You're not saving the world. You're not making a load of money or rescuing anyone in deadly peril. Heroes and adventurers can't be making those power moves all the time. Sometimes we all just need to kick back and have a drink, and then another drink, and then wake up in the morning with an ugly tattoo on our neck and an embarrassing lack of clothes. Sometimes we just need to help a friend like Guardians of the Galaxy's Drax the Destroyer resume his saxophone career. Sometimes we need to deliver the mail.
What we're saying is, RPG sidequests are weird.
In honor of all the heroes who need the occasional break from saving the world, here are our favorite low-stakes, unimportant quests. They don't really matter, but we loved them anyway.
The Witcher 3: A Frying Pan, Spick and Span
One of the first quests you're likely to stumble upon in The Witcher 3's opening town gives you a hint that all in Geralt's world is not as dark and serious as the opening cinematic. An old woman delivers an impassioned monologue on the events leading to her pan’s theft, and Geralt—renowned witcher, respected hero, tasked with braving the threat of The Wild Hunt and finding Ciri—is out to find a frying pan. Taking a break from stabbing ghosts and bird-lizards to help out an average person with a menial problem was actually somewhat touching. Finding the frying pan can be the work of just a minute or two, but dig a little deeper, and you'll find clues pointing towards a bigger story: a murder, a spy, and a likely reference to a certain spymaster from the first Witcher game. Sometimes a frying pan isn't just a frying pan. — James Davenport
Mass Effect 2: I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite store on the Citadel
What is it that makes this quest so perfect? Is it the fact that you, elite special agent, savior of the galaxy, recently returned from the dead, are willing to record a cheesy ad for a shop on the Citadel in return for a meager discount? Or the fact that you can do the same thing for every shop on the Citadel? And you get Paragon points for it? You still got it, capitalism. — Wes Fenlon
The Witcher 3: Novigrad Hospitality
The Witcher 3 has a penchant for turning small moments into more elaborate stories than you ever expected. That's the case in Novigrad Hospitality, a small quest that begins if you stop to chat with a couple guys camping out by the side of the road, chatting about poetry and the inspirational power of vodka. Soon Geralt's hammered, and then hung over… and missing his shirt and swords. The troubadours decided to run off with Geralt's gear, though they didn't count on how easily he could track them down. A Witcher with a hangover is a surly Witcher, which means when you do track down the troublemakers, you have the delightfully petty option to take all of their stuff once you get back your own.
Well, almost all. Geralt at least lets them keep their knickers. — Wes Fenlon
World of Warcraft: Welcome To The Machine
Ever wondered what goes on in the heads of those NPCs who just stand around with exclamation marks over their heads, waiting for a hero to come along and solve your problems? In one of WoW’s funniest quests, you get to find out—your quest being to hand out three pointless quests to would-be heroes in need of something to do. Do they succeed, fail, live or die? Not your problem. Welcome to the Machine. — Richard Cobbett
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: A Night to Remember
"Who wants another drink?” Among friends, that’s a loaded question. In my experience, it otherwise means: I’m going to the bar, and you’re staying for another.
Opposite Sam Guevenne in one of Skyrim’s capital city taverns, though, it means blacking out, stealing a goat, bartering with a giant, borrowing a ring, proposing to a witch, and waking up half the realm away with a pounding headache and zero memory of the previous evening. I’ve had some pretty wild nights in Glasgow over the years, but this dude really knows how to party.
In what starts with a drinking contest, The Elder Scrolls 5’s ‘A Night to Remember’ sidequest quickly descends into a fantasy ARPG reflection of The Hangover, as you hilariously piece together the night before in a bid to retrace your steps and link back up with Guevenne.
Doing so ultimately leads you to another dimension, where your drinking buddy turns out to be Sanguine—the Daedric prince of debauchery. You part ways with a funny story to tell and a Sanguine Rose staff, the latter of which can be used to summon a level-dependent Dremora for 60 seconds.
For my money, this makes for a far better end-of-drunken-night souvenir than an overpriced burger and a ketchup-stained t-shirt. Best avoid Markarth for a while, though. — Joe Donnelly
The Witcher 2: Hung Over
Hangovers and great RPG sidequests seem to go hand-in-hand. There's just something naturally funny about having to clean up after bad decisions. In this one, Geralt gets blackout drunk and wakes up by the river half naked, and has to talk to a few people to find out what happened the night before. What makes the quest stand out is solving one particular aspect of the mystery: why Geralt has a comically ugly tattoo on his neck.
