I need help motivating my characters!


First Post
I DM for a group of 7th level adventurers.

The personalities of everyone of my PC's boils down to essentially "Glory hungry, power driven, money mongering sociopath" and yet they manage to play this out as chaotic good (which is a good thing for my campaign).

My issue however, is that as new quests arise, I'm getting tired of using the World-of-Warcraft-esque plot arcs of "Hey I'll give you 50 gold if you go kill that kobold for me!" or "You'll be famous if you go beat up that goblin!". Yeah my players and their characters go for those arcs and are interested, but I feel like it prevents them from being invested in the story and actually caring too much about what happens.

So does anyone have any suggestions I can use for quest motivation? The issue isn't that my player's are uninvested mind you. They love playing. The issue is that their characters are all detached from life.

The methods I've tried so far are the following:

- Intentionally but fairly killing off one of their characters so their characters fear death thus bolstering the suspension of disbelief.
- Establishing an in game newspaper which acknowledges their accomplishments when they do something notable so they feel fulfilled and motivated to more actions of the sort.
- Humiliating, patronizing, discrediting, and dishonoring their characters so they feel insulted by the NPC's responsible and want either revenge or to redeem themselves.

What I think is missing is a love for something. The player's and the characters all love themselves above everything else. There's no cause that they would lay their lives down for. They would not jump in front of an arrow to protect someone. I need to make the players and the characters love something, then threaten to take it away. Can anyone help me on this front?

Also, it may be that the characters are simply evil characters in personality yet are performing good actions. Perhaps if I present them with an opportunity to commit evil as a quest, the characters will do so much more whole heartedly and the players may be more enthused. Any suggestions on that?

So yeah, in a nut shell I need help with the following:
- General ideas for plot arcs
- Ideas on how to make a player love a cause, person, etc in game
- Ideas on whether or not turning the campaign to evil is a good idea

log in or register to remove this ad


First Post
I have one guy like that, but if I had an entire group like that, I'd find a new group, or step down from DMing. Lots of players, when given DM duties, take a more invested interest in the game when they return as players.


First Post
This isn't an easy thing to address without knowing your players. How well do you know your players?

Are they role players? Do they prefer to just get to the combat? Do they have back stories for their characters? Are they new to the game or new to role playing?

Your answer is tucked away somewhere in those details.

I know my four players well as most of us have been gaming together for 20 years. I know the kinds of books and movies they enjoy, the kinds of stories they enjoy, and the types of gaming experiences that appeal to them. So it's pretty easy for me to get them into it.


First Post
My players and I are just heading into college and I've known them all ranging from 4 - 18 years. We've only started playing D&D as of March 2009 though.

My players all stay completely in character. There's almost never any meta-gaming at the table or out of character conversation. Each of their characters has a back story, it just so happens that those back stories all explain why they're the sociopaths I described.

Again, my player's like playing. Im more or less just getting bored of and afraid my party will get bored of the WoW like quest motivators.

Though I see what you're saying about drawing from media they're interested in. I'll look into that.


First Post
Get you players to write a forestory. EG where they want their PCs to go. If you create quest around it they will much more interested as the quests that focus on them are more self serving.

For example if one wants to be a lich(socipathic) then maybe he needs to find a book about it, a gem for a phylactary, kill a small town for the life force. Stuff like that.

If all else fails you can use the "Girdle of masculinity/femininity" to screw with their path. It'd make the role play more interesting.....


First Post
- Ideas on how to make a player love a cause, person, etc in game
If you can get them to build something up, like their own castle/house/fiefdom sorta thing from the ground up, they might get a sense of ownership about it.

Or at least give them something to tie them together with- The Evil game I played in had the players working for a greater power since it had some dirt on them, and their motivation was to sorta do it's bidding while at the same time figure out how to get free of it.

Mad Hamish

First Post
Off the top of my head
- steal one of their items and have them track down the thief who is linked to an organisation who becomes their main enemy.
- let them know of a powerful artifact and have them track it down and get roped into it's goals (they get a payoff of power, you get to involve them in things while they have the artifact and hopefully they'll get some commitment to doing things for themselves)
- have a rival group of adventurers start getting all the press because they're doing the non-paying missions.

Note that it's probably going to be easier to get the characters to hate and oppose something than it is to make them love something



A lot of the problems with this sort of thing come from the fact that the characters are not actually a part of the world in which they live. I mean, what is the difference between a party of characters and group of bandits. Bandits don't care about the world, they just go around trying to find someone to steal from. They are very one dimensional.

Make them a part of the world for starters. Even the most loner of us is integrated into the world by many things, whether we want to be or not. Family, friends, jobs and clubs(guilds). The pubs, shops and cafs we always go to. We have religions, churches and un-religions. Political beliefs and the groups associated with them. Partners - love and business. We have bosses and employees. Towns we grew up in. Places we like to take prospective girlfriends. Areas we avoid. We have places around the streets and towns we live that inspire good and bad memories, and when those places are levelled and used for new buildings or roads we are gutted. We remember the way our gran used to make pies and how no-one else ever gets the taste the same.

STEP 1: Make them fully integrate into the world.
Use NPCs and groups that give the PCs something for free. It's selfish-I like them because they give me stuff-but it is a start. Give them personality and they will associate free stuff with liking their personality.

