Monday, March 06, 2006

What's My Motivation?

Does it sometimes seem like the characters in your games just aren't living up to their descriptions? Do they seem a bit more like their player's personal avatar instead of what's written on their character sheet? Chances are that they have no rational drive, no concrete purpose... no Motivation. Read on, and see an easy system that will add that third dimension to your characters.

Many gamers aren't very good roleplayers. Most RPGs don't try to teach good roleplaying habits. Most new players just focus on the system, and play characters that fit that system, with personalities that enable an easy power grab. Everyone reading this has seen characters who are just a type of game-piece, to be steered towards power and fortune by a crafty player. At the extreme, this gives you an entire group playing sociopaths.

Motivation is a system to encourage & reward good roleplaying. Specifically, a melodramatic, soap-opera style of roleplaying. This system was designed for Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic book style, and it does not encourage subtlety.

The idea of the system is simple: A character's personality is described by Motivations. By following his motivations in the face of hardship, the PC is rewarded with Fudge Points. This is more than just a generic extra-XP-for-good-roleplaying rule. The system tries to minimize GM judgment calls, making the rewards more reliable. Also, there are rules to avoid abusive, antisocial motivations. I don't believe in the "just playing my character" excuse.

Motivations are the elements of a character that will drive his personal story. They can come from within, like a moral value or a personality quirk, or they can be imposed from the outside, like having an enemy or being a target of bigotry.

The GM's Outlook

The PC's Motivations are a useful source of information to the GM. Figuring out a reason for the PCs to go adventuring together is a simple matter of finding compatible Motivations. A list of Motivations is essentially a list of plot hooks. More than that, Motivations determine what themes and issues the game will deal with. A Player's choice of motivation is a way of communicating what type of game he'd like play.

Player's Outlook

Choose one or more Motivations for your character. Choose them from the list below, or invent your own. Be sure to check your choices with the GM. She might set a minimum or maximum number of Motivations, or declare some choices restricted or obligatory.

Many of the Motivations in the list involve a relationship between your character and an NPC. It's up to the Player to detail this character. Usually a name and a profession will be enough.

Fishing for FPs

GMing is a big job. A GM can easily forget to hand out a Motivation reward. Players should feel free to speak up, but remember there's a line between a friendly reminder and blatant begging.

Awarding Fudge Points:

So when does a given action merit a reward? Naturally, the action must match one of the PC's Motivations. If it's not on the character sheet, there's no reward.

Unexceptional actions don't merit rewards. A PC motivated by Altruism shouldn't get a reward for every little old lady he helps across the street, and a PC motivated by Lust shouldn't get one for making a pass at a random NPC. The two yardsticks for a reward are Coolness and Grief.


Does the PC's action make the game cooler? This is best determined by the opinion of the gaming group as a whole. If the weight of opinion holds that a player is derailing the game, hogging the spotlight, or being otherwise antisocial, there should never be a reward. On the other hand, if a player's action gets a round of applause, cheers, or high-fives around the gaming table, it's probably worthy of reward, even with little or no Grief. Most actions are somewhere in the middle, and are determined by Grief alone.


Does the PC's action make his life more complicated or difficult? A character's motivations are the things he's willing to struggle for, the burdens he must bear, and the tragic flaws that will lead him to trouble. A PC who only plays his motivations when there's no real risk or cost isn't trying hard enough.

Player-to-Player is extra Cool

In roleplaying, the best scenes are often played out between the PCs, rather than between a PC and the GM. GMs should be a bit more generous in these Player / Player scenes, especially if a Player takes the initiative in establishing the scene. If nothing else, it will make the GM's job easier.

Baiting your PCs

If Players aren't taking the initiative in making their Motivations part of the game, try dangling a carrot. Point out the opportunities. Let a PC know before he makes a decision that there is a Motivation reward involved. After a while Players will start looking on their own.

