Quest (writing)

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Synonyms: adventure, questing
See also: interactive fiction
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A quest is a piece of interactive fiction, largely played on imageboards and forums, where one person tells a story whose course is decided by the audience. One fan described them as "sort of halfway points between long-form roleplaying and traditional serialized fiction."[1] Quests can be original works or fanfiction and may involve text, art, animation, sound, and/or minigames. Fannish quests frequently follow either a single canon character or a single original character — for example, in The Second Uchiha (Naruto) the audience plays as Uchiha Sasuke and in PREQUEL (The Elder Scrolls) the audience plays as a Khajiit OC., a popular questing imageboard, defines quests in their FAQ:

A Quest is a type of roleplaying game done over the internet. One person runs the quest, creating the world and its inhabitants, as well as a protagonist. Everyone else tells this protagonist what to do, and then the one running the Quest lets their actions play out.


tgchan's wiki defines quests this way:

Quests are interactive stories in which one person posts pictures and events, and the other posts decide how to behave. This produces a collaborative story.[3]

Quests on tgchan tend to have more art and be more open-ended options than quests on forums like Sufficient Velocity. The SV essay "Interactive Fiction: A History of Questing" notes that, "There’s nothing approaching a formal definition by anyone anywhere."[4] It then goes on to give several examples over the history of questing of activities that are only obviously quests in retrospect.

Sufficient Velocity's Introduction to Questing thread defined them this way in 2014:

Quest Master (QM) presents scenario, participants vote on a path to take, QM resolves action generating a new derivative scenario, participants vote on path to take, QM resolves action generating a new derivative scenario, repeat.[5]

The QM might also be called Game Master (GM) or sometimes author, although the QM may draw the quest rather than or in addition to writing it, depending on what kind of quest they're producing. Participants might also be called voters, readers, or questers.

On websites and forums where quests are produced, original and fanwork quests often cohabitate side-by-side. Both kinds may have fanart or recursive fanfictionomakes written by readers are very popular on Sufficient Velocity, where they'll sometimes be declared canon by the Quest Master. Analysis and debate are also frequent fannish activities surrounding quests, as participants will speculate about foreshadowing or discuss what course of action might be best.


The quest genre has its roots in text adventure games, filtered through a somewhat confusing mix of websites.

Interactive fiction is the official term for what most people think of as text-based video game adventures. These started out with just text, wherein the game would describe a situation and the reader would attempt to guess the exact right phrasing to complete an action, but eventually progressed to having pictures, and then eventually became obsolete.

"Interactive Fiction: A History of Questing" described text-based adventures as frustrating and unsatisfying:

Text-based commands were a dead end of video game UIs. You can't program a computer to respond meaningfully to every possible input, not even the ones that make perfect sense. The player could never devise an unexpected solution, or interact meaningfully with characters, or do anything except guess what the game designer wanted them to type in next. To do anything more elaborate, you need a human at the other end of the screen, doing fresh writing and creating art assets on the fly.[4]

The 4chan board /b/ was home to a great deal of interactive comics in 2005, where "attention whoring"[4] led to artists drawing requests and ideas very quickly in response to input from posters on /b/.

Andrew Hussie, who later created Homestuck, started the forum game Jailbreak in 2006. "Interactive Fiction: A History of Questing" explains that Hussie was doing this nowhere near 4chan, but in retrospect it was probably the first ever quest:

He posted a picture of a person trapped in a jail cell and asked for suggestions about what to do.

When someone asked to examine the pumpkin, he erased it and asserted there had never been a pumpkin there, thus establishing a new genre and the bedrock of his later artistic career. Somehow.

This was basically a goofy parody of Interactive Fiction/Adventure Games, where people would write a post as if it were the computer's text interface, and the author would dutifully jerk them around and frustrate them, as is traditional for such games. Only with hindsight do we call it a Quest. I can't say for certain that it was the first, but it's the first I've found a record of.[4]

The starting screen of Bard Quest, an interactive webcomic by Homestuck's Andrew Hussie that influenced the Quest genre

Hussie's Bard Quest — a parody of King's Quest — came in 2007, and along with Jailbreak inspired the /b/ user Weaver to attempt "a more serious, narrative approach to the medium"[4], Ruby Quest. Ruby Quest was relocated to 4chan's /tg/ board, which is a board for traditional gaming. /tg/ was a slightly better fit for Ruby Quest than /b/, though still not perfect. Ruby Quest was massively popular, however, spawning discussion threads.

