Player, Character and Party Motivations

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 17 November 2009

Dungeon Mastering has a great article on how to read the minds of your players. It couldn't come at a better time for me. That same day, before I saw the post, I had sent out an email to my players asking them to come up with some character and party motivations for our current campaign and to add them to the wave I had created (if they were ok with them being public to the rest of the party). The reason was, I had a ton of interesting ideas for the story, but I wasn't sure which ones they were going to like. I even gave them an example, from the point of view of one of the npcs, Ralph.

  • Become human again by proving that I can show courage.
  • For while I'm still a chicken, obtain a rich looking cloak and other adornments so people stop thinking of me as an average chicken.
  • Get enough gold to buy a hippogriff. Chompers is nice and all, but that was one nice ride and, when I go home, I want to go home in style.

Some quick backstory, Ralph is a prince from another land who was turned into a chicken by his pregnant girlfriend's mother when he wouldn't stand up to his father. The curse will end when he finally shows some cojones. So, he's got a few long term goals and a few shorter term ones.

While this approach has worked to a degree, it hasn't necessarily given me the kind of details I really need. Most of the goals my players put down are much broader in scale and very little in the way of short term goals. Their goals help me in a grand story arc way, but not in the week to week planning.

To find the bits to help me in the week to week planning, I need to folllow Nicholas' suggestions, especially the ones involving the character sheet. When it comes down to it, the character sheet tells me what they are most interested in and they most want to come up against. A party with few area effect spells might not appreciate an army of minions quite as much. A player character with glasses that allow him to read any language might, you know, want to come across items in lots of different languages. As a result of this post, I've now asked my players to send me their character sheets as well.

In the comments of the post, one of my players mentioned that he used to use questionnaires to get some information from his players. He also pointed to a pretty good player questionnaire from Newbie DM.

In addition to character motivations, I think it's also important to know about the player and party motivations, especially the types of motivations not covered by the DMG. For instance, some players have a particular scene they eventually want to play out in a game regardless of character. Likewise, to help keep a group together and make it a little less like herding cats, it would be great if you can get your party to set up some group motivations. If you've heard the Penny Arcade/PvP podcasts, it helps that they are all part of "Acquisitions Incorporated" and so, they are trying to increase their notoriety and are able to make a fair number of role playing opportunities around the tensions of individual and group goals.

How do you determine what your players are looking for from your game?


My last campaign I let the players help design the world. This game lots of info to me to do the "mindreading" trick on. It's interesting to see what they come up with when you hand sections of the world building over to them.

I've just written about it actually!

This particular campaign started as the game we would play on off weeks, when we couldn't get enough players for our normal game or when the DM wasn't available. Because of that, while I tried to get the players a bit more involved in world building, it just didn't happen as much as I might have liked. Now that this is our main game for now, I'm trying to correct for that. There are few things that I care deeply about, namely that Newham Shire was once Arcadia, it's a land of a lot of latent magic and it's fairly fragmented and tension-filled (mostly over natural and magical resources). One of my players wanted to be part of a guild, so I asked him to tell me about the guild and created an NPC who was also part of the guild. Another of my players told me that he is there specifically to learn new stories and songs (he's a bard) so I've been trying to come up with those as we go along and I've asked him to come up with some from his homeland. When the players are willing to become active participants, the world becomes so much more detailed and it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders.

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