Advice for Running a Quest

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A basic guide on how to do run a Quest correctly, with advice written by various successful Quest Authors. These are all rules of thumb, and as such, can be broken when necessary, but following these is a good start.

Important Note: If you feel like you have any advice to give, go right ahead and add it! We are all ears.

(DoubleHope Note: This isnt really a basic guide so much as it is quest theory.)

Starting A Quest

Advice for preparing to make a quest. See also: Plot.


Cooperative Story Telling

22 techniques for drawing dialogue

The first thing you need to know about a quest is that it isn't something you tell to others. It's cooperative story telling. You may be laying the groundwork for the story, but it's the observers that influence how it goes. How much you let them have a say is up to you, but without any, you will not be doing a quest, but writing a story. As the author, you have the final say in what actually goes, but remember - you're not working alone. The players are working with you to create something unique.

'Input' from the readers can come in many shapes or forms. Sometimes, it's like commands in a Sierra-like adventure game. Usually it involves the readers describing courses of action for a given situation. In the instances where the players are made a character (in some shape or form), usually input comes as conversations with the characters inside the quest.

I'm sure there are thousands of other ways for the readers to interact with a quest -- one uses bi-monthly development schedules. We just gotta find them out.

The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature

I think Steven Brust (author of the Vlad Taltos series) has a theory that works well for quests.

"The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature is as follows: All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book (quest) to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what's cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words. In other words, I happen not to think that full-plate armor and great big honking greatswords are cool. I don't like 'em. I like cloaks and rapiers. So I write stories with a lot of cloaks and rapiers in 'em, 'cause that's cool. Guys who like military hardware, who think advanced military hardware is cool, are not gonna jump all over my books, because they have other ideas about what's cool. The novel should be understood as a structure built to accommodate the greatest possible amount of cool stuff."

Corollary: This works in both directions. For best results, suggest things that the author will think is cool.

Character Creation

Do you want to let your suggesters create the main protagonist, or do you want to have a completely pre-made protagonist? Either way works. Both ways can provide an entertaining time for all.

Make Your Characters More Than Stereotypes

Sometimes it's fine to have a villain who is pure, unmotivated evil, or a hero with a 100% pure soul and a raging hard-on for justice, or a girl whose one personality trait is LOLRANDUMB or a love of cheese (okay, that's never fine). Usually, though, it's good to fill your characters out a little more. Start with their driving inner objective. It has to be something broad and general, not "Get a cake" or "fuck that chick" unless you want them to be shallow (which, of course, can work. NicQuest started with a quest for lolcats). Make it something more like "Make a lasting difference on the planet", "ensure those who wrong me pay for it", or "Be accepted by my comrades". Something to drive them forward, like "Become the Devil" or "Purify the World". I think it was Reka who gave the advice that every character begins with one driving objective, which gives them, well, character. Build them up from that to flesh them out.

Once you've got that down you can move on to their stated objective, or how they present themselves to the world, whether that's in contrast to or bolstering their inner objective. It's the personality they put on for the benefit of others. Muschio pretends he’s a gentleman, Mudy uses flowery language, Hope disguises herself as a sweet little girl, Demesi steadfastly maintains a blissful naiveté even as he beats the shit out of his enemies with his sword feet (SWORD FEET).

After that, work on their flaws. Even good people aren't ever perfect. It could be anything from a hot temper that arises at unfortunate times to a penchant for screwing your own sister, but without it people will have less to identify your characters as people rather than ideals. They can be paragons of good while still having a crippling fear of rats.

The exterior, interior, and flaws are the three biggest fish to fry. Now focus on your character in the now. What’s their status in the world they live in? How aware are they of their surroundings, and what others think about them? Do they care about that? What was the last thing they had to eat? When did they last sleep? Laugh? Screw? If they’re interacting with someone, how do they feel about them?

OK so some of those questions were sort of bullshit, and at any time there’s really no need to answer them all every fucking update. But you’d be surprised how much the minutiae can affect actions and words. Remember that every time someone opens their mouth to speak, they’re censoring themselves. Picking their words. What’s on their mind right now, and how do they translate that into how they are speaking?

But Stereotypes Are Sometimes Okay

You don't need the character ready from day one. Starting with a simple archetype or stereotype and letting the story shape and develop the character is perfectly acceptable. Everything, from quirks to background to motivations can be fleshed out as the story goes on. Sometimes, this procedure is mistaken as character growth.

