Building a Reason To Adventure
The five strangers meet in a tavern. They realize they all have skills that can be useful and decide to work together. They hear a rumor of trouble nearby and they go kick monster butt. They discover a sinister plot and chase after a mcguffin for twenty levels. The entire time, they work well together and are friends despite the gross differences within the party.
Sound familiar? This is not as common as it once was, especially with published adventures that go out of their way to avoid the standard tavern meeting. The point here though, is that often your character doesn’t have a reason to go adventuring. Why would they risk their lives to face traps, monsters, and environmental hazards? Why are they leaving a perfectly comfortable life to possibly be killed in horrible ways? Better yet, why are they adventuring with the party?
In acting, one tool used to enhance your ability to play your role is to know the moment before. This too can help you play your character in the game. To do this, you need to understand a few basics about your character. This isn’t coming up with a detailed history, like I talked about earlier, this is establishing a few basics that you can go back and flesh out later.
These questions are:
- What family does my character have?
- What does my character do for a living?
- How does my character live?
- What changed in my character’s life that made them consider adventuring?
What family does my character have?
All too often I see characters with no family, and I don’t just mean a spouse and children but parents and siblings. Maybe we can blame superheroes for this, as it seems to be a common theme in those types of stories. However, having family members won’t just set you apart from the common character backgrounds but they will offer your character and the GM additional resources to play with. The relationship doesn’t have to be ideal either. Maybe your character has some illegitimate children and woman or two hoping your character will return one day. Maybe the only family member left is the father who was always too harsh and critical. Or maybe everything is just fine with both parents alive and proud of your character and a wife and kids that couldn’t be happier. Keep in mind that love and family can be a powerful motivation to go out and risk life and limb, and don’t be afraid to do something outside the usual orphaned character.
What does my character do for a living?
Your character earned their starting funds doing something. You don’t need to have them be good at it, but they should have done something. Maybe they unloaded ships or shoveled coal. You don’t have to have an undesirable job though. Something that could bring in money, like a merchant or tavern own, could be left behind for adventuring if the reasons are good enough. This won’t just help you decide why they adventure, but it could also provide reasons for the character to have skills and knowledge they use while adventuring.
How does my character live?
Do they live in a slum, on the street, in a mansion, or in tavern rooms? Are they rich, poor, or somewhere between? Figuring this out will help you figure out what they are used to, and may also give some ideas as to why they left that life for adventuring. The rich could go on adventures just as easily as the poor, and for much of the same reasons. Wealth causes a problem of imbalance in the game though, and could be abused unless you work with your GM to find a reason to not use the wealth. Maybe the family patriarch has locked down what wealth you have access to, or possibly your family has suffered major losses and can’t afford to buy you the best equipment. The poor could go adventuring just because they have these ideas about treasure troves and mountains of lost gold waiting for them. No matter how your character lives before adventuring, decide if it is a life they plan on returning to.
What Changed in my character’s life that made them consider adventuring?
Something happened to spark the idea of adventuring. People are much like objects, in that they tend to stay at rest or in motion unless an outside force act upon them. What was that outside force for your character? Use the answers to the other three questions to help you find the answer to this one by changing at least one of them. Did they lose everything to a fire, a con man, or a political change? Was someone in their family killed? Did they become an outcast with their family or society and now have nothing to lose? Did they witness something at their job? Did they lose their job to some injustice? This doesn’t have to be a big turning point either. They could have simply grown up in a perfectly normal family dreaming of the adventures they heard about and desiring to go out and do the same.
Lastly, you could have a reason that isn’t related at all to the three main questions. Maybe the character was called by their god to go out and do something great. Maybe a wizard showed up on their front door with twelve dwarfs and convinces your character to go on an adventure. Whatever the reason, make sure it is strong enough to motivate them though the really tough times.
Once you have a real reason to adventure, you have a motivation that you can use to gauge all of your decisions. If you have a family to provide for, you might be hesitant to jump into a dangerous situations that are not necessary. If you are seeking revenge, you will be jumping into those unnecessary situations if they lead toward that goal. You also have one more tool that your Game Master can use to make the campaign personal to you.
So what is your reason to adventure? What questions have you used to come up with a reason?