When we are wronged, do we not seek vengeance? When our loved ones are ill, do we not seek a cure? When the world turns against us, do we not seek justice? These are all motivations that push characters (and likewise, players) forward in their personal quests. Fostering personal motivation is a key part of being an interactive GM, and it can be as simple as dropping in a story beat at the right time. What’s more, motivating PCs keeps your players coming back to your table for more. Here are a few examples of easy and intriguing motivations to keep your story moving and your players’ butts in their seats.
1 - Revenge
A little tropey to be sure, vengeance nevertheless proves to be a useful motivator in many good tales. Certainly, the axiom “an eye for an eye” has lost meaning slowly over the centuries, but it still presents a concrete and relatable driving force. What do we do when we fall in battle to a superior foe? Stand up, brush ourselves off, seek a cleric or medbay, and set out to find the one who felled us. When dealing with player-versus-player combat, though, be sure to avoid grudges that leave the table-top and creep into real life. Players should leave the table and get back to being friends (or friendly acquaintances), not continue the cycle of vengeance beyond the lives of the involved characters.
2 - Aid
Most player characters in role-playing games are decent enough individuals. When they see suffering, they don’t often stand idly by, especially when given the opportunity and power to help. This is not to say that GMs should dangle helpless, wounded puppies in front of their players’ characters every other session, but the drive to do something good for someone else cannot be ignored either. When the players seem somewhat listless, or when they get too confident, allow an as-yet-unexplained event to harm or imperil someone they care about. If they fail to save them, then see point number one! Just make certain that the danger or harm doesn’t feel random or disconnected from the narrative.
3 - Justice
When the world is out of whack, the desire to set things right eventually sinks in. While some characters will act apathetic to the larger concerns of the world, it is unlikely that they will refuse a worthy and worthwhile cause. This type of motivation is best to foster towards the end of your narrative, as it often involves wide, sweeping changes to your setting or forces that threaten the world or a large portion of its denizens. Build up to this one, and seed your narrative with hints that something dastardly is brewing and that the player characters’ influence will be needed. Let them consternate one another and contemplate the ramifications of their involvement. Most groups won’t need more than a small push to rise to the occasion.
4 - Greed
When all else fails, appeal to your players’ need for further power or intriguing items. Entire campaigns have been built off the straining back of avarice. Entice players with shimmering items of incomprehensible worth. Whisper tales of nigh unreachable fonts of absolute power. String them along by their noses until they reach the veritable cave of wonders. Then, as would we all, you should bring down the hammer and make them earn their new attainment.
There are others, of course, and I encourage you to let me know which you prefer when building your campaigns (or when you hit a slow spot during a session). Whatever your motivation, keep on gaming!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.