There is a long running, yet still current debate on the Mud Dev2 mailing list about “the future of quests”. One of the interesting aspects of this discussion revolves around whether or not there is an “uncanny valley” in quests.
One type of quest, that I’d certainly put in the “uncanny valley” of quests, is the story arc quest. This generally amounts to a single player (or group) subgame where the players play through the same series of quests while leveling up; somehow saving the world along the way. Everyone on the server gets to save the world! Generally, hardcore roleplay worlds do not have this type of quest. Another types of quest that I’d rank as being in the uncanny valley, or as dancing elephants, are the short story types. These are similar to the epic quest chains, but on a smaller scale. I’m not talking about the sort of short, fedex, “deliver this package to the smith” types of quests typically put in for newbies. Delivery boy quests can probably be repeated endlessly without breaking immersion.
On one NWN world that I knew only as a player, there was a bear. This bear killed a man. His friend would give a tidy sum of XP to anyone who brought the head to him. This would be nice little side quest in a single player campaign. The problem was that you could complete the quest once per server reset; and NWN servers usually reset their state (but not character persistence) every 24 hours. How many times had this bear died? How many times had this bear killed this man? Were they trapped in some sort of groundhog day scenario? Moreover, the server was configured to automatically reset when empty. Despite being reasonably popular by NWN world standards (10-20 players on at peak hours), it would usually be empty after the North America based players went to bed and the European players had not come home from work/class. This meant that if you were in Europe and home sick from work one morning, you could repeat this quest a dozen times by exiting for a few minutes after each completion.
The standard of RP was very high on this world, but this did not help immersion one bit. Players generally roleplayed around it, but it was forced RP; a form of acting. It did not come from being completely immersed.
On another NWN world, which I’d worked on as a builder, DM and sometime admin, there were several quests that I’d regarded as very nice and I was responsible for creating some of them. Basically, they were long treks to go hunt down boss type evildoers. They would have been great; had it been a single player or multiplayer campaign. Again, these were daily repeatables.
The questions for me where the answers are not at all clear are:
Is there any kind of place for these quests that are well crafted, but ultimately immersion breaking in a virtual world environment? Would they be acceptable if they were only doable once? Under what conditions would they be acceptable?