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alright, so in general, I like 5e, it's got a lot of positives, but I'm noticing more and more that there aren't really any reasons for adventuring past a certain point.

So, an example: Our group is running some of the prefab content, specifically, we just finished up Dragon Heist (Which is really poorly named in a disappointing way), and are proceeding down into Undermountain, which is the assumed adventure track from the publications. The problem is.... why?

No, seriously, DMM doesn't explain any reason for you to dive into Undermountain, you just get a note that reads, "Come to The Yawning Portal. Undermountain beckons."

Even with Dragon Heist, there's not really too much reason to go along with the thing except for money, and the fact it's the adventure the DM bought and is now running. We actually got more into running the tavern.... until we got a taste of the RAW for running a business. It was boring, and even trying to invest to improve your roll didn't really benefit you, so it's just putting out money to get it handed back to you a moment later, or worse, it cuts into your profits rather than raising them.

Yeah, there are factions but the faction quests are never that interesting, which puts us back to adventuring, but if you do that, you'll hit retirement money pretty fast with no real need to spend the money on much of anything. I mean, any business will be mostly self-sustaining, and magic items have been made intentionally far more scarce across the board, most of which you don't even really need anyway, even out of those left over.

Unless you have a personal vendetta, there's no actual reason to do much adventuring past about level 5, if I'm reading it right. Past that, and most PCs I've seen should be getting ready to be that retired adventurer in a tavern, talking about how they took an arrow to the knee once.

So how can we work on this, and have a good solid reason to adventure that isn't some hackneyed thing about "something-something killed my parents" or whatnot?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you aware that WoTC has, via questionnaires and surveys, and I think from AL play results, discovered that most play happens between level 1 through 11? I learned that a few years ago during a GitP discussion on game balance, but at the moment, I am not even sure how to find the post the describes that. What problem are you trying to solve? Are you players bored? Are you bored? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2021 at 22:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hate to say it, but the Stack is probably not the best place for this question. We deal best in things with fairly concrete answers...things that are "right" or at least "best practices from experience." Questions about what a character motivations may be are intrinsically based on opinion. Might I suggest hitting up ENWorld, GiantITP's forums, or Reddit? They're a lot better of a place for this sort of question than we are. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2021 at 22:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you own, or have access to, a copy of the DMG? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 1, 2021 at 3:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Heh, I just realized that an alternate answer to "why do we keep adventuring" is "We all stink at bowling!" but I am not sure that fits this site's format. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3, 2021 at 0:31

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If you are running DotMM, naked greed1

If your players don't like that, DotMM may not be the adventure that best fits your table's preferences. (More at the end of this answer1).
But by design ...

Dealing with threats to kingdoms and regions

The sequel to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is tier 2 adventures. W:DH is based in the same setting as Dungeon of the Mad Mage, but your group is in no way a required follow on to that adventure. DotMM is a kind of dungeon crawl, which has its own internal logic if Dungeon Crawl is the kind of game you all want to play.

But that's not the only way to play.

Since your PCs are level 5, I'll suggest that you begin the Storm King's Thunder campaign. STK will take you to the end of tier 2 - the reason to keep on going is because there is an existential threat to the game world woven into the campaign. Or, you can give the players a hook and move on to the adventures in Tomb of Annihilation, which is underwritten by an existential threat to the world itself, and the souls of all PCs and NPCs in it.

Your players can be plugged into the SKT adventure almost seamlessly. ToA might be best to start from level 1, but you can start at level 5 and then try to end the threat to the game world by level 10, 11, or 12 based on what your players run into.

Embrace Tiers of Play as a framework

If you look in the early part of the PHB/Basic rules, you'll find this.

In the first tier (levels 1–4), characters are effectively apprentice adventurers. {snip} The threats they face are relatively minor, usually posing a danger to local farmsteads or villages.
In the second tier (levels 5–10), characters come into their own. {snip} These characters have become important, facing dangers that threaten cities and kingdoms.
In the third tier (levels 11–16), characters have reached a level of power that sets them high above the ordinary populace and makes them special even among adventurers. {snip} These mighty adventurers often confront threats to whole regions and continents.
At the fourth tier (levels 17–20), characters achieve the pinnacle of their class features, becoming heroic (or villainous) archetypes in their own right. The fate of the world or even the fundamental order of the multiverse might hang in the balance during their adventures.

I have with one exception (lvl 20 campaign) played only one-shot adventures in Tier IV. Only that one campaign has lasted beyond level 15 at our tables.

Most play happens from levels 1-11.

One of the devs noted this in a tweet.

