It’s not easy being Quest Giver. The clients are disreputable. The business model is questionable. And if that floppy hat is anything to judge by, peripheral vision is hovering somewhere around zero. Worst of all though, the quest giving business itself is way harder than you’d think.

This issue has been on my mind lately thanks to a recent uptick in design work. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been knocking out mini-dungeons for AAW Games. It’s a cool gimmick for a writer. They give you a map, 1,000 words to work with, and access to the 5e SRD. Otherwise they turn you loose to write whatever you like. It’s been a fun design challenge turning numbered rooms on a map into fully fleshed-out dungeons, and the constraints tend to produce all kinds of creativity. However, when the deadline looms and word count is getting tight, the temptation to toss in “lock and key” quests is sometimes hard to resist. You know the type. Get blue key to open blue door. Give the correct answer to the riddle. Collect six wolf butts to impress the Huntsmaster. There’s nothing wrong with these scenarios per se. They’re tried and true staples of game design because they work. Titles like Adventure, Monkey Island, and WoW are more or less built on these principles. But when it comes to designing quests for the tabletop, you’ve got to remember that there’s always more than one key for any given lock.

Take our Dragon Party in today’s comic. They’ve gone in for the direct approach, turning themselves in for their own bounty. That is certainly one way to do it. But if the goal is to get that sweet sweet quest reward, I bet you can think of half a dozen different ways to get the job done. A simple Deception check, straight up robbing Quest Giver, or esoteric solutions like sculpt corpse could all do the trick. As GMs we know that players like nothing better than cutting Gordian knots, applying outrageous solutions to seemingly straightforward problems. This is a GOOD THING, and very much to be encouraged. When you’re designing an adventure though (or prepping notes for a session), it’s all too easy to pencil in the “correct” solution.

Phrases like “it’s impossible to open the door unless,” “to get past the Sphinx the heroes must,” or “to prove their loyalty the party will have to” have a habit of showing up in my own games. And when they’re written down with all the authority of The Module Says So, GMs may begin to think that these are the only solutions. The railroad rears its ugly head, and the joy of creative problem solving threatens to disappear. That’s why I make it a habit to take modules (including my own) with a massive grain of salt. Just because the phrase “one possible solution” isn’t written down in black and white doesn’t mean that it isn’t there, hiding between the lines. My point is that your players can and will think of their own solutions. That means anything a designer, a GM, or a game system suggests should be understood as a solution, not the solution.

So for today’s discussion, what do you say we share our own experiences with “lock and key” design? When did you last encounter an encounter with only one “correct” solution? Did you manage to think your way around the problem, or did the gates remain stubbornly shut? Tell us all about your most rigidly-defined obstacles down in the comments!


ARE YOU THE KIND OF DRAGON THAT HOARDS ART? Then you’ll want to check out the “Epic Hero” reward level on our Handbook of Heroes Patreon. Like the proper fire-breathing tyrant you are, you’ll get to demand a monthly offerings suited to your tastes! Submit a request, and you’ll have a personalized original art card to add to your hoard. Trust us. This is the sort of one-of-a-kind treasure suitable to a wyrm of your magnificence.