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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?

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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.

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Work with your players to find out what motivates the characters.

Discuss it with your players. For instance, in your homebrew system, does the elite elf desire recognition in elven society? Would the druid be interested in exploring a completely unknown area of the world? Would the golem be interested in finding a place where golems have created their own society?

Develop a plot that ties together those motivations.

Perhaps the elf is summoned before the court of the elven ruler, who offers the elf a presigious elven title if the elf can complete a quest return a relic of golem history to a mysterious enclave of golems rumored to exist in a mystery-enshrouded lost continent, and thereby negotiate an alliance. The ruler has recruited a druid interested in exploring the lost continent and a golem to guard the relic. That gives every character something to care about.

Or help them develop characters that ARE motivated.

If particular characters are impossible to motivate, then work with them to determine what their characters would be interested in, or to develop characters who are interested in something. It might help to talk about books or movies that you've all seen and what motivated those characters to give involved in an adventure.

Good luck!

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Here are a few motivational techniques for fun and profit. Except they're not for profit.

Classic ways of motivation

  • Make sure that each character has things they care for or things they desire. To motivate the characters, threaten the things they care for and dangle the things they desire in front of them. "I won't fight you, father." "Yeah? Howsabout I corrupt your frikken sister then, huh?" "Noooooh!"

  • Make sure each character has a need and let the solution to The Problem be something that will satisfy that need. For example, maybe they all need money for various purposes. Make sure the reward is large enough for all of them to share. Or let the reward be an audition with the regent. Or one wish from the king.

  • Let cool stuff happen when the characters do things. Reward action. Give the players new artefacts, weapons or other shiny objects and make it a bit harder to get each time. Don't throw powerfull stuff in their way without good reason, but make sure they know that going the extra mile is worth it.

  • Let bad stuff happen when the characters are idle. So, the characters didn't want to go stop those monsters? Now an important contact has fallen victim and their next payment has been postponed. The characters think the police have no evidence? Impound their car, freeze their assets and let them know that the chief dislikes them and want to see them hang.

Simple ways of altering your own gameplay

  • Don't plan too much ahead. Just go with the flow and see where your players take you. Let the story drift and pick it up again when it better suits the characters. Or just drop it completely. If you have a really cool story you want to run, but the players go against it, save that story for a better time.

  • Let a group of NPC:s steal the glory and the money. So, the characters have a hard time motivating themselves? Let an NPC group save the day instead and throw heaps of riches and glory their way. A bit of jealosy can go a long way.

Dysfunctional groups (Fallout)

It seems to me that each player wants to be the odd person out in the group. A friendly deathclaw could work really well in a game where the other two were characters that could interact with people, but every single character you describe seems like a character that needs an otherwise functional group to work in. It's not just that the character don't work as a group, but that they can't interact as a group with others.

There are two solutions to this. Either you need to guide and restrict the players more when creating characters or you need to adjust the way you GM the game. Have NPC:s be friendly and try to interact. If the deathclaw is overly aggressive and only tries to kill people this is probably not the solution, but otherwise you can make it work. Mute? Make sure they can write messages on their PIP-boy for others to read.

Lack of consequenses (FATE)

To a certain degree, it also seems to me your problem is that you don't stress the players enough. Maybe you think that the players will see where you're going with the story and that they will all try to help each other getting there. But if the players are more concerned with what the characters would really do in those situations, that won't happen.

Instead, think the situations through from a real person persepective. Leave all the RPG-stuff for a while and try to imagine being the actual characters.

Why would you want to try and clear your name? If you believe that justice will prevail and that trying to clear your name might be dangerous you would probably just stay at home and do nothing. In order to avoid this, make sure that the players realize the urgency of clearing their names. Have them understand (through their lawyers perhaps?) that unless the real killers are found, the innocent suspect will go to death row while the others end up doing some serious jail time for helping. Make their lawyer unsympathetic and the police unhelpful. Back the characters into a corner.

Above all - make sure the players and the characters know that there are bad consequences waiting for them if they stay passive.

