As mentioned before, classic MMORPGs don't have quests, they have errands. You aren't on a journey to search something, you just take on small jobs. In our hypothetical MMORPG Shandalar, we want to do better. We want quests to start with players wanting something, which then makes them gather information and adventure to get it. That something in my original idea would be cards, but of course the same system would work for equipment or anything else.
So lets start with a player wanting a specific card for the deck he is building. Of course he could buy boosters to get cards, but as the cards in the booster packs are random, that could take a while. He could trade for the card he wants, but then he would have to give away his existing cards. And maybe some cards are "bind on pickup" and can't be traded. So to spend his points on the one card he wants, the player has to find the place where this card is sold.
The search starts in a city. Having cities with a central function where people need to go back to is important for a world to feel alive. In this case cities have sages, which have books showing every single card in the game. Of course with some good user interface that lets you search, filter, and sort. Once he has found a card there, he clicks on it to ask the sage for information about where that card can be acquired. The sage answers by giving the player some general information, about what region (zone) the card is in. And so the voyage begins.
Once the player is in the right zone, he can ask for the card in the villages there. So NPC dialogues are linked to your quest journal: if you have a quest for this zone, an option appears in each NPCs dialogue window there, enabling you to ask him for that card. If you are in a village which isn't the closest to the final goal, the NPC will send you to the right village. If you are in the village that is closest to the card, the NPC will tell you where to go, like "a cave in the northwest, guarded by orcs".
We can invent some sort of lore about altars left by the ancients, explaining why you get cards at those altars. But in any case the altars are guarded by some monsters. So while the quest isn't asking you to "kill 10 orcs", you end up killing them to get to the altar they are guarding. Having a reason to fight monsters other than that somebody wants 10 of them dead is an improvement. Once you finally arrive at the altar, you can exchange your points for one or more copies of the card you wanted. And then it's time to return to the city and go on your next quest.
If we make one specific altar give one specific card, a week after the day is released there will be a website showing all the cards with all the locations. So I was wondering whether what card what altar gives should be different for each player, and random. What do you think?