Quest Dialogue Design Philosophy Question

One of the challenges inherent in Computer Role Playing Games (CRPGs) not present in tabletop RPGs, is ‘dialogue thoroughness.’

For example in a tabletop RPG, when a Player Character (PC) is offered a quest, the player can decided to 1) Accept it, 2) Negotiate the terms & conditions, 3) Consider it, or 3) Refuse it. The Game Designer can decide ahead of time exactly what is/is not negotiable and how the NPCs will react to the PC(s) accepting, considering, negotiating, or refusing.

However, in a CRPG (e.g NWN 1 or 2), the Game Designer has to identify the various states of a quest (at a minimum: offer, negotiate, consider, accept, refuse, accepted but haven’t departed, quest is ongoing, quest completed but no reward yet, & rewarded) and write the dialogue for one or more NPCs taking into account the various states. Doing so is more immersive than not doing so, and gives the player more agency.

But is it really worth it? How thorough must the dialogues really be? There is not unlimited time and energy at the disposal of the Game Designer. Given that most PCs will accept a quest and those that don’t can just decide to not complete the quest. Why bother writing all the dialogue to cajole the PC into accepting a given quest?

What do you think? Is it jarring for the player to always accept a quest? Or do you take the time and effort to script options to negotiate, consider, refuse and then have the NPCs cajole or threaten the PCs? Or do you give only two choices, accept and refuse, the latter resulting in an automatic quest failure?

For that matter, is it worth the effort to take into account a PC’s appearance (race), sex, class, alignment, etc.?

Personally, I’m leaning heavily towards the PC automatically accepting the quest and then let the player decide whether or not to actually complete it. And not bothering to take into account appearance, class, sex, alignment, etc. in order to save time, debugging, and testing effort.

What are your thoughts?

Coding quest refusal takes almost no extra time, so why not? But I used this only for very few quests. Most of the time, when player refuses, the npc will simply treat him as “not given the quest yet”. And that takes absolutely no effort to do.

But yes thanks to all different states, quests are painful to do thoroughly. And players like it when they are made this way. I have some older quests on my PW that has no journal update and no special texts in conversations and players already requested these quests to be updated onto “new standard”.

For myself, I only write the alternative options when I plan on having them be important to the overall story - paraphrasing Rene’ Descartes and RUSH - not choosing to do the quest is choosing the OTHER quest.

Given that build time is limited, I try to go for variety.

So, most quests are automatically accepted, but some can be declined, with two flavours -

  • quest closes with a journal entry “I guess I’ll never know”
  • quest remains open “in case you change your mind” but auto-closes on some event (such as entering the endgame)

A few allow negotiation (with or without Persuade check).

Meaningful negotiation is hard work, involving multiple win-win options e.g. “I keep the sword but give you two thirds of the other loot”.

Players know that declining quests generally means losing out, so there’s little point to the decline option, unless the quest is evil or otherwise dubious.

Certainly as a player I always appreciate it when conversations and quests take into account sex, appearance/race, class, alignment as well as options to accept, consider, negotiate (persuade, intimidate, & bluff), as well as refuse.

I also think that it’s important to be consistent, that is to ensure that all quests and most convos fit whatever standard you establish for your module or PW.

What I’m trying to figure out is what the “standard” should be. Not what the minimum should be per se, but what will work for most of the players most of the time, given that I don’t have an infinite amount of time to thoroughly design and test for all possible options & combinations.

Yes, I agree that there’s little point to decline since a player may change their mind later. Of course events may close a quest. And I think there’s a roleplaying opportunity to refuse quests that conflict with your character. The obvious example being a paladin refusing an obviously evil quest.

Another thought occurred to me. In Diablo II, the NPCs in the Rogue Encampment will cajole the PC to accept a quest (e.g. Den of Evil) if they haven’t already. While this adds a level of immersion to the adventure, in practical terms it only works plot quests, i.e. main quests. For example, if a PC has been offered Quests A, B, & C then the NPC can’t possible cajole the PC into accepting all three quests. It must be a situation where Quest A must be accepted in order for the plot to be advanced. Thus, the player has no agency at all. It’s no different from choosing to play the adventure or not. Therefore, I don’t see any value in giving a PC a Consideration choice with a resulting NPC cajoling. Unless the Consideration choice led to a Negotiation activity. And certainly if the quest was optional, there’s no benefit to cajoling the PC.

So at the very least, I think I can safely strike the “Cajole the PC into accepting the Quest Giver’s quest” convo branch.

Most of the time, I have the alternative to refuse a quest, and in a few instances not.
I should probably be consistent with these sort of things but I haven’t been, and that’s not good, I know.
I rarely take into account ex, appearance/race, class, alignment when it comes to accepting quests though. In other aspects of roleplaying with dialogue I might concentrate more on that. I find it more fun for the player to try to play the role and act according to the role he/she plays than the stats of their character.
When I played PnP with friends back in the old days, we chose to focus much more on that, but then I have never played “real D&D”, but a local variation of that game in my country. It was a lot of fun back then, and that’s what I’m trying to create with my modules.

