On Writing: Escort Quests

Believe it or not, there’s a series of Chinese movies devoted to these: The Gold Convoyers.

(And no, that’s not a misspelling no matter what WP says. It’s a valid word, just not used much.)

Essentially, heavily armed freight handlers and bodyguards, tasked with getting goods and/or people to their destination in one piece. Not always at a specific time, given the vagaries of washed-out roads, avalanches closing passes, bandit attacks, and corrupt bureaucrats putting out wanted posters. But in one piece.

Yes, wanted posters. Often even if they haven’t run afoul of the law their client has; and that means either making fast tracks out of town, or trying not to hurt law officers just doing their job while also trying to keep your client alive. Often both. (The hero carries a collapsible spear with a spring-loaded sheath for the point. That way he can fight nonlethally as long as possible – and when the cover comes off, you know things have gotten dangerous.)

These stories have a format as simple as a romance novel. Object or person is at point A, needs to get to point B. Yet that simplicity allows for breathtaking variety. What’s the object? Who wants it to get there? Who doesn’t, and what are they willing to do to stop it? Is the client falsely accused? Innocent? Guilty? Possibly all of the above?

For example, in one movie the client works in a bank where everyone steals some of the silver. He’s been cautious, careful, and patient, picking up the equivalent of loose change until he’s got enough to get into a different line of work. But then he stumbles on a massive money debasing scheme, and the bad guy responsible wants our small-scale thief’s head… and his evidence. Cue the petty pilferer hiring this small company of convoyers to get his innocent family out of town….

It reminded me of no few Rockford Files eps, where our aggravated PI is asked to “retrieve” something that actually belongs to someone else – though not legally. On a broader scale it reminds me of a lot of stories in the detective genre: your client is lying to you, but how much? You could get him for breach of contract and leave him hanging – but who else would get hurt if you do? You’re supposed to be working within the law, you should turn this guy in…. But does he have evidence or testimony that will get him killed, unless you get him to cops you’re sure aren’t on the take? How do you balance the law with doing what’s right?

Most important of all: are you ever going to get paid?

In games the escort quest may be annoying. In stories, though – they can take your character across the world, and right up against his moral boundaries. What would you do, to keep your word?

(You can find a bunch of the Gold Convoyers and their prequel series on YouTube. Only some have English subtitles, though. Darn!)


23 thoughts on “On Writing: Escort Quests

  1. I’m often a bit frustrated with escort quests in fiction.
    Mainly because MCs are usually bad at them.

    Authors tend to hate having a defensive posture, they often prefer to have the characters go on the offense… no matter how silly that is.

    “We’re under siege, but don’t worry, we can easily hold out long enough for reinforcements to arrive.”

    “Let’s bring down our own defenses and attack in a do-or-die effort!”


    In escort missions that often translates into abandoning the VIP and getting fully engaged in a one-on-one duel, then being surprised when the VIP is grabbed while they are distracted.

    They also often ignore other possibilities like grabbing the VIP and running, or hiding because those are less exciting than fights.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. TBH I think this is actually really underused in games, especially ones like D&D. It’s such a better campaign starter than “you all meet in a tavern.”

      Ragtag band of misfits who don’t know each other? The caravan needed X number of guards, they filled the quota.

      Characters from all over? Way to pick them up (some of them might even be longtime guards for this merchant, others are newbies).

      Characters with shady backgrounds? Way to stay on the move.

      Characters with mundane backgrounds? Way to make some money.

      And like you said, the permutations/complications are endless. Our DM currently has us in the middle of a campaign exactly like this; halfway through the trip the caravan got ambushed and our employer got kidnapped. Cue our ragtag band trying to track him down (and getting into all kinds of other adventures as a result) because he ain’t paid us yet and he’s gonna owe one heck of a bonus if we save his backside.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Ragtag band of misfits who don’t know each other? The caravan needed X number of guards, they filled the quota.


        Actual cowboys, not ranch hands– you hire people to do the drive.

        The usual complication is that…well, if cowboys don’t get hired, they tend to BE the bandits…and some of them do both.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. In *Video* games, Escort Quests are usually garbage b/c either the escortee is so stupid as to Kamikaze straight into the enemy (Captain Keys, Master Chief is looking at you!), *or* the game designers have to completely nerf the enemies in response to the previous problem and turn the entire quest into a boring slog.

        OTOH… in “The Way of the Apartment Manager,” a Genin team striking for Chuunin have to perform an Escort test… and the escortee is Kakashi Hatake. Who, as an elite Jounin, is pretty safe from getting hurt if his escort screws up, but part of his “role” is to be the kind of escortee that the escorts are ready to kill *themselves*….
        (“it’s all part of the test, honest!” He’s… *probably* not lying?)