I'm not so sure this 'no stereotype' nonsense is really good advice. It depends on what kind of quest you want to run. If the quest is more about exploring and interacting with the world, it's better for the protagonist to be more of a blank slate. They'll develop personalities over time on their own for the most part. I will say it's a pretty bad idea to make the protagonist completely beholden to the majority suggestion unless you're doing something interesting like Narus Quest, or something plot-light and fun. If the quest is more about the main character's personal issue, then of course they need to have a strong personality that is merely influenced by what the suggesters recommend.

Still, for main characters, I'd say don't develop them too deeply. You want the players to feel like their input matters, and the story is always better when it actually does. The players will also feel rewarded when their suggestions begin to actively shape how the character views the world. That being said, the above advice is great for NPCs and other characters not directly controlled through suggestions.

I think Farmer is more on point even regarding NPCs, though; start them out as stereotypes with a couple of quirks, and they'll sort of develop on their own. Just think from the perspective of the NPCs: Instead of moving them around like chess pieces to make your story go where you want, the whole thing will be better if you just consider what each character would reasonably do in the situation. That, plus the usually random input from the suggesters will make the entire quest more organic, realistic, and unpredictable.

Yeah, this advice is for NPCs and to make your dialogue a bit more snappy, not to railroad your characters. Make your main protagonists a bit more freeform off the bat and let 'em get fleshed out. By no means plan everything for yourself. That's a comic book, not a quest.

Opening Exposition

If you have a good idea of the world and/or the characters, you have a couple of choices. Instant Immersion, or Opening Exposition. Instant Immersion lets you get right into the action and explain the world and/or characters as you go along. Opening Exposition lets you introduce a few concepts about the world and/or characters before you get into the fun The World is in Danger bits of the quest. Both have their cons to go along with their pros. With Instant Immersion, if you aren't careful, you can miss out on explaining a key element of the quest that might have been important or even helpful in prior situations. With Opening Exposition, you stand the risk of dragging the exposition on for too long, letting things get dull and stale.

Have Events Planned

Have a few different things planned that will happen to the protagonist, and think of a few ways he might react to them. Come up with a general idea of the order in which these things will happen, and a reason for them to happen.

Events Happen That The Protagonist Has Nothing To Do With

The rest of the world is still happening. Maybe some small time NPC we met 5 chapters ago got married since the last time we saw him. Or while we are out adventuring, we come home to find the city has a new mayor because the old one was caught cheating on his wife. Life still happens, and having a few things like this will help add realism to the world, and make the players think that more is out there than what we see.

Have an Ending Planned

This may sound like railroading to some, but knowing how you want to end it will help you have a goal in mind, and help you keep going and (hopefully) help you finish.

Running A Quest

Advice for once you have it off the ground. See also: Plot.

The Most Important Rule

(And if you think this should go somewhere else, put it there.)

Don't kill yourself!

Don't spend days finagling over how to make the next update look exactly perfect. I'm not trying to say that you shouldn't put effort into what you're doing, but if you find that, say, a month has passed and you're still on that same frame (*ahem*), you are probably killing yourself for nothing.

Always Present Options

This is most important. There always needs to be something for the players to suggest, or else nothing can happen. So, do your best to give them something to work with. If they don't bite and do something entirely different, that's fine too, but at least they had options. There are a few guidelines to help ensure you are doing this, which can be tl;dr'd as follows:

Yelling at PCs < Faffing about < Boring exposition < Interesting exposition < Stuff that reveals new options

Cutscene your way to hell if you have to; do not stop to wait for a choice until there is a choice to be made.

  • Nahkh's handy little suggestion suggestions

If you want to be quick and dirty, throw a bunch of small reminders at the bottom of a post to tell the posters of possible actions.

End with a question whenever the character is legitimately confused about something.

Don't Present Options That Are Not Actually Options

  • There is a path going left or right.
  • >Go left
  • The left passage ends in a locked door! Nothing else is here.
  • >...Go right I guess

Don't do this. If you present options to them that don't actually affect anything if they are taken, don't present them. The locked door above could have easily been right at the intersection, and it would have worked just as well. Making people waste time doing things that aren't actually doing things directly relates to the guideline below this one.

However, in the above example, if we already happen to have the key for the door on the left, then it's not a false option. We could then use the key and proceed. If the key is actually down the right path, however, then the left door was never an option, and going right first was the only choice.

Present Options That Matter

On a similar note, the options presented should always be at least marginally important. If you have a long hallway with doors all along the length, don't have the character stop in front of each door and ask the suggesters if they want to go in. If any of them are different or interesting, then point that out in the text (unless its a secret hidden in the image or something) and just generally posit or inquire about inspecting any of them.

