Friday, January 17, 2014

Making goals into Goals and motivations into Motivations

This week started with me reflecting on the differences between some of the characters I've loved recently and the ones I've merely liked. I determined that the key difference was that the characters I loved had Goals and Motivations while the characters I didn't love merely had goals and motivations. Spot the difference? Of course you did, you're smart. The insight has been good for me, and I talked about how having Goals and Motivations (capital G, capital M) can be good for your character because a table top RPG is a lot more like a team book. Today I want to talk about how we can take those goals and motivations a character we are playing has, and turn them into Goals and Motivations.

First, A Disclaimer
I want to be clear. The phrasing of my previous blog posts may make it seem like just having Goals and Motivations is all it takes to make a character into one you love. This isn't true. What having Goals and Motivations does is give the character a chance to be someone that you love. Also, when I say love I mean love them as a character. It is perfectly fine to love a character and yet dislike them as a person. Bayushi Kyoshin for example is a character I loved, but a person I hope to never meet anyone like.

In other words, a character needs to stand out in some way for the jump from "like" to "love" to happen, and Goals and Motivations will help them stand out. That said, let's begin.

What are the goals and motivations?
For this to work we need to already have a character in mind. It doesn't matter if it is someone we're already playing or someone we're in the process of making, the trick is the same. Look at the character and think about what their goals are and what their motivations are. This is something you should be doing anyhow because it helps RP the character, but for this step we need to examine things a bit closer.

For example, I'm going to use my character from the Dresden Files game I'm in. Her name is Priscilla and her High Concept is that she is the "Chosen of Diana: Huntress of the Gods." In other words, Priscilla is a scion of power for the roman goddess Diana, specifically the "Huntress" aspect of that goddess. Priscilla's other aspects include "raised by amazons," "it's not easy to live in my skin," "the silvered bow of diana: huntress of the gods," and she has the trouble aspect of "I was raised better than that." This, hopefully, gives you the image of a character who has been raised in a more athletic/warrior type tradition than most in our day and age, has problems fitting in with her peers, has a kick-ass magical bow, and that she gets into trouble a lot because she can't just ignore someone in need/something that needs doing. Now I like Priscilla a lot, but she hasn't stood out yet in much of anything except for combat (the group needed someone who could deal damage.)

So what are Priscilla's goals and motivations? Well, she wants to do right by her friends, she wants to do the right thing, she wants her parents to be proud of her, she wants to find out more about the supernatural world she has just discovered. The current charge from Diana goes along with that (protect animals, women, pregnant women especially, and children. On top of all that are more personal goals of fitting in better and making friends.

I know what my goals are, now what?
Knowing what the goals are is only half the battle, maybe even less than that. Now we need to choose or make a goal to go along with these, one that we're going to use to make the character stand out and hopefully better define them. This isn't as easy as it sounds. A very common "goal" for a fighter character in D&D and especially in L5R could be to be "the best" but that isn't how we define a lot of the really good fighter characters we see in the fiction around us.

To use Tolkien characters, Aragorn was defined more by his inner nobility and ability to do what was right even at great personal cost, Boromir was defined by his pride and his love of Gondor and desire to protect the world of man, and Gimli is defined by his stoic pride as a dwarf and his earnest sincerity in almost everything he does. We can say, and we'd be right, that there is a lot more to these characters than those things but almost everything about them is viewed through those lenses. Boromir saying he would follow Aragorn is both a tribute to Aragorn's nobility and Boromir's desire to see Gondor succeed. Gimli getting three locks of galadriel's hair is because of that simple earnest sincerity that he possesses.

Back with Priscilla we have a list of goals/motivations but none of them are ones that really fit as something I want to define the character. Her desire to not disappoint is good, but it isn't how I want to shape her story. The desire to do the right thing is good, but that can also be the kind of thing that really takes over a game and while I want Priscilla to stand out I don't want to steal the limelight. None of Priscilla's personal ones work, but there is hope with the charge from Diana. Diana, a goddess, has chosen Priscilla to do a task. Now these type of stories are often met with reluctance. What if we went the other way, but with a twist? Add the goal "Be the best Chosen/Scion of Diana: Huntress of the Gods possible, but on my terms." With this we've effectively taken all the loose goals/motivations Priscilla has and we turn it into a meta goal for the character. She is going to do her job, but she is going to do it her way and on her terms. With luck this should be able to give a Peter Parker-esque quality where the character is constantly torn between two worlds but adamantly refuses to disconnect from either.

So now what do we do? We enhance and exaggerate the goal so that it becomes a prime focus for the character.

Maximization and Enhancement
I said above that a Goal/Motivation provides a tinted lens that shades how we see everything else about the character. Essentially when someone from the outside looks in they will see everything through that particular lens,  How do you put that lens in place? Well, first you craft the lens (we did this last step) and then you need to shine the character through that lens.

Essentially, the key difference between a goal/motivation and a Goal/Motivation is that with a goal it is something the character wants to accomplish and with a Goal it is something that a character needs to accomplish such that it is always on their mind.

For Priscilla this would mean that going forward I should always keep that goal, being the best chosen possible on her terms, in mind when choosing what she is doing and why. What is Priscilla doing on down time? The things she has to do as a chosen only willingly and with zeal. The goal fills up the "off" time with the character, the game fills up "the rest of" the time for the character, but by keeping the goal in mind it will shape actions and approaches such that people looking back will have to see the character through it. Even better though is that since the character doesn't merely want but actually needs to accomplish this goal, they will be proactive about doing it. This proactivity will help them stand out, take notice, and maybe just help them earn your love. What else could you want?


  1. Your series of posts on this have convinced me that I don't "think" very well as a player... at least concept-wise. There's a big effort difference, for one thing. While I put in an abundance of time considering how I should be thinking as a GM, I put in almost no such time as a player.

    I think part of it is me enjoying not *having* to spend that time as a player. Part of me is relieved just to be able to show up & think/react without forethought, because it's so unlike the game I run.

    However, the irony is not lost on me, even before I read these posts. Of course, I want my players to have goals & motivations that drive them & here I am not doing it in the two games I play in. "Yah, but none of them run a game!". Lame, eh? Ok, lame.

    Just played in my Star Wars:EoE game yesterday & had a good time for sure, but wasn't happy about my performance as it pertains to my Trandoshan's goals & motivations. SW:EoE automatically sets up your character with motivations and I played them weakly.

    I think the LotFP game I'm in, I'm going to just sit back & enjoy the ride. But I will really dig into my SW:EoE character. There's multiple reasons for that choice.

    For one thing, he LotFP game is short-term sandbox while the SW:EoE is supposed to be a full blown campaign. Second, as mentioned, SW:EoE sets you up with motivations at chargen, while LotFP is an OSR simple-feeling game, by design. Lastly, the GM of the former is much more likely to care than the latter.

  2. Don't take my post as saying you have to do it a certain way. There is nothing wrong with just playing a character by the numbers and enjoying your time. My point here is that you can invest a lot into a character and get a lot back on that investment. It has upsides and downsides, just as the other way does.

    That said, EotE is a good game to dig into for who the character is. Especially since the system is set up to help you out with that from the beginning.