Instead of mocking the Adventure Game paradigm, Weaver embraced it. He leveraged the medium to create tension. Audience interaction created immersion. Bad suggestions could result in failure and character death, and for perhaps the first time, the audience actually gave a shit about that.[4]

Ruby Quest spawned fanart, discussion, speculation, and imitators. Quests "transformed from an experiment to a medium. Soon, 'Ruby Quest Discussion' threads became 'Quest Discussion,' and the medium had a name."[4] Eventually the quests became so great and so annoying to the non-questing users of /tg/ that they were banned altogether. Thus, was founded and it remains a central questing site to this day, although the 4chan ban on questing was lifted in 2011.

The shift away from 4chan and to new sites brought on a new form of quest: where quests had always been Art Quests on 4chan, now there were Text Quests, consisting of large amounts of prose instead of quick pictures. Quests as fanfiction became popular at this time because "using an established universe allows an author to leverage preexisting interest in a setting, in characters, in events. An audience simply arrives at the first post already knowing what the setting is, how it works, its major players, and what sort of action you have in store for them."[4] tgchan is also where dice and numbers-crunching started to happen, although that's not a feature of all quests.

SpaceBattles had a lot of crossover with 4chan around the time that the ban on quests was rescinded, and around the same time the versus threads (wherein users debate who would win in a hypothetical fight, etc) were becoming detailed and very involved. "As was the case on /tg/, a large body of roleplayers created a receptive environment for quests."[4]

Roleplaying, fanfiction, and Quests got very, very big on Spacebattles, and the communities interacted to further modify one another. Original-setting Quests became even more rare, and unlike /tg/, Spacebattles was largely oblivious to the medium's Art Quest roots. You had an entire community of Quest authors who had never even heard of Ruby Quest, much less Jailbreak.[4]

SpaceBattles gave rise to the Sufficient Velocity and Questionable Questing forum communities.

Format and Mechanics

The initial few posts from HatchQuest, a 2009 quest on tgchan, a 4chan-style questing BBS. The creator invites readers to make suggestions for the quest, in the style of MS Paint Adventures. Some users roll dice to help with their decisions, while others make suggestions. One user jokingly references Homestuck ("Remove arms from eggshell").

For Text Quests on forums, the format tends to be:

  • An author writes a "chapter" covering story events.
  • The author allows readers to choose "what happens next", whether by voting on multiple-choice character actions, writing elaborate plans, or some combination thereof.
  • The author incorporates those choices into their next update of the story.[1]

On imageboards, things tend to move faster. One fan explains:

I'm used to quests being run on imageboards where each thread would only exist for a few hours, and needing to archive binge to catch up. It's like seeing it frozen in time almost, all the arguments and excitement and salt still there but drained of energy.[6]

Questing has a fair bit of overlap with RPGs and play-by-post roleplaying. The main difference is that "in a quest, the players vote for a character(s)/nation/etc. action through a community consensus, whereas an RP usually has each player controlling one or more of own characters."[7] When it comes to rules, dice rolls, and RPG systems, "some QMs like to run very free form quests that don't have any specific rule system, some like to run very much rule heavy quests taken from other styles of role playing games, and others still run quests that fall somewhere in the middle."[7]

As in roleplaying, quests usually have a firm distinction between information that the players know and information that the characters know, usually referred to respectively as out of character (OOC) knowledge and in character (IC) knowledge. In play-by-post roleplaying using OOC knowledge to affect IC decision-making and actions is sometimes called "metagaming" and is considered a kind of cheating. This is likely often the case in quests, as SufficientVelocity's Intro to Questing! thread notes,

As a rule, do not attempt to use OOC knowledge with the QM's approval as being OOC will earn you the ire of most QMs.[7]

Discussion and debate are considered the hallmark of a good quest, as doing nothing but voting isn't considered very engaging; ideally participants should be attempting to convince each other of the best way to vote or justifying why their idea is in character. When one user asked for advice on how to get their voters to talk with each other, one reply explained:

It's real easy to just copy a vote over. It's much harder to go through the effort to sway people, make arguments, type out observations, and so on.

People who are more invested in the quest will put in the effort, generally. This requires, broadly, three things.