By the way, in my second module I actually had a “hidden” system that made it so that if the player refused a certain number of side quests they were given quite a lot XP for it. Why? Because in reality they would probably never have done all this unnecessary stuff but instead have focused on the main mission, and I wanted to reward that. If the player would have tried that, I don’t think anyone has discovered this in this module though, they would have found this “easter egg”. I’ve always found it fascinating in some games that you are told that this main thing is really urgent, and then you can go around and do all these side missions instead. If the game does it right, “newer” games I’ve found have been better at this, then it
doesn’t tell the player that “You really need to do this now!”. There’s one particular older game that really failed at this, that made me stop playing it altogether actually, but it was a real old-school computer rpg that I never got around to play back in the day.

And that’s why I love watching Viva la Dirt League playing D&D because they really go into their roles, which makes it so much fun, and most of the time haven’t got a clue as to the rules. I think I can recognize myself somewhat in that. For me that’s what role playing is all about, playing a character.

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The roleplaying part is one of the ways that NWN can differentiate itself from games like the Diablo series. The trade-off of course, is time & effort. I’m with you in enjoyment of roleplaying and PnP games. Which is exactly why I struggling to develop a model or standard to follow that is the right balance between roleplaying and design & testing effort.

That’s an interesting idea regarding XP for refusing a lot of side quests.

In terms of completing quests within a certain amount of time, I think @Proleric has done a lot of good work in that area, if I recall correctly. Ideally, that would be the strategic decision on the player’s part, balancing side quests with completing the main quests in time.

Also, in the first Witcher game I recall there were a number of quests that once completed, automatically shut down other quests even if those were in progress – which impressed me. In order for a player to have real choices, there must be real consequences.

I don’t think that giving XP for refusing a quest, ie. doing nothing, is any good idea.

It might depend on the environment, but even in very quest centric environment where there are hundreds of quest, I wouldn’t do it. If the player doesn’t want to do quests on such server / in such SP module, he choosed badly and should start somewhere/something else.

In my environment, where you can level up quite fast from killing monsters and quests are relatively new content, I didn’t even bother giving a huge advantages/rewards for it. As I see it, the quest itself is a reward and an unique content for a players who like doing quests. Hence giving someone XP for refusing to do them would be stupid.

To be precise, there are four time-critical quests in Enigma Island Part 3. To get maximum XP, the player needs to prioritise those described as urgent. They are presented as dilemmas - follow orders, help friends or protect tenants - but there is ample time to do them all if distractions are ignored.

Since failure is no fun, the module can be completed even if the urgent quests time out, so they are really just bonuses on the main quest, but do focus attention there.

A key reason for doing this was to reward the player for riding horses or using the fastest available ship, which determine the time taken to travel between cities.

Some players complained of being stressed out by the time pressure, but I’m not sure how prevalent that was. No one said they enjoyed that aspect, though perhaps some did!

As a player, I think I’d actually prefer it if you didn’t have to accept every single quest, because the way quests are handled often seems rather formulaic because of that convention and not very immersive. I almost always accept them anyway so I don’t miss out on any content, unless they don’t fit my PC’s alignment or what I would enjoy doing. But even then, I sometimes accept them first, despite not meaning to go through with them, just to see whether there are alternative ways to solve them. From an RP point of view, I also don’t like my PC officially making promises for all kinds of trivial quests when their main concern should be something more urgent. So I wouldn’t mind at all if quests were just treated as things you hear about (NPC x wants y done) and as such automatically added to the journal, and then you could still decide for yourself whether to follow up on these leads or not.

You could still give the player dialogue options to comment on the quests for RP reasons, e.g. allow them to say something affirmative or dismissive or whatever, but without tying it to quest variables. For example, the PC could say “Do you really think I care about your stray chickens? I have better things to do with my time, peasant!”, and yet the journal would say “Farmer Bob is looking for his stray chickens” regardless, and the quest would be in progress anyway, so that the player could always change their mind if they happen to come across the lost animals.

The only reason I can think of why some players might not like this approach is if they hate their journal being cluttered with “incomplete” entries until the end of the game. But personally, I think I could live with it. And of course, some quests would still require the PC accepting first, like when the NPC gives you an item to bring to someone else or when you are meant to escort someone right there and then.

I wouldn’t mind skipping the negotiation part either, that also feels kind of game-y to me. But if a module doesn’t make use of Persuasion/Bluff/Intimidate skills at all, it is helpful if the module description warns about it, so that players won’t waste points.

Taking into account appearance, class, sex alignment, etc. is a nice bonus when well done, but not a necessity, with the exception that I don’t want my female PCs addressed as males (he, his, boy etc.) - that would definitely bother me and break immersion. But if you mean NPCs not treating PCs differently because of their sex (e.g. this quest is just for males, or whatever), that’s fine by me.

That being said, for me the most important thing is that a module appears polished and consistent in its rules. I will quickly adapt to an author’s personal preferences and individual rules provided they are easy to grasp, fit with the overall design of the module, and their implementation doesn’t feel arbitrary or sloppy. I don’t really care for an universal standard that would make all modules feel the same. Dare to be different!


This could be helped with custom tokens.

Create a single, low priority quest named “Notes” (or whatever) with <CUSTOMnnnn> content. Then populate this token with initial quest data like you wrote (X wants Y but player hasn’t committed to it) or other useful information PC received during the journey.

In easiest form new entries could be simply prepended to the existing token value:


This should be doable even in 1.69 with just a single script.

Editing is harder, but still doable.