This quest is actually made better by The Witcher 3, which offers the option to import a save file from The Witcher 2 to carry over a few key decisions. One of those decisions happens to be whether you had Triss magically remove the tattoo, or decided to keep it. When those other decisions literally affect who lives and who dies, also importing Geralt's bad-decision tattoo is a low-stakes stroke of brilliance. — Wes Fenlon
The Witcher 2: A Sackfull of Fluff
There’s a lot of Witcher ones here, aren’t there? It’s not as though Geralt doesn’t have anything better to do. Still, there can be few more pointless calls on his time than the business of a fellow named Elthon in Vergan, who wants feathers. Lots of feathers. Literally, loads. Luckily, he pays you for them, but exactly what he wants them for… that’s left to the imagination, give or take it being an obvious piss-take of Assassin’s Creed 2’s most pointless fetch-quest. Finally bring him enough though and you discover his dream—in the form of a very awkward man standing in a home-made chicken costume.
To quote Dandelion, “Please know, dear reader, that I have described the fall of empires and lovers dallying at the feasts of rich men. I have sung of the loud grief of solitary mourners, of the silent joy of many at the death of a usurer, and of the general outbreak of mirth that occurred when Archpriest Yanos farted during King Medell's coronation. I am unable, however, to find words to describe what Geralt saw, for there are some things in heaven and on earth of which even the philosophers have never dreamed.” — Richard Cobbett
Fallout 4: The Silver Shroud
What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows. But he’s not around in Fallout 4, so the Silver Shroud will have to help out instead. This quest sees you take on the mantle of the fictional (in and out of universe) hero to help clear up the streets of Goodneighbour, with all the hammy dialogue you’d expect. Best of all, those aren’t the only characters who respond to you in the costume, giving you the chance to spread the Shroud’s influence far and wide in the wasteland. You may not be able to make it a true symbol of courage and honour, but it’s certainly much more fun than running around yelling “SHAUN!?” — Richard Cobbett
Lego Marvel Superheroes: The Draxophonist
None of the open-world missions in Lego Marvel Superheroes are really high stakes unless finding every single gold block is important to you, but helping Drax from the Guardians of the Galaxy resume his career as a musician seems particularly low-key. First you have to help the Destroyer find his saxophone, which involves some of the platforming and basic puzzle-solving that's par for the Lego course. (If you're wondering why Drax plays the sax it's not just a joke, it's a reference to an obscure bit of comics history.) Then Drax needs a hand BIFFing and POWing some haters who don't appreciate his music. Finally, he wants an accessory to liven up his concert debut: a lion.
I don't know, hey. All I know is I stole a circus lion as Lego Iron Man, then rode it up the side of a building so that the greatest enemy of Thanos could put on a jazz show. — Jody Macgregor
The Lord of the Rings Online: The Sky is Falling
All the sidequests in the Shire are pretty low-stakes. They're about delivering pies, getting Hobbit children down from trees or, in The Sky is Falling, helping farmers with their chickens. First you have to return some stolen eggs to the hens, matching the eggs with their mothers, then find out why one hen has gone off her food and fetch some of the earthworms she likes. What makes it memorable is that you do it in the form of a rooster. It's never explained in the game and unless I've forgotten an appendix, there's nothing in the books to support this, but you somehow get transformed into a rooster, repeatedly, while doing a series of sidequests for chickens.
You can't attack as a fowl, and the only abilities on your hotbar are "play dead" and "run", so when you're sent to talk to the other animals of the Shire to see if they'll help protect the chickens from wolves it's pretty tricky, and a lot more fun than another fight with spiders. — Jody Macgregor
Final Fantasy 9: Finding Mognet Central
The path to Mognet Central may be the longest sidequest in an RPG ever. For dozens of hours, as you progress through Final Fantasy 9's colorful towns, you can deliver letters from one Moogle to another, occasionally picking up hints about the headquarters for the Moogle postal service. It's not clear if that's a real place you can visit, or just a contrivance to make you deliver the mail (something has supposedly gone wrong at Mognet Central, you see). But it is real, though you can't find it until close to the end of the game.
There's something particularly satisfying about the internal logic of Final Fantasy 9's world having a real postal headquarters for its magical mail system, and that you get to be the outsider discovering it. Along the way you'll end up revisiting multiple cities, which is a great way to see how they've changed over the course of the game and find some new dialogue. Just finding the actual location requires a sidequest hunting down a rare item and playing FF9's chocobo minigame. At the end of it all, the reward you'll get is a piece of equipment you probably don't even need. But finding Mognet Central after dozens of hours of intimations feels a little bit like discovering Atlantis. — Wes Fenlon
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Zero Visibility
I was tempted to mention the quest in Oblivion where a farmer had a few of her potatoes stolen—but that's zero stakes. For low stakes, I enjoy the quest that results from wandering into the seemingly deserted town of Aleswell. It turns out the villagers aren't gone, they're just invisible (which is a bit startling when they begin talking to you), due to the carelessness of a local wizard. He didn't mean to turn everyone invisible, but these things can happen when you muck around with magic.