If you get bogged down with describing every action independently, or you wait for suggesters to just make the single, obvious suggestion, your quest will become boring pretty fast. For instance, if the character is a kid and has to go to school, you could have them getting dressed in the morning (pervert), but don't sit around waiting for the suggesters to say "get breakfast" "brush teeth" "wait for the bus" "get on the bus" "Take a seat" "get off the bus" "go to class" unless there are other legitimate options. This isn't to say that the character couldn't go through these motions. The story can start with the bedroom and end with the classroom, but it's probably more interesting and involving if you just have the character do these things automatically and have the suggesters' decisions bear on other interactions in each scene.

Don't Waste Updates

Don't have an update not actually update anything. If it doesn't present new information, new choices, or new stuff to work with, then it isn't really an update. For example, yelling at the players for being stupid is a waste of an update. Yelling at the players for being stupid and then pointing out information that they seem to have overlooked is not great, but it's okay. Working with their stupid and showing them why it was a dumb idea is even better.

Don't Wait For Suggestions When There is Nothing to Do

One of the problems that people seem to have when they start running Quests is that they feel the need to wait for suggestions between every frame, even when this isn't reasonable. If there is no decision to make that will impact the story or reveal information, skip ahead until there is. There are several ways to do this.

The first would be to use "cutscenes" and continue to update without waiting for input. This method should only be used sparingly, as it doesn't fully take advantage of the medium that the Author is operating in, and can sometimes lead to cries of railroading. However, there are definitely times when you want to show a lot of things happening all in rapid succession. This is when cutscenes shine.

Another way, and one that takes time to get right, is just to make sure that the next frame will give a choice, option, or lead to the something that will make a difference in their decisions or require their input. The main advantage to this method is it cuts down on cutscene drawing. Done poorly, however, this can make the narrative too choppy or difficult to follow, but some good writing and a bit of pacing can avoid this.

Predicting /Quest/'s Behavior

These are just some observations about the way /quest/ tends to act that authors might want to keep in mind. (Feel free to add other observations or corollaries to this list.)

  • /Quest/ picks chicks in chargen, almost always. They also show affinity for things like sergals.
  • /Quest/ almost always prefers NPC interaction to anything else.
    • On that note, /quest/ will often form an almost obsessive attachment to the first NPC they run into, especially if said NPC is female.
    • /Quest/ also likes to form parties if you let them.
  • If the character expresses a preference for a particular action out of a set of options, /quest/ will generally try to please the character. (This can be used by the author as a form of "nudging;" if the character makes the desired action their goal independently of /quest/, /quest/ will almost automatically start working toward that goal.)
    • In general, /quest/ tries to actively help whoever they're currently suggesting for (even in cases where this character is actively working against the interests of another character they were suggesting for previously).
  • /Quest/ will often try to talk their characters' opponents down, and even recruit them; if/when this fails, they will likely engage in extremely vindictive behavior.
  • There will almost always be that one suggester who is completely off-the-wall and irrelevant. As a result, punishing /quest/ for the questionable actions of a single suggester is probably not a good idea if you like having readers. (Punishing /quest/ for the questionable actions of a bunch of suggesters, on the other hand...)
  • /Quest/ is easily distracted and has a poor long-term attention span. (To be fair, suggesting on /quest/ is a bit like playing one or two dozen adventure games at the same time, all of which advance at different, typically erratic paces. It can be hard to keep things straight!) If they seem to be getting off-track and you want the quest to move forward, it might not hurt to remind them of what they're supposed to be doing, even if they themselves came up with the plan.
    • A difficult decision or puzzle will get fewer suggestions. You will still get some (unless your readerbase was tiny to begin with), but the odds are that most of your readers will be afraid of screwing up and just not pick anything.
  • /Quest/ is probably not going to uniformly agree on something. A mechanic requiring near-uniform agreement has been tried before; it failed rather spectacularly. You're probably not going to make it work any better, and you're more likely to spur infighting among your readers than to accomplish anything novel.

Proper Pacing

Don't Bog Things Down With The Mundane And Unimportant

When planning out arcs and plotlines, you may find that at some points, things will be moving too "quickly" for people to reasonably follow. When this happens, you may be tempted to slow down the action with things that normally would happen automatically, or without much input or difficulty. Be aware that you're doing this, and try to accurately estimate your reader's lust for action. If you do slow things down, be sure that the obstacle that is halting the plot is related to the rest of it, so people aren't staggered by the gear change between plot and unimportant problem.

