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General question:

Beside money or items, what else might be the reward of a quest? If the quest itself if supposed to be the reward, how to make the quest itself rewarding?

Specific premise:

I am a new GM running a role-play heavy (mechanically simplistic) game with a single player.

We are using a home-brewed system with the basis of D&D, except everything is simplified to only the player's bases stats and inventory. The PC does not use magic or complex skills/abilities.

My PC is trying to gather a total of 2000 gold as the campaign's end-game goal; the context was that she was a modern human being trapped in a fantasy world, and have to gather enough money to pay/persuade the local church to open a portal and send her home.

Story-wise the current campaign revolves around the PC taking various quests posted in a city. Different factions are at conflict around the city, clues suggesting the existence of such conflicts are scattered throughout the quests as the PC attempts them.

I have operating under the assumption that if I envision a sufficiently dynamic, consistent and detail fictional world, the campaign will eventually collide with the greater-scale conflicts and become more engaging. This has yet to happen.

Specific problem:

I suspect that the player is not interested in the quests—which were taken in the form of job-posts from a post-board, and consecutive quests have little direct correlation to one another, at least superficially.

The player is blazing past information, ignoring most environmental and social presences and focused on the completion of each quest. I cannot adequately assess the player's level of engagement due to inexperience.

How should I improve my quest-designs? If I should start by understanding the player's points of interest, how should I find that out? How should I respond possible player interests given their areas of focus? (E.g., if my player enjoys social interaction, how should I modify my quest to suit that need? Etc.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ We're going to have some major trouble answering this with zero information about the game you're using and its goals. Fundamentally materialistic games may value materialistic rewards, fundamentally social ones may favour social rewards like new allies, etc. Coming into it without this information people may make incorrect default assumptions about what's of value in your game and give unuseful advice on that basis. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 7 '18 at 23:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener You are correct, although I think an important part of what the game's value is depends on that of the player's interest, which, I know little about in this particular case, and I thought that answers assuming different values for a game can be helpful nevertheless, if not to me personally, than to GMs in general. \$\endgroup\$ – user289661 Apr 8 '18 at 0:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user289661 A start would be: are you running a homebrew system, or an established system? If the latter, what's the name? What kind of fantasy story are you exploring? Mystery investigation, fighting & looting, political intrigue, etc? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 8 '18 at 0:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the player new to role-playing games? Further—as it may be relevant to the answers—, if the player's not yet an adult, what's the player's age? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 8 '18 at 1:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be honest, I don't want to help GMs in general, with general and abstract players. I want to help you, in your situation, with your player. I am also struggling to say anything useful, though, so I will ask: How did you come be GMing a solo game for someone whose interests you don't understand? Understanding how to engage this player is going to be the key. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Apr 8 '18 at 14:51
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Try asking

"Friend, what are you excited to do during this game? I seem to be putting in the wrong stuff, since you're blowing past lots of the information, places, and people I've been designing. What are you finding rewarding in our game so far, and what's missing? What should I be focusing on instead?"

Every player is different, and players can have very different feelings for what is rewarding. We can penetrate your player's possible poker face even less than you can. Asking directly for the knowledge you're missing for improving the game is a pretty good way to proceed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, this. You're not well-acquainted with the player, and you're not well-acquainted with her character. While there are lot of ways to ask, you're still left in the position of needing to do so. 7SD's phrasing is perfectly good, but I will add an additional caveat-- however you ask, make it clear you are asking in order to accommodate, not to accuse. If they don't know or can't articulate, then you have a different problem, which gets different advice. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Apr 8 '18 at 19:28
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You don't need better quests. You need a better hero.

So, you've got someone who journeys from Metropole to Dobravia, but Metropole is full of things they love. So full that they're willing to risk their lives on a daily basis in Dobravia to earn their passage back to Metropole.

This is not a new story. It's the story of a sizable number of the soldiers and laborers of colonial powers throughout history.

And the story doesn't usually involve any of these people cultivating any particular love for the people and politics and struggles of Dobravia, except perhaps as it impacts their ability to do their jobs and get paid.

To care about the world, you must first care about the world.

Because Dobravia isn't their world. Metropole is. When they go back to Metropole, they can just stop caring about Dobravia entirely. As long as they're motivated by money, even "caring" about Dobravia is, in the worst potential case, something they have to pretend to do just well enough to get paid and get back to Metropole.

Because that's the assumption you have, right? Metropole is important enough to this person that they're willing to put themselves in danger to earn enough to get back there. As long as things stay exactly as straightforward as that, nothing's going to change.

They don't have to be that straightforward, of course. Here are some reasons for someone from Metropole to care about Dobravia:

  • Dobravia is Metropole, or rather, the past of Metropole. Everything you're doing to earn money might be destroying your own history. What do you remember from the textbooks, or are those changing on you, too?
  • Your passage to Dobravia was no accident. If you can't figure out why and how you came here, not only will you not be able to return home and stay there, but some of the things you love will be stolen from Metropole.
  • Metropole isn't real; you are the dream of a dead civilization's dream of your evil monster dad. (I don't recommend this one.)

If this is your problem, it's a good problem to have.

It's possible, of course, that your player has arrived at their decision not to care about your world and its people and their struggles independently of any of the things you've deliberately said and done.

It's also possible that your player is willing to play along with everything you've set up, and is reading your (unintentional) signals correctly, waiting for the twist to give them a reason to care.

If you don't intend to introduce a twist, it's probably better just to talk to them now.

But if I've talked you into introducing one, you should probably introduce it first and wait to see what happens. Someone who is independently not caring will continue to not care, and at that point it's safe to ask them what they're looking to get out of this game.

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