If you locate the wizard and chat nicely with him for a while, he'll give you a scroll that will undo the invisibility if you read it while in the center of town. It's simple enough, but there are a couple of cute little wrinkles. First, you need to continue talking to the wizard after he gives you the scroll or he won't give you a ring to protect you from unhealthy side-effects. Yeah, he was just going to send you off with this dangerous scroll without telling you what could go wrong. What a dick. Second, if you read the scroll somewhere other than the center of Aleswell, the spell is wasted, and you have to slink back and ask for another copy, which displeases him. Waste the second scroll, and you can return to ask for a third, at which point he'll tell you to piss off. No scrolls for you! Quest failed. The villagers will remain invisible and extremely pissed off. You can kill the wizard, but that doesn't set things right either.
If you do successfully cure the invisibility, how does the town thank you? You can sleep in Aleswell for free for the rest of the game, perhaps the most useless reward for a hero whose pockets are always stuffed with gold, who has the option of buying several houses, and who technically doesn't really need to sleep anyway. — Chris Livingston
Divinity: Original Sin 2: The Bark's Bite
There are some very low stakes quests in Original Sin 2—the one where you mediate an argument between a cat and a dog, the one where you kiss a spider—but my favorite is the one where you seek revenge on behalf of a log. Not a regular log, of course: the log is from an Ancestor Tree, and the spirit contained within it is still pissed off at the foreman who cut him down. Except the foreman is dead, so you have to exhume his grave, talk to his spirit, and then absorb his source, 'killing' him a second time. This pleases the log, and he gives you a shield… made from himself.
The log says that he's "free," but he's not really. He's still a log. All you accomplished was digging up some poor guy's grave—the foreman didn't even know it was an Ancestor Tree he cut down—and harassing his spirit. But whatever, as long as the log is happy. — Tyler Wilde
Divinity: Original Sin 2: Counting Your Chickens
Maybe this is unfair. To the characters involved, this is a terse family drama with high stakes. However, those characters are chickens, so never mind. Using the power of your Pet Pal trait, you’re charged by poultry matriarch Big Marge to track down her brood’s missing eggs. This takes a few seconds. Unfortunately one of them is infested by the dreaded Voidwoken, leading to the greatest chicken massacre this side of a new branch of KFC. Fortunately, as mentioned, they’re just chickens. So who really cares? — Richard Cobbett
Ultima VI: Chuckles’ Quest
Not necessarily one of the best, but arguably one of the most evil practical jokes ever played on players by an RPG designer. There you are, the hero of the realm, told by Lord British’s jester Chuckles that… well, in his own words: “I've got a clue! It's important, and just for you! Yes, it's crucial to your quest.” Cue a trip to the court mage’s room to steal a scroll, which sends you to the other side of the world to find the next part under a plant, which sends you to a beehive at the other end of the world, which sends you to search the beds in another distant town, which sends you to yet another town where a hint awaits under a cauldron, which sends you BACK to Lord British’s castle to be sent to go and speak to a talking horse called Smith… who does indeed give you an important clue! For completing Ultima V. Yes, the previous game.
Thanks, Chuckles. This is why Ultima fans love to pile explosive barrels around you. — Richard Cobbett
Fallout: New Vegas: Wang Dang Atomic Tango
They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. In this quest you get to help ensure it’s memorable by recruiting prostitutes for one of the city’s less salubrious establishments. You can hire a ghoul, or a promising gigolo… but no. If you’re playing properly, the only solution is to find and reprogram a convenient droid into Vegas’ ultimate sexbot. His name? FISTO.
To quote the wiki: “Once the 'testing' has ended, the Courier experiences numbness." — Richard Cobbett
Planescape: Torment: The Modron Maze
One of Torment’s more comprehensive secrets is the land of Rubikon, where mechanical creatures have gathered to research what in blazes draws heroes into dungeons in the first place. You find yourself in a pastiche of classic dungeon-crawling NPCs, facing off against an Evil Wizard Construct painfully aware of its duty and brutal fate, with hero The Nameless One’s immortality removing even a trace of it being a fair fight. Still, you get a handy companion out of it, plenty of experience, and completely useless loot like a ‘Bag of Coins’ with no value and ‘A Clue!’, which is simply a piece of paper bearing the words “You now have a better understanding of what is going on.” Glee. — Richard Cobbett