You know the rat quest, right?
Invariably, when you begin a new character in many games, your shiny new PC must venture in to a reasonably-easy environment to gain a modicum of experience and treasure that will serve as the basis for the epic deeds yet to come in that character's life. In most cases, the aforementioned environment is usually a sewer. And those creatures pitted against the character as the antagonist in this, the first of countless life-and-death struggles? Rats. Yes, friends, our epic journey begins as a glorified mousetrapper. Sometimes the rats are skinned with creative names like "goblin" or "kobold", but don't be fooled. If you're a low level and have been sent into the sewers beneath the city in search of grinding experience, you are fighting rats, however they're disguised. You'll kill enough rats down there to wallpaper your entire man-cave in 1x1 pixellated rat hides. Make no mistake, though. It's not that I dislike rats being the starting point of an epic character. Everyone's got to start somewhere, right? Instead, I object to the cliche use of such a device to artifically provide experience and treasure to characters.
When designing Arenthyor, very early I knew that I did not want a rat quest. Arenthyor is a hard world; intentionally so. You get a sense of that as soon as you walk out of your faction home and either end up running quickly back inside or discovering what it's like to be eaten...alive. In Arenthyor, experience is earned fighting difficult monsters from the get-go. There's no shallow end in the river that is your character's destiny. You either plunge into the frigid waters head-first and swim to keep up, or get pushed under to die horribly against the rocks.
This strategy has worked well with players who agreed with the philosophy that success should be earned and that the taste of victory is sweeter when the effort to achieve it has been greater. Other players were willing to give it a try, but may have thought that this difficulty was unintentional, for surely low-level characters MUST have a place to hunt and gain experience, yes?
Enter the indomitable spirit of the Player. As water will run downhill, players will explore every nook and cranny of a world in an inexhaustible search for the "optimized" way to engage and interact with a world. This is by no means a bad thing. In fact, I view it as exceptional. It is part of the process by which a player adopts a world and becomes comfortable with it. It is part of making the world of Arenthyor his or hers.
What did this indomitable Player spirit discover in Arenthyor? I'm sure you guessed it. A rat quest. Wha-wha-WHAT?? Imagine my surprise, no, dumbfounded shock when the players realized that they could hunt the ambient rats, dogs, and crabs that wander the alleys and docks in the city of Bastion for experience. How ironic that the world designed specifically to avoid rat quests was discovered to have one after all.
The idea is so shocking that I like it. Unintentional that it is, there's a sublime sense of satisfaction that comes from the knowledge that characters, in their quest for initial experience and treasure will be hunting the ignominious rat while other characters, in the city to do more civilized pursuits, will watch in barely-disguised disgust and pity.
Yes, my friends, that is a rat quest worthy of Arenthyor.