Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's my motivation?

In an attempt to do a bit of bridge-building between the gap in play styles between myself and my friend Dave, I gave a bit of thought to reasons why someone might want to become an 'adventurer.'  For people that enjoy figuring out who their PC is as much or more so than exploring the world within the game (the personal imagined space as opposed to the shared imagined space, in pseudo-Forge faux intellectual terms, or something equally pompous).

If you're going to focus on exploring a character THROUGH exploring the dungeon, or if you're going to explore the dungeon WHILE exploring your character, either way you really ought to give a bit of thought to the mentality that would cause someone to want to battle Beholders and Sathar and Cyborg Mutant Hitmen for a few grubby gold coins or credits or a piece of junk that might be a blaster or a hair dryer.

Here are the reasons I came up with while on the subway the other day:

Greed:  You want to be rich, and adventuring is a lucrative career.  You weigh the dangers against the potential gain, and only act if the balance swings in your favor.

Power:  You want to become one of the movers and shakers of the world, and gaining both money and a reputation are the means to that end.  You aren't concerned so much with what form of power you acquire, as long as you end up the boss in some way.

Excitement:  You relish the danger most of all.  You're probably a little crazier than your companions (who're all a bit crazy as it is!), and you'll happily poke that hole with your blade, push the red button, or charge the orc patrol just because it will give you that adrenaline rush.

Curiosity:  You're a born explorer.  You aren't in it for the money, or the danger, or the power, but simply to see what's out there.  You boldly go where no man has before simply because no one has been there before (that you know of).

Study:  You want to document your explorations.  Maybe you want to benefit the world, maybe just yourself.  But you want to uncover secrets or find new things in order to increase knowledge.

Ambition:  You have some strong personal goal that you work towards.  And to achieve that goal, you'll need money, power, reputation, and connections.  If you ever achieve that goal, you'll likely set a new, higher one and keep pushing yourself ever onwards.

Pride:  They told you you couldn't.  They told you you'd be crazy to try.  They told you you'd be dead within a week.  You're going to prove them all wrong, or die trying.

Envy:  There are others who are better gunslingers, better magicians, better star-pilots.  There are others with more money, or a bigger magic sword, or cooler gadgets, or the bevy of hot men/women surrounding them.  But one day, it will be yours.  Oh yes, it will be yours.

Heroism:  You venture into the wilds because someone needs to.  Someone needs to slay the dragon, or blow up the space station, or bring down the megacorp.  You may not want to be the one who has to do it, but the situation has thrust that responsibility upon you.  Or maybe you did seek it out willingly.  Either way, you're 'that guy.'

Restlessness:  You just can't be satisfied with the boring life you were born to.  Instead of sitting behind a desk or milking the cows, you've got a need to head out and see what's out there.  The thought of being eaten by grues or blasted to molecules by deathbots is less frightening than the idea of staying put.

Protection:  You head out to face the dangers of the world so that the good folks back home don't have to.  You'd rather not have to deal with the horrors of the encroaching outer dark, or the rampaging orcs, or the rise of the galactic emperor, but better you than Aunt May and your good old Gaffer.

Rivalry:  You enjoy wealth, or having bards sing your praises across the land, but your real driving motivation is that you do what you do before the other guys do it first.  Whether it's a race to find a sacred relic before the Nazis do, a need to prove yourself the most powerful mage in the land, or mapping out the third level of the huge ruined pile before the king's privateers, your sense of competition drives you on.

Alright, this is in no way an exhaustive list (and a few of the distinctions above are rather fine), just what I came up with between sitting down on the subway and getting off again.  If anyone's got any other ideas, feel free to chime in with a comment. 

These ideas do provide fodder for players who like to immerse themselves in their character, while at the same time providing impetus for the characters to participate in the adventures that are what really provide the thrill for less immersive gamers like myself. 

They also fit nicely in a little random chart, for those who like a more 'nearly blank slate' for their characters at the kick-off of a campaign:

Adventuring Motivation Chart (d12) "My character is..."
1. Greedy
2. Power-Hungry
3. Thrill-Seeking
4. Curious
5. Inquisitive
6. Ambitious
7. Proud
8. Covetous
9. Heroic
10. Wanderlustful
11. Protective
12. Competitive

Post Script:  Odd, the words deathbots and wanderlustful didn't set off Firefox's spell check...until I typed them in this post-script.


  1. Have you seen the motivation system in my 1st game, Synapse? Might want to check it out for maybe a little more inspiration on this issue.

  2. Thanks, Greg, I haven't yet but I will. To be honest, though, I've still got Errant sitting on my hard drive waiting to be read. I'll go download Synapse, though, and I fully intend to check out both soon (grad school allowing).

  3. I'd add Revenge to that list if you can find a D13 somewhere. It's a great motivator with lots of gaming possibilities. After all, if you're out fro revenge, you need to come up with a reason why. Thats a great re-occuring NPC for your campaign right there.