[MUD-Dev] Dynamic Quests & Event Chains

Roger Hicks pidgepot at hotpop.com
Fri Nov 18 07:15:48 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005

There's been a lot of discussion recently on improving quests to
avoid the constant boring flow of "fed-ex" and monster slaying. As
Mike Rozak pointed out, quests will be more enjoyable when the
player has a meaningful reason to complete the quest. While this can
be achieved by attaching emotional feeling and sympathetic goals to
the quest, it also can be achieved by allowing the quest to have an
effect on the game.

MMORPG quests today typically don't have any effect on the
game. When you slay Uber-Villian Bob and his evil ravagers, the city
doesn't remain safe from them. Instead they respawn after a few
minutes and continue their assault on the city. MMORPGs have avoided
quests with lasting change for a good reason. If Uber-Villian Bob
stayed dead, then the city would remain safe, and it would provide a
rather boring experience for any future players who come
along. Allowing permanent change would require that a game designer
supply entirely new content for each player to play the game (an
impossible task).

I believe quests could be improved, however, by allowing them to
have a temporary effect on the game. By allowing quests to
temporarily change the state of the game, you can link quests
together in non-linear fashion to provide an overall more pleasing
experience. For example:

The Temple of Light in a city contains an orphanage. Their
arch-rivals, the Temple of Dark (below the city) offers a quest to
sabotage the Temple of Light through arson. When a player accepts
the quest, they must travel to the Temple of Light and pick a
building to light on fire. If they choose the orphanage, then the
state of the game changes. Suddenly, the orphanage is burning. New
quests are now offered by the Temple of Light to a) bring buckets of
water to douse the fire and b) run into the burning orphanage and
rescue the children. Once the fire is put out, these quests
dissapear and are replaced by another quest to gather materials to
rebuild the orphanage.  After a certain number of quest turn-ins for
building materials (which should take some time), the orphanage is
rebuilt and the state of the game returns to where it started
(allowing the Temple of Dark to perform their arson again).

In the above example, a players choices and completions of quests
have an effect on the game. The Temple of Dark player gets to see
the orphanage go up in flames. The Temple of Light player gets to
put out a fire and rebuild a new orphanage. However, the changes
aren't permanent. Eventually (through the use of additional quests)
the game returns itself to it's original state, allowing the same
game content to be experienced by multiple players.  Also, each
player who participated in the above example had a different
experience while dealing with the same event. One player burnt down
a building. Another put out a fire. Another rescued orphans. When
the situation repeats itself, players can take on different roles
and experience the same content from a whole new prespective. Now,
if you look at the individual quests above, you'll notice they are
standard "fed-ex" style quests. Go to the A and do B. Gather
material A. Rescue and escort NPC A.  However, when you add world
state change to the success (or failure) of a quest, you add much
more entertainment value to the player.

The goal here is to think of your game (or sub-zones/themes of that
game) as state machines with a finite number of states. The players
in the game are the catalyst for shifting the game from one state to
the next. In each game state, different gameplay content is
available, including some content that allows the players to shift
the game into a different state. Now, it's not necessary for every
quest in the game to have cause a major state change.  Traditional
quests can be interspersed with state changing quests to fill in the
storyline such as the rescue the orphans quest in the example above.
Rescuing the orphans causes no game state change, however it does
aid the storyline of the event.

Perhaps a better way to look at it is to think of the world as
containing a set of bit-flags (Each flag can be on or off). A
combination of flags leads to a paticular state in the game. Another

  State 1 - A powerful warlock (Bob the Warlock) in a tower on the
  top of a mountain seeks to open a portal into a demon realm.

    Quests offered:

      The Warlock offers a quest to gather components for the
      powerful spell to open the portal. When complete, the portal
      opens (go to state 2) A rival warlock (Bill the Warlock) in
      another part of the world offers a quest to sneak into the
      Bob's tower and steal his research (go to state 3) The Justice
      guild offers a quest to stop the Bob from opening the portal
      by slaying him (go to state 4)

  State 2 - Bob the Warlock has opened the portal. The surrounding
  area is beseiged by demons

    Quests offered:

    The Justice guild offers a quest to slay demons (no state

    The Justice guild offers a quest to gather materials and close
    the portal (go to state 1)

    Bill the warlock offers a quest to obtain a rune that allows the
    demons to be controlled, and then a follow up quest to take
    command of the demons and slay the Bob the warlock with their
    help (go to state 4) Bob the warlock offers a quest to gather
    magical shards that will feed the portal with energy, keeping it
    open. If no one accepts this quest (or if they fail) the portal
    closes after a period of time (go to state 1)

  State 3 - Bill the warlock has gained power through Bob's

    Bill the warlock creates a powerful potion using the research
    and offers a quest for the PC to use the potion on Bob the
    Warlock, forever sealing him into another realm. (go to state 4)

    The Justice guild offers a quest to ransack Bill's hideout,
    destroying his research (go to state 1)

    In addition, the 1st and 3rd quests from state 1 are still

  State 4 - Bob the warlock is dead and gone.

    Bill the warlock offers a quest to clear out the magical traps &
    resistance in Bob's tower so he can move in (becoming the new
    Warlock of the tower and resetting to state 1, a new rival
    warlock is generated to rival Bill).

    The Justice guild offers a quest to guard the tower (providing
    opposition to the PCs on the above quest and preventing Bill
    from moving into the tower) If the portal is open (from state 2,
    technically another state) the Justice guild still offers it's
    quests to slay demons and close the portal.

This paticular event chain provides 12 unique quests, each of which
has the ability to alter the state of the game. At the same time,
only 3 bits of information (flags) need tracked to provide this
quest chain:

  1. the state of the portal (open / closed)

  2. If Bill has Bob's research

  3. If Bob is dead/banished

Also, players can take on one of three roles in the above example:

  1. The Justice guild defender who keeps the powerful warlocks in

  2. Bob the Warlock's henchman, helping to open the portal and keep
  it open

  3. Bill the Warlock's henchman, helping to usurp and defeat Bob

Once one of these event chains is set up, it's an easy matter to
extend it by simply adding new states / flags and providing new
quests to facilitate changes to and from those states. Let's extend
the above example by adding a Goblin tribe that lives near Bob's
mountain tower. We simply add 1 new flag to determine if the Goblin
tribe is a full strength:

  1. In state 1 and 2, Bob the warlock is bothered by the pesky
  goblins who attack his tower from time to time and offers a quest
  for the PC to slay X number of goblins. (sets the Goblin Tribe
  full strength flag to false)

  2. In state 1, Bill the warlock offers a quest to taint the
  goblin's water supply with magic, making them enraged and causing
  them to increase their attacks on Bob's tower, which in turn
  prevents Bob from leaving the tower to open the portal until the
  goblin tribe is not at full strength.

  3. While the goblin tribe is not at full strength, their chief
  offers a quest to gather medicinal herbs that help heal their
  wounded. (returns the goblin tribe full strength status to true)

  4. Shortly after Bob is killed (state 4) the goblin tribe moves
  into the tower (if they are at full strength), causing additional
  resistance to both Bill and the Justice guilds quests to gain
  control of the tower.

  5. When the portal is open, the Goblin chief offers a quest to
  gather materials to create magical wards that will prevent the
  demons from entering the goblin camp. If no one completes this
  quest after a certain period of time, the goblin tribe full
  strength flag is set to false, indicating that the goblins have
  been defeated by the demons.

In this case, adding one flag adds 5 new quests and a new player
role (assist the Goblin tribe)

Please post thoughts / comments!

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