Attention DM's don't forget about Personal Quests
What is a Personal Quest and why should you care?
A Personal Quest is a quest that is mainly used to advance a specific character’s development throughout a campaign. It is an expedition that a player can ask for or that the DM might want to start; it is a way to give more color/realism to your world while at the same time developing your Player Characters. I personally have had a hard time with using personal quests in the past, but with how Season One of Roll with Advantage has been going, I believe that I have gained a proficiency in its use and have learned much from my mistakes.
Let me preface this by saying, “Everyone at the table is not required to have a personal quest”, however it is recommended at my table that characters have good reason that they are on this journey within the campaign. This suggestion makes it easier for the future if a personal quest feels right later on. Personal quests do not need to be know from session zero either. They could come out of a character’s backstory or could come out of something interesting the player did to interact with your world, something you can sneak in to introduce important NPC’s in your campaign.
It is important to note that these personal quests should be, to some degree, a collaborative process with the target player at the start. This is to make sure that you, the Dungeon Master, are not taking over someone's character and making choices for the player. You want to really get to know your players and their characters before you start writing their side story that they may or may not be aware of. To do this, you should really put a lot of the priming work on the player. Try to gather as much data about his/her character, and the character’s current mindset in the world. If you intend to delve into the character’s backstory, you will want to first let the player know of your intent to start his/her character on a personal quest and ask if this is okay. Ask about his/her desire to be involved and gage their investment. If your player is not invested in the idea, they will be less likely to buy into the story. These quests are meant to bind your players to their character’s more strongly, to potentially bring the adventuring party closer together too, and to bind all the characters to your campaign in individual ways this will get them thoroughly invested in your story.
What does a Personal Quest mean for the individual player
A personal quest is a great way to spotlight a specific character and make the player feel as if his/her character is important and connected to the world in some way. You can highlight great personal strengths and display fantastic character flaws in this way. It is a very powerful tool and, if wielded properly, can go very right, but if wielded wrong it can be very upsetting for the player.
Early on in my DM experience, I made many mistakes with personal quests. One of the biggest mistakes was making up a part of a character's backstory for them. I created a quest that I thought would be great for storytelling, but I did not involve the player in decisions about things like "Do they have a sibling?" and "What sort of home life they have?". Without the player's involvement, when I execute my plan the entire session fell apart quick; the player ended up feeling like he had less control of his character. I think doing this started to shut down creativity in my past groups. I realized then that what I did was worse than any lame total party kill, I wanted to drop a huge bombshell on the entire party, but instead, I disenfranchised my player and left his character in ruins. This was never my intent, and after the session, I had to do a lot of apologizing and in the end, we had to retcon and try to ignore what had happened.
It is important to involve your players in the design of personal quests that deal with their backstory. Make sure you understand what they have written for their character, and ask questions about the character. Try to find something to really grab onto that they don’t mind you running with. Try to brainstorm ideas with them and find ideas that resonate with your campaign; ones that you can tie into their backstory and into the campaign that bring some really good results. With one quest, you can engage your targeted player completely and get him/her to invest in your world or story while giving your player’s character a quick solo. These quests can make players feel good about their characters and make them feel important. This is a very powerful tool.
What do Personal Quests mean for the rest of the party
As your party members grow accustomed to each other, they will start to form bonds and through these bonds, they will want to help the Solo’ing character progress his/her personal goals. They will want to aid in any way they can, so you need to make sure that the personal quests that you design are inclusive. Make sure to facilitate the other players and give them something to do that makes them feel that they are helping all while you are keeping in mind that the Solo’ing character is the “star of the show.” Think of this as a child’s birthday party, you want to make the birthday kid feel special, but you do not want to alienate those that came to support and celebrate. Try and make it an epic achievement and one that your target player is critical to completing. This will give your table something to remember and talk about for times to come.
What Personal Quests mean for your story
Personal Quests can be anything really, but I would suggest creating ones that can become an epic tale in itself. A tale that compliments or even leads into the main beats of your campaign. This will add a great deal of depth to your world, and make it seem like other events outside of your campaign are happening. You also can use personal quests to create extremely memorable events that keep your players invested in your hard work.
A great way to make a personal quest seem extremely valuable is, if they succeed, they then get some sort of boon or edge on the end boss. Maybe they get some background story to the boss and in that there is a clue to a weakness they might have. You will then have accomplished fleshing out characters at your table and progressed the overall story. Personal quests take a great deal of practice and finesse to make sure you are giving your players what they want, fleshing out your world, and making sure you do not step on anyone’s creative toes.
That is where I am going to leave it for this time. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. Check back in next month to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about by contacting us through The DM’s Table on Facebook and @dmstable on Twitter. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday by 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love. Thank you for reading and if you enjoy these articles feel free to donate to the website, support Roll with Advantage on Patreon, or buy one of our Crit-Horn t-shirts to help keep the website up and running!
― The DM