Level 10 - 11 XP: It's by design. Data shows campaigns stop at 10, we're trying to speed up 10+ a bit so groups can reach 20 in a campaign

Why? Because at that point, the motivation for adventuring changes. Many DMs and many tables (and most published adventures) wrap up because multiverse-changing adventures are trickier to write and run than lower level stuff (through level 11).

Experience basis for this answer

Once you get to 5th level, adventuring is great fun. More skills, more spells, and harder enemies. I think it is fair to say that the sweet spot for heroic adventuring is from levels 5 to 11. The challenges and threats are at a regional or kingdom level, and each level brings a new skill or spell or feature.

If DotMM isn't doing that for you, then don't play it as a campaign. Use it as a "now and again" resource for a dungeon adventure with a specific magic item in that area as the goal. That means that the DM has to do some work to make it fit, contextually, into the campaign. Figure out which magic item in an area of DMM would be a good fit for that group, and then plant rumors and story hooks to entice the players to go there.

Good luck with Tier 3 content.

In tier 3, sixth and seventh level spells (like disintegrate and resurrection) are really powerful stuff - 8th and 9th level spells even moreso. I have played in two campaigns that went beyond level 11.

  • One ended in DM burnout at about level 14/15. We were trying to defeat the Giants in the Tales From the Yawning Portal "against the giants" package.

  • The other is alive and well at level 14 and we are beginning to change the world in the DM's homebrew world. His passion is world building. He keeps coming up with stuff that will challenge us or threaten our relatives, our businesses, our guilds, our nations, and the nature of the world. In one case there is a villain who is trying to replace the Grim Reaper, who just to happens to be the patron of our warlock. We may or may not succeed in thwarting those designs. (Update: Campaign ended at level 20 with PCs retiring, and a demigod forcibly retired / removed due to our party's actions).

Adventures at that level are tough to put together.

Your feeling that at level five adventurers are done does not square with my experience. My (me DM) Saltmarsh campaign is at level 7 heading to 8, and the shared world my brother and I DM has one group at level 9 and the other at level 6. Both are still going and there's much to do.

But at level 11?
A lot of published adventurers and settings reach their limit of interest somewhere in late tier 2.

  1. Some of it is DM fatigue.
  2. Some of it is how magic at higher levels, particularly the synergistic effects of multiple kinds of magic being used at once, makes the combat model of D&D 5e produce weird results.
  3. Some of it is boredom on the player' side.

1 The Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser answer: naked greed

Adventuring for the sake of adventuring: some players love to look for more loot, more XP, and more magic items and will play as long as they have those as possible rewards. DotMM is a good tool for that kind of game - adventuring for the sake of adventuring, the dungeon crawl taken to a logical extreme. But that's only one style of game.

As the Dungeon Masters Guide(DMG) p. 6 points out, there are a variety of ways for players to engage with the game. Take an inventory of your players. Talk to them. Find out what interests them.

Knowing what your players enjoy most about the D&D game helps you create and run Adventures that they will enjoy and remember. Once you know which of the following activities each player in your group enjoys the most, you can tailor Adventures that satisfy your players’ preferences as much as possible, thus keeping them engaged.

The DMG provides a few insights on how to engage players regardless of whether they like Acting, Exploring, Instigating, Fighting, Optimizing, Problem Solving, or Storytelling best.

If you all don't like how DotMM fits into your group's preferences, try a different adventure, or make one of your own.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure this is really an answer to his question. You're talking about the reason that most games die off before they get too high of level, and OP is asking about what would motivate an Adventurer to continue adventuring (at 5th level) after the conclusion of Dragon Heist. Or, in any case...what keeps an Adventurer motivated after they have enough money to retire on apart from "some hackneyed contrivance." (Note: I know this is a hard thing in DMM, due to its dungeon crawl nature, and lack of an apocalyptic threat as motivation) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2021 at 22:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu That works for other published adventures, not so much for DMM (which is the game they are playing because that's the one his DM paid for). The scale of threat never really gets bigger, the impacts seldom even reach Waterdeep itself, just being confined to the level you're on...you just go deeper into the dungeon, face scarier enemies, and get fancier loot. So..."Tiers of Play As Motivation" doesn't really mesh in this case. The last addition of "Naked Greed" is really the only part of this answer that offers a possible motivation (I still think this is an opinion question, btw). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2021 at 22:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty I think this is a "good subjective" question and that Korvin highlights correctly such that it will help the querent to contextualise what goes into that kind of campaign-developement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jul 31, 2021 at 22:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty OK, I can see that a "head to a forum" is a decent response in the comments under the question. My thought was that DMM was seen as a sequel, and honestly it only is if you are in love with dungeon crawling . If not, he needs a different adventure. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2021 at 23:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ upvote for mention of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser :) \$\endgroup\$
    – walker
    Aug 3, 2021 at 18:29
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Motivation is personal.

