Curse you, Red Baron! Over at his blog today, Coyote has an excellent article on something I’ve been meaning to write about myself, only he got in first: the general witlessness of “quests”.

We shouldn’t even dignify those activities by the word “quest”. They’re jobs, errands, tasks, make-work…but not quests. These trivial timewasters are there mainly to pad out the game.

Consider Oblivion. Just following the main line, you could get through it in a day. Especially with the scaled combat, which makes the job that much easier.

So they throw in any amount of side stuff, and tell you how “free” you are to go where you please and do whatever you want. All that “freedom” amounts to is running errands for any number of helpless wretches, sunk in a misery of ineptitude, waiting for a sucker “hero” to come along and bail them out.

This is hardly heroic work, as Coyote rightly points out. Of course, you could skip these little “off-road” jaunts, but then you miss out on experience, and possible monetary or item rewards. Not every game (fortunately) has scaled combats.

The real meat of his piece, however, is this: the player has no initiative, beyond looking for work. You’re always someone else’s “gopher”, someone else’s cat’s-paw.

By now, that situation has become irritating beyond words, and I am, in fact, fed up with the whole routine of becoming a “hero” by being told what to do by a bunch of nincompoops.

So, your kid is missing? Why don’t you go looking for it? Oh, your dog fell down a hole? Fill it with water; dogs can swim. You say you have rats in your cellar? Buy a few good mousers and the problem is solved.

More than anything, it’s knowing that you have no choice but to do what someone else wants if you want to develop your character. There isn’t even the illusion of free will, except possibly in turning down one of these boring tasks.

And adding salt to the wound is the fact that the main line of the game is the same thing: someone always telling you where to go and what to do. No, we’re not heroes; we’re just rent-a-mercs, walking mechanically through contrived situations, at the beck and call of any hapless moron.

Read Coyote’s article and see what you think:

RPG Design: Quest Abuse on Coyote’s blog