Don't Block Information(AKA Sanya's Folly)

In a quest where investigation and discovery are important aspects, sometimes people skip ahead a few steps in their thinking, and they ask questions and create theories long before they are supposed to. When this happens, you WILL need to adjust your planning accordingly. If a line of thought is followed too soon, it is important that you do not just block it off, or it will never get looked at again. If you want people to ask the question later, you need to present a clear obstacle preventing them from learning the information, either at the time, or in retrospect (although for the latter option a refresher might be needed on what the suggesters were thinking at the time), that is later removed obviously enough for people to get the hint of "okay, NOW try thinking about that". If you completely shut down a path of thought that you may later wish to explore, people WILL mark it off as a dead end, and nothing short of necromancy will get them to think of it again.

Notepad is useful

Notepad is Useful.png

I find that writing your posts out beforehand in a document like Notepad really helps to organize your posts, and helps improve pacing. If you write it all out and find multiple different actions being described, divide the post so you can show the changes in action with appropriate images. It also helps you to organize what you want each image to actually show ahead of time, so you don't forget anything. Also if you have internet issues you won't lose everything you typed up.

Always Have Ideas (But Don't Get Too Attached To Them)

Even when your options are left open and possibly vague, it's good to still have a few 'correct decisions' thought of beforehand. This helps you plan ahead, prods the players towards possible courses of action when stuck, and gives you an idea of what might happen in your next update.

But if the players come up with something different, consider just rolling with it. Part of the fun of questing is the effect players have on it, and you might be surprised with the results.

Know When to Yield (AKA Listen To Their Theories)

Admit it: you can't think of every possible thing. And the players will, sometimes, invariably, think of stuff that would never cross your mind. So, steal their ideas. Show no shame!

How often you'll do this depends on how crazy / random your players are, and how fast-and-loose you are handling your own plot. And when done well, they'll never notice you cheated. Hell, they might even think they 'guessed your plan', and that tends to make them happy. If you need examples, ask your favorite quest writers.

TGchan is always a cupid

It's been said, often by posters themselves, that they will always seek to pair up as many people as possible. It's up to you whether to encourage or discourage this, but remember to remain consistent about it! If you don't mind and want to encourage pairing off, offer multiple options of equal viability. If not, you can either set up a girl/boy to be there already, or you can make the situation not possible (the character doesn't care, the situation doesn't allow for it, etc.).

While it's nice to allow some romance if you like, be wary of making your quest that was supposed to be about adventuring veer towards being about Sex or breeding. Some authors are rather prone to this. It's a thin line to walk, including romance or sex in a quest, and while it has been done correctly in the past, it's a razor's edge.

This is something that is totally in the hands of you, the Quest author. If you don't want the players to constantly try to pair up characters and focus on romance or sex, just shut those types of suggestions down EARLY. Have the main character state in unequivocal terms that they aren't interested in either that person or sex in general. You will still get some suggestions like that no matter what, but it won't derail the quest unless you, as author, let it. Even if the character is mostly a vessel for the players to use exploring the world, you can and should make them have a few strong characteristics or sticking points to keep the quest from going places you don't want it to go. Even Ruby wasn't that kind of girl. If you are serious about keeping the romance to a minimum, you can also create a protagonist that is physically incapable of doing the sorts of things you don't want to draw them doing, although even this will only minimize suggestions, not eliminate them.

BiteQuest's 'Arc' Method

I basically run quests the same way I've run my tabletop games for the most part (Lahamu being the exception). Essentially, you determine three goals, one extremely long term (which could be the quest goal), one moderate long term (whatever the protagonist is working towards - you can have more than one going on at a time, too) and a session or immediate goal. The goal doesn't have to be something you accomplish or that the character has to do before the session ends, it just needs to be what is generally going to happen in that session. I think this keeps the story focused, and minimizes confusion about what is going on and where the characters are headed. As a for-instance: BiteQuest is divided into three big 'arcs,' essentially. The first 'arc' was supposed to end with him going into the Sea of Oblivion (or deciding never to go there, whatever), and has just finished. The multi-session mini-arcs are pretty obvious - each 'delivery' in the beginning of the quest, like going from Suri to Radia's tower. Each session or immediate arc would be whatever is going to happen during those six or eight hours when I update: Spikesby's going to find Glory all crucified up in the first session for the 'Radia' miniarc.

