Analysis / The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Forgotten lessons of Morrowind sidequests

With the proliferation of MMO-style 20 Bear Asses and Mass Monster Slaughter Sidequests in modern RPGs, it pays to look back at the older games and revisit the sidequest formulas that worked back then and will probably work now. Of particular interest is the Tribunal Temple questline, not only because it meshes so perfectly with the overarching themes of the game's main quest, but also because it does several quest types rarely seen before or since:

  • Pilgrimage. At it's core, the quest is very simple—go from here to point X, click on the shrine, and come back. However, it combines Morrowind's inherent strength (Scenery Porn) with religious significance, giving meaning to these seemingly pointless runarounds. It also makes you actually read and pay attention to the in-universe religious texts, exposing yourself to the World Building, as well as showing you interesting places around the game world that you'd probably never visit otherwise. Later on, there is even an idea of a pilgrimage with a vow of silence, where you cannot talk with anyone (including fast travel services) as you trek across the entire island.
  • Healing Mission. In most modern RPGs (and in Morrowind as well), your assignments are usually "go there, kill the bad guy(s)". But Morrowind ingeniously inverts it: thanks to its setting (an island ravaged by The Plague) and sandbox mechanics (which allow combining spell effects like "cure decease" with "on other" target), it was possible to make quests whose goal is "go there, cure that dude". Since you are not asked to kill anyone, you can just as well stealth your way to the target; likewise, you need not know any curing spells, if you have a scroll, an item, or a potion.
  • Food for the Hermit. This quest actually provides a justification of why you have to go so far out of your way to complete it.
  • Relic Recovery. Basically a Fetch Quest, but, again, with religious significance. You are not just retrieving an item for a Quest Giver, you return a relic to the faithful.

An important aspect of all Temple quests is that you don't get any standard RPG rewards for them—which is a plot point. The Temple is a major charity organization, so your duties as a member are not supposed to be rewarded. At most, you can hope for a book or a potion.