The other day, I read about gurus because I was researching mysticism. It led me on a lovely wiki walk that took me through different concepts of spirituality (and culminated in a mighty palm-to-the-face) including the philosophical blend of Eastern-Western thought that is “self-actualization.” I like to think of it as learning to tap into your “true power,” a la Dragonball Z. It’s over NINE THOUSAND!

Further reading brought me to, uh, I honestly don’t remember what it was called. But that reminded me of an Internet video I once saw about how to create incentives for people. That whole positive-reinforcement thing. It brought up the concepts of autonomy, effort, and mastery in the context of setting and accomplishing goals.

People, and maybe it’s just creative people, but people either way, … they want to have the freedom to work at their own pace, solve problems on their own, and feel like their work means something. They want a sense of control over the direction they’re going in, and that they’ve accomplished something. Maybe it’s “deeper meaning.”

This, this concept, about having control over one’s own goals, gave me an idea for a game system. The idea of using the “quest system” to create one’s own quests. You set the goal, parameters, and reward. (Within reason.) But how to implement something so open-ended? How do you create the sense that your character can do anything, and without expending huge resources to do so? Is it even possible?

My thinking started along simple lines. First, you have to create a context in which the player can conceptualize quests. There has to be a system they can master quickly and intuitively. It also has to be extensive enough to please the player who doesn’t want to set their own goals. It has to be enough of a game in and of itself.

You know what came to mind? Rome: Total War. I really enjoyed the element of gameplay that the Roman senate represented. The senate would dole out “quests” to take particular cities or areas of land, construct certain units and so forth, and after you conquered Rome itself and established the empire, the game grew stale for me.

The game is pretty open-ended, giving you a context in which you can conquer the world. But the senate represents a potential distraction, or at the very least, an additional element of challenge. It gives you a direction in which to go if you find yourself with too many choices, too many lands to conquer. Now, that is what I mean by having a context in which to allow the player to set their own quests.

You have the senate to give you quests in the beginning, and to establish a basic gameplay mechanic. You can cleave to the “senate” for the rest of the game, if you like, or you can “conquer” it and set your own goals, your own missions with their own rewards. “I will do this, and I will do it like this, and I will claim this for doing so.”

Now, do that in the context of a roleplaying game.