Way back when we started up The Handbook, Laurel and I made the decision not to include a GM character. As you all know, this comic chronicles an internally-consistent fantasy world, and any relationship to tabletop gaming is purely coincidental. (Shut up! It is too internally-consistent. Stop laughing!) Point is that the heroes of Handbook-World speak Common, and if translating from the interplanar lingua franca to mundane English requires a few game mechanics terms, you can put that down to shoddy translation. (Sincerest apologies from your humble scribe.)

Now that said, I think GMs can sympathize with Quest Giver here. The poor old fellow is afflicted with the second sight, and he knows all the tasks folk must undertake to fulfill their destinies. On occasion, this can make him sound a bit… odd. I know the feeling.

When it comes to handing out quests, there’s a tightrope that GMs walk between clarity and characterful exposition. The back and forth of letting players know what they’re “supposed” to do without sounding like World of Warcraft quest text can be difficult. Case in point, just last session my players needed to retrieve three doppelganger corpses to prove they weren’t evil shapeshifters themselves. It made good sense in my head. If you’re a frightened guard at a barricade wall, it pays to be cautious. But then it came time to actually impart this information to the party. 

Party: “How can we prove ourselves to you?”

Guard: “Bring me three doppelganger corpses.”

Party: “What? Two corpses isn’t good enough for you?”


They let the matter drop after that, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was edging dangerously close to “bring me 5 bear paws and 10 wolf asses” territory. While there are a lot of valuable lessons that tabletop gamers can learn from our digital brethren, stilted dialogue and arbitrary fetch quests aren’t among them.

I suspect that this particular concern is an artifact of quest design rather than NPC dialogue. “Bring me XYZ and I shall reward you with ## gold” might be easy to write, but it isn’t all that interesting. Happily, it’s always possible to change the nature of a quest through RP and diplomacy. PCs’ persuasion skills can alter rewards and quest requirements, and NPCs can always explain their reasoning rather than hiding behind big walls o’ text. You’ve just got to make like Barmaid in today’s comic, and be willing to adapt.

Question of the day then! Have you ever stumbled across a particularly arbitrary quest? What made it so unreasonable? Tell us all about the  battles you’ve waged against your own quest givers down in the comments!


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