Talk about firing up the wayback machine!
I mentioned the torture quest from Borean Tundra yesterday, just as an example, and it brought forth a few comments and a few ideas.
Rohan wrote a post about it years ago that stuck with me, and I think he represents most of the players like me that say, “Hey! My character wouldn’t do that! Screw the Kirin Tor!”
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone come out and say they think it was a good quest from an RP point of view, because your choice is to torture, or walk away and abadon the quest, implying that you left the Kirin Tor to find someone else to torture the guy. There are no real choices involved, the prisoner will still be tortured one way or the other, and you knew about it and did nothing to stop it.
When I mentioned the idea of having raid hard modes represent harder moral choices, the Art of Persuasion quest was one that I still think of as a lost chance at letting the player make a pesonal choice.
To fight and struggle against an implacable foe can seem very heroic on the face of it. Armor plated warrior queen facing off against fire breathing drag0n, you know the battle is either gonna be brutal, or extra crispy.
But when the choice you’re given is to have a target strapped to a chair, people standing all around you, and one of them hands you a knife and says, “Get carving”, that’s not making a choice so much as taking the path of least resistance.
But what about having quests with decision points? A quest that follows a certain chain, and then at a certain critical point offers you two choices, and each choice has a couple different quests that, regardless of which path you choose, rejoin once again into the one chain?
Let’s take “The Art of Persuasion” chain as an example.
You are a hero trying to aid the Kirin Tor out in Borean Tundra. The Mages have a problem, and it’s a big one. Mages are being abducted!
You are first tasked by the quest “Prison Break” with rescuing an abducted Kirin Tor mage. You are sent to where the mage prisons are, tasked with killing a guard to get a prison key and freeing a Mage. Good!
Once you’ve freed the Mage, your are given the “Abduction” quest. Lady Evanor, one of the Dalaran Archmages, was captured and the most likely suspects are these mage hunters and their Beryl Sorcerer allies. Time is of the essence if we are to find and rescue her!
You are to go back down there, subdue a Beryl Sorcerer, chain him up and drag him back in for questioning.
After you have brought back your Beryl Sorcerer prisoner, you are given the quest “The Borean Inquisition”. The prisoner is being prepared for questioning, mostly involving a chair with straps. You are sent to go and be ready to help in the questioning, in case you are needed.
Okay, so far so good, right? Mages are being abducted, you go free one, then word comes down that a senior senator or archmage or some other high muckety-muck just got captured, this is an emergency, we have to act fast to enact a rescue!
So you go and grab a prisoner to bring back for questioning. Since you picked the person to capture and brought them back in chains, the well being of that prisoner is your responsibility. Whatever they were before, they are helpless now in your hands.
Yes, there are questions that need answers. Yes, in the heat of battle they might have died anyway. But this changes the dynamic.
Where is Lady Evanor? What are they planning to do to her? How can we free her from her magical chains? We need answers before it’s too late! But at the same time, the prisoner cannot defend themselves. whatever you do to them is being done to someone as helpless as a babe. How do you feel about that? No worries, who cares, I’d have bathed in his blood anyway, or is it different now that he is utterly helpless and at your mercy?
So you’re sent to the tower, where the prisoner has been strapped helpless in a chair, and there is clearly going to be some torturing for information going on.
It is fortunate you’re here, <race>.
You see, the Kirin Tor code of conduct frowns upon our taking certain ‘extreme’ measures – even in desperate times such as these.
You, however, as an outsider, are not bound by such restrictions and could take any steps necessary in the retrieval of information.
Do what you must. We need to know where Lady Evanor is being held at once!
I’ll just busy myself organizing these shelves here. Oh, and here, perhaps you’ll find this old thing useful….
[You receive [Neural Needler].]
Now, this is the perfect point where a choice could have been offered. Instead of a single “Accept” button to choose to take the quest as offered, there could have been two lines of text describing your reaction, each leading to one of two branching quests.
The decision point.
