Thursday, February 23, 2023

What the player wants vs what the character wants

 I recently saw a clip with an excellent point being made.  Basically, what your character wants and what the *player* wants are not the same.

Let's say you have a dangerous piece of jewelry you have to destroy inside a volcano in the lands of an evil sorcerer/warlord.  

The *character* wants to get the job done, in the most efficient manner possible.  They have a goal - to defeat the evil wizard and save the world.  Doing this efficiently and *safely* is important, to maximize chances of success and survival.  Why don't we just teleport to Mount Doom, drop in the ring, and teleport back out?  

The *player* wants the *adventure*!  The quest, the tribulations, the dark journey, the character arc, etc etc.  They know if they teleport to Mount Doom and back, the year long campaign will be over in a single session.   The DM probably wants the adventure too.

This was prompted by a clip from a discussion from Critical Roles GMs, starting at 1:28:

So great piece of insight, done deal right?  Wellllllllll

I'm not sure that this is completely true for all players.  If we keep looking at the Mount Doom analogy, just see how *persistent* the meme of "just fly to Mount Doom on Giant Eagles, dump the ring and go home!" is.  I think that some players' motivation ARE in line, partially at least, with the characters.  If there IS a way to circumvent the adventure and accomplish the goal/mission, they WILL take it, because it's what their character would do.  They *enjoy* efficiency, finding clever ways to solve problems.  If there is such a way and it's been ignored for "reasons" (the reason being that the adventure doesn't want to be bypassed), they will feel dissatisfied.  The game will feel... fake, contrived.  

I don't think there is a "right" answer here - rather, it is important to know what motivates your players - because if player 1 wants efficiency and player 2 wants adventure, it could lead to table conflict and dissatisfaction.  Yet another thing to cover in session zero!  It certainly possible to have both in a game - but the GM has to be flexible.


  1. This is a problem with railroad campaign structures. The character wants to solve problems, the player wants to solve problems without "derailing" the campaign. If middle earth was set up as anything but a strict story sequence there would be no conflict between those goals. There's still adventures to do outside the ring, like dealing with Saruman, that could easily fill the game but only if the GM is flexible like you said. The other thing is missions have to be challenging or theyre boring, and that issue goes past campaign structures.

  2. I rarely find this to be a problem. Players, in my experience, want to WIN. They don't really care about how they achieve it.

    Now there are players who care more about thespianism and really bringing their character to life, but generally, players pursue the most expedient route.