After thinking on the topic for a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that quests should be short and simple, easily expressed as “[Action] [Subject]” For example, “Collect eggs,” “Deliver package,” “Escort caravan.”
However, and here I’m taking a lesson from World of Warcraft, you spice things up not by complicating the quests, but by giving multiple quests which are to be completed in the same area.
A cult has been growing in the forests outside a large village. The local mayor asks the PCs to look into the cult, and determine if it’s a threat. A farmer asks the PCs to rescue his daughter, who he believes has been brainwashed by the cult. The sheriff believes a thief who escaped is hiding out in the woods as well. Another farmer on the way out of town has been having problems with a pack of wolves attacking his livestock. An infirm widow hasn’t been able to make it out to her husband’s grave recently and asks the players to place a wreath on his grave.
That boils down to the following five quests.
- Investigate cult
- Rescue daughter
- Find thief
- Kill wolves
- Visit grave
Tiny. Bite size. Easy for GMs to come up with, and easy for players to keep track of.
Of course, they still leave plenty of room for the GM to complicate things, as well. Suppose the daughter wasn’t brainwashed, but went with the cult willingly. The thief has been murdered in a particular grisly fashion. The graveyard is overrun by undead. The cult claims they’re trying to stop the undead. The wolves… well, they’re just wolves. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. 😉