One of the lines could have said, <You take the Neural Needler.>, indicating you intend to do exactly as asked, and torture the prisoner. That could have led to the normal two follow up quests, actually performing the torture, and then the follow up of taking your information to Librarian Donathan.
But what if the other line of text read, <No! There has to be another way! Wait, I have an idea.>
By selecting that choice, you could then be sent to talk to Librarian Donathan outside, and complete that quest by saying, “You of the Kirin Tor are powerful mages. Can you make me look like one of the Beryl Sorcerers for a few minutes, make a loud noise to the north and clear your people from the tower?”
The conclusion of that quest could be Librarian Donathan casting an illusion on you to make you look like a Beryl Sorcerer.
The follow up quest? There is a loud “boom!” to the north, a cloud od dust, the tower shakes a little, and you go in the tower, conveniently empty of Kirin Tor, to “break” the prisoner out. As you grab him and do a traditional escort quest to lead him out of the tower, he could let drop pieces of info along the way, such as thanking you, and telling you he’ll meet you on the platform where Lady Evanor is held as soon as he checks in with the person who holds her key, naming him.
That would give you two quests for each decision, but the end result would be the same.
However you got it, you have information to pass on to Librarian Donathan so you know where to go and what to do to free Lady Evanor in the quest chain.
Same quest count, so there is no advantage to one or the other in terms of exploring. And the follow up quests in the chain from that point would be the same. It would all be about which you felt more approapriate to your character.
The point is, for one brief moment lasting two quests long, you could choose whether you were the kind of person who chose expedience, pragmatism, ruthlessness or outride bloodthirstiness as their character personality, or if you were the kind of character that will try to find another way, any other way than torturing a prisoner, even if that means you fail to save someone else.
On a bonus? Screw the kirin Tor and their holier than thou bullshit. How much more fun would it be to listen to them tell you how special and precious their rules make them that they won’t torture the prisoner, tell you that YOU have to get your hands bloody, there is no other way, here is your torture device we just happen to have laying around, and then YOU tell THEM that you refuse and then find a better way that could have been taken all along, if they hadn’t been so quick to decide, in their worry or concern over the fate of Lady Evanor, to jump at torturing the prisoner..
Take your neural needler, shove it up your ass, because maybe it’s time you asked yourselves some pointed questions about how committed you are to the intent behind your rules and not just the letter of the law.
Yes, my description of how to impersonate a Beryl Sorcerer and the odds you’d really get your answers is far-fetched in a real detailed novel, but for a fast-paced quest chain I think it would be satisying.
You could get the job done, but take one of two drastically different routes to do it, and while your choice would affect nothing but your personal relationship with your character, it would still be a meaningful RP decision.
Blizzard almost did this later on, with Cataclysm in Mount Hyjal. There is a quest given by Thisalee Crow called ‘A Bird in Hand”.
In it, you are to use a signal fire to draw the attention of Marion Wormwing, and after you distract her by beating on her for a while, Thisalee sneaks up behind her and grapples her.
You then get to do some quick interrogating.
What’s interesting to me with this quest is, you aren’t given a choice of questioning her or not, but once you’ve gotten your info, you ARE given a choice… of whether to let her go, or kill her in cold blood.
Line of text: <Order Thisalee to kill the harpy.>
Thisalee Crow says: You’re my kind of mage, <name>! We’re finished with this filth.
Line of text: <Ask Thisalee to release the harpy.>
Thisalee Crow says: You’re a better person than I, <name>. But I suppose the harpies are just pawns here.
As you can see, this is exactly what I was talking about before. You still did the questioning and, yes, torture beforehand, but afterwards you’re given two choices, two lines of text, and what will happen differs depending on what you choose.
I’m suggesting that this same kind of “two options” thing could be used to offer decision points leading to quests, just one or two quests deep, that rejoined the same quest chain when done, but would give you a choice in how your character would approach things.
What do you think? Are there other quests in the game that you think could have a very different emotional impact if you’re just given a small choice?