Friday, March 21, 2014

Motivation: Why Your Characters Do The Things They Do

We've all had those moments. We're staring down at a character sheet and checking to make sure we didn't forget anything. Stats, check. Skills, check. Feats, armor, weapons, miscellaneous gear? Check, check, check, and check. The character's been named, we know the height, weight, alignment, eye color, size, hair color, and even what god receives this character's prayers. We're sure we must have forgotten something, but what could it be?

How about why your character isn't working a day job as an NPC?

The Spark of Life!
There's no spot for it on your character sheet, but character motivation is what pulls all of those different pencil marks together into a three-dimensional character. It will grant life to their actions, and make them more compelling not just for you but for everyone else at the table. Without it you have a pile of numbers with a face, but no drive to go out and accomplish much of anything.

How Do I Come Up With Motivation?

Motivation can be found in some of the strangest places, but it is often uncovered by why? Take a look at your 1st level human fighter. He's strong, tough, nimble, and he can wield a bastard sword with great skill. Why is he adventuring instead of enlisting in the town guard or joining a caravan to keep the merchants and goods safe? Why did he dedicate himself to the mastery of that one weapon? Why isn't he staying home?

Why, why, why. Perhaps the fighter in question is young and brash, and he feels that the boring job of a guard is too restrictive, and wouldn't be a good use of his skills. In this case he's adventuring because he wants something he can't get in other, safer professions; wealth, recognition, or just the freedom of being his own master. As to the mastery of that weapon, maybe it's a style that's been passed down through the generations and it's something he wanted to learn the same way his father and grandfather did. Maybe it was the biggest, meanest weapon he could get his hands on, and so he trained with it exclusively because that's the kind of warrior he wanted to be. As to staying home, maybe he was disowned for learning how to fight. Maybe he doesn't have a home to go back to, and he wants to leave that fact behind. Maybe he hates where he's from, and taking up the sword and a life of adventuring is him making a clean break with his past... whatever it happens to be.

That's just off the top of my head.
You could do the same thing with any character; look at what they're good at, and ask why the character possess that skill set and what he or she intends to do with it. Why does a wizard set out into the world of dangerous creatures? Is it to test his wits against the wickedness of the wild? To see the things he's only read about in books? Perhaps it's to find treasures and lore lost for centuries? Why does a cleric join an adventuring party? Is it to test her faith against darkness? Is it to provide aid and comfort to those who fight on the side of right? Or is it just to get away from the church to find faith out in the harshness of the world beyond the walls?

Ask What They Want

If your character has a background and a personality then the next question is to ask what they want out of life. Does your barbarian want to have a lifetime of battles interspersed with spending gold at every tavern and brothel she comes across? Or does she want to eventually find a mate and start a clan of her own? Is she looking for a stolen relic, on a spirit quest, or seeking strong companions to help her take back her homeland? All of these are viable options, and more than one of them might apply.

You don't want to know what this guy wants.
Some adventurers want to make more gold in a single dungeon delve than they could ever hope to earn in a lifetime of slaving away at an inn or a forge. Others want to make their parents proud, impress someone they're in love with, earn accolades, or just work off a debt by watching a friend's back for a few, dangerous weeks. Maybe your character has an insatiable wanderlust, has a bounty on her head that means she had to keep moving around, or is trying to make a new name for himself after narrowly escaping justice during a violent or criminal past. Whatever the reason it has to be something a character wants badly enough to seek out, and to work for.

Run it by The Storyteller

You want to do what now?
If you were just writing a story about your character you could do whatever you want... but sometimes players forget that they're each a smaller part of a bigger whole. While it's a good thing to know that your inquisitor has a fire in his belly about uncovering evidence of corruption among the city's elite, how does that convince him to join a party clearing out goblin warrens miles and miles away? Well, that is where the storyteller comes in and slips the player a note telling him that a contact thinks the goblins stole laundered records along with a bunch of other things. If recovered, those books could act as serious evidence against a corrupt official who might be willing to provide even more information.

Bam! Instant plot!

With that said though, players shouldn't expect a storyteller to stretch too far just to accommodate them. This is especially true if the players are on a pre-written campaign path where there's a very clear set of rails laid down throughout the plot. If you want to play a secret prince of an undersea realm who's in hiding on the surface and masquerading as a ship captain, then you are likely going to have to explain to the storyteller what use you are to the party and just how in the hell you fell into their path.

Yes that happened. No, you shouldn't ask. Also, if you want more information about character motivation you should check out these other articles I wrote on the subject: Loaded Dice: What's My Motivation? and this post from my author blog titled Under the Black Hat: Writing Believable Bad Guys.

As always, thanks for dropping by Improved Initiative! If you'd like to see us cover a particular game or topic then just drop us a line and say so. If you want to keep up with all of our updates just plug your email into the upper right hand corner box, or follow us on Tumblr or Facebook. Lastly if you want to help keep us funded feel free to use your PayPal by clicking the "Bribe the DM" button on the right, or drop by our Patreon page and become a donor today!

No comments:

Post a Comment