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I'm creating a one shot where a group of adventures get an invitation from an old wizard to get together and play a game with him. This game consists of pushing the players to their moral limits through a series of assignments that start with stealing something small and end up with them killing people in the streets.

However, I am struggling with how I should give these assignments to the PCs without it being a generic chain quest. I was thinking about the old wizard giving them spell scrolls of sending to use when they complete something to get the new assignment, or giving them a set of letters to open up after they are done.

These options both feel like "oh you are done with this? now go do this." and I feel that that would come off a bit cheap.

The assignments will mostly consist of small orders like robbing someone, or stealing something in the beginning, and increase in "evilness" to something like murder of clearly innocent people

The group has the choice to either go full evil and just go with what the wizard wants, or don't do it and rebel against him. There will also be a second group (NPCs) playing the wizards game who will take the opposite choice of what the PCs will take to eventually face off against them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome! I have made an edit to the question in an attempt to improve wording. If I changed your intent or you don't like it for any reason feel free to either revert it or edit your question again. Regardless, this seems like an interesting question to me. Thank you for participating and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Jul 4 '18 at 10:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may also be interested in this related question: How to succesfully make one quest naturally lead to the next? \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Jul 4 '18 at 10:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ What motivation do the characters have to go along with the wizard? I assume they're not supposed to just go along with because they think stealing things and killing people on the streets is fun? \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jul 4 '18 at 14:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ How do you have time for more than a single quest in a one-shot. To be clear you do mean a single session taking somewhere between 3 and 5 hours right? (I've run longer, but in that case I structured it as a short campaign in 1 day) \$\endgroup\$ – Lyndon White Jul 4 '18 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave See this FAQ for why your comment was removed. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 4 '18 at 15:24
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If it's a game the PC:s are engaged in, both options you mention can work really well. As long as the chained events are given as a premise at the beginning, the players should not feel that it's cheap. However, the question was more about how to camouflage the chain.

The faux choice

This is like a magic trick in that it can feel cheap when you know the trick, but still looks good from the outside.

Let's say that the wizard gives the players three scrolls. Each scroll contains an assignment, but the only thing they can read without breaking the seal is the location of the assignment. They now have three different assignment locations and get to choose in which order to complete them.

However, the assignments you have prepared always come in a certain order. The players only choose where they take place. This makes it possible for you to chain the events any way you want, but you add an element of false choice.

Afraid that the PC:s will open all scrolls and then choose what order to do them in? The wizard can hold on to the scrolls and only give them their chosen one. If you want them to have all scrolls, make them choose the order before leaving the wizard. The wizard now enchants them so that the second scroll cannot be opened before the first scroll is completed.

The committee

You can have the wizard do this by himself, but it feels more natural if you have more people that he can discuss with. Let's say nine wizards instead.

The PC:s are only given one task. The specifics of the task should be a bit open for interpretation and upon completion the committee of wizards cannot agree on if the task was completed or failed. In order to resolve it, they give the PC:s a new task. As this goes on, it can become apparent that the wizards are only playing with the PC:s. Deal with the shenanigans of the wizard or forfeit the substantial reward.

Chain the chains

The wizard gives out a number of assignments at once. When they're completed, the PC:s will have to go back for more. The trick? The assignments given can be completed in any order, but it is fairly obvious that there is a preferred order.

  • A corrupt nobleman has a prized statue. There are a lot of guards and wards though and fighting will most likely break out.
  • A low level thief just came over a powerful set of enchanted lockpicks. Steal them from the apartment.
  • In a vault in the bank there is an amulet that grants massive buffs. The bank has few guards since they recently installed high security magical locks.

The lockpicks will be useful in the bank and the amulet will tip the balance in favor of the PC:s when fighting. When the PC:s return with all three items they recieve a new package of assignments.

Reverse the chain

Give the PC:s the last assignment. While attempting it, they find they need something else first. In order to procure this item they first need to... You get the drift. The PC:s have one step to complete, but in order to complete it they need to complete another step.

This can feel a bit forced, but I've always preferred it as a player since I always have a clear goal in sight. It also lends itself well to altering or bypassing events if needed.