1: They care about what's happening. To speak from direct experience, I've often joined quests and voted in the hopes of being grabbed, but not really caring as such. People have to care about the ongoing events, the fates of the characters, and so on to, well, care.

2: They feel like votes matter. Voting for the +1 sword or the +2 sword doesn't really matter, obviously the +2 sword is better. Voting to wear red or blue probably doesn't really matter. And so on. When people feel like it matters which vote wins, they'll argue harder.

3: There are arguments to be made. For example, voting on the strategy to use in combat, people can argue for the consequences they expect from different strategies (and therefore which is best).

If you don't have all three, people tend to not get invested in voting, or at least not arguing. They feel like their vote doesn't matter, because the choices will pan out the same, or they don't care about events, so why vote or at least why do more than the minimum, or they care, but there's nothing to actually say (because the only arguments amount to 'well I like x').[8]

Quests can fail if the participants make bad choices. Failure of a quest generally means that "the PC dies or ends up in such an untenable position that further play is no longer practical. The players tried a big gamble and the rolls just didn't work out. A series of bad decisions/luck made things unrecoverable. That sort of thing."[9]

One QM explains failed quests from their point of view:

In my games at least, I can spot bad ends from quite far off, because I can measure with a fair degree of objectivity how well the players are playing. If I am certain that the players are not playing well enough to get the good end, and I cannot correct them with the hints that I'm willing to give, I drop the game immediately. My motivation works on what I call "future-pull", where I am pulled forward by anticipation of all the good things that I have planned for the future. If the players will never reach those things, then the game is not worth running.

I may answer questions for players that I like, but that should take place in PMs, not in the abandoned thread which is now an eyesore. I will then study the causes on my end that lead to the game being a flop (insufficient thematic focus, unclear mechanics, etc.) and make sure not to make those same mistakes next time.[10]

Fannish Quests

Fanwork quests are considered to have an advantage when it comes to attracting readers, securing voter engagement, and allowing folks to jump right in:

Discussion tends to center around the events of the story, the tools at hand, the setting as a whole. The more tools, the more threats, the more complex metaphysics or magic or hard gameplay systems of the quest, the more there is to talk about.

The chattiest quests tend to be the ones where there are piles of things to connect and talk about. Fanwork quests have a natural inbuilt advantage, in that eg a Naruto quest people can discuss the existing stuff, be it Chakra or the Akatsuki or what, but Original quests can create a depth of material themselves, they just have to work for it.

But the point is, the more points of possible discussion there are, the more discussion you tend to see- provided you meet my prior point of investment.[8]

Text Quests that use tricks to quickly give readers information, which can generate immediate interest and leverage it with action instead of lengthy exposition, will succeed over those that don't.

The answer is fanfiction.

Using an established universe allows an author to leverage preexisting interest in a setting, in characters, in events. An audience simply arrives at the first post already knowing what the setting is, how it works, its major players, and what sort of action you have in store for them.[4]

Glossary of Questing Terms

Types of Quests

Art Quest
A quest where the QM's updates are comprised of art. Popular on imageboards.
Character Quest
"...a staple of Questing. This particular style is one where the QM allows the players to take control of a singular character, in which the players are able to control and affect the decisions of as a collective." (Also sometimes called a Standard Quest.)[7]
Civilization Quest
"A form of Questing that involves the players taking control of a civilization as a whole, rather than a single character. [...] Civ Quests almost always find themselves having clearly delineated single update "turns," although if an important battle or bit of diplomacy happens that requires greater granularity it is possible to have multi-update turns." (Sometimes abbreviated to Civ Quest.)[7]
Text Quest
A quest where the QMs updates are comprised of text. Popular on forums.

Voting systems

Majority Wins
"Whichever action/vote get the most people supporting it, gets done." Considered the standard way to run a quest.[7]
"A very interesting twist on the standard Majority Wins style of voting, the Riot vote system is one where every vote is taken into account. What this means is that every vote is turned into an action, regardless of how many people support it. However, the more people who support an action/vote, the more time/bonuses/etc are applied to the action."[7]
Planning Rationality
"This kind of system is a little strange, not to mention rare, but is very much fun to play and interesting. While there are many bits of minutia this kind of system can have, most quests that feature this system will have the QM automatically veto an action that the character will not take In Character (IC) and/or the QM will take the plan of action that has the best reasoned argument."[7]
"A close cousin of the Riot style, this style of voting will have standard choices as in Riot or Majority Wins styles, but will have modifiers attached. This modifier represents just how [In Character] an action may be and votes for more IC options carry more weight. For example [1.0x], means a normal option that gets 1 vote per voter, while [0.7x] means getting .7 votes per voter, and [3.0x] means getting 3 votes per voter."[7]
"This interesting cousin of riot quests is unique in that it has a set player list and each player is a distinct character of a sort, who helps to make a communal decision; of which each player is often delegated a specific domain they have full control over. Think a circle of aristocrats deciding the fate of the country, partitioning either regions or responsibility. The players usually have full control over their area of responsibility, and shared control of the game's direction."[7]