Solipsistic characters (Homebrew)

Many cool characters are loners and many people who start playing RPG:s identify with - or at least idolify - this type of character. But a group full of loners will get you nowhere. One solution is to play a one-shot with the players where their characters have big restrictions on them. They must all belong to the same faction, they all joined because they believe in whatever the faction fights for and they're all regular chumps at the bottom.

This will level the characters with eachother and since you tell them it's only a one-shot they won't have to worry about being stuck with those characters for more than one night. You can naturally change the restrictions to whatever you want, the purpose of it is to force your players to consider characters they wouldn't have otherwise.

Inexperienced players

New players often have a hard time understanding group dynamics. They've all seen cool movies and TV-shows and since their favourite characters are the ones that stand out, so will their first RPG-characters. To a certain degree, this is a phase that will get pass as your players become more experienced as players, but you also need to guide them so that the characters fit in with what you want to do.

Do one-shots every now and then. Sometimes their characters can be created with the players, sometimes you might have completely pre-written characters for them. The more different characters your players play, the more variety they will take with them and introduce to subsequent characters.

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Ok - this answer assumes, as the OP writes, the players actually want to play an adventure and just have trouble to motivate their strange characters into it. - As a somewhat experienced GM I have faced a similar issue many times, when you have a random group of player characters (on a convention) and want to string up a fast adventure for them. It can be hard to bring an undead pirate, a faery and a war-pipe playing Scotsman together into an adventure plot, but there are several story hooks you can use!

Closed Room Adventure

Push all your characters into a closed off scenario, which they can only escape by solving the plot. A closed room can be a snowed in cabin in the woods, with a murderer killing people one by one. It can be a prison, where you have to find the real murderer. It can be an island where they are stranded. Or for a bigger campaign a whole city, which is under quarantine, or they could crash in a foreign evil country which they have to escape. This guarantees no one can simply go home and call quits.

Impending doom / End of the world

Build up a crisis big enough that everyone is involved and will die, if they don't solve it. Let the players know of a thermonuclear timebomb in their city, or the summoning of the mighty Cthulhu, who will eat the world. Or some other end of world scenario where everyone who knows something will try to help, because otherwise there is no tomorrow.

This can also be a very personal threat. If they get infected with a deadly toxin, which will kill them in 2 weeks if they don't find the antidote, everyone will work together. This can also be the curse of an angry god, or a public trial where they know the justice system is bribed by someone and they will all be tried for murder and get the death penalty if they don't find the truth.

The unforeseen connection

You can also make it personal by making the plot whole something personal which connects everyone. Maybe a bunch of people went missing? Among them the sister of one PC, the Father of another, the husband of the third. You can even spin them into relation by having a common figure to which they relate. Maybe Pete's father is the mentor of Joanne and a work Collegue of Sarah and once saved the life of Jessica ?

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Hand out the PCs instead of having the players generate them. Even if it's a one-shot adventure it might spark some feeling of what the players might get out of putting together a party of characters who are motivated.

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You players' character choices sound potentially really intersting, to me...

If the players are, as you say, motivated to play, and making characters with unusual interests and motivations, I would suggest creating content that matches their interests and what they do, either between sessions or during play. Now, if the GM isn't interested in what they are, or isn't up to the challenge of what they're interested in, then maybe one of them should GM.

If you want to GM a certain style or focus, then you may need to communicate that before (or while) they generate characters, and set strong suggestions and limits and requirements for what their characters need to be like in order for you to be able to run the game you want to run.

Personally, I tend to enjoy creative and unique players and characters and the novelty and challenge of running games for them. It took me some years of running more conventional games and handling other types of challenging players before I felt that way, and before I felt comfortable doing so, though. And, certainly there are many character types I don't want to GM for still. The GM can and should figure out what type of characters and games they want to run, and then communicate that effectively to the players before they create/choose characters, and before they start roleplaying them, so they have an idea what's supported or not.

But they may or may not be fun for your group (and for you) to play...

Of course, there are also players who have wild ideas about what they want to play, and don't really have any experience or skills for doing so, and the result can be a mess. If they enjoy it, that can still be cool. But if they keep creating characters that people aren't enjoying in play, then it's probably time to figure out what's not working, and agree to shift to something that will work better.

