The Quest Not Taken

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Sometimes you lay out a quest hook for an adventuring party and they just don’t bite. Perhaps there was another post on the job board that paid more or sounded more intriguing. That is okay. They don’t have to take every job offered to them. Most of the time they loose out on little more than a bit of gold and you can reuse any encounters you had prepared later in the campaign or in another game.

But sometimes, inaction has consequences.

In many video games, a quest will sit in your log waiting for you no matter how long you take to get to it. When a video game NPC says “meet me tonight” it usually means meet them any night, not necessarily this night. But tabletop games are different. One of the great things about TTRPGs is there is a real live person running the game. Players can say anything when role-playing and NPCs have more than a just few preprogrammed responses. The GM can react in real time to a player’s actions.

I think it is imports to also react to the player’s inaction.

As a GM, you should strive to create a living world for the players. There are many ways to do this, but today I’d like to focus on a fairly simple one: Consider what happens to quests players choose not to take.

What happens to the quest not taken?

When the players return to the job board or quest giving NPC, they will likely find that a quest previously offered is no longer available. It could be that other adventurers took the job or that the time where action was possible has passed. Either way, this is likely to make an impact on your game world.

Here are a few reason why a quest would no longer be available and what the consequences of inaction may be:

  • The party had been offered quests by competing factions. The completion of one quest improves their standing with one faction but lowers it with the other.
  • A merchant seeking escort through dangerous lands had to make the journey alone and has not returned. A new quest is available to find and rescue the man.
  • Another adventuring party took the job to slay a beast harassing local farms. The players return to town to find a festival being help in honor of these other hero’s.
  • A mysterious murder has turned into a string of strange deaths and disappearances. The culprit has attracted a cult following and will now be more dangerous to stop.
  • The players took too long delivering a message to the queen. She acted on what partial information she had and ordered the execution of an innocent dragon.

When the players see that consequences come from choosing which quests to take, they will be more carful in considering their actions. This will add drama and tension to your game as well as make the world feel more alive and responsive to the party.

But don’t over do it. Not every quest left alone should have negative consequences. While the players should feel their decisions have weight, they should always feel free to choose their own path.

Published by Brandon Hansen

Hi, I’m Brandon. I enjoy playing D&D and being a dad. Not necessarily in that order. Prestidaditation is a place where I talk about the intersection of these two passions.

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