Table Reflection: Play With Purpose Part 2: The Motive

In the last installment of Play With Purpose, we looked at how to create an exciting and deep setting with an intentional “Reveal”, basically an important event that defines an end-goal of a less linear campaign. Today we’re going to look a little more into the players’ side of things, and look at the Motive.

The Motive is something that drives your players (and their characters) throughout your campaign. It’s important to remember that as a GM your control over the Motive is somewhat shaky, but there are a few things that you can do to make sure that you’ve got a good grasp on what your players are doing.

During character creation or an early session, ask your players what their characters want out of adventuring. Don’t be pushy about it, and let them have some time to think, but once you settle upon it be sure to lock it in, confirming that you understand what it is with them. Designing games around characters’ motives can help, but only if you design them around characters’ motives and not what you incorrectly believe to be characters’ motives. I have played in campaigns where the GM gets this wrong (and run a couple myself), and it often leads to a train wreck of miscommunication.

Once you get your players’ characters motives down, it’s time to reward them. I personally like to keep track of every character and look at motive fulfillment in a tiered system, and while it involves spotlighting certain characters, which may not necessarily be every GM’s favorite, it does account for fulfilling motivations throughout play.

I try to keep four things in mind when I’m working with motives; the challenge, the progress, the fulfillment, and the epitome. A challenge is, quite simply, whatever keeps the player from having his character’s motives be entirely fulfilled. Progress is given to every character every session (or parts of sessions, as I try to go through more than one cycle per session), and essentially is a way to let the player know that I’m still going to get around to their character. Progress is often pretty minor, just a throwaway line or two in some cases, but not only allows me as a GM to verify that the player’s getting into their character and bring up the motives again. Fulfillment is like progress, but much more meaningful, and every session or part of a session is designed around the fulfillment of a desire. It’s when the challenge is overcome, and if appropriate, replaced with a new challenge. The epitome, on the other hand, doesn’t actually come into play at the table, but it’s what I consider to be the “best-case scenario” for a character. I like to have it written down because it’ll be what determines the challenges; when using an epitome it’s possible to let a character’s motives be “fulfilled, but” in a much more controlled fashion.

For instance, say that a character wants to use FTL travel to return to Earth. Their “challenge” could be that FTL travel is illegal in the Coalition. Their “progress” is something like receiving a message with a lead or having the party travel to Marzanna, where they might have a hope of finding some FTL-related artifact. Their “fulfillment” might be finding a repairable FTL drive, which is almost good enough for them. In this way I still haven’t finished their “epitome” of “FTL travel to Earth”, but they’re so close that they can taste it. However, then a new complication comes up; they have the FTL drive, but it’s not working. The cycle repeats itself and they get the FTL drive working, but using it would flood the ship with enough radiation to kill everyone on board.

Note that while I tend to cycle through the motive process, it’s perfectly fine to fulfill a character’s motives if there’s a plan in action to come up with another one, retire the character, or retire the campaign, after the motives are fulfilled. However, be sure to plan ahead of time; I wouldn’t allow the FTL travel in the example because the players aren’t supposed to return to Earth, which is outside the scope of the campaign, so the player whose character’s goal was to return to Earth would never have a chance of doing so; this is, however, a consequence of the setting (the powers that be don’t want people returning to Earth). It’s also possible to experiment with player/group and character/party motives as a game continues on; a band of adventurers who each seek to secure their home-towns prior to the dawn of the 6th Age and the cataclysm that will accompany it may then continue questing together to forestall the apocalyptic end of the era for as long as possible. It’s entirely up to you as a GM to determine what methods fit your table best.

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