In your homebrew example, it sounds the like the new leader player was more experienced with conventional RPG parties, but that his character actually didn't work with the other players' characters. The other players may have been right that they were just being artificially ordered around and that may have been out of character and forced. I don't know if they would have had more fun without the leader - maybe so, maybe not - depends on what they and the GM come up with.

My instinct would be to trust these players, since they are interested in interesting characters and roleplaying their actual interests and disinterests. I'd look at it as an interesting challenge to run a fun game for those characters. But it does sound like that could be challenging, depending on whether the characters are interested in anything, share any interests with each other, and what kind of gameplay that can lead to, and how manageable and fun it is.

And that sounds like it's not going so well. I would not try to make them be interested in anything. That isn't working. Instead, I would ask them what their characters are interested in, between sessions and at the end of sessions, and try to develop or be ready to develop and play out things related to their interests. I might also see if there are any hilarious situations that might develop out of there being adventures and plots going on that their characters may tend to ignore, but then what? It could make for some great comedy, to have society caring about standard plots, and the heroes having unconventional, even apathetic, perspectives that lead to an ironic contrast between society & drama expectations, and the players' perspective. I've seen that come up in several games and it can be quite entertaining - it's also intentionally used in some scripted comedy outside of RPG's, from The Young Ones to Being There.

In your case, I'd suggest exploring some attempts to make it work and loosen up your GM style, for a while. It sounds like they might want more of a sandbox campaign, while you are thinking in terms of prepared plots that the characters are supposed to find and care about. If it keeps not working out and not being fun, then I'd see if someone else wants to GM, or try to figure out what you need the characters to have for motivations, and get the players to either make new characters or find/add new committed interests for them, so that you aren't making too much irrelevant content for them.

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It sounds like you're willing to experiment with different systems, but it also sounds like the systems you've been trying are all fairly unstructured "sandbox" style systems. You might try a more structured game system. For example, in Danger Patrol there's not really an option to stay home and avoid the adventure: the character creation process gives you a member of the Danger Patrol, and each scene involves the Danger Patrol in action battling space dangers.

Failing that, try asking leading questions as part of character creation. If the plot of your campaign is finding the Holy Grail, you should ask questions like: "Why does your character want to find the Holy Grail?" and "What obstacles has your character already overcome in their quest to find the Holy Grail?" and "Why does your character trust the other characters to help them find the Holy Grail?". Ask those questions first, before they get too deep into character creation, so that you get positive answers and not "well actually my character doesn't want the Holy Grail at all, hope that's okay".

If that doesn't work either, you might have to find some new players.

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Several posts have excellent advice how to deal with the issue out of game by talking to your players. What I am going to address is how to deal with it solely from a in-game standpoint.

In each of your three examples the players made characters that make sense within the setting in the each campaign. But choose to ignore the events unfolding around them. Events that you spent time and effort to plan and prepare.

I had this happen to me as well. The way I have dealt with this is to treat the setting of the campaign as a world into itself with a life of it own. What part of the life of the world that gets focuses depends on what the players do during a session.

For most groups I know this involves putting themselves in danger in an adventure of some sort. But some, as you found out, opt for a different way. A way to deal with this is to imagine what the world around the characters looks like and go from there. However since we are not talking about adventuring in the usual sense, we need to draw from some different sources to make it interesting for you and the player.

Namely emphasizing drama over adventure. Think of soap operas, while some soap operas have plots involving action most of their shows are built around the drama of different characters interacting with each other. So one way of dealing with this is to focus on character drama with a cast of NPCs.

But remember, a campaign is a two way street, it has to be interesting for the players but also interesting for you too. If you want to run adventures and the players are looking for drama then your only recourse is to use the advice in the other posts to hash it out out of game and get everybody on the same page.

But if you think running drama instead of adventure can be interesting then here are some specific suggestions.

For the first example, I don't know enough about Fallout to give examples. For the others, in order to give a better answer, I would need to know why they are all in the same circumstances at the start of the program. But here my stab at it.

