Advice for Running a Quest

From questden
Let me explain.png

This page offers tips and advice for running a quest! These aren't hard rules, but you may find the information here helpful for making something you and your readers enjoy.

What even is a Quest?

A quest is an interactive storytelling medium, akin to a 'choose your own adventure' book being played out as your choices are made. A character is placed in a world, and it is the job of the suggesters to guide them forward on their journey.

Part of their charm is that they aren't linear in the way a webcomic is, nor are they a single person's story. The authors and suggesters work together to weave a tale either from whole cloth, or in a world the author has built around the character(s) ahead of time.

Getting Started

Quests are a lot of work, and take a lot of dedication to run to completion. Unless the scope is very small, a quest can run for months or even years. You may have an amazing, grand idea for your quest, but it's important to not run it for your first time. Put it aside for now, and think up something small, simple, and fun to test the waters and make sure this is something for you. If you don't end up enjoying it, better to lose a small story than see a grand scheme go half-finished.

Running a 'test quest' can help you know if you're ready to put in that kind of time, or if you'd prefer to tell smaller stories that are much easier to finish.

Being an artist isn't required to run a quest, but this site has a very strong artist lean, and quests with only text or GIS images don't tend to do as well, and generally have fewer participants. Keep this in mind as you plan out your story.

Creating a setting

The protagonist

The protagonist is the eyes through which your suggesters see the world. They are the ones we'll get to know the best and form the deepest bonds with.

There's many ways an author can create a quest protagonist. Some already have a character in mind, while others prefer to let the suggesters make a new character from scratch. Both methods are perfectly fine, and it's completely up to your tastes as a storywriter. The important thing is that you remain flexible. The character should be able to learn and grow as the story goes, and the suggesters will often add to their depth over time.

If you're letting the suggesters design your protagonist, in whole or in part, be sure not to include options you don't like. If you're set on a male protagonist, don't offer the choice of gender, for example.

The world your protagonist inhabits

Creating a world for a quest is not too unlike creating one for a tabletop RPG. Some prefer to make a finely crafted world full of lore and things to see. Others like to play it by ear, or even leave the world up to the suggesters to create as they desire.

Think about what setup works for you, but be prepared for people to go places you don't expect them to go. No matter how fleshed out your world is, you'll likely have to make some things up as you go! Winging it is part of the challenge and fun of running a quest.

If you're going for a deep, lore-filled world, It can help a place feel fleshed out to have events happen that the protagonist isn't directly related to. Maybe an NPC got married since we saw them last. Maybe a city has elected a new mayor. Little things like this can help a world feel 'alive'.

Making your first thread

This is where you put it all together and present your world to the suggesters at large. In general, quests start out by setting the scene and then asking the suggesters to guide the protagonist through whatever situation they face, be it danger or asking a cute girl/boy/eldritch horror on a date. That last one actually comes up sometimes.

If the suggesters are making a character, it's usually best to start by asking them to define such things as sex (a fair warning: female wins almost every time, so if you prefer a male or other, don't leave it up for others to decide!), race (if applicable), body type, personality, skills, etc. How little or how much they decide on is up to you, and don't worry about making too many options for character generation.

Some rules of thumb for making a title post (Also known as an OP)

  • Always write the name of the quest in the subject field. This helps people find it in the archive. Please don't write "????" here.
  • Most authors write the protagonist's name (if it exists) in the name field, but this is up to your tastes. You can type a space to have it appear blank.
    • It is also acceptable to use the name field for your author name or handle, if you prefer.
    • Tripcodes are not necessary.
  • The title post should have an eye-catching image. This will help it stand out among the others.
  • The title post image should not be all black or darkness. Kind of as a corollary of the previous.
  • Don't use RubyQuest's start. Unless you're specifically going for a parody, you probably shouldn't be starting in a black room with 3 glowing buttons; it's been done to death.
  • Nobody uses the e-mail field for e-mails. In general you want to leave it blank.
  • If you're starting a new thread for an existing quest link the old thread(s) or the wiki article in the OP. Make it easy on readers who'd like to get caught up!

Methods for collecting suggestions

Once your first update is up, it's time for people to suggest ideas for how the story or character should progress! But how do you go about asking for those suggestions?

Some prefer to have the character or narrator ask directly. "What do I do next?" "What do I say to them?" Others leave it implied, simply pausing the story where it is to wait for input.

Regardless of the method you choose, remember that you do have some sway to avoid options you really don't want to happen. Your protagonist can simply refuse to consider it, or you can leave it out of the vote options. Be careful, though, as doing this too often is against the spirit of quests.

Freeform Questing

Freeform questing is when you let the suggesters post with whatever action, idea, or question they have in mind, with no effort on your part to limit their options. This method allows for great creativity, but can be hard to handle if you have too many suggestions. It also makes it a little harder to guide the story in the direction you might want it to go.

Freeform is good for NPC conversations, and for putting someone in a setting and letting them explore. It also helps the narrative flow for those who read a finished quest, as each update flows into the next without pausing to list a bunch of options.

Vote-based Questing

Vote-based questing means giving a list of options, and holding a vote on which option should win. This lets you guide the story more easily at the cost of suggestor freedom and creativity. This method is much easier to handle for large amounts of suggestions, and in some cases can increase the amount of suggestions you receive as it's easier for them to pick an option than it is to come up with something from whole cloth.

Vote-based is good for overall pacing, and giving you a rough idea of what the next piece of story might entail. It also helps prevent suggesters going for something you don't want to do, as you can simply leave it off as an option. Or, you can be flexible and let a good custom suggestion or one with a lot of support win in spite of the vote limitations. It's up to you if and where you'd want to do this.

