Quest – first impressions

I’m trying to play more systems that are new to me, and because I’m a big fan of gut feelings and first impressions, will be posting blogs about how I found them on the first play. (If my thoughts change later on, I may well post more about them!)

Creativity with characters

Quest offers players a selection of ‘roles’ (classes, archetypes, etc) to choose from but there are no fixed species or suchlike that players must draw from. You simply define who and what your character is (through a mad-libs style page where you can fill in blanks about what people notice about them and suchlike). What was really cool was having players pitch character concepts, the likes of which would never have been on the table otherwise – a skeleton with their brother’s soul in a jar in their ribcage, a person made entirely of glitter, a sheep-bat-human undead hybrid…

I know to some that might sound like a nightmare, but I adored it and had so much fun just seeing what the players were bringing to the table with a more free-flowing approach to characters.

Tough choices, emphasis on tough

In Quest, players roll only a d20 – it’s that simple and stripped back. There’s a rough framework for Guides (Quest’s name for a GM) in how to interpret d20 rolls and what kind of consequences to dish out – with higher numbers cleaving closer to what the character’s trying to do. In one bracket of numbers, the Guide offers a ‘tough choice’ – two options, both with drawbacks, that the player can choose between.

It’s really good. It’s really hard.

I like this mechanic forcing me to flex my either/or muscle – trying to think of two options where the drawbacks are somehow comparable, or there’s at least not one that’s wildly better than the other, is really hard. It also means offering up two things that you think are interesting, and having to drop one (it was mentioned by a player afterwards how they almost wish they could have chosen both choices, just to avoid missing out on something that felt interesting). That’s something I’ve no problem with – I’m very used to throwing plans out of the window in games! – and I suspect any ideas that really stick in anyone’s head will wind back into the game somehow…

As someone who’s always found ‘success but with a complication’ one of the tricker prompts in games, this is definitely the part of running Quest that I found instinctively the most challenging (but am excited to get into more of a rhythm with).

Characters as choices, not numbers

In Quest, there are no character stats – you have abilities according to your role/archetype, but when you roll a d20, you’re not adding or subtracting to the roll. So immediately you loose any ‘who’s good at sneaking?’-style chats that can happen in games where some characters have a mathematical advantage over others.

What I enjoyed about this was I felt like I was learning more about characters because of the choices they made or questions they asked – they weren’t jumping from a hot air balloon because they knew they had a high athletics modifier which would make them more likely to avoid injury, they jumped because they’re impulsive or wanted to follow others or because saving this character outranked getting somewhere smoothly.

I think it also cuts down on so much tactical player thinking – granted, we didn’t get to an ‘action’ scene (something like combat or a chase where it’s more roughly turn-based and more abilities are likely to be used in a shorter space of time) where that might come in more – but there was still less than in other, more stat-heavy systems. Because it becomes more about what your character wants to do, rather than what might make more tactical sense.

Freewheeling play

Part of this will be how I play games, part of it is the players I was with, but my big takeaway from my first Quest game was how much it felt like the freewheeling fun of zero-prep one-shots, but with the knowledge we’d get to see more of these characters. I felt more comfortable inviting sweeping player input, because I knew that if they said ‘well, we’re competing against the ninjas, the mermaids, the cowboys, the pirates and the princesses’, I wouldn’t need crunchy statblocks for all of those and all that was essential was a go-to for HP and Attack stats (4 and 1, or maybe 6 and 2 if I want them to be a bit beefier. Done). I could focus on telling stories and making things up rather than lots of mechanics and stats.

As you can probably tell from this, I hugely enjoyed my first session of Quest – I’ve found running games over Zoom pretty difficult, especially as I’m a GM/player who enjoys role-play heavy social games with a lot of improvising with others, and that’s a hard atmosphere to capture. But the openness, freedom and light touch of Quest really worked for me.

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