Back last year, in Quest-ionable Activities and Why Should I Care?, I editorialized on the silliness and triviality of those endless “side jobs” foisted on us in RPGs. I’ve been contemplating the matter, and wonder: what if people didn’t ask us to do those errands?

Obviously, there has to be some direction for the main line. But it’s usually all those “help me out” jobs that take up most of our time in these games. Talk to somone and poof! you have an entry on your “list of things to do”. Okay, sometimes you can decline the task, but usually we accept for the usual reason: the rewards.

What brought this to mind especially is an incident in Avernum 5. There’s a small group of travelers stuck between Highground and Muck. Highground wouldn’t let them stay, and they can’t reach Muck because a bunch of giants demand a toll from everyone who passes by.

You learn of their plight when you talk to them, but they don’t ask for any help. On the other hand, an entry does show up in your “to-do list”. You can ignore it, of course, although you still have to deal with the giants on your own way to Muck.

You can bribe them to let you by, you can pay for the stranded travelers, or you can wipe out the giants (my choice, naturally). You can tell the group about that, and receive some experience; nothing else, because the people have nothing to give.

I would have liked this better if (a) nothing showed up on “things to do”, since no one asked for my help, and (b) I didn’t have to pass the giants myself to reach Muck.

That would have made this situation more interesting, and really a free choice on my part. I could have gone my way and left the group there, never bothering about the giants. Or I could have paid the toll, or wiped out the brigands.

Which brought to mind the thought: what if an entire game was that way (aside from the main line)? Suppose you heard about problems, but no one explicitly said “Help me, Obi-Wan. You’re my only hope.”?

Then it would be your own decision to do something or not. You wouldn’t even know (at least the first time through) if you’d get a reward. Or even if you were doing the right thing.

In case you’re thinking you might forget, that’s not a problem. AV5 allows you to record dialogue text at any time, and refer to it later. That’s an easy implementation to make for any game, and allows you to exercise your discretion on what you feel like doing.

Or is that too radical? Even with a “dialogue memo system”, would players feel lost? Are we so used to hand-holding, that we’d be confused if NPCs didn’t ask for help? What do you think?