Today I'd like to talk about character goals. When a character makes the decision to go out and adventure, it is with some goal in mind. Nobody risks life and limb for no reason. Nobody abandons their daily lives for no reason. If we are to play a character with any depth, we should do our best to explore that reason and see what it is they want out of life and their adventures.
Sometimes it is a very concrete thing, as with a questing knight seeking the Holy Grail. Once the object of their search is found, they will be able to return to their daily lives. While there isn't anything inherently wrong with this, a player who builds a character with this in mind should be aware that finding this object might mean retiring the character, so they should pick something that is very difficult to obtain, so that they can go the length of the campaign without having their character lose purpose. Also, they should choose something relevant to the plot wherever possible, so that their character does not feel sidetracked by doing things that aren't relevant to their quest, and so that you don't sidetrack everybody else by pursuing your quest at the expense of other events.
There is also the option of creating a character that desires an indefinite thing. Examples of this would be "Become fabulously wealthy" or "Consolidate political power behind myself." These are both things that can achieved. A character seeking wealth will go out to adventure in pursuit of it, and someone desiring political dominance could travel from place to place engaging in diplomacy or stirring up rebellion or trying to win the favor of nobility. But what exactly would it mean to fulfill this goal? Is 10,000 GP fabulously wealth, or would it take 1,000,000 GP or more? And for those desiring political influence, would a title and small keep suffice, or must you become King or even Emperor? These sort of ill-defined goals are good for a PC to have. They give a character a reason to adventure, and can be seen to progress (as with the acquisition of gold or titles.) But the exact quantity is unspecified. The character is not satisfied until the player is, or until the game ends otherwise.
Then there are abstract goals. These would be something like "Destroy evil" or "Protect the innocent." These goals cannot be realistically achieved. It takes a somewhat idealistic character to be motivated by this, but since the goal itself cannot be achieved, the character's work is never done until they are no longer able to do it. This sort of motivation is vague, but robust. It tends more towards ideology than practicality, but it dictates the actions of the PC just as much as any more 'realistic' quest.
Of course, there is also the possibility of character development occurring during the course of a game that might shape a character's goals, values, and objectives. A character might initially set out to find their missing family, only to find that they are dead, and then his quest becomes one of revenge on everyone involved. Or a character might amass wealth and find that it doesn't bring her the satisfaction she thought it would, and then sets out to use the money in a charitable manner to make the world a better place by finding and righting wrongs. These goals are not mutually exclusive. You can shift and move between them, or even hold multiple goals of the same or different type as the game goes on. But there must always be a goal, because adventuring is difficult work. Apathy has no place when slaying dragons or diving into dungeons. Characters need a strong motivator to do that, and it is up to you as the player to give it to them.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For a look at this topic from more of the GMs side of things, go check out "Character Development Arcs" on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.