Friday, June 8, 2012

On Grudges

Normally, my advice is geared more towards DMs than towards players. But today, I'm going to give players some advice, and DMs some corollary advice. I wish these things had occurred to me sooner, sitting on both sides of the table. The advice is this:

Players: Ask your DM, before the game starts, "Who should my character have a grudge against?"

--- Corollary:

DMs: Before the game starts, gently suggest to your players (but do not for a second consider forcing them) that they might consider including, in their backstory, some reason for a grudge against a certain group or organization.

Grudges are a truly excellent PC motivator.

I had a player whose PC had a grudge against Vecna, which was really handy when I had to include a cult for the PCs to massacre and determined that the cult would be a cult of Vecna.

I have a player whose PC has a grudge against slavers. So, suddenly, Nalf's Slave Market existed in Endeesy.

If your characters, before the game starts, have a grudge against whatever the primary foe of the campaign is, you don't need to put any effort at all into convincing them to do anything. They'll be the locomotive power in following your rails.

(Convincing the players to do things is a constant problem. Bribing them with cash gets old, and they never want to do heroics for the sake of heroics. One of many reasons why Chaotic Neutral is the most terrible alignment in the history of ever.)


On the other side of the table: I've noticed that, nine times out of ten, players will include a grudge against _somebody_ in their backstory. The aforementioned examples of Vecna and slavers. I've only done it a handful of times myself, but one of the anecdotes is telling by virtue of its abject failure.

Vand Alykko was the son of two adventurers. When he was young, a band of Githyanki massacred his family and grabbed a Githyanki Silver Sword that had been taken from them years previously. From that moment on, Vand had three overriding goals: exterminate all the Gith (-yanki and -zerai, because screw all of them by association); see to it that a Githyanki Silver Sword is standard gear assigned to every beginning adventuring party; kill the Lich-Queen and use her skull as a soup bowl.

Adequate motivation for an evil character, yes? At least more subtle than