Guide to Building Side Quests: DnD 5e

Side quests can be refreshing—a change of pace during a long Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  You can throw them in here and there to give your players new challenges and play with their characters’ strengths and weaknesses.  Whether you need to bridge your story from one important element to another, or simply want to change things up with your group, consider these broad elements when crafting your own quest.

When building side quests in DnD 5e, consider the following elements:

Guild Jobs: Make some extra gold

Guild side quests are some of the most common adventures in each DnD campaign.  Often, early adventures start with a quick job.  A group of characters meet each other and figure out how they best work together.  Whatever adventures lie ahead, they are going to need opportunities to level up, find treasure, make gold and strategize together.

Guilds work as community staples for different kinds of work.  They’re usually prominent buildings in the worlds of fantasy RPG.  Common guilds you will find include:

  • Mage/Wizard: Retrieve magic ingredients and artifacts.  Help with research.
  • Hunters/Bounty Hunters: Hunt monsters in caves, forests and oceans.  Capture fugitives and outlaws.
  • Thieves: Heists and treasure hunts in well-fortified and guarded locations.
  • Arena combat: Win and get paid.  Usually, there is a gambling aspect to this kind of game.
  • Mercenary: Kingdoms in great parrel may call upon freelance warriors for raids.  Also, your players could be pulled into a great war against a horde of orcs or zombies.
  • Religious: Mystery and mystique.  Religious guilds ask for artifacts and magic items like the wizards.  However, they could have a more zealot nature.  Clearing holy places of monsters is a common lower-level quest from religious guilds.

Now, you have a starting point for any given story.  Bridge your main story line with this first adventure.  Maybe the party finds an artifact that foreshadows your ultimate villain while questing for something else.

The party as a guild

Sure, there’s the typical tavern opening, but consider the group as a team already.  This way, you can unlock backstories and jump right into the action.

Your players’ team could be based around several different builds and purposes.  This way, everyone can come together on a theme for the adventure.  To name a few:

  • Monster Hunters: Your team is built around slaying certain monsters.  Vampire hunters, witch hunters, beast hunters and dragon hunters could all fit this mold.
  • Investigators: Transform the campaign into a mystery, with episodic investigations in between.  Each character can bring a brilliant angle to the investigation:  high Intelligence, tracking/perception, special knowledge and spells.
  • Thieves: Plot out a grand heist with mini adventures along the way to achieve your rogue goals.
  • Mercenaries: Perhaps the kingdom is at war and your players make up a special team for raids and special missions.

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Treasure quests

Every side quest needs a tempting offer at the end of the proverbial hook, or your party will simply continue with the main storyline.

Treasure is a great place to start.  Plus, if your players are early on in their adventure, they are going to want some extra gold and gear moving on.  Treasures can be anything from magic items, weapons, artifacts, gems or stashes of all these together.

First, you’ll want to create a need for exotic items.  Maybe the story calls for something specific—a lost key, a map in the hull of a shipwreck, a ransom for something the players want or need.  On the other hand, it could just be a job with a reward at the end.  Also, you could introduce stronger enemies that challenge your party to need magic weapons or items.

Common Tropes for Treasure Hunts

Treasure hunts can take many forms.  Here are a few to get your mind turning:

  • The Temple Treasure: A lost temple in a forgotten wilderness holds a scepter that a legendary wizard’s guild pays the group to retrieve.  The party must solve puzzles and avoid traps as they move through the ancient underground structure.  Obviously, this side quest is perfect for the undead and mummies to protect their eternal resting place.
  • The Rare Ingredient: A rare plant or flower grows at the top of a dangerous mountain.  However, an important character is deathly ill and needs the flower as a cure.  The party will need to move through natural obstacles and all kinds of monstrous beasts to retrieve the cure.
  • Magic Sword: A demon takes control of a noble kingdom.  Now, a paladin in the group must retrieve a specific sword, enchanted by angels, to take down the otherworldly foe.  Battle horrors, ghosts and ghouls through an ancient castle and solve castle puzzles to retrieve the legendary weapon.
  • Lost Clue: During an investigation, something isn’t quite adding up.  The party gets a lead for a location that may hold clues, perhaps a cabin in the woods or sewer hideout.  This kind of treasure could be a letter, key or even a mundane weapon.  However, it’s a huge piece to solving the main storyline’s mystery.

