I was watching the new Star Wars Rebels animated series the other night and I realized even though, as Yoda says, “Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things”, they do seem to find it a lot. Every time you see them in the media they seem to be in some hot spot or another. I know that it is because we like action in our media, since watching people sitting around doing nothing interesting. A political discussion for political sake isn’t all that interesting as opposed to seeing a bit relevant to the storyline in question, so having them diplomatically talking to their opponents is not interesting unless the content is. Just look at the scenes in the Galactic Senate, would you want to feel like you were watching real political television channels?
My questioning of the topic is because of what the sort of ‘peace and order’ adventures you could give to people that would still be interesting and challenging. I look at MMOs like SW:TOR and I can’t think of any story missions that break out of the go here, fight this for that reason and come back. The Secret World has some missions that involve both real world and in game world researching, exploration and storytelling, which gets away from the all the time combat for combat sake that you see elsewhere.
I am not coming down on combat in questgiving as a complete problem. However, add some variety to the quests you give by adding special challenges. SW:TOR did have some challenges like the bomb finding mission which had your character finding and defusing a set of bombs randomly placed. Using the system established and adding on a few ‘checkpoints’ or ‘pickups’, the missions are endless by a procedural generator. You could also do rescue/recovery to find lost people or crashed ships, maybe have an occasional dead ship in space for you to explore and repair by doing certain tasks at points, etc. These can have time limits, health bars or other such things to keep it from it being easy. You can also limit number of runs per interval to keep from making too much XP too quickly.
There are a few games where you can do other things to solve problems; Vampire:The Masquerade Bloodlines had you encounter someone who knew you from before and you could deal with them in different ways, for example. Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic has a number of plots where you can socialize as a Jedi or force your way through (with strength or the actual Force). The benefit of this approach, they were fun and they could be solved in different ways and they also were varied in when and how they gave it to you.
The point of this post, however, was more inspired by the other part of that quote by Yoda to Luke. “All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.” You need to give the players the feeling that what they are doing in the here and now is of importance. Even if it is just busywork ‘grinding’ to level up for the next big boss challenge, you want them to feel it matters. You can make it be a personal challenge like The Princess Bride being the personal challenges of Wesley to save Buttercup and Inigo Montoya to find the six fingered man, or professional challenges, like the world destroying evil all the way down to the mob boss pushing some people on his turf.
The big problem can occur when you have an important event, such as a giant war, planned and you want it to occur a certain way. The vikings overtake the castle, the mob boss kills his opposition… All this would be easier without the PCs adding an X factor to the game. So, you send them off on an adventure and change things while they are gone. Its doable, especially if the PCs missed the hints and just turned a blind eye. But if they sniff it out and try to intervene and you restrict it, that’s bad if you don’t give them something of equal or larger importance to deal with as they’ll be stewing on how they couldn’t do what they wanted. This can lead to player dissatisfaction and it can derail a plot as players try to go back to get what they want.
As long as the players are making an impact in events in some important measurable way to them, they will be happy with their rewards and losses, so long as they get to choose the battles that are important to them.