Wednesday is here and with it brings something that I find hard to boil down into a yes or no response. What motivates characters (and their players) to do the weird things we want them to do. Why would they go into the dank hole filled with spiders, or wolves, or bears oh my! Why do they rescue the person who sold them bad healing potions not a week ago. Motivation and how we can use that to hook characters into sticking to the adventure at hand is something that takes a while to master – and I don’t truly think one can ever master it.
Let’s look at three motivations that we can use to bring our players into the session and keep their mind locked away until the final crossbow bolt pierces the witches heart.
Ask the Player
The title kind of gives it away. For the three options below to actually work we need one thing, communication between the Dungeon/Game Master and their players. The whole game is built around communication so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I bring it up eventually but here we go.
Ask your players at character creation to really think why and how they tie into this world. Ask them to weave a single NPC into their back story (not a novel, we all know how that goes…) and to tell you about themselves and their one NPC. A mother, boyfriend, old boss, someone they owe money or a favour to. Someone who you may want to weave into the game so that they become more connected to it
Connection; This is where the player has a connection that you can use. Whether it’s an old flame or a new flame at that, a debt owed or perhaps the want of a favour from someone there should be something that each player has in mind for what motivates their characters when it comes to the NPCs or potentially other PCs.
Make sure your players are ok with you putting the man who they owe a great debt to at the centre of your plot. Remember this is tying their character into the adventure at a personal level – you want to make sure that they are ok with how it twists and alters their characters’ story.
Greed; Now, I know what you are thinking. ‘BW – my player’s character is not greedy, they are a holy night who wants nothing of the mortal realm – their only motivation is to fulfill their oath and bring virtue to the land’. We have all had that player before, or presently, but what I want to touch on with Greed is looking at what motivates our characters, pure or otherwise, and how that can drive them to something.
Let’s look at the above example, The paladin who only wants vengeance for what happened to their innocent family and swore an oath to have it fulfilled. That desire, that conviction could in fact be an act of greed. I won’t get deep into it as it will take an entire night of writing but lets look at D&Ds alignment system. There is not just Good and Evil but there are degrees of it. A lot of greys between the black and white. Convictions, oaths, greed, desires can all be tilted slightly one way or another and the only thing that makes one good and not evil is the perception of the one wielding the sword.
Ok, best lay off the coffee.. Greed – use something the player wants and put it where they can see it. That artefact that they have been searching for – maybe the merchant has a map to where it is, but she wants a favour for it and she is cashing in now. Maybe the priestess is in good favour with the head of the church and the PC wants a blessing, or curse removed – Saving the girl may be the best outcome for your player.
To quote a dear friend of mine in his first ever DM session where I was his player. Greed is good.
Want; And now the very last one is rather simple. Your Party has agreed to just want to have a D&D session and they will say yes to just about anything. The past.. 20 something months have been rough, lets broach that topic for but a moment. I know that my usual band of 7 players has now become four and that they are almost always excited and ready for a game.
But that doesn’t guarantee that they will be ready to rumble come the urchin running towards them screaming for help as some nightmarish creature skitters up a wall and lunches at the boy. Talk to your party, I have set aside a rule of at least 24 hours before game time I ask the party what they are up for, regardless of planning a one shot or campaign. If it’s been a long week and they want to roll some dice I will tweak what I had planned to have some form of an encounter in, whether it’s a fight, infiltration or escape from certain death, I give them something that they want to do.
To be real – this used to be disheartening. I would spend maybe 4 hours (much like I am now) coming up with a plot, some NPCS, a map (where most of the time was spent – I have a potato for a computer…) and some stat blocks or DCs for the encounters or checks I wanted to give them, and when the group wanted something different I would feel a bit disheartened and disappointed that they didn’t want to explore the lost temple on the mountain – they would rather avoid being eaten by zombie gnolls. But now I honestly don’t mind. I think the turning point was experimenting with my current group, where no map, encounter or planning is wasted as I always find a way to use it for the players enjoyment.
This is it for the week – Not exactly twist heavy where we see the revelation of a hidden agenda, a personality shift, plot migration or something completely different but a twist in the preparationand planning that we put into these adventures.
Many DMs would agree with me, and players on that note (hence why there are always more players than DMs) that being a dungeon master is a lot of hard work and to be truly proficient in it takes dedication to one’s craft. This may be one or two weeks of non-stop Dungeoneering or it may be something that you build up to over the course of, say – I dunno. 24 years
Don’t forget to have fun, don’t forget to experiment and twist up how you navigate the twisted world roots of this game we play and lastly don’t forget to roll with advantage,
The Brazen Wolfe