I am running a game where I would prefer the characters personally feel invested in some NPCs and want to help them. I can near force the mission on them as "will of the gods," but I'd rather not.

The main mission is a rag-tag clan of ~20 very frail and disfigured outcasts are fleeing powerful, evil beings out to annihilate them. Frail and powerless now, but somehow very bad for evil later.

The PCs will get info [from the gods] saying the outcasts are super-lawful good; and it is imperative the outcasts get escorted to some destination to reveal their ultimate fate. This is sort of the "protect the president" guard duty for the PCs.

Right now, I have a setup adventure where the group will travel into the past and meet the group's ancestors. There, they learn cruel DNA type experiments are transforming them into these hideous creatures, changing their alignments, and they will continue to evolve. I'm hoping the PCs want to help or free them from the experiments.

The PCs return to the present, and at some point learn the descendants are in trouble and need help one more time, but it is very dangerous for the main mission.

How can I make them give a hoot and want to help, or even feel responsible? I'd rather not dangle treasure/magic items.

And, one issue is my current players have not stepped up to the plate in the past. They have let others/NPCs get killed rather than risk their necks when the situation looked, to them, as very risky. However, I may run this game again on a more heroic group, so the question remains the same.

Unlike normal NPCs, these characters will be gone for good when all is done.

  • Just to address some questions, this is not dependent on any game system although I'm running DnD 3.5 now. It could be 5e or other later.

  • re: Time Travel issues, I have contingencies if they don't free the tortured outcasts. Worst case is they don't help in the past, and later in current time they don't accept the mission. In which case, they learn later that another competing NPC team does it and gets fantastic rewards.

This "other NPC team" has already taken two other adventures they gave up on, and both times the players are pissed at their own failings, but then they do it again ...

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this specific to any particular game system? Or are you looking for solely system-agnostic responses? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 8:16

2 Answers 2


Tailor the quests to what players want

Instead of trying to motivate PCs, you should be focused on your players. What do they want out of a game?

The biggest red flag that I saw in your description was:

I'm hoping the PCs want to...

You should have at least some idea of what the PCs want to do already. As you can see, if you don't, you run into players that don't do what you expect them to do.

This motivation is especially hard to generate because you're requiring the PCs to be proactive: unlike other scenarios, where they have to escape or die, they have to take the initiative in your scenario. Therefore, if your players are truly motivated by loot, then you will have to dangle loot in front of them in order to motivate the adventure. In a proactive situation, players are always asking "is the reward currently worth the risk?". If the answer is ever no, then it's very easy to disengage.

Ask your players what they want

In my experience as a player and a DM, playing a selfless character requires full buy-in from the player. Indeed, your players will have to be willing to do things that are noble but sub-optimal for their character, such as putting themselves at risk to save NPCs. There is no way to accomplish this without agreement from the player.

Some players are certainly willing to play this way! (I have certainly had characters that did). But, if they're not, then you have to present other motivations. For example, the party I'm currently DMing for has a high likelihood of running away if anything looks bad. Therefore, in order to motivate them to proceed in dungeons and the like, I have to either trap them or make the reward large enough.

In your situation, you should see what kind of game your players like to play. Do they like social interactions? Then you can let the NPCs spend some time with the PCs, in order to create a social or emotional bond. Do they like loot? Have the gods promise a huge reward. Do they like novelty? Then promise them interesting scenarios.

Unilaterally imposing your "universal" view of how the PCs should act on your players will cause friction for everyone at the table. While you can re-use some of the same elements of adventures for different players, you always have to tailor the motivating factors to the particular players you have.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. Good points. Everything is voluntary for the players. This would be an outlier mission, but I won't force it on them. I've asked what they wanted, but may need to ask again as it seems to change \$\endgroup\$
    – Thersin
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 6:44

Find the parties ideals and make adventures for them

I think the issue you are encountering is that you have an evil party. They don't want to be the brave hero, but rather the guy with a poor moral code. If your players don't want to be good, don't force them to be good. Instead, make campaigns focused on giving them Personal gain

  • \$\begingroup\$ Or else, as the GM, get another party. When I run a game, I expect that the party plays the heroes. I let them know this before the game begins, and tell them I will quit if this changes. \$\endgroup\$
    – NomadMaker
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 15:59

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