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Article - 'A Guide to Expressing Character Motive' by Mateui

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


Learn how to properly express character motive, without the awkwardness.


A Guide to Expressing Character Motive.
By Mateui

“The knight killed my parents. Please help me avenge their deaths.”

You’ve already read about giving characters an appropriate motive, but what now? They’re still just sitting and waiting inside your game, till the moment where they will join the Hero in his quest. How will you do this? Don’t start to panic yet, I will teach you.

Setting a Time, Date, and Place:

The first step is placing the selected character in an area of the game. Will he/she join your party near the beginning of the game? If so, place him/her in a town/cave/tower/etc. close to the starting point. If he/she will be acquired in the late areas of the game, place them on another continent, or a place far away from the beginning. What are the conditions to receiving them? To you have to have a certain switch on the ON position. Do you have to have a certain item? When you decide, the hard part (well, not really, it’s just a little more thought consuming) arrives.

The Encounter:

Making your new character say and do something for the first time can be a little tricky. First impressions are extremely important, not only to for the characters in your game, but also for the player who is actually playing it, because he will decide if he/she should continue the story.

To Do Or Not to Do:
You have to decide upon what your character will be doing when the party first sees him/her. Will he/she be a regular townsfolk, selling some items, or will they be part of the opposition, working against you at first, but then joining you after they have seen the error of their ways. This will influence the first impression, as it will be the first indication to the player whether the character seems interesting, or is a boring average-day person.

Making a Sound:
Now you have to choose the perfect phrase for your character. Now, I can’t really help you with this, because everything relies on what type of game you are constructing, what kind of race this character belongs to, the major happenings that just occurred in the game world, and the character’s personality. Wow. Isn’t that so much to think about, for only a few words or sentences?

I’m going to cover the above briefly, but for the personality part, I believe it requires a little more time to be dealt with, which is why I will save this for a later day, and address the matter in another article. (^_^! Yay! More work for me!)

Type of Game:
I mentioned that what the character should say will be effected by the type of RPG is being created. Now, you may think that this is irrelevant, but it actually isn’t. For instance, in a Future RPG, would you have characters speaking in Old English, like in the medieval ages? No, that would seem out of place and wrong, unless your game somehow involves time travel. Think about this section for awhile, it’ll help you constructing the grammar part of your character’s speech.

Type of Race:
You probably know how this fits in. Would an Elf have the same sentence and grammar structure as a Mercenary? No. Likewise, would an Animal type character speak as well or perfected as a Princess? Taking race into consideration will be wise to do.

Major Happenings:
If a major earthquake occurred, or a giant meteor was about to hit the earth, would you still say something boring and usual as: “Good day. The Weapon Shop is located south from here.” Come on! That is a major failure in most games. NPCs should react to the happenings around them. Now I know this article is not about NPCs, but your new character is an NPC, even if only for a minute. What I’m getting at is that he/she should say something the reflects the current situation, be it in on a world scale, or only something that happened in one town.

Oh. I want to talk about this..... but…. Oh… Nah, later. Just wait for a future article.

Avoid Awkwardness:
The key factor that you want to avoid, is having your character say something so awkward, that even the player feels wrong about it. Now, I’m not going to mention any names, but some games just fail in this aspect. The one thing that I’ve been noticing that they fail to do, is provide a reasonable length of an expression of motive. For instance, instead of a longer, more concise expression and speech, the character says one sentence, like the one found way at the top of this article, and then they go to sleep. Would you say something like that to a total stranger, expecting them to actually help you? No, that’s just awkward. Take time to express the feelings, expressions, and views of your character.


It is time to say goodbye yet again. Ok. “Goodbye”. (What? You actually thought that I was going to stop talking there? If you did, well, then you don’t know me. I have to just keep on talking, and talking, and talking. You see, the good thing about type-talking is that you can never lose your voice like the real teachers do. That means that I can talk forever, without any repercussions, well except maybe hurting my fingers, but that can do. Woah. I’m still at it. Better stop and dismiss the class.

But first, you know the drill, HOMEWORK! Only one question this time, don’t worry. (But it still requires some thinking on your part)

1) Name an example from any professional RPG game where, either that creators did a good job in expressing character motive, or where they failed miserably. If you have chosen to speak about a good example, state why and how they succeeded. If you are talking about how they failed, address how they did, and what do you think they forgot to mention/oversee.

Good luck!


“Class is dismissed!”

- Mateui