As a GM, I do a lot of railroading. Sometimes I do it without planning for it. About two years ago I wrote a one-shot adventure where I thought the players had plenty of options, but each group I played it with went the exact same route. It might have been a coincident, but I think a more likely explanation is that the events had a logical order of increasing resistance. Searching through the room in the mansion you're already in is simple. You would rather go to the apartment of the missing person to look for clues first, rather than the place where she works. And so on.

Chains are hard to cover up, especially since they're very common and the players will recognize them easily. The key here shold not be to try to hide the chains too much, but make them more comfortable to bear.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Reversing. What I don't like about chain is being "blind" and only seeing one step at a time. With reversing, I know the end goal from the beginning, and, optionally, I have some leeway in achieving the sub-steps that lead there. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Jul 4 '18 at 13:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Faux choice is a quantum troll. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Jul 4 '18 at 14:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or 'overlap' quests - when travelling through Dungeon 1, you find Magical Trinket B. The wizard identifies that it needs returning to Paladin 3 in City D - but in getting to him you become embroiled in an uprising against the King in the local castle. Add in hints that the Wizard might be involved in causing the events & what started as "kill badguy" and "return stolen property" seques into "depose rightful ruler and put Wizard on throne". By having them unintentionally start the quest already, they (should) go "We've started so we'll finish" \$\endgroup\$ – Chronocidal Jul 4 '18 at 15:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for reversing as well. Even if the goal is too hard right now a clever party will look for ways to make it easier and build the chain themselves organically. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 5 '18 at 10:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ One option is have the wizard a hidden character that manipulates random unrelated NPCs. So while the wizard is never seen or spoken too, he is driving the nobleman, the random farmer, etc to give specific tasks. Then over time you can reveal hints of this and then the players can slowly learn they are being manipulated from the shadows. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Harun Jul 5 '18 at 10:31
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Since the players get an invitation by the wizard specifically saying (as I read it)

to get together and play a game with him.

this may actually be a case were a linear quest chain makes perfect sense to the players and their characters.


However, since that doesn't really address your question, you may want to consider making some quests prerequisites for solving or even fully understanding other quests.

I played a campaign once where there was a chain of around a dozen quests waiting to be solved. Some of them really just were assigned to the characters upon completion of the previous task. Others were "batch quests", like "You will need to do X", but to find out what exactly is meant by X (the Quest texts tended to be quite cryptic), first go to [place] and do Y, and to find the means to achieve X, go to [other place] and find and retrieve [key to solution of the problem which you will have identified and understood in the previous step].

Example: "Ok, looks like we will have to get rid of some sort of evil in that vaguely described area (Quest 3), but instead of going there unprepared (and likely dying), let's first gather information on the "where?" and "what?" (Quest 1) and then get our hands on something that helps us defeat this apparently near-invincible thingy (Quest 2)."

So essentially there were subquests attached to main quests, and while in theory the characters were free to choose the exact sequence in which to solve these tasks, they were constructed in such a way that the players naturally chose the "correct" order.

Whether or not this is applicable to your case will probably depend on the exact means the old wizard is able / willing to employ to set up this game as well as on the guy's resources.


Admittedly, this solution does feel a bit like holding the players' hands, on the other hand, in the circumstances you have in mind, this (to me) seems to make sense (just as it made sense to us in the context of the abovementioned campaign).


Edit: Disclaimer: I never played D&D. The experiences I am referring to in this answer are based on a different fantasy RPG. I still took the liberty of writing an answer, because despite the D&D tag, this seems more like a general GM topic.

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You have a series of tasks that need to be done for the quest chain. There are two options:

  1. Keep them as a linear chain and tell your players that's what you're doing, if your players know what to expect a linear game can still be a lot of fun. This may mean they realise what the wizard is up to though so the other option is to:
  2. Break up the linear storyline and keep your players guessing. To do this you need "fillers"; fillers are small quests or encounters that often take a lot of game time but not a lot of play time.

    • For example the mayor of the town the party are staying in asks them to travel two or three weeks down river and back, escorting his daughter home, he'll pay them well and the trip is largely dull but with an encounter that the party can talk or chop their way through.

    • As they're being pushed morally such encounters should get more and more choppy to encourage the players to stop thinking of talking as an option. The point of filler is to make the party feel like they're doing a lot that's off the linear path without it being (A) time consuming for you in terms of setting up and (B) taking much time out of any given gaming session.

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