There’s plenty of great GM advice out there, and by now everyone has heard about railroading, saying yes instead of no, and DMPCs. However, there are all kinds of pitfalls, and what are GMs to do when they run into issues that aren’t so commonly talked about? Well, they come to Gamingmage. Let’s take a look at Motivation from both sides of the DM screen. This is a big one that the Pathfinder and D&D community doesn’t really talk about enough, because it’s very difficult to communicate about motivation well. In the case of railroading, the players know exactly how they feel. Lack of motivation is a vague beast, amorphous and transient. The players won’t be able to explain the problem.
Motivating the players is easy; all it takes is the promise of gold or an annoying villain who gets away. Motivating the players’ characters is not easy. It is an incredibly difficult yet vital tool to immerse the players in the world and the story, to make them actually care a little bit about the events unfolding in your world and their role in them.
Remember always that the specific beats the general when it comes to adventures. It will be an interesting adventure to save Brian, the one-eyed innkeeper with the sharp tongue who was stolen away by a demon disguised as his daughter. This adventure is fun because it is about something very specific, very personal. The End of The World, however, may not be enough motivation. If the players feel that someone else can or ought to save the world, it’s far too vague of a problem for them to get a grip on. It’s boring.
Motivation is a very tricky thing. It seems like a good idea to link the adventure you have written to the personal backstories of the PCs, and while that might work for one or two of them, the PCs without that backstory link will feel less motivated than ever: nothing could have less to do with them than another character’s mentor getting into legal trouble. The thing to keep in mind is the purpose of motivation: to keep the characters moving through the story or the world, keep them doing things other than pursuing the whim of the moment.
One way to patch up the inherent weakness of the backstory-motivation is to insure that all of the characters have the same element in their past that they need to use moving forward. Avoid the antithesis of this principle, where you put in elements from every players’ unique backstory, as this will result in a scattered adventure with no real aim or purpose, further weakening motivation. Instead, backstory-based motivation has to come from the very beginning of the game. One design that works wonders is to require the players to take levels in a certain class or certain pool of classes at the very beginning of the game, and explain that the player must be from a particular region or belong to a certain organization to begin the game. This ensures that they have elements of backstory that they all share, and thus may all share a similar motivation.
Avoid the ‘meet in a tavern’ beginning at all costs. It is the bane of good motivation.