to do things on a larger scale. Typical one-shot events are: scavenger hunts, swap meets, market days and guild recruitment/symposiums. Though these shorter quests, you can build contact groups, gather information about what interest the people on your shard and collect ideas for future long-term quests.

These basic premises for plot ideas by Ozar were taken from the UO Interest Site:

Escort Quests:

  • A caravan takes some items from Point A to Point B
  • A person becomes sick and a healer is requested from another town. This healer needs an escort from that town to this one as it is not safe for him to travel alone and use of magic/gates will ruin the healing draught needed to cure the sick person.

Find the X:

  • The location of someone or something is given in the form of hints or a riddle.
  • An item X is needed for some reason. Players are enlisted to help retrieve/find the item.
  • A group of X has taken thing Y and person Z wants it back.

Preserve the Peace:

  • A person has escaped justice. Players are sought to kill/capture this person.
  • A group of X is gathering near point Y. Players are sought to kill/capture the group.
Twinks and whiners
Be aware that there will be some participants in your quest whose sole purposes will be to irritate you or to ruin your storyline. It is a brutal fact that cannot be ignored. Remember that you have some limited courses of action you can take - avoiding Felucca, if needed; banning them from player homes; calling for a Game Master if it gets too ugly. The Ignore feature in the game options menu is one of the best ways to avoid harassment. If you cannot hear what they are saying, they cannot goad you into reacting to it. You might also consider hiring a brute squad to help act as security guards during your events. Advertise for this on the message boards, but check them out before accepting their services. You don’t want to hire the wolf to look after the sheep. Above all, do not let the grief tactics destroy your quest or drive you to quit trying. That encourages the behavior and everyone loses, except the grief player.
At the end of every rainbow lies the pot of gold, according to legend. And, by tradition, at the end of every quest lies a reward. No matter what prize you give, you will have reactions varying from those who want nothing and participated for the sheer pleasure of questing and those who will whine that the quest was a waste of time in consideration of what they got out of it. Again, ignore the negative. These are the types of people who can never be made happy and, even if they could, it is not your responsibility to make them so.

That said, some suggestions for prizes could be magic items, bank checks, reagent sets, rune books or armor. If you have a treasure hunter or fisherman, you might build up a nice cache of prizes to give away. Simple gestures such as a bag of wine, cheese and bread are also appreciated by the party. Try to be as imaginative in your reward giving as you are in putting the plot together. It is like serving the perfect dessert after a perfect meal. You can be sure that your guests will always return when you’re the host.

Get busy
Questing is not about the outcome, it’s about the adventure you have while getting there. Remember that and remind your adventuring crew of this when they seem to be racing toward the finish line rather than enjoying the chase itself. Divide lengthy storylines into clear-cut chapters with cliff-hanger endings that will bring them back the next night to see what happens next. Above all else, remember that Ultima Online is a game and that your level of enjoyment is just as important as anyone else’s. Have fun with what you do. If the quest master is happy, everyone wins.