Fallout I try looking at the Walking Dead as that the only post apocalypse setting I know of that has any type of soap operaish elements. However over the history of soap opera there were several that successfully mixed genres with traditional soap opera drama. Dark Shadows for example.

The elf that was too elite

In most fantasy setting elves are a separate culture that usually friendly to one or more human cultures, However because of their longevity, most elves will feel "superior" to humans. Probably mostly manifesting as the tolerance a loving parent feels to a child, but some are just outright snobs about it. However elves existing with a society so the character will presumably have responsibilities and obligations to fulfill. Since the party consist of a druid and a golem it seems that the campaign it taking place on the borders of elven society and the elven character has a reason to be in the situation in the first place.

So if his attitude is getting the way of getting his job done, then he will need to answer to his superiors at some point. That will lead to drama which can serve as a substitute for adventure.

The druid that studies the world. While the character is not interested in the plot, his attempts at studying the world will certainly produce some drama. Some of the things he will be dealing with will benign, other will be dangerous and most will be something in between. Come up with a basic random table to give a mix of possible types of situations the druid could encounter and use it as a idea generator.

The golem A free-willed magical automation automatically has some challenges built into his background. Of it depends how it works in your setting but if it is unusual for a magical automation to have free will then he will face an on-going battle of bigotry and misguided assumption as he attempts to live out his life. Plus what does he require in the way of maintenance? Or perhaps he looking for simple companionship. Either way it will force the character to interact with the world which will challenge him even without adventuring.

Fate Core Tthe three characters you describe are ripe for the kind of drama they do on soap operas. So mine them for ideas and plots. Because of the pirate captain, I get the feeling this a campaign set back in a past era. There are several period soap operas you could look at. Poldark, Jane Austen novels, etc.

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First, talk to your players.

Don't try to read the tea leaves based on the characters they're creating; just ask them straight-out - what kind of game would you like to play? As the GM, especially since they're new, you'll have to guide them through this. The Three Questions (What kind of 1)conflicts, 2)characters, and 3)outcomes make sense for this game?) can be a useful tool. If you all agree in advance what the general style/genre/plot of the game will be, it'll be much easier for everyone to create characters that make sense for that game and make sense together.

One thing I really like to do in anything remotely resembling a classic adventure game is ask each player (or at least myself, if I'm a PC) a few questions:

  1. Why would this character join an adventuring party?
  2. Why would other characters want this character in their party?
  3. What is this character willing to risk life and limb for?

If you've created characters well-suited for the genre, these should be easy questions. But especially when you're new and starry-eyed about RPGs where "you can do anything you can imagine!", it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that means anything, and create an "edgy" loner or a homebody who wouldn't choose to participate in the story. If I had to guess, I'd say that's what's been happening to you.

Now, it's important to keep in mind that this doesn't mean you have to create courageous, square-jawed team players every time. Both Wolverine and Bilbo Baggins joined up and went adventuring! But they had reasons for doing so, and reasons why the other characters tolerated and grew to appreciate them. So if a PC doesn't have a satisfactory answer for these questions, you don't have to throw out the character, just help the player find a way to answer them. If they struggle, as long as they've identified something that's important to the character, you can help them out by dangling it in front of them in-game, and indeed this is a major component of adventure design for many GMs. If there's something they want, offer a chance to get it. If there's someone they love, put them at risk in some way. But I find it goes smoother if you get the player's consent and help.

This is where your comfort level comes in (especially as a GM, but for the players as well). Since you're all pretty new, you may decide that for this game, you want a classic story with fairly straightforward characters whose backgrounds and abilities make adventuring together a natural choice. (If their backgrounds also include well-written relationships and story hooks, there can still be plenty of opportunity for intriguing drama, if that's your thing; Titansgrave is IMO a good example of an otherwise straightforward adventure game where the character backgrounds have dramatic payoffs later.) Or you may decide you want to shake it up a bit and have some or all characters be less-traditional heroes. But if you all agree on the spy thriller genre, and then one player creates an octogenarian gardener, make sure you've both thought through what that will mean for the story and are okay with it, before you begin play.

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