This is true for both players, and for their characters. Your question makes it sound like you're having issues with both.

Player Motivations

It doesn't matter whether a group's characters are motivated to adventure if the players aren't motivated to play. Player motivation is therefore much more important than character motivation.

If you flip to page six of the Dungeon Master' Guide, you'll find a page that essentially says "Different players enjoy different parts of the game. Work out which parts of the game your players enjoy, and make sure your game includes those parts." It then goes on to list various parts of the game that players may or may not enjoy. This is player motivation in a nutshell - and good advice for any new GM.

To give a practical example, I run a campaign with two players who really like investigating and coming up with elaborate plans, and one player who really likes action, combat, and fast-paced unpredictable action. To accommodate both groups of players, I tend to run heist adventures, because heists provide ample opportunity to gather information and lay careful plans - and also for plans to go awry, leading to having to improvise and and fight their way to a solution.

Character Motivations

As I mentioned above, character motivation is less important that player motivation. That being said, characters having believable motivations can really help with achieving verisimilitude, maintaining suspension of disbelief, and informing roleplay, so it's still good to have.

Characters can adventure for... Well, almost any reason. "Fame, fortune, and thrills" are the big three classic motivations that players often default to, since adventuring is a proven-if-risky way of attaining all three of those things, but nearly any motivation can work.

Of the three players I mentioned above, for example, one of the player characters is an idly rich businessman who's become bored with the humdrum of ordinary life and turned to adventuring for some thrills, one is a former courier for an organized crime family who became an adventurer in the hopes that it will give him more control over his career's trajectory, and one is adventuring because he's a warrior by trade but is too jaded to serve in any army. If I boiling those motivations down to their essences, I've got one character who's in it for thrill and two who need to pay the bills - and so I can run nearly any adventure with dangers and a reward, and the characters will have a plausible reason to be interested in it.

Your Problem

From reading your post, it sounds like you have problems with both kinds of motivation: You can't see any plausible reason why your group's characters might want to delve into Undermountain, and your group's players are finding certain aspects of the game to be dull. You therefore need a twofold solution.

Start by addressing player motivation: Talk with your group about what kinds of gameplay they enjoy. Bring up the fact that running a business isn't fun, and propose selling the tavern; ask everyone which types of gameplay (listed on page six of the DMG) they find to be least dull. If your GM cares about their craft, they'll take this information on board - and while you might not see a change immediately, they'll almost certainly be trying a variety of things behind the scenes.

Character motivation is a more complex problem - but as I said above, it's also a less important one, so you can afford to put it on the backburner for a while. The only real solution is to work out why each player character is adventuring, and for your GM to ensure that adventures provide them with opportunities to pursue those motivations. Again, "fame, fortune, and thrill" motivations make this a lot easier for the GM, so if at least some of the PCs are looking for those things, your GM will have an easier time tweaking adventures to fit your characters' interests.

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This depends to a large extent on the adventure you're running.

The most common motivation is heroism. Many adventures will use a frame of "something terrible is about to happen and your group is trying to prevent the terrible thing". One good example is Rise of Tiamat, in which the group is trying to prevent cultists from summoning Tiamat. Nearly all the adventures I run involve this motivation: the adventure begins when I give the group the first hints that the bad thing is happening, and the adventure ends when we find out if the bad thing is prevented.

(For adventures with this motivation, the DM needs to anticipate the question of why it's this particular group that is doing the adventure. If the threat is really so dire, why can't they go find someone more powerful and get them to do the adventure instead? The right answer is usually that there isn't anyone more powerful in the area.)


As you've pointed out, in Dragon Heist the motivation is different, and in Dungeon of the Mad Mage the motivation is barely there. In these cases, it sort of falls to the players to explain why their characters are doing the adventure. Common answers include:

  • Wealth. Your character has money, maybe even a few thousand gold pieces. But is that enough to retire on? Is that really all the money you'll need for the rest of your life? Maybe you should get a little more, just to be safe.
  • Growth. Your character wants to be the very best, like no one ever was. You'll need experience points for that. To get experience points, you'll need to go adventuring.
  • Friends. The other members of this group are the best friends your character has ever had, and they're going into this dungeon, and you're going to stand by them and protect them.
  • Fun. Some characters just really enjoy the thrills of exploration and risking their lives.
  • Actually, maybe your character doesn't want to do the adventure. It's perfectly okay to declare that your character is retiring from the adventuring life, and then bring in a new character who does want to go adventuring.

