I’ve seen people argue that there are only three fundamental adventure types in Dungeons & Dragons: Fetch, Kill and Discover. However, you won’t have to wrack your brains too long to think of a story that falls outside those rather narrow restraints.
The blog Master The Dungeon proposes seven core quest types: Fetch, Kill, Escort, Delivery, Push The Button (“the players go do something like activate a magical stone, or complete a ritual”), Mystery and Lore Quests (“some part of the story or world is explained through a journey or series of events”).
That’s a better starting point, however I’m not sure it’s worth distinguishing between Escort and Delivery Quests (the only difference is that an Escort Quest is the delivery of a person, not an object, which doesn’t seem enough to warrant a unique label), while the instances given of Push the Button Quests seem like something you would do in order to complete a Kill quest, for example, rather than an ultimate mission goal. Similarly, Master the Dungeon’s definition of a Lore Quest doesn’t sound like a reason to go on an adventure, so much as something that happens while the players are on an adventure.
Anyway, why am I ruminating on this? Do we really need to categorise D&D adventures? Isn’t this just trivial semantics? Maybe, but – despite the inherent difficulties in categorising every single RPG mission players might undertake – I do feel like having an understanding of the common quest types that underpin the game is a really useful knowledge block for DMs; one that might help us serve up more interesting and more varied adventures to the table, rather than falling back on the two or three scenarios we might naturally gravitate towards.
At the very least, it should be a fun thought exercise!
The 9 RPG Quest Types
And so, having given it some consideration over the last few days, here is my totally definitive, all-encompassing and absolutely infallible categorisation of all RPG quests.
1. Fetch Quests
This is a very broad category, that basically covers any mission in which the players have to go get something from another location. Typically either an object, such as a specific magic item from the depths of a deadly dungeon, or a person, often one that has been kidnapped and is being held hostage. Sometimes players might have to find the object/person first, other times they might know where it is/they are, but extricating it/them is tricky… such as on a prison break mission. The target of a Fetch Quest could also be information, when the party have to return to court with a report from the borderlands, or a message from an enemy warlord. (I’m torn over whether scouting a location for information would constitute a Fetch Quest, as in this case the emphasis is finding out hitherto unknown information, rather than merely playing a messenger…).
The world’s most famous Fetch Quest?
2. Delivery Quests
This is the exact opposite of a Fetch Quest. The players are in possession of an object, person or piece of information, and they must deliver it to a specific location. I would argue that Lord of the Rings is a Delivery Quest (mixed with a Destroy Quest).
3. Protect Quests
If your job is escorting a person safely to a second location, you’re on a Delivery Quest. But if your job is to protect a person who is attending a wedding, or you’re enforcing a witness protection team, or you’re charged with defending a town, Seven Samurai style, then you’re on a Protect Quest.
4. Destroy Quests
What most people might call a Kill Quest, I’m going to widen to a Destroy Quest. Yes, the main type of Destroy Quests in D&D would be monster hunts and vanquishing BBEGs (i.e. Kill Quests), but you might be sent to destroy a powerful object, for example. I’d also place breaching a town’s defences as a Destroy Quest. Violence is the chief tool of a Destroy Quest.
5. Investigation Quests
The players have to investigate a mystery or solve a crime. I’d probably file adventures that involve finding out new information or knowledge here as well, such as exploratory expeditions and those scouting missions I had trouble placing earlier… we could easily call Investigation Quests, Discover Quests if we prefer.
6. Negotiation Quests
I’ve tried to find the most broad term possible here, because Negotiation Quests could involve a number of things: diplomacy, intrigue and trade perhaps being the most likely. They are quests that reply on social skills at their heart.
7. Survival Quests
Sometimes the players’ only job is to survive! These quests usually start in media res and put the players in a dangerous situation they have to get out of, be it a natural disaster, an orc army on the warpath, or a prison in the Underdark.
8. Attain Quests
If you delve into a dungeon looking for a sacred sword to defeat a lich, you’re on a Fetch Quest (on your way to a Destroy Quest). However, if you delve into the dungeon because you’ve heard rumours of it containing treasure in general, or you plan or selling said sword, then you’re on an Attain Quest. In D&D treasure is the object of most Attain Quests, but other objects could include political power/positions, land, castles etc. Hell, it might even be a quest to attain true love!
9. Combination Quests
Sometimes it’s hard to pin down what type of quest an RPG adventure is because it’s actually a combination of two or more of the above. If you charge your players with finding out what happened to the Duke, which leads to them rescuing him from a dungeon and then escorting him to his castle, and incentivise them with a big reward, then you’ve created an Investigate, Fetch and Deliver Quest rolled into one, with a side helping of an Attain Quest (I suppose any mission with a reward segues into being an Attain Quest).
There’s a convincing school of thought that says you improve your adventures exponentially when you layer different scenarios and goals on top of one another, so maybe the Combo Quest should be every DM’s goal. Check this post for more on how this can play out.
If your sarcasm detector was malfunctioning earlier, let me make it clear that I don’t think there’s a perfect way to categorise all possible RPG quests, and you can always quibble over precise definitions…. I think there’s a case to be made for creating a separate Rescue Quest category for example, as something distinct from Fetch Quests. Or maybe when you rescue someone you’re on a Protect Quest. But anyway, I feel like it’s been a useful thought exercise to have a go. When I’m thinking up new adventures from scratch I want to know all my options, so I’ll be referring back to this as an overview…
Ok guys, please stick in the comments the famous D&D adventures that refuse to be categorised by my system. I’ll also accept missions from the worlds of film and literature….
A Cool Tool I Stole…
While researching this post I came across a pretty cool comment (from 2010!) on RPG Maker Forum by a user named Kentona. They shared what they called The Lazy Quest-o-matic, which involves two d6 rolls:
The action of the quest is to:
4. Transport/Escort/Journey To
6. Gather Information About
The object of the quest is:
4. Secret or Dangerous Location
5. Magical Equipment/Technology
Simple but effective. Your work lives on Kentona!
More Adventure Design Posts
Here are some other posts I wrote for Dungeon Masters…