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Why MMO(RPG) Fetch Quests are Particularly Awful (And How to Not Be)

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Despite being a simple and necessary gameplay pattern "fetch quests" are pretty widely recognized and derided as a quintessential example of lazy and/or poor game design, and MMORPG's are perhaps the most notorious for their (ab)use of them, burying the player in so many shallow throwaway tasks that the quests, your motivations, and the rewards all blur into one vaguely-purposed amalgam – you're doing it because that's progression and progression is something to do.

The problem isn't that "fetch quests" are inherently bad or lazy – like I said, they're a simple and necessary narrative pattern – the problem is the effort required to make them rewarding relies on competent and engaging writing/worldbuilding – which is hard – and it's really easy to do the opposite and just toss together a dozen throwaway permutations of "Some 's have overrun area so bring me 10 's in exchange for some and ".

The actual content of the quest matter very little and so do your reasons for doing it – an abundance of them is just content-fodder and the rewards (in the form of gold, experience, or equipment) are redundant and relatively insignificant as you already earn those things passively through other activities.

Project Gorgon is a niche (M)MORPG whose ardent appreciators and admirers apparently believe 1999 to be the peak of human civilization. It's an awkward and amateur reimagining of antiquated classics like Everquest and Asheron's Call and while the fact that it has a development team of two is wholly apparent it nevertheless possesses a unique charm and novelty, and has some interesting approaches to certain problems endemic to the genre – like shallow and repetitive fetch quests – PG is full of fetch quests but its approach to making them bearable is both wildly simple and, I think, really effective.

As an aside, it's important to note that the game uses a skill-based levelling system rather than a class or character-based one – your character doesn't level up in the traditional sense but instead increases individual skills through repeated use and certain skills have synergy with or dependency on others, for example Cooking and Gardening.

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After finding your way out of the tutorial zone and wandering around the starting village, one of the first things you'll probably look for is a general goods merchant to offload a portion of the crap you just spent a few hours collecting. After getting your bearings you will have come across a small handful of NPC merchants that will buy or sell some of your stuff, but you'll find that the weapons merchant is only willing to pay 100 councils for the magic sword you see is worth at least twice that – and that's because you're a stranger and said character doesn't know (or like) you yet.

PG uses a 'Favor' system which is basically just a measure of how much each NPC likes you. Raising your favor with a character will increase the storage space they offer (if they offer any) and alter the prices at which they buy and sell goods. Many characters also have unique knowledge of certain skills or abilities that can only be acquired by befriending them.

Raising favor with a character is done in three different ways – you can gift them (based on their personality and preferences) particular items from your inventory, choose to 'hang out' and do some activity with them while you're logged off, or simply ask them directly if there are any favors they need help with – and this is where the dreaded fetch quest rears its ugly head, only they're made ever so slightly more engaging by grounding them in a context that is both believable and rewarding, and that requires only a little concentrated effort be put towards writing.

As you increase your favor level, character's might gift you different materials or equipment, grant you experience in their preferred skill, unlock new and more advanced craftable recipes / teachable skills, or even offer more insight into some of the world's history and other inhabitants.

In short, the relatively simple favor and gifting systems transforms Generic Elf # 3 into *Velkort, adept fire mage that likes exotic potions and animal trophies" and those minor personality traits do a lot to make each character distinct and feel grounded in the world.

A good fetch quest is still just a fetch quest, but the difference between a good one and an awful one is just a little bit of effort put into writing and a unique reward.

"I'm going to kill gnolls and bring 10 teeth to NPC X so I can level up" is shallow motivation – "I'm going to collect 10 batches of wool for Lana so she can knit a sweater and eventually teach me Interpretive Dance" is not really all that much more complicated but it's a hell of a lot more rewarding.

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