Motivation MechanicsNovember 5, 2010
One thing I read a bit in the “Roleplaying Rewards” thread from rpg.net was people complaining that motivation mechanics made their roleplaying stiff and robot-like.
So, let’s look at what should be happening when you play games with motivation mechanics.
1. You come up with a concept you’re excited about
“I’m going to play a noblewoman who is trying to rescue her brother who has been captured, and wants to win the heart of the 4th Prince!” Maybe you just came up with the idea whole cloth, maybe the game has some kind of lifepath mechanics, maybe you used some tool as a springboard for ideas.
So far, no different than any traditional RPG.
2. You create your character mechanically, including putting in appropriate Motivation mechanics as needed.
If it were Burning Wheel, you assign Beliefs, Shadow of Yesterday, Keys, Riddle of Steel, Spiritual Attributes, Artesia, Bindings, etc. etc.
These should reflect the things you were excited about your character from step 1.
3. Play your character as you envisioned in step 1. The Motivation mechanics and rules of the game give you rewards for doing so.
So… basically, you do what you were going to do even without the mechanics… and then the rules support you.
Don’t throw out your roleplaying skills you normally use just because there’s a mechanic attached to it. And if you’re not interested in the things you’ve put as your motivations? Revise them. You should tie them to the things you’re interested about.
“If it’s not that much different in HOW I play a character what do Motivation mechanics DO, then?”
First off, players who pursue their motivations get more power over the game (either by some kind of spendable story point or by character advancement) – the people who contribute the best get to better direct things.
Second, the players who aren’t so good at it? They’re seeing directly what behaviors to model and copy that constitutes good play.
Third, most importantly and most subtly, this is how you, as a group, reshape and customize your own play standards. You don’t just get a point for “talking romantic at the Prince”, you get the points/dice/whatever when you do it in such a way that your group recognizes it as “good roleplaying” by whatever definition you guys actually hold.
As above, the unskilled players see what good play looks like, but skilled players then start picking up more discrete aspects. You form an aesthetic for your group, that y’all are into, and it brings everyone on the same page.
Of course, all of this depends on Step 1 above. If you’re making characters you’re not invested in, if you’re assigning motivation mechanics for things you don’t care about, you’re not going to suddenly care about them.
If you don’t roleplay your character the way you think they should act, appropriate to the situation and the game, you’re not going to enjoy your character.
Yes, this means sometimes you’ll go against those motivations you laid out (“I love the Prince, but I’m not going to do this thing he’s asking”), which is great- it starts showing where the lines are, what you won’t cross, or, how much you DO feel about something. Which, is pretty much what most stories are about – how far will you go, what do you really feel, what kind of person are you really?, etc.
When you pick motivations in those things, you’re waving a flag, “I want my story to revolve around these things!”. If you’re asking for stories you don’t want, or playing a character you don’t like, it’s not the mechanics that are the problem…