Parsing Suggestions

Once you have some suggestions submitted, it's time to figure out how to use them and generate your next update. It should be noted there are no hard rules on how you use suggestions. The following list are all examples of strategies employed in various quests:

  • Majority Rule. Whatever the most people wants, goes.
  • Best Idea Wins. There's a correct answer or solution, and if even one person suggests it, it'll be used.
  • Everything Wins. Your protagonist tries to follow, or react to, every suggestion! Results may vary from disaster to comedy to wonderful.
  • Most In-Character Wins. Your protagonist treats the suggestions as a brainstorming session, and then runs with the idea(s) they like best. Or perhaps there's an idea so true to who the protagonist is that they can't not use it.
  • Pick and Choose. Construct a gestalt, using pieces of different suggestions and ideas to make a better (or more interesting) whole.
  • Minority Wins. Yes, really, it's been done. Probably not something you want to overuse, and it risks blowback, but subverting a vote in the right circumstances can be powerful or interesting.
  • Like I'd listen to you! Just have your character just argue with the suggesters and/or insult them while they do whatever.
  • Quota. Sometimes an option requires a minimum numbers of suggesters to support it. (Ie, "X requires 5 or more votes").
  • Stall or Clarify. Sometimes the suggesters will misunderstand the situation (or you'll present it wrong) and you'll feel the need to give them more information before a final decision is reached. Sometimes the suggesters will come up with a really good question that affects the outcome of the vote and you'll want to answer it.
  • Railroad. Sometimes the suggesters only have the appearance of choice. Employ carefully. As discussed in more detail below, it's hard to do right.

There's also no rule you have to stick with a single strategy. Different decisions can be made in different ways. You're also not limited to stick to this list if you think of other ways to use suggestions!

Running your quest: Tips and tricks

General tips

  • Don't push yourself! Know your limits and take breaks!
  • Back up your data! This is good advice in general.
    • Don't write your posts on the site. Write them in a text editor so you can save, and so you don't lose everything if you close a tab or your browser crashes.
  • A useful way to post multi-frame updates is to make several tabs, each filled with part of the update. Then you can go from tab to tab posting the entire update in seconds.
  • Try to avoid situations where there's only one option. If there's a path going left or right, don't have one lead to a dead-end. This kind of ruins the nature of letting things be up to the suggesters. If you do make a dead end, be sure to put something interesting there so there's more to do than backtrack!
  • Keep it interesting. Stopping in front of a door and asking if it should be opened isn't very interesting, unless you offer some insight about what might be behind the door.
  • Make sure each update accomplishes something, be it moving to a new location, advancing the combat, or building on characters. If a switch is pulled, it's best not to have the result be that nothing happens. If the current location or scene has no real options, go ahead and move the plot forward automatically.
  • It's against the spirit of quests to keep the story on rails. 'Railroading' is when the character does something that the suggesters either didn't suggest, or actively suggested against. It's extremely frowned upon. There are a few situations where this can be effective in giving a feeling of powerlessness, but it should be used very, very sparingly. It's very hard to do right, and much safer to avoid outright.
  • Sometimes the suggesters simply can't choose what they want. If you have votes that tie, or freeform where nobody has a consensus, then it's fine to go ahead and pick the option you feel makes for the best story (or that the protagonist is most likely to choose in a vacuum).
  • A lot of people never expand the thumbnail. Keep this in mind when planning how much detail and information goes into the artwork. If you set a precedent for hiding things in the art, people are more likely to expand images after getting burned once.
  • Be mindful of how severe the punishment is for a 'wrong' action. Trap options and bad ideas can often land the character in a poor situation. Once the character has suffered a consequence, the suggesters will be a lot more cautious, which could help or hurt depending on the mood of your quest.
  • Because there's a number of people seeing your story unfold, people will often try to guess what happens next, and they might be right. It's up to you if you want to reward them, or change your story to keep them guessing. Be mindful that doing this too much can lead to an incomprehensible story!
  • Sometimes the suggesters will come up with something better than you have. Roll with it!
  • Remember the number of people reading and enjoying a quest is generally larger than the number of people suggesting and actively contributing. And that's ok!

Suggestor tendencies

There are some ways in which suggesters can be predicted. None of these are a guarantee, but keeping them in mind can be helpful for planning your adventure.

  • They almost always pick 'female' for character generation.
  • They often prefer to make friends rather than fight.
  • They often try to flirt with any NPC you introduce.
  • They often react disproportionately to betrayal, or perceived betrayal, by NPCs.
  • Loud minorities will sometimes complain about a chosen action. Don't let them distract or discourage you!
  • They are often paranoid. Even if you're running something lighthearted, people will sometimes be afraid to do something that might lead to consequences.
  • They are easily distracted. If no effort is taken to guide the story, they will happily have the character faff about getting nothing done until they eventually lose interest in the quest. Having a quest about faffing about is fine, but make sure there's something interesting to do and that they are guided to it!
  • They love to be teased. Having the romantic interest confess right away will bore them, but having the romantic tension last a long time will keep them very much hooked.
  • They love matchmaking in general. Seriously they love the romantic tension like a lot.
  • No really, be very careful about how you handle romantic/sexual tension!!!
  • Suggesters often want what they can't have, or to attempt to derail things. In a lot of quests, that might mean pursuing romance and sex. In a porn quest, that might mean ignoring the smut you're offering and pursuing something else entirely!