[RPG] How to handle players who make unmotivated characters


I'm a relatively new GM, and I'm having trouble getting my (also new) players to create motivated characters. I don't mean that the players themselves are unmotivated, but the characters they create and play as are. I've run three separate adventures with them, but the result is always the same – the characters they play as just aren't willing or interested in doing anything adventurous. For example, here are the last three games we tried:

  • Fallout PnP: We had a Deathclaw, a dog, and a mute human, so nobody could or was interested in talking to anyone. I brought this concern up during character creation, but none of the players wanted to change, figuring that "they'd make it work."
  • Homebrew System: We had a high-class elf who was too elite to care about the party's troubles, a druid who only was there to study the world and also didn't care about the plot, and a golem who was passive in general.
  • Fate Core: We have a doctor's wife who wants to come home at the end of each day, a merchant who is only concerned with selling his wares and drinking, and a pirate captain who just wants to send her underlings to do everything for her.

In one attempt to try to get them going (in the homebrew system), I introduced a new player to the campaign who was more experienced as a player. He created a leader-type character to help move things along. However, after some time, the original players felt that their agency was lost, and that they were just doing whatever the new player told them to. As a result, interest plummeted and we ended the campaign.

A second attempt (in Fate) revolved around the local police suspecting one of the party characters for the strange murders that had been occurring. I figured that pressure from in-game society would spark their investigation, but the players agreed that the police didn't have any real evidence tying them to the murders, and so they wouldn't bother trying to clear their names. This meant that when they defeat one of the monsters actually responsible for the murders, they just leave and go home rather than investigating where it came from.

All of these players want to keep playing, and they've expressed repeatedly their willingness to do so. However, when we do play, we just get stuck in a rut and nothing happens. I don't want to railroad my players into action, but at the same time I don't want to spend three hours doing nothing. How can I encourage my players to be more adventurous with their characters?

Best Answer

Your players are telling you that they might not want to adventure.

First and foremost, ask your players if this is the case before acting on advice from random strangers on the internet.

It appears to me that they are not interested in playing in an adventure, and that is perfectly fine. There are many other options for the kinds of games to run. The key is not trying to get the characters to be motivated to do something from the outset, but only to make sure the characters have a reason to stay together as a party.

From there you can build on what you already know of the characters. For example, in the homebrew game, it would appear to me that instead of trying to get the largely academic and upper-crust characters to go on a grand adventure, they might have been motivated by courtly intrigue. That is only an example, as it is unclear what kind of plot you actually attempted with that one.

In your Fate game it appears that you tried to start a plot the characters were ill-fit for. A store keeper, a house wife, and a manager are an unlikely group to go gallivanting on a grand investigation, especially when monsters are the order of the day. However, they might have responded to blackmail and underworld pressures.

The point I am making is that if the characters are well thought out, and your players are playing them thoughtfully, the question is not how to motivate the characters to take part in the plot you have planned, but how to plan a plot that fits the existing motivations of the characters.

If you are having trouble finding that plot, ask your players. They are three-quarters of the creative force at your table, after all.