When I run a game, as part of the instructions for character creation, I include a bit of background about the adventure, and then I say: "Please write up a backstory which explains why your character wants to do this adventure." If anyone comes up with a backstory that says "oh, I'm just doing it for fun", I tell them to write a better reason -- something that would explain why their character keeps doing it even if it seems really dangerous. I've found that this prevents the character-motivation problem from coming up in-game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What does back up this answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Aug 2, 2021 at 8:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish Expertise and experience in the game form \$\endgroup\$ Aug 4, 2021 at 17:18
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This is a pretty common problem that groups run into, and most of the time, it doesn't even really count as "my guy syndrome". It's just a weird mismatch of expectations, and it's disappointing and mildly annoying for everyone involved.

The solution I use: Harness the power of metagaming!

It's a bit of a four-letter word in TTRPG spaces, but when it comes to player buy-in, it's a powerful tool. My players are part of the story-telling experience with me, and therefore, I want to make sure they have the information necessary to make sure we're telling the most enjoyable story possible. I think it's fairly common to tell your players what the setting of a game will be, but I like to add in some information about the plot, the tone, and what sorts of characters will be well-suited to this specific story.

For example, here's the briefing I gave my players over Discord for my current game:

Go wild with backstories. Seriously. If you want to be a long-lost princess or Vecna's secret gay lover (which I think is just Kas actually), this is your time to shine. The main two things I need to know are: How did you get to Sigil? and Why are you looking for work? The answers to these questions could literally just be "walked through a portal on accident" and "ran out of money because I walked through a portal on accident and wound up in fantasy donut NYC", but I do need those questions.

This campaign will probably work for characters of most alignments so long as they are at least a little bit selfish. Sigil is not a city that is kind to heroes, but neither is it a great place to be pure evil.

Madness traits will almost certainly play a part in this campaign, and between this and the baseline weirdness of Sigil, I recommend against getting too attached to any plans for your characters; it's gonna get weird.

When I posted to recruit people, I said this:

...it's going to be fairly spooky (think TMA and VTMB sort of grunky horror) and I'm not gonna have my feelings hurt if it doesn't vibe with you or you just like, don't jive with my dming style, but if you want some spooky morally questionable gaming, feel free to pop in and poke around!

Point being, I put the question of "Why are we adventuring?" clearly in the players' laps, but I gave them enough information to make sure they knew the parameters of what the adventure was going to be. The pacifist cleric from one of my other high heroism campaigns would be as poorly suited to this game as the dhampir sorcerer made by the same player would be to the heroic one; the motivations of the two characters are completely different.

The characters people came up with are beautifully suited to the campaign and setting, despite the campaign being homebrew and the setting being one that none of my players know a single thing about. Also note that I warned them about my love of the madness mechanic; I wanted everyone to be clear that some sort of corruption is all but guaranteed. That helped to set the expectations for what the narrative arc will be for the characters.

This does require a lot of trust in your players, and a bit of finesse on the part of the DM-- you want to give enough information, so the players can make characters that are well-suited to the story, but not so much that you spoil anything. You might notice that I invoked a couple of other pieces of media when explaining my game to them; I know my friends well enough to know that most of them will understand instantly what sort of tone I'm going for. I can't recommend a way to explain the tone of the module you're running, because I'm not familiar with the module OR your players. That one is a case of knowing your audience.

In short: If it gets to the point where you're needing to solve this problem in-game, it's already gone too far. Get ahead of the issue by letting your players know what adventure their characters should be invested in before they even crack open the PHB. Players who stumble over this issue generally want to roleplay effectively. Give them the tools they need to succeed!

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    \$\begingroup\$ While this is good advice for a DM, it doesn't really address the OP's player-focused question or apply specifically to the Dungeon of the Mad Mage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Aug 3, 2021 at 2:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Yes, that's because I don't think this is a problem that's well suited to being solved in the game. The problem is with character buy-in, and the way that I have solved that problem in the past is by doing exactly this. I'm not sure what makes my DM-facing answer different from the other answers(which I find to be very good answers to this question) that essentially tell the DM to Do Something Else? \$\endgroup\$
    – Cooper
    Aug 3, 2021 at 15:20
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I suspect the problem you're having is actually player motivation rather than character motivation. If the players want to go on an adventure, they'll come up with reasons their character would want to go, or just go without mentioning how their character is feeling about it. (Sometimes a player needs a little prodding, but it's worthwhile to remind them that they can invent any reason that they want to for why their character would go on a particular adventure, even if it's just "Well... darn it, James is going and I can't let him go by himself...") If the players aren't real jazzed about a particular adventure, that sometimes manifests as the question, "Why would my guy want to do this?" But the problem isn't My Guy, the problem is with the person holding the dice.

