Sidequests in D&D are often times necissary in a campaign, but are done horribly.
Sidequests in D&D are a requirement for most campaigns. They give time to breathe, build the world, and do not have to be a boring chore.
Everyone starts off giving small sidequests like ‘kill the goblins’ or some stupid thing. After years of DMing I have developed a few tricks to make sidequests more interesting.
How to handle sidequests
Most sidequests in D&D are there to buy time for the DM. The DM has not thought of the next part of the campaign so they are giving the players something to do in the meantime. This is not how you should handle sidequests.
Sidequests in D&D are great to break up the monotony of the campaign or to give your players a breather from the main action. They can also help enhance the world, and make your game even more memorable.
Here are the rules when making sidequests:
- Players options.
- Make the sidequest tie into your world.
- Enhance the world with your sidequest.
- They should have a lasting impact.
- Sidequests should be rewarding for your players.
If you follow these 5 rules your sidequests should be much better than many other DMs. If this is how you handle sidequests, your players will look forward to whenever they need to do a sidequest instead of viewing it as a list to complete.
Harsh words I know, but most of the time sidequests are hastily done adventures that are meant to mirror one-shots. A one-shot is completely different than a sidequest. If you want to learn about one-shots read about them here and find out that there are many differences.
After reading the article on one-shots you most likely have come to the conclusion that sidequests would be terrible if they were done like a one-shot is. This is how most DMs think of sidequests. As one-shots without the possibility of player death and that is not very interesting.
Now lets delve into how you should handle sidequests in D&D.
You should not give your players options in some sidequests. It depends on the type of sidequest you want to run and if your party is alright with taking the lead in sidequests. We talk about this a little bit in our railroading section, but the important part to take away is that leading some groups is okay. Some groups want to be railroaded and it can apply to sidequests.
If your sidequest has a structure that needs to be followed, then try to leave hints and have the players complete the sidequest accordingly. At times this will work, but even for players who want a linear game, they might try to be a little creative. Creativity isn’t a bad thing and shows player growth, but you need to know how to handle it.
That is why you should know about the second way to plan sidequests and that is by giving your players options. Don’t plan how the players will hear about, accept, progress, and finish the sidequest. For creative players who want to do their own thing you need to provide options.
Sidequests in D&D are not a bland ‘do this or do nothing’ ultimatum. Your players should have the option to refuse and the option to do whatever they want to complete the quest. If they refuse, the natural consequences of the world will catch up to them. Consequences are essential in letting your players know that their actions have weight. When players refuse, they should hear about it later down the road.
In completing sidequests for these groups, you do not need to figure out how to make an encounter beatable. For example, a party has to stop a banshee and is far to low level. You do not give them an easy way to stop the banshee and let the players figure it out.
This presents the players with options and lets them use that creativity we talked about, but this is difficult for some DMs. If you are a lazy preper for sessions this will be easy for you. For other DMs you have to just go along with the players and reward them for their creativity.
This method of letting your players find out what to do isn’t always recommended, but you can find a middle ground. Just give your players a few options on how to complete the sidequest with different consequences. For example, they could kill the banshee or let it stay and help people through dialogue. One is combat and the other is roleplay and both will affect how the quest impacts the world in a different way.
Tie into your world
So, your players have killed some rats and are going off into a new town to start the ‘real’ quest. You just gave them something to do and expect them to forget about their first adventure, but they shouldn’t.
All sidequests in D&D should tie into the world in some way.
We will talk about how they can enhance your world in the next section, but your sidequests can also tie into the main story. Take those rats earlier. Normally they are just going to be some throwaway monsters who mean nothing to the campaign at large. Instead of doing that, why don’t we have it tie into the plot?
Those rats were actually part of a bigger plan that were rats were using or indicative of pollution that starting to cause slims to appear. Why the rats left in the second instance was because their home was taken over by the slimes and the players will be able to piece it together by clues that are left from the rats in their previous home.
As you can see, sidequests in D&D can directly or indirectly tie into your main plot. They do not need to be told in a heavy handed way, but if the players pick up on things with their own intuition it is a nice reward. Not only for you as a DM with your hard work to tie in the narratives, but also for the players to realize they have such a thoughtful DM.
But sidequests can also be used to enhance your world instead of just tie into it.
Enhancing your world
Oh yey the goblins are dead. New ones will just come back in a week so who really cares that much? Also, your players cleared a mansion of ghosts. No one has heard of that mansion, so we can just use it and forget it once the players have cleared it of ghosts.
