Quest vs. Adventure vs. Journey

Which to use, and why?


Quest: Trip to accomplish a specific task.

Adventure: Trip without a destination.

Journey: When the trip is more important than the destination.

I borrowed those definitions from a writing blog. Here’s the link. I also realize that we could define those terms differently. But for the purposes of thinking about plots and character motivation in D&D and RPGs, I think those definitions are a wonderful starting point.

The Quest

“Go to {X} and get {Y}.” That’s the formula for the classic “fetch quest” in video games and tabletop RPGs. There’s a defined end condition or goal. And quests like this (and many others) have their place in RPGs.

In a larger sense, many adventure modules that span multiple levels are simply long quests. Curse of Strahd is a quest to kill Strahd and escape Barovia. It’s one of the best-reviewed D&D adventures ever, and it rarely strays from this singular focus. So you can build an entire campaign around just one or two strong quests.

“There’s a defined end condition or goal. And quests like this (and many others) have their place in RPGs.”

The Adventure

“We’re seeking glory and adventure, and will aid those in need.” This is a classic beginning to an adventure. Eventually you’ll end up with a specific goal or quest, but it might be one in a series of quests, where the reasons for doing so are more personal and without a specific end condition.

A lot of homebrew, character-focused campaigns are in this mold. The adventurers might roll into a town and help them with their trouble (or make things worse!), but then they’ll be onto the next one.

When you go out on the town in real life for an adventure, you end up doing specific things, but you don’t necessarily have the activities in mind at the start. You simply head out and see what strikes your fancy. Adventuring in D&D is kind of like that.

The Journey

“The real treasure is the friends you made along the way.” Ok, that one is a little sappy for my taste, but it’s a classic example of the journey being more important than the destination.

I read a fascinating module about a town with a witch, and the entire adventure revolves around figuring out who in the town is the witch. The twist is that there is no witch, but over the course of the module, the players may end up doing some morally ambiguous things and giving into the paranoia sweeping the town, before they discover the truth.

It’s an odd duck of a module. I may do a video about it sometime. But it’s very much a Journey-style scenario, because as players, you can calm the townsfolk and prevent – say – people being burned at the stake. Or you can give into that and try to root out a nonexistent threat. You can be friends, saviors, pariahs and murderhobos, or anything in between. And it’s that journey to the end point that is the entire point of the module.

The Choice

Players, which of those do you prefer? DMs, which do your players prefer? The answer is likely “some of each” depending on the specific game you’re playing. I’d argue that a lot of campaigns use elements of all three. But I think it helps to think about hooks and motivations in this way, so that you can provide a variety in your game. Or perhaps less of a variety, but more of a focused experience once you’ve determined what fits best.

Either way, there’s a full spectrum of quest/adventure/journey types available to you in D&D. Enjoy playing with all of them!

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