Sometimes it's just that this particular adventure isn't that engaging for your players. There's a very simplified way to talk about player motivation that uses card suits. Each player can be motivated by one or more of four very broad motivation categories:

  • Hearts: emotional engagement, deep storytelling, intrigue, interpersonal conflict and attachment, "RPing"
  • Diamonds: treasure, magic items, political power, acquisition
  • Spades: exploration, 'digging into the world' to find fantastic locations and interesting stories, solving puzzles and mysteries
  • Clubs: combat, powergaming, beating powerful opponents

It's not perfect, but it helps classify what different players are looking for.

For example, I'm a Spade/Diamond player. I enjoy combat just fine, but only as a barrier between me and seeing what's over the next hill, especially if that thing is shiny and/or magical. Long conversations and negotiation tend to quickly drain my ability to care -- I just want to find out what we need to know and get moving again.

A good adventure appeals to all four motivations, but not every hook for a given motivation is going to actually excite the players. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a particular adventure just doesn't sound fun.

It's interesting you mention Undermountain, because I very specifically have no interest in ever playing through Dungeon of the Mad Mage. I find I'm not that interested in "funhouse dungeons"; for some reason, a dungeon that explicitly presents itself as "a wild and crazy evil guy set this up, come challenge yourself against it" just makes me tired. I'd rather climb a mountain than go through the funhouse, even though from a mechanical perspective, they're basically the same thing: a curated series of challenges that the DM is presenting to me.

It sort of sounds like your group doesn't particularly want to eat Italian food, and you're trying to find character reasons that they should go eat Italian, rather than giving up on that and just going out for Mexican or Chinese instead.

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You might need a temporary/stopgap motivation until a more detailed one is built out, but the safety of the tavern itself could be motivation.

We actually got more into running the tavern.... until we got a taste of the RAW for running a business.

This, to me, points to a possible way to build-in motivation - while running the tavern, you are getting guests coming in, and presumably they're talking about events around the world near the tavern itself.

This would likely require some work with discussing with the DM to provide flavour as to who and when they're providing this information, but from there, the motivation for your party could simply be to be interested in the defense of the area surrounding the tavern - after all, if something disturbs the nearby area, that could affect future tavern profits.

As you may have found the RAW of trying to increase profit to the tavern by investment into the actual tavern rather boring, I'm not sure if it can be a direct substitute for those mechanics, but wanting to ensure that your investments don't lead to a direct cut of your profits due to outside factors.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems like idea generation until you back it up with more insight based on your experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Aug 1, 2021 at 22:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't have too much experience in this matter, but it sounds like the issue itself is that the quests don't have a motivated delivery method of passing information to the player - as a result, talking to their DM and asking if there's a better way to deliver this information is the insight I would have, although it's more general than specifically for DMM or Dragon Heist. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 1, 2021 at 22:54
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Because you want to

Money doesn't quite cut anymore as a motivator it if your personal spare change is outweighs the gdp of a small kingdom. That doesn't mean your character can't start off with their eyes on improving their finances, it just means you have to think about what is changing within your character as they progress through the levels.

As an example I started out with a rogue who was trying to make their fortune to get their family out of poverty. Between the money they built up and some downtime labour by the party we ended up helping the whole village - motivation successfully fulfilled, right? I knew it was coming and wasn't prepared to retire the character so when one of the party asked if I was going to stay I knew how to answer. Through their youth they'd felt helpless to change anything, in a city there was a hierarchy you had to abide by - you were put in your place and from within the system you couldn't change it.

Adventuring is completely different to normal day-to-day life for most people. Dangerous, yes, but freeing in many ways too. It is a lifestyle that, once you've gotten used to, it can be hard to readjust to civilian life again.

Perhaps your characters tried to settle down and run the tavern once they finished dragon heist. Days of cleaning up sick and dealing with disgruntled customers and staff have got your character dreaming of their adventuring days. They've got that itch and all it took was a note saying "Come to The Yawning Portal. Undermountain beckons." to make them jump at the chance to be out there living that life again.


Experience: I've both DMed for players and been the player who wanted only to make money and when you hit higher levels and have all that cash you either retire the character because they've got what they want or you shift focus. Motivation is perhaps the key to good roleplay - it means you understand your character and how and why they act.

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