Monster Hunts

Monster hunts are great for players who want to play with the combat system and challenge their character builds.  These types of side quests are super common in campaigns.  Naturally, your mythical world will be full of monsters.  Therefore, it’s only natural that problems arise from this ecology that give opportunities for bounties.  It’s hard to keep a farm going with rampaging beasts running amuck, much less a civilization.

A few typical monster hunts include:

  • Farm Invasion: A monster is eating livestock in a farm town, and they desperately need it slain to survive the winter.  Consider forest beasts, owlbears, were-beasts, giant reptiles, flying monsters and even drakes or dragons.
  • Stop the Sacrifice: A village or kingdom satiates a giant creature by sacrificing their citizens to it.  Hunt the creature in its lair to stop the madness.
  • Sewer Monster: Something lurks in the sewers of a massive city, taking citizens at night.  Your team must navigate the under city and explore its lost corners to find and stop the horror below.  Consider gross, oozy monsters for this one.
  • Graveyard Shift: Something is reportedly leaving the local graveyard to feast on townsfolk in their sleep.  Track it down to its crypt and rid the town of the curse.
  • Trophy Hunt: Your party is hired to hunt an elusive monster deep in an old forest.  However, other teams of hunters have the same deal.  The first team to find and slay the monster wins the reward.

Experimental Gameplay

DnD is a game of rolling dice.  Therefore, the fundamental elements of a game are there for you to play with.  Have a casino in your campaign?  Let your players play a few hands of cards.  Side quests give you the opportunity to get creative.

Consider the following games:

  • Athletic Contests: Put the Fighter and Barbarian to good use and compete in challenges that take STR and DEX modifiers.  Arm wrestling, racing, tennis, whatever game you can imagine.  Build simple dice rolling rules to how the game is played and allow your players to flex their skills.
  • Odds and Cards: The dice are already available, we just have to tweak the roll with INT, WIS or CHA scores to give the cunning Bards, Paladins and Wizards a let up in the pirate casino.  For example, roll a 6-sided die and have the character guess the number.  They get a few guesses equal to their WIS modifier.
  • House of Mystery: You can spend a solid night of adventure through a haunted mansion, carnival funhouse or interdimensional castle. Offer your players riddles with a number of clues based on their most intelligent party member’s INT score.  Logic puzzles, hidden keys and paintings with cyphers can be thrown into most campaigns to shake things up.

Episodic Genre Change

Change up the genre every so often with episodic side quest adventures.  It could be as simple as solving a murder mystery or resolving a haunting.  On the other hand, you could have your party suddenly transported into a space opera for a night of otherworldly adventures.  Either way, your party can enjoy a genre change up with short adventures that get the point across.

A few examples of a genre change-up side quest are:

  • Halloween Horror Night: The party comes across a warped cabin in the dark forest that hides mysteries and a troublesome spirit.  Resolve the haunting by finding the reason for its old inhabitant’s demise through clues and puzzles.  Perhaps they unleash an ancient horror that they must now stop with a certain spell book they should have left alone.
  • Space Opera Voyage: The party is abducted by an otherworldly vessel.  This could be an interdimensional vehicle or a cosmic spacecraft.  Either way, the party can launch to a far-away planet where a crystalline kingdom is in jeopardy.  Stop the evil alien general and find your way back home.
  • It Was All a Dream: Transport the party into a psychedelic dreamscape (or nightmare).  The setting here will be ethereal—a bit like Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland.  Monsters with psionic powers could lurk in this realm, including the legendary mind flayers or djinn.
  • Caper at the Pirate Casino: Dangerous pirate sell-swords run a casino on a tropical island.  However, they hide a lost relic in their safe that is necessary to stop a volcanic demon.  No one will believe you, as the relic is highly valuable.  Therefore, the party must infiltrate and steal the relic back from pirate hands.