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How to Motivate Your Players - Part IIFrom JohnnFour | Published June 27, 2022
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1,207
Brief Word From Johnn
Some GMs have more free time and get a lot of gaming done in the summer, while for others it gets busier and they play less. Either way, I hope you had a fantastic June.
This week I have the next part of Jonathan's series on how to motivate your players. A few simple things make a huge difference in engagement.
Related, some interesting videos came up recently in my YouTube echo chamber about motivation. According to neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, our ambitions and motivation to act on them comes heavily from dopamine.
I always thought sugar, cell phones, video games, TV, sports, connecting with people, and so on created more dopamine, translating into pleasure and escalating desire to pursue more such activities. And when your brain produces too much dopamine you must do more and more to get the same pleasure from it. Turns out that's not entirely true, according to Andrew.
The nuance is, dopamine quantity does not increase per se. Instead, it's how receptive the brain is to receiving that dopamine. The more that floods your system, the less able your brain is able to receive it and process it. Therefore, engaging in constant activities that create dopamine, like checking your phone 100 times a day, eating lots of snacks, and consuming a lot of YouTube echo chamber videos, heh, in effect reduces ambition and motivation.
Something to think about perhaps as we seek living good lives.
Also in today's issue at the end are a trio of reader tips you might be interested in:
How to Measure Map Distance
Create Cheat Sheets of Page Numbers
If possible, motivate yourself to get some gaming done this week!
How to Motivate Your Players - Part II
By Jonathan Hardin, sojournersawake.com
[Comment from Johnn: this is part two of a series Jonathan started here with RPT #1,202 | How to Write Motivation Into Your Games.]
The Power of a Motive
Begin your game by highlighting why the player characters choose to adventure. Is it for glory and fame? Wealth and Riches? Absolution? Knowing the motivation of the player characters helps you design quests and encounters that speak directly to what players want. Watch your games run with more group engagement when you build character motivations and make those part of your quests and encounters.
Where Do You Place the Motivation?
Activate motivation each session by hinting at it in your narrative introduction. Do you remember how to write up an introduction to start off your sessions (RPT #1,202)? Place the motivation there.
For example, a character’s motivation is to learn the stars. Bringing to light the motivation could look something like this game:
GM: The week drones on as the warrior carries buckets of sand for the lizard overlords. Warrior, your body begins to break under the stress and you must succeed with a strength test or take a point of exhaustion. However, roll with advantage since you are able to see the stars at night.
Player: That makes sense, because one day my character wants to learn the magic of the stars!
Bake the Motivation Into the Quest
Assign motivations to player characters without any. This helps those players focus on playing rather than writing up backstories, and ensures every PC has something to struggle for.
Your encounters and quests will not go to waste now since you can build them to perfectly suit the PCs. This method works especially well with new players who are still grappling with the rules.
Players in a new sci-fi game show up with characters generated but without motivations. So the GM assigns motives:
Space Marine Alex wants to discover new life in the galaxy
Space Marine Jordan wants to obtain rank in the empire
Officer Blake desires to gather information for a secret organization
Medic Max wishes to find a cure for an illness
Each player character can enjoy the game while the game master assigns the motivations outright and then builds the encounters around them.
In this example, we create a quest to visit an abandoned space colony and return mysterious cargo to the outpost. This quest provides encounter rewards that discover new life, serve the empire loyally, obtain information to sell, and find a clue to curing Max's illness.
Collaboration is Welcome
Gather your group to participate in the development of each character's motivations. To do this, ask each player to choose a person, place, or thing to anchor in their character. This ensures, with the creativity of your players, that motivations still drive the quest.
NPCs are often the easiest anchor because linking a PC to this person fosters empathy and hooks them into the quest. Whether this person is a victim or a villain, they either need something or are causing problems. They make great quest givers and quest makers.
Locations in peace are not a good anchor. They should be threatened with conflict. Once a conflict arises, the place can anchor player characters to the quest. Also, places yet to be discovered provide an excellent lure for a character to get out and adventure.
Jewelry, relics, tomes, and other special items, if desired by the player characters, can keep the dice rolling as the party searches for whatever is missing. Increase the dynamic of this anchor by another faction desiring the same thing.
Motives are the Promise of Reward
Each motivation powers the game. The reward is reaching the goal of that motivation. If the player character serves a friend, the reward is the continued friendship. If they protect a land, the reward is that land. If they desire a thing, once found, that thing is the reward.
Motivations are like the covers of a book. From open to close, they provide structure so we can tell the story.
May your story continue!