These are terrible ways to view sidequests.
Your players should always either learn more about the world or enrich it in some way after completing a sidequest.
After completing a sidequest the players should know that the world is bigger than their little bubble. Players get wrapped up in their campaigns and think only about themselves. This is natural and makes the players feel like the world revolves around them. They are sort of right, but you don’t want it to feel that way.
Our world would run just fine if any one of us disappeared. If a powerful individual disappeared it would cause a small stir up in the world but ultimately it wouldn’t make the world collapse. This is your chance to show the players how vast your world is. Sidequests in D&D convey that they will always be able to explore and learn more.
What your players learn and do on these sidequests should have a lasting impact as well.
We talked about how sidequests in D&D could impact your campaign and change your world, but there are even more lasting impacts that your sidequests can have.
Lets use that abandoned mansion example. Your players will clear it out and possibly leave it unless they need a home. We talk about how to create a home for your players here, but another bi-product of having a home is to tie down your players to an area. They will start to care about it, the area, and not become murder hobos.
This is just an example of the material lasting impact that players can have for themselves, but what about for others? If the players in a sidequest destroyed the town hall they might have to deal with complaints later or another sidequest to help re-build the town hall. That, or they will just have a constant reminder of that previous sidequest.
Another constant reminder of past sidequests is the people that are helped in those quests. Sometimes the players just have appreciative NPCs that say hi to them, but players can also gain NPC allies.
NPC allies could be another merchant who will give the players discounts or another informant that the players can ask. If the players don’t know how to solve a campaign mystery, the players might get creative and ask the old NPC that they saved to help investigate it. Since this is what the NPC is good at or an expert in, why not?
This is just one of the ways that sidequests in D&D can reward players.
Learning that the world is more grand than what you know and getting allies or a house are all great rewards, but what about the other rewards? What about the real things that players care about without realizing they wanted it after they just got it?
I am talking about loot! The other options for sidequests are great to use, but at the end of the day players are loot monsters. They crave getting better items and new gadgets. This is strangely enough only a minor consideration that you should have.
If you are wondering what items to give players, don’t give them too much. We talk about how hard it can be to scale back an overpowered item in an article, so what should you do instead?
Instead of giving standard items you can give interesting items. Look into Volo’s guide and pick out some interesting items that do not give combat advantages like a ‘wand of smiles’ or something weird. These are sometimes the best items to give in a sidequest, but you always need to remember the other rewards.
Rewarding players with loot is fine and all, but the more important rewards are what the players don’t realize they need. We have constantly talked about the other rewards that sidequests give in this article. Always prioritize these rewards over loot when considering how to reward your players.
But how should you make sidequests?
Sidequests in D&D are generally simple and should have a clear conclusion with lasting impacts. We have put this off until the end because knowing how to make a good sidequest is more important than just understanding how to make a simple one. If you have gotten to this point then you should be ready to make a good sidequest if given a good starting point. So, here is how you create a sidequest or get an idea for one.
Sidequest creation involves the process of generating a simple concept and making a paragraph or sentence out of it.
Here is an example:
The witch is in a swamp.
The witch is in a swamp and needs to eat a live child in order to keep living.
This was just a concept that was turned into a simple sentence, but I can make a sidequest out of this fairly easily. If you are still struggling with concept ideas, here are some quest ideas to get you started. For domestic sidequests, here are sidequests associated with guilds.
Instead of linking to the articles, here is an idea wheel that helps me generate ideas for sidequests.
- Orcish monsters (goblins, ogres, giants, etc)
- Aberration (Cthulhu monster or other)
A simple D6 roll will help you pick a category and go from there.
If you are using a trope or a different genera, don’t feel bad or worry that it is too cheesy. Tropes are re-done all the time and the only thing that matters is if they are done well. The same thing applies to using new generas that can branch out and expand your world.
Sidequests in D&D are very important to do well. They are easy to create, but hard to create well. This is why we spent the majority of the article talking about how to make a good sidequest instead of how to just jot something down and roll with it.
Sidequests are more than just tools to delay the players. Combat can also be interesting as well, but both can be viewed as stalling tools when they can be so much more.
Sidequests should enhance your world and make the game more interesting. They are not just one and done adventures. Sidequests have lasting impacts and will reward players in many different ways. They let you explore the world and try new things to give yourself a breather while making your players enjoy the new experience.
Sidequests can be an amazing tool for any DM and I hope that I have have helped you create some amazing sidequests for you and your players.
Until next time this has been Wizo and keep rolling!