This doesn't have anything to do with railroading or anything like that - as a matter of fact, I tell stories by writing up situations and just seeing what the players do. I, of course, think of a few likely outcomes, but I'm very open ended with what actually occurs. It's more of just thinking long term, and dividing big goals up into steps so things dont happen too fast and the players have something to look forward to. Your whole quest will seem a lot more tight story-wise if you keep this advice in mind, and you can even generate all three 'arcs' based on suggestions. Even Lahamu, which is essentially a sandbox game, falls into this pattern. It looks like the 'longest term' arc is to create some kind of unified multi-racial nation out of the local area, which is something the players absolutely decided to do on their own. I'd say the middle arc is probably to explore each of the cities or whatever, which is also totally something the players decided on. The current short arc is to try to bribe the goblins into working for Lahamu, which will probably finish in 3 or 4 frames. I don't even know where they'll go next, or what the next middle arc will be, but the story still falls into this rough format.

If you'll notice, there's been very little faffing about in Bite Quest, and I think this is the reason why.

I'm not attempting to imply that this is the only way to run a quest, but I think a lot of good authors seem kinda unfocused or scattered in their storytelling, and maybe they could find this advice useful.

Ending a Quest

Advice on how to actually finish one of these things. (Finish? A Quest? HAH.)

Plan Some Potential Conclusions Before You Start

DO NOT start a quest unless you at least have a vague idea of where you want it to go. I would strongly discourage you from actually planning out *the* ending beforehand, but have some potential conclusions planned. Know what the main conflict is going to be, and have some potential resolutions thought out in your head, even if you don't end up using any of them. I'd say this is good advice for the story arcs in the quest as well, actually. I don't plan out stories, I just set up situations and see what the players do. I won't say that this is the only way to plan for a Quest, but I think it's the best.

End it with a Bang

People like a good show. Give it to them, and make them remember it forever. You should try to really outdo yourself here, even if the quest is ridiculous or silly (some would say *especially* if it is!) Do animations, sprawling pictures, whatever. The longer you've been moving toward this moment, the greater the payoff should be, both for you and for the players. I know that drawing those last chapters and those last few frames gave me an exhausting feeling of completion, like I'd made something worthwhile.

  • This does not mean the players/protagonist necessarily has to win. Something can be awesome and epic and still end sadly or poignantly. Even if the actions themselves aren't "epic," they can be done in an epic style.

Where Are They Now?

Be sure to 'reward' the players with a look of where the characters are, maybe five years later or ten or whatever you feel is appropriate. Make sure you include who ended up in a relationship with whom. (see point: tgchan is always a cupid.)

Bad Ends

If for whatever reason you decide that your quest must have a bad end, you should do it very, very carefully. Quests are pretty much one-chance things, so failure is a much bigger deal than it may seem to be at first glance. If it is a frequent bad end kind of quest, show that measurable progress is being made, no matter how small or gradual. For everything else, show that even though the ultimate goal is out of reach, impossible, or otherwise unattainable, the character, with the help of the board, has made significant and lasting changes to the world around them. Nothing frustrates like spending time on what is ultimately a complete failure, especially if there is no way to reattempt.

Accepting Defeat

Sometimes, though, a quest doesn't take off. Perhaps the premise doesn't click, or the site isn't interested, or doesn't think it's good enough, or maybe you just don't care enough to continue.

Often, the hardest part about something is knowing when to let it go. Will you just let it slide into obscurity, or give it closure?

If it isn't fun anymore, its time to stop.

Always make an ending. Even if it's stupid, even if it's poorly realized. End it. That sense of finality means that you still accomplished something, even if maybe it wasn't what you wanted. It's better to have the finished quest in the archives than the aborted .jpgs forever adrift in the merciless void of the graveyard.

You can also just continue to a logical stopping point and then put things on hold for a while. Think about what you might change and how much you care about the story you were telling. Sometimes restarting later with some new ideas and possibly fresh beats can rejuvenate your stuff.

Protect your data!

Several quests have been disrupted or outright killed by a sudden loss of data in some way. Maybe your computer dies, maybe you lose the physical notes, or maybe you simply messed up on a copy/paste action or similar. It's important, then, to keep multiple copies of said notes in as many divergent areas as possible! A best case would be to have a physical copy, a cloud copy (like on a hidden pastebin), memorized, in a text file, and any other reduntant way you can think of, perhaps on a flash drive! This will keep your quest safe from burglars/housefires/meteors/viruses/your own stupidity.