Behind the Screen: Using motive to your advantage…

2009 October 21
by Dante

Tonight, I had an opportunity to talk about campaign building with e from Geek’s Dream Girl who was working on her own storyline.  This quickly got me thinking about how I put storylines together, and here we are.

Always know the motive

When you’re trying to put a storyline together, often you’ve got a vague idea of the characters or encounters that you want to have happen.  The best part to string seemingly disparate elements of a story together is to figure out a motive why these events would be occuring, or the motive of a character or entity that can make these events happen for you.  The best part about this pattern is that you can weave storylines together.

In my current campaign, I’ve got three storylines that intersect based on the actions that my characters take.  They’ve already had an opportunity to fundamentally change at least one storyline, which in turn would’ve changed elements of the other two.  The best part about this mode of story design is that you can choose to accentuate a certain storyline if you find that one such thread is working better for your group.

Motive only gets you so far… and you don’t have to share the reasons!

You don’t necessarily have to explain every last aspect of the motivation of your characters within a story.  Once you get things going, I strongly encourage roleplaying with my characters.  It may turn out that they will take the plot that you begin in a different, more interesting direction.  This is the main reason why I award roleplaying experience… it writes aspects of my plotline for me!

In fact, I have some content written based off of an incorrect assumption that one of my players made.  They took a pre-written plot point from Keep on the Shadowfell and assumed it happened somewhere else.  The player wasn’t wrong, they were just working with the information they had.  Because this piece of the campaign would work anywhere, I opted to let them go with it.  Now another major piece of my campaign is built on this piece of player generated content.

This provides a fringe benefit of the player “being right” when they show up to find something important happening where they thought it would.

So think long and hard about the motives that drive your early storyline, and foster roleplaying to help them take flight.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. October 22, 2009

    This is something oft overlooked, and I need to drop in and give you kudos for mentioning it.

    This often comes up in conversations about versimilitude. Nothing immerses a PC more than the world acting the way they think it should, logically. That ‘fringe benefit’ you mention pushes them deeper into your world and creates a much closer connection to your setting.

    Great post.

  2. October 22, 2009

    I couldn’t agree more with you and LordVreeg. In my current campaign, motivation is the driving force of literally everything. I started the group out with each character having a short history of who they are and where they come from (mostly player’s input) and a very basic common goal and starting point. After I got them moving, I developed a handful of NPCs with basic goals or motivations and the rest has written itself. Obviously it’s very freeform, but it’s worked well so far.

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