May 12, 2014
Ask many a (video) gamer about what their least favorite sort of in-game quest is, and I would be willing to bet that a good deal of them would answer you “escort quests.” Escort quests are where you must accompany a non-player character to a predetermined location, likely while being hounded all along the way with enemies after that non-player character and, all the while, having to deal with the non-player character themselves. These characters are rarely likeable, often are very slow, and players usually cannot wait to be rid of them so that they can resume their adventuring at their own pace. Note, that some games have managed to pull off the escort quest very well, turning them into a memorable and likable companion, but in most they are incredibly tedious. In tabletop role-playing games, however, the escort quest suffers from a different problem.
In short, escort quests in tabletop role-playing games are often quite forgettable. I am not even talking about them not being memorable. I am talking about the players forgetting that they are even on an escort quest in the first place. This happens when the players are transporting a non-player character and that non-player character just becomes part of the background. They might as well just be an item the player characters put in their pockets for all that they add to the adventure, as the characters wade through encounter after encounter without any thought to the non-player character, going about whatever quest they have been set on without any thought to the person who is actually the very reason they are on said quest.
There are many reasons this tends to happen, though I think the two most significant being that the Gamemaster does not want to hinder the player characters with a non-combatant during a fight, so they forget to make mention of them during battle or just say that they have gone off to hide somewhere or they are afraid to drudge up the same feelings about escort quests that many players hold over from their time playing video games – as mentioned before. Both of these are actually fairly good reasons on the part of the Gamemaster, to be sure, but both utterly defeat the entire purpose of an escort quest. Gamemasters cannot be afraid to burden the players with this non-player character they are escorting, because that is the very reason these sorts of quests exist. They are meant to add that extra little complication to the adventure, forcing players to think about how they are going about things differently than they would if they were on their own.
The best way I have seen to do this is twofold, one way being something Gamemasters can do during a combat encounter, and the other being something they can do outside of one. Outside of combat, you have to make these non-player characters memorable in someway. Now, while memorable does not necessarily mean “likable,” it does mean that the character needs to be doing things and saying things either to the player characters or in some way in which the player characters take notice. Make them do things. Secondly, in combat, Gamemasters need to put that non-player character on the initiative. They need to have the character doing things, even if those “things” are not necessarily helping. Also, Gamemasters need to have the antagonists take note of the non-player character. Threaten them. Force the hand of the players so that they have to make their characters intervene. In short, when doing an escort quest, Gamemasters need to make sure that they are encouraging the players to interact with the ones they are escorting.
As always, I want to thank everyone for reading and wish you all good gaming.
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