        Does your local Adventurer’s Guild have certification tests? Granular rankings? “Monster Killing-A, Escort Missions-D? WTF?”
        “…I don’t test well, okay?”

        Liked by 2 people

      3. That’s among the 101 or possibly 1001 ways that Writing A Novel differs from Running a D&D game. In a novel, you do not have to respect the characters’ agency. In a game, the players have to agree to their background — and are willing to suspend disbelief about their working together.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. As far as video game escort missions went, MechWarrior 5 actually has solid ones. In past because it’s a convoy, that doesn’t immediately explode when an enemy mech looks at it, and in part because you’ve got a squad.

        Best way I’ve found to do them is to have one or two fire support mechs, and just command them to camp in areas with good fields of fire along the route, and have the remainder in brawler types, walking up and down the length of the convoy.

        The fire support gives you good vision and some long range punch to soften up the incoming, while you’ve got enough time to move the rest of your lance to intercept the incoming raiders.

        Keeps you on your toes, but it’s also not the end of the world if one or two trucks from the convoy don’t make it either.


  2. :is mentally going along taking notes for Justifying Adventurers, and then:
    Most important of all: are you ever going to get paid?

    :BOOM! Adventurer Accountant:
    I now have another job to horrify my healer character. 😀

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Moe Lane’s high-fantasy post-apocalyptic America series is interesting in this.

      In one story of Shadow of the Tower, there is clearly an adventuring party. Licensed and bonded in the Free State of Kentucky. Reasonable rates. References available on request.


    1. “Oh. In that case, you want that guy over -”

      “Look, I’m here as a *bodyguard*. THAT is the Escort Quest that I’m on.”

      “Ah. Well in that case, see that short fellow over there? That’s the guy you want.”

      “Thank you….”

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Escort quests are such a pain.

    However, that does have a lot of possibilities for situations you can use in writing.

    My mind went to Draco and the Foreign Princess that’s part of the main cast. An excellent opportunity to learn more about her culture would be if the rest of the cast had to escort her home for whatever reason.

    I’ll think of a reason when I get there. I’m still working on the opening scene!

    Anyway, she needs to get home and is intent on taking the rest of the cast with her because the way I have it set up is that Draco has the possibility of becoming a Harem. I’m probably not going to write it that way, but with the way I’ve set it up, I have the option open if I want to take it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You’re onto something… all of Journey to the West could be considered an Escort Quest with the chapters until Tripitaka and Sun Wukong meeting showing *why* it has to be an Escort Quest. The way to get to Thunderclap Monastery is too dangerous for Tripitaka to get there without a bunch of super-powered people to guard him.

    This also does say something about *why* something needs to be an Escort Quest though. The way to whatever destination needs to be known to enough parties to be both (a) generally dangerous and (b) well worth the danger for an Escort Quest to make sense. Not having one of those will make an Escort Quest feel odd. People don’t get hired to guard their employers if their employers think the way is safe enough. Similarly, no one is going to want to go where it’s dangerous if they don’t think whatever is at the end is worth all the trouble of bringing along extra people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Congratulations! Now that you’ve squished our local god-”

      “Your god was eating people!”

      “Sure, but the big kahuna just wants all people dead and is highly effective at it. As I was saying, since you squashed her, now you’re our god!”

      “Wait, what? No! I’m not a, what the heck? I just wanted to go home!”

      “Cool, so we go back to the squashed one or go play with the spiders that burn in the night?”

      “Um… no? Look, isn’t there a 3rd option here somewhere?”

      “I mean, not unless you can either topple big kahuna, or know someone who can?”

      “… Do you know where I can find a phone?”

      “That way. Way over that way. Past the Forest of Thunder, the River of Wet Clingy things, and the land of the Birds that Drink Souls. I’m pretty sure there are a few other horrific things on the way too, but we don’t go that far.”

      “…grumble… Fine, let’s go.”

      Liked by 2 people

  5. navy ships deployed to a rather lawless region of space to hunt pirates and protect merchant shipping

    you and your buddies have inherited difficult to replace mecha, so you went to work as mercenaries across the inner sphere

    as a pokemon trainer, you travel to events for your animal bloodsport, and incidentially wage war on an evil paramilitary cult

    what do these things have in common?

    well, if you are crazy enough, you can mash them up with cultivation and get… probably a horrific incoherent mess


  6. The late Duke of Edinburgh was probably the only man alive who still knew the rules for the UK’s classified naval escort tactics game. It was unique because “captains” could only see parts of the gaming table, to simulate each ship’s limited knowledge of what was going on in the convoy. Same thing for guys playing enemy sub captains.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmmm. . .

    Part of the problem is the escorted character. Has to need an escort, but shouldn’t be so helpless as to be annoying. Or annoying in other respects.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s