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Article - 'A Guide to Giving Characters Motive' by Mateui

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 9, 2003


Learn how to give the many characters in your RPG a plausible motive for joining the quest/saving the world, etc.


A Guide to Giving Characters Motive.
By Mateui

“I must find it. I must!”

Motive. Every character in an RPG needs, but why do so many amateur games fail as a result of it lacking? The answer is that I simple do not know. Asking that questions is just like asking why stubborn people keep on repeating their mistakes. It’s just a fact of life, everyone is different, even in creating motive.

Before we start, I just want everybody to be on the same foot, and (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?) it is time for a definition! ^_^!

Motive: (mo’tiv), n. 1. that which causes a person to act as he does under circumstances; the inner reason for any act; as, hunger might be the motive for stealing;

Great! Let us begin!

Personal Motive:

Ok. There are two types of personal motives:

Declared Motive:
The motive of a specific character that is declared and known by everyone else in the party.

Hidden Motive:
The inner-most motive of a specific character only known to himself and kept secretly hidden from the rest of the party.

We will began with declared motive, as it is found in every single important character in the game.

The first person to show a motive is usually either the protagonist or the antagonist (Main Hero, Villain) You have to have something important occur that will trigger how your character will act. For example:

“The main character is sleeping. At that time, the villain steals his sword and runs away for an unknown reason. Upon waking up, the hero notices this and creates a motive to go on a quest: ‘Find my stolen sword.’ ”

Easy. A problem occurs and the main character’s motive becomes to solve that problem. But what about the other characters in the party? Their motive can’t be to “find the hero’s lost sword”, unless, they are very good friends of his, which usually isn’t always the case. Every character is selfish, in a way, participating for a result that will be for his own good. The reason of one character should be slightly different from the reason of another.

I have compiled a list of words that you can use to generate motives. There is ten of them and these are the basic reasons why a character would join the party. Note though, that these are all of them, there are other ones you can find and use.

Motive List:
- Search...
- Find...
- Save...
- Learn...
- Hide...
- Retrieve...
- Destroy...
- Avenge/Revenge/etc...
- Leave/Escape...
- Become...

Let us go through these one by one.

The character strives to search for something. Ex: “Search for more Materia.”

The character strives to find something. Ex: “Find out if the fortune was true.”

The character strives to save someone/something or in the case of the world, everything. Ex: “Save the planet from Shinra’s Mako Energy Reactors.”

The character strives to learn something about someone else/himself/an object/or how to do something. Ex: “Learn the password to enter the Mako Reactor.”

The character strives to hide himself/someone else/or an object. Ex: “Hide the Ancient from Shinra Inc.”

The character strives to retrieve something that was lost/hidden. Ex: “Retrieve the stolen Materia.”

The character strives to destroy someone/or an object. Ex: “Destroy Sephiroth before he destroys the world.”

The character strives to avenge someone/something for a past event. Ex: “Avenge my mother, Jenova.”

The character strives to leave or escape from someone, or an object. Ex: “Escape the terrible experiments performed by Hojo.”

The character strives to become someone better/worse/powerful/influential/etc. Ex: “To become the ruler of the world.”

Did you notice anything about the examples I gave? Yup, they all came from the same game, Final Fantasy VII. Different motives can really spice up a game and make it more memorable. Did you notice anything else? Yes, most characters had multiple motives that changed through time as conflicts were solved and as more arrived. Remember to make it elaborate, but also note that even the simplest motives may be difficult to express properly. But that will be covered another time. ^_-!

Hidden Motives:

Those were all declared motives, but what about hidden ones? Were there any of those in Final Fantasy VII? Of course, but I don’t want to give them away for those who haven’t yet played the game. Instead, I will make up my own example.

“Carol’s declared motive in the ‘Hero that got his sword stolen’ scenario was to help him retrieve the sword because she felt sorry for him. Unbeknownst to the Hero however, her hidden motive was to find the sword before him and to use it herself to destroy the Hero, thus becoming the most powerful female warrior on the planet.”

I know, sounds very over-emphasized, but motives have to be specific in order to help the player understand the different characters, and to help you make up and write dialogue showing the ‘true nature’ of a specific character.

Also note that characters harboring hidden motives strive to keep them a secret for most of the time, until they are discovered, however. In order to work out, you have to make them lie their way throughout the game, and give little, I mean, miniscule hints about their real intentions. Just don’t shout it out to the player. Give him his own time to figure it out and he will get some satisfaction for being smarter than the in-game characters.


That my friends, is indeed all. I know that is not all finished, but don’t fret a sequel is in the making. It will teach you how to express motives, both declared and hidden, so that they don’t sound awkward. And besides, the shorter they are, the more people will be likely to read them, instead of my pointless talking like right now. (Hey, I’m actually wondering how many people have got to this part, or are most of them skipping this? No one is allowed to skip my literary classes! I said no one!)

Oh well, I guess I’m bound to get some skippers... and slackers... Hey, I wonder if I should assign homework next time... Well, it’s an idea. ^_^! (<--I love that face!, don’t you?)


“Class is dismissed! No Homework! (This time...)”

- Mateui