The Grief will come

Give a reward now or later? There are many cases where the Grief resulting from an action is delayed. A GM can either reward the player immediately, or when the Grief manifests. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

The Big List:

  • Altruism [aka Compassion, Charity]: The character is moved to help those who can't help themselves. The essential heroic motivation. Practically mandatory in some genres.
  • Ambition [aka Power, Glory]: The character is driven to elevate herself in the world, to seek power and authority. A very traditional tragic flaw.
  • Anger: The character seeks to vent his rage, either verbally or physically, and doesn't much care who the target is. This can cause all manner of Grief.
  • Authority [aka Law-abiding, Law]: The character respects the will of authority figures, even if she personally disagrees. Like a good samurai, she will loyally serve a dishonorable master. (See Fidelity.)
  • Bond (with who?): There is a person who the character feels very strongly about. (See also Family, Fidelity, Idol, & Love)
  • Cause (what cause?): The character is part of a social or political movement, and seeks to advance its goals, discredit its enemies, and proselytize others into the cause.
  • Code [aka Vow] (what code?): There is code of behavior that the character follows, from the code of chivalry to the code of piracy.
  • Discovery [aka Curiosity]: The character seeks out new information, either in a scientific sense or simply snooping into the private lives of his friends.
  • Fame: The character wants to be famous. Whether his reputation is good or bad doesn't matter as much as simply being known.
  • Faith (what faith?): The character is devoutly religious. Faith can show itself in many forms, from acts of charity, to slaying infidels.
  • Family: The character is loyal to his family, who pop up pretty frequently in the character's life.
  • Fidelity [aka Duty] (to who?): The character has a master, lord, or boss, who he has sworn to serve.
  • Friendship: The character deeply values his friends, and is wiling to make sacrifices for them. Conveniently, this works to hold the PCs together in a game. Like Altruism, this motivation is very common in heroic genera.
  • Greed: The character seeks money and material things.
  • Hatred (who?): The character hates a certain person, ideology, or class of people. This seems like the least heroic motivation, but many classic heroes have very personal grudges against their enemies. (eg: Hates criminals, Hates Nazis, Hates Dr. Evil, etc.)
  • Idol (who?): The character idolizes a certain person, and struggles to be like his hero. Your idol might not appreciate your devotion, and might not live up to your idea of her.
  • Justice: The character is driven to protect the innocent, and punish the guilty. This can get you caught up in all sorts of Grief.
  • Love (who?): The character is in love. He seeks to be with and protect his love. The object of his affections may or may not return his affections. If not, the love-stricken PC will try to change this attitude.
  • Lust: It's like love, but a lot less picky. The Grief potential is infinite. As is the potential amusement value to the other players.
  • Nemesis (who?): Someone has a grudge against the character. The PC can try to avoid or confront the foe, but either way there will be Grief.
  • Peace: The character values peace and seeks to avoid violence and conflict.
  • Pleasure: The character is a total hedonist, seeking personal pleasure. The degree of Grief this can bring depends on the character's favorite indulgence.
  • Pride: Like they say, it goes before a fall. The character seeks to prove himself, accepting challenges to prove his superiority.
  • Quest (what goal?): There is a specific, tangible goal that the character is driven to achieve.
  • Rebellion: The opposite of Authority. The character is instinctively suspicious of authority figures. Often he dislikes being in any team or organization that has a leader, unless he personally trusts the leader.
  • Rival (who?): The character is in competition with someone else, either professionally or romantically.
  • Secret (what and why?): The character has a secret to keep. There has to be a big reason why the character has the secret.
  • Stigmatized (why?): The character is part of some minority group which is feared or distrusted greater society. Naturally, this is very much dependent on the campaign. Individual groups will have to decide who would be considered stigmatized in a given setting.
  • Truth: The character's word is bond. The character will make every effort to keep his promises.
  • Trust: The character believes in trust, and is quick to trust strangers. This can be simple naivety, or a willingness to make a leap of faith.