They help a pub owner and now everytime they go in he gives them all a free drink and toasts them to the rest of the bar. ADDED - His mother sits behind the bar complaining and digging at him. He tells her shut up and just croak already.

STEP 2: Kill it, smash it, burn it.
An idea from an old Dragon Mag. If the players keep going around wanting to do evil stuff tell them you want to do a one-off. They all get to be monsters and they are allowed to do the most awful things they can imagine. They are to raid a town. Don't give much description - except in the details of all the horrible things they do. Make notes of what they did.

STEP 3: WTF has happened to my town.
Give them back their normal characters and have them return to town. Describe all these NPCs that give them free stuff in how badly damaged they are. Try to keep a lot of them alive. For example if they kill an old lady by pinning her to a wall - have a bloodstain on the pub wall with a hole in the middle where a spear has been. The barman doesn't toast the PCs he just sits and stares at the stain, muttering about his poor mother.

Make them feel bad about being bad.

(Aleena! Damn you Bargle.)
Last edited:


Getting your players to tell you their long-term plans for ultimate fortune and glory (followed by "well, why aren't you pursuing that") could potentially get you some great stuff.

It might not hurt to have some NPCs refer to them as their favourite minions. "Well, it's my favourite minions! Tell you what, I might chuck 50g your way if you run down the street and get me a burger".


David Jose
My suggestion was going to be to have them create elements of the world that they'd be interested in interacting with. It could be a family member, or a friend, or a hated enemy. It could even be a thing, a family heirloom, their childhood home, the city they were born in. BUT you've got a backstory for them already, so I'm assuming there must be something in there already.

I'd caution against, however, considering that person, place or thing to only be something for you to take away or threaten every time you wanted to elicit some roleplaying from your crew. I'd hazard a guess that if they DON'T have those things in their backstories, it's because they were left out for that exact reason.

I think that there's a reason why at least 90% of the RPG characters I saw while I was in college (gaming 7 days a week) were mysterious, (CG/CN), orphaned, loners without any ties to family, king, or country. If you were stupid enough to put that stuff out there, then you were just giving the DM ammunition to use against you.

I myself try to turn to my players as frequently as possible for improvisational fodder. You want to wander around till you find an appropriately shady tavern? Ok, you spot one as you wander down a dimly lit side street. What's the tavern called? Someone walks in and they immediately catch your eye, why? What do they look like? What do you think they're doing here? Are you right?

Maybe the player doesn't even interact with the person. Maybe they become a recurring fixture that they see over and over again around the city and don't become important until later. But they become important because you followed the players lead (while they were following yours) and they took you to something they were interested in.

I think that there are more important questions you can ask a player to try to get them out of their murder/gold/xp shells. I myself add 6 extra bits to character creation to help flesh things out, and to give each of us (the player, their team mates, and me) a better handle on who the character is.

The first two I borrow part and parcel from the Burning Wheel RPG. Instinct, and Belief. A character's Instinct is their gut reaction to things. As a DM, a character's Instinct is a hint as to what kinds of situations the player wants to be put into. "Always expect trouble." "Never let those with power bully those without it." "If people need help, make sure you get payed up front." This becomes an easy explanation of what people should expect when the character is around. It's not straight jacket, saying how the character has to act, but it's an easy crutch to grab if the player isn't sure how to react to something.

A character's Belief is a short phrase that encompasses an ideology, code, or goal. As a DM, a character's Belief is a giant neon sign pointing to what kinds of choices the player wants to make and where they want the character to go. A Belief can either be something that they want to eventually resolve, an idea that they might re-evaluate and change, or a life goal that they'll never attain. "Lead others to follow Sehanine by the example I set." "Keep Reginald safe til I can get him home to his family." "I will find the six fingered man and give him The Speech before I kill him."

After the big two, I ask the player to decide on their character's Appearance, Theme, Quality, and Flaw.

Height, weight, hair-color, eye-color, and skin tone never really made much sense to me. If they ever actually came up in a game, it was only to see who broke the bridge, or got decapitated by a trap. In my mind, a more important question would be "In one word, what does your character look like?" "Tall", "unkempt", or "angelic" all mean more to me, and paint a better picture than "6'2", 193 lbs, blonde hair, blue eyes, tanned."

I always describe a character's Theme as their "after you peel away the character class, class." Yes, he's a fighter, but what is he? Is he a scholar, a bounty hunter, a missionary?

A character's Quality and Flaw are their most and least redeeming features. Basically "people who like you describe you as _______, and people who don't, describe you as _______." "Good natured, but gullible." "Reliable, but irritable." "Smart, but short sighted." More than anything, we use these to help us describe success and failure. The dice tell us whether we win or lose, Qualities and Flaws help us figure out why.

All in all, I've found that these 6 bits of information were handier than a backstory. They're snippets that can fit on a character sheet, and give you a cliff notes version of who the character is and what makes them tick.

Another method that I used to use was borrowed from an old personality test meme that had been floating around while I was in highschool. The long and the short of it was that you had three descriptions of your character. One was how the character saw themselves, the second was how the character wanted other people to see them, and the third was how other people actually saw them.

An Advertisement