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Posted by the GM
The Wounded World
Players, Make Sure Your Characters Actually Want To Be Here
from Neal Litherland, Improved Initiative blog

I've been talking to the DMs a lot in my Monday posts of late, so I figured it was time to take a moment to address the players out there. Because there's a big trap that almost all of us fall into in our gaming careers, and it can ruin the game for the rest of the folks at the table... especially if more than one of you fell into it without even knowing it.

In short, a lot of us make characters who practically have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the adventure... and we should all take a moment to stop that.

Bandits, huh? Doesn't sound like my problem.

Apathetic Characters Make For Frustrated Storytellers

I mentioned this back in 5 Tips To Get The Most Out of Your Next LARP, and it was the tip that got the most love. As such, I figured it was worth repeating, and elaborating on, for the folks in back.

Do not make a recalcitrant character. Do not make an apathetic character. Do not make a character who is looking for absolutely any reason to abandon the party and go do their own thing. This is a cooperative game, and it works best if everyone there has a character they want to play, and that character wants to be part of this story.

Have sword, will travel.
It's true that part of this relies on the DM working with you to make sure your character fits into the game. However, you are responsible for the final form your character takes, the drives they possess, and the actions they end up taking. Which is why it's important to think about not just what would make them fun to play, and what their personal objectives and goals are, but about how they interact with the wider world.

Lastly, it's important for you to come up with reasons for them to get involved.

You Have To Want To Be Involved (Even If The PC Doesn't)

Despite the title of this post, and everything I just said, I will admit that sometimes you want to play the reluctant badass character. The old campaigner who laid their sword aside, the wizard who's just too busy to bother with all this adventuring nonsense, or the monk who's trying to learn deeper meanings of the world instead of brawling with bugbears.

I get it. This is literally one of my favorite archetypes as a player. However, what I will tell you from experience is that if you are going to bring this character to the game, then it is up to you as the player to come up with a reason they are getting involved in the plot rather than putting that burden on the DM.

A blind old woman rolled the bones? Good enough for me!
Take the example of the retired hardass. Sure, he's got the skills, but he hung up his sword when he came back from the war, and he wants to be just a simple farmer now. However, if you want to be involved in the game, you need to provide a reason that Aethor takes that wall hanger down from over the fireplace and hits the campaign trail again.

It could literally be anything you want it to be! For instance...

- He Cares About Another Party Member: Maybe the wizard is his nephew, or the bard is an old friend that he knows gets into trouble when he's not around. Whatever the reason, he's not letting them risk their lives without him to watch their back. He still doesn't care about the bandit lord, or the goblin horde, because those things aren't his prerogative, but he's fully invested.

- It's The Right Thing To Do: Paladins aren't the only ones with a strong code of ethics. If the town is looking for people to make a stand, whether it's against a necromancer defiling graves to build an undead army, or gnolls raiding a settlement and taking people as slaves, somebody has to put a stop to that. Rule 303; you've got the means and skills, so you've got the responsibility to do something about it.

- He Owes Someone a Favor: This is particularly true for scenarios that I mentioned in Did Your Character Have A Former Life? Maybe they don't want to leave the farm, the forge, or the tavern behind, but they've got a debt to pay. It might be an old friend they would have helped for the asking, or a grim, John Wick-style blood debt, but whatever it is should get them out the door and on the adventure path to clear their ledger.

- Someone Ordered Him To: This is, perhaps, the easiest form of motivation in the history of a storytelling; you go to do the thing because it's your job, and your problem. Whether you're the local priest, a militia sergeant, a town guard, a sheriff's deputy, or a hedge knight charged with patrolling the highways, whatever is going wrong is something you've been ordered to fix. And because you like your job, you go do the thing.

Those are just some of the most common instances I could suggest. However, the important thing to remember is that you need to be the one that provides this hook for your PC to get in on the action. This may require you to talk with the DM and hash out some quick ideas, but generally speaking anytime you're saving the person behind the screen the work of roping you in it's something they're going to appreciate.

You Are In Control of Your Character

One of the most frustrating things you can hear as a DM is the phrase, "My character wouldn't be interested in that." Any time you feel the urge to say this, stop, take a step back, and look at the situation from a different angle. Find a reason, even if it means you have to alter your character just a bit in order to smooth the way forward.

They took children, you said? I'm in.
Take Shadrick Vars, known to most as the Gray Man. He's a bad man to fool with, and it's said he won't so much as lift a finger unless there's a coin in it for him. Hardly the sort of character you'd expect to show up to help hunt down a set of kidnappers; especially if the bounty for them is hardly worth a day's work. But if you're the player at the controls, it's your job to ask why he's opted to take on this mostly altruistic task. Even (or especially) if it's out of character for him to do so.

Is it because Shadrick was taken from his parents at a young age, sold to a cartel boss and trained as an enforcer, and he wants to put that part of him to rest by helping this child? Does he know the family, perhaps suspecting they might actually be distant kin of his? Does he have a strict, "No spouses, no kids," rule, and he means to make an example of those who offend his sensibilities on his home turf? All of these are possible, and it wouldn't require changing the fundamental nature of the character. Each one of these reasons gets him out on the adventure, though, and give the character a compelling reason to see this arc through to the end.

The key thing is to take the initiative. Don't sit around waiting for the DM to give you personal attention to get you to come along, or for the rest of the table to ask pretty please; find a reason to set your character to the task, and get involved. Once you do that, the momentum builds, and everything gets a whole lot easier.
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