Anyone who has read our Forge of Imagination - Spark of an Idea knows that we think introducing missions is important. The old standards of you see a strange guy in a bar and he offers you a mission or even the Adventurers’ Guild has a bulletin board outside with job postings just don’t cut it at a certain level of experience. I think most of us GMs explain the price the quest giver is offering based on the difficulty of the mission and that this is what helps steer which party of adventurers would be willing to go. But how do the quest givers know?
I watch a lot of true crime stuff and my lack of faith in the criminal community is well placed. The number of “assassins” who botch jobs is far larger than those who execute them flawlessly. I think it is incredibly important for a quest giver to consider this when they are handing out missions. Let’s ignore the folks who are so desperate they will take anyone, and focus more on the quest givers who have something to lose.
There are all sorts of missions, but a lot of times they involve killing someone (or some group) or retrieving something of value. Especially with the retrieving something of value, the quest giver needs to be able to trust that these adventurers are not only capable of getting it, but of returning it carefully. The downside is huge. If they fail to get it, they just warned whoever has it that they need to increase security (well, maybe not increase, since it seems to have worked). If they do get it, let’s hope they don’t “break it”, but more importantly, what’s to stop them from trying to blackmail the quest giver for more money? Why should the quest giver trust them?
The answer is typically because they have contacts in common, but if you haven’t fleshed out your campaign enough to consider things like that, you might be at a bit of a loss. Yes, “word gets around”, but most adventurers (like assassins) do their killing when no one is looking, so it’s tough to suggest that word gets around all that well. Think about it. Assuming you are a reasonably honest and law abiding person, would you have any way of contacting a shady group to do something for you? I wouldn’t. I’m OK with not having a lot of friends who are criminals, but I have to accept that I cannot (at this point in my life) hire someone to whack somebody for me.
We’re not suggesting that you change every single part of your game, but at least consider things from the quest giver’s side before you hand out missions to a group of barbarians and devil worshipers. They have to feel confident that the party can accomplish the mission without making things worse, and that’s not an easy thing to assess. It does help the role-playing though. What is the quest giver hoping they will do? Do they look the part? Can they be intimidating when they need to be? look dangerous enough that he would believe them to be tough? Look honest enough that he sends them to rescue his virginal daughter from the bandits? Not every quest giver is thinking clearly, and that may factor in, but sending a group of heavily armed thugs to go kill some bandits might just be a stupid plan that ends up arming the bandits. Then again, maybe your gaming group is the second team, the ones who have to go in now that the bandits are better armed and warned that someone is coming. I like those! It reminds them that adventurers can die too!
Last point - How does the quest giver assess if they are OK? by giving them a smaller less important quest first. Depending on how well they do (or don’t), he can then determine if he trusts them on the real mission. That assumes he has the time for such a thing.