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You Don’t Have to be a Genius to Run Great Side Quests

Written by Janna - Published on July 24, 2009

Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

There are two schools of thought regarding side quests. The first insists that parties shouldn’t split up, period. Where one character goes, the others must follow. (That must get really tricky when the rogue needs to infiltrate an organization, only to be foiled by the clanking of the fighter’s armor.)

The second school of thought, of which I am a card-carrying member, believes that side quests aren’t just fun – they’re often useful and sometimes they’re downright necessary. Here, then, are some tips for using side quests in your game and keeping the experience positive for everyone involved.

Sometimes players have commitments that keep them away from the gaming table. If you’ve got one or two players who really want to game, instead of canceling the session due to low turnout, you can take the players you have and send them on a side quest.

When to Use Side Quests

There are plenty of situations that call for side quests. The most common reason is for PC development. Maybe you have a paladin who wants to go on a quest for his god. Or maybe you have a rogue who wants to climb the ranks in her guild. Or maybe you’ve got a fighter who wants to commission a legendary weapon, but who must first gather the necessary components of that weapon. Meanwhile, the rest of the party wants to keep pursuing the central plot. You can use a side quest to make everyone happy.

Sometimes players have commitments that keep them away from the gaming table. If you’ve got one or two players who really want to game, instead of canceling the session due to low turnout, you can take the players you have and send them on a side quest.

Finally, if you want to add more role-play to your game, side quests are a great way to do it. They’re great tools for character development and they present lots of role-play opportunities in a more intimate dynamic.

How to Use Side Quests

You can send PCs on a side quest any time the party splits up. You can run side quests as extra sessions in between games, or use an assistant DM to run the rest of the group while you handle the side quest (or vice versa).

You can also frame side quests within dream sequences. Just be sure to make the dream sequence meaningful in some way. Perhaps the dreamer(s) can learn valuable information about themselves, their task, or their enemies. Or maybe they can receive a message from a higher power, or discover the location of a lost item. Dreams can be powerful plot vehicles, so give the dreamers some sort of tangible benefit. Otherwise, the players might feel like their time was wasted.

A word of caution: you don’t want to give your side-questing players unfair advantages.

A Word of Caution

Most importantly, you don’t want to give your side-questing players unfair advantages. This will only cause drama and make it seem like you’re playing favorites. Giving the side questors unique insights is one thing, when done in moderation. Giving them the Vorpal Axe of Godslaying +25 is something else entirely. Take care to keep things balanced for all your players.

From Side Quest to Plot Element

Side quests that prove to be fun and challenging can be incorporated into your larger campaign. This is easiest for sandbox-style games, but with a little planning, you can tack them on to linear games as well.

How do you feel about side quests? Do you love them or loathe them?

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Written by Janna

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You Don't Have to be a Genius to Run Great Side Quests, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

 

 Comments

4 Responses to “You Don’t Have to be a Genius to Run Great Side Quests”
  1. Harvester says:

    Over the years I have found that the side quests you mentioned can have some pitfalls………

    If you find you have a couple of core gamers who are the ones who are always playing and therefore the guys always on the side quests, they can often a) get more XP and thus get more powerful than their fellows + b) form a bond through the side adventures that the other players miss out on and then feel like extras when they return to the main story line. (some players don’t mind and accept they will become ‘extras’ if the miss sessions, but others get sore and feel excluded) Also, this only works if your last gaming session ended at an inn etc and not just entering the Cypt of the Demon King on the 5th level of the Dungeon of Terror etc………

    I find it is often better for your loyal players to have spare characters and play a Fafrhd & Grey Mouser type side campaign of their own.

    If you want to run a side quest while the other gamers are there, I often find you have to make it real short as the other redundant players will get really bored and fidgety if they have to ‘leave the room’ while one or two players carry on. and bringing in a second DM means letting them in on maybe too much of the campaign thread………. and also you then get 2 groups who wanna know whats happening with the other group and maybe they would prefer being over there….chuckle….

    I have learned over time that if you are gonna have thieves in the party whose players want to be guild related and play guild time then just play a thieves guild campaign for them to get it out of their system – with Fighter thieves (yes no clanky armour) Mage thieves and priest thieves…….. I always try and keep the group on the same track as I prefer social play ……….

    So, side treks can be great but always remember gamers can be strangely emotional people sometimes…..snigger…..

  2. The Reaper says:

    Side-quests only do well if either:

    1- The PCs need more combat or roleplaying oportunities
    2- A PC needs some time to do a personal quest
    3- The side-quest is needed to complete the normal storyline

  3. Terrak says:

    They can really cool as long as they don’t get out of hand. Some of the most fun I have had as a dm or a player has been on a solo or very small group adventure thet still pertained the overall campaign. What they cannot be allowed to do is gain ridiculous advantages for those players.

  4. The Reaper says:

    True, but side-quests can be a great way to meet a player’s need to expand on his or her character’s own story without making it something to drag the entire party through.

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