Notable Fannish Examples

Lunar Quest [1] by JukashiFandom: ExaltedDate: 2009/12/08–2013/03/27Status: HiatusGenre: art quest
A quest with an original character set in the Exalted RPG setting, with all the stats, powers/ability, and resource bars involved therein (though no dice rolls). Separates out the quest itself from discussion threads.
Be the Sea-Dweller Lowblood [2] archive by ckret2Fandom: HomestuckDate: 2012–2013Status: DeadGenre: MSPA-style art quest
An art quest in the style of Homestuck. No stats or dice rolls determining actions, just the most interesting path to take. A very character-focused quest.
Marked for Death: a Rational Naruto Quest [3] by eaglejarl, VelorienFandom: NarutoDate: 2015/12/10Length: >1 million wordsStatus: WIPGenre: text quest
"an AU Naruto-verse quest by and for the rational fiction crowd. You play as a genin struggling to survive among a group of rogue ninja. The world is against you, hunter-nin are everywhere, and you forgot to bring your teddy bear, dammit." There is a complex stats, moves, and rolls system affecting how chosen actions play out. The player base is very invested in discussion, supposition, and planning, and come up with elaborate strategies.
Black Adventures [4] Fandom: PokemonDate: 2010/09–2014/03/18Length: 30 chaptersStatus: CompletedGenre: 4chan art quest turned webcomic
A quest arising in the /vp/ 4chan board (not a traditional place for quests), this began as an art quest and was changed to a webcomic so the author could have more control and planning over the plot. It doesn't have any RPG elements, and is entirely narrative. There are some references to other fandoms, such as Panty and Stocking
PREQUEL [5] by Kazerad (and various collaborators)Fandom: The Elder ScrollsDate: 12 March 2011–OngoingStatus: WIPGenre: MSPA-style art quest
A quest that started on the MSPA Forums but moved to its own website. Follows a Khajiit named Katia as she attempts to make a new life for herself and features flash videos and flash games. Kazerad has several collaborators who help with art, programming, music, etc. Prequel has covered six in-universe days in the 7 years it's been running; there are often large spans of time between update so that complex flash games and the like can be produced.
The Second Uchiha [6] by RepThe21stFandom: NarutoDate: Apr 20, 2015.–OngoingStatus: WIPGenre: text quest
"Direct Sasuke Uchiha's life to success, or to ruin..." A second-person text-based character quest that "successfully re-calibrates all of Sasuke's relationships based on how the players have voted"[11] and has a good deal of recursive fanfiction.

Further Reading

Archives and External Links


  1. ^ a b u/GaBeRockKing, Let's talk about Quests. Posted 24 December 2017. Accessed 18 October 2018.
  2. ^ Author and post date unknown, but probably on or after 10/05/09; retrieved from tgchan's FAQ on 19 October 2018. (archive)
  3. ^ Cruxador,'s wiki page on quests, 5 September 2009.‎
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ralson, Jun 30, 2015. Via Wayback Machine archive.
  5. ^ torrmercury, Dec 10, 2014. Via Wayback Machine archive.
  6. ^ NemoMarx, Good Completed Quests You'd Reccommend Posted Mar 14, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Intro to Questing! thread on Sufficient Velocity, which has many contributors.
  8. ^ a b Terrabrand, Oldies to Newbies / Newbies to Oldies - Getting the quest off the ground.archive Posted 10 September 2018.
  9. ^ Briefvoice, Quests that Ended in Failure? Posted 19 August 2018. Accessed 29 October 2018.
  10. ^ Red Flag, Quests that Ended in Failure? Posted 20 August 2018. Accessed 29 October 2018.
  11. ^ Myrrn, here, March 1st, 2016.
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