I’ve found that PC’s don’t generally want to constantly be focusing on the main story line of the game. They like a change of pace, a chance to have some quick fun. So what makes a fun side quest?
Probably the biggest thing is a change of pace. Maybe that portion of the main story line is laden with intrigue and diplomacy so the characters could blow off some steam by hacking a few monsters to pieces or having an otherwise straight forward plot. Maybe they need some more mystery or maybe you can tie in the side quest to a nearby holiday or season.
The next biggest thing is generally creativity. I try to give my parties a lot of different choices so that they can decide what type of thing they feel like. For each of these options I try to find some angle that I personally haven’t seen before. Sometimes it’s the quests themselves that aren’t usually seen in campaigns in your area. Sure, usually you’re doing lofty things, but what if you want to sign up to be a part of a play? Or maybe you’re hired to do research that longstanding magical areas have on the like wildlife. Maybe it seems like a simple kill all enemies in sight but it turns out these typical enemies aren’t actually bad.
Sometimes it can be fun to work side quests into the main storyline. For instance my party spied on a guy named Elmver’s girlfriend because he thought she was cheating on them. They confront her and they find out she broke up with Elmver months ago and he was just obsessive. He then offered to pay them to make a love potion so she’d have to come back to him…they refused but it became an ongoing gag that he’d find them and beg them to help him. Eventually he came begging for help because some other people he tried to hire to make the potion threatened to kill him, the party decided to go to the guards but then found out he actually was in trouble. He became the centerpiece to the party finding out how the main villains they were after operated. A simple side quest that went well gave me ideas on how to subtly build it into the main storyline. Sometimes you might have some people do a simple side quest early on and not see the effects of their decisions until much later in the campaign.
So side quests are often a great way to break up a fairly monotonous game. It’s possible to do too much of them and I don’t think many people would enjoy an entire campaign made up of side quests, but they can be integral for use in figuring out what works or doesn’t work with your party and keeping your PC’s interested in you game. They also make for a lot of memorable experiences.
[tags] Role Playing Game, Dungeons and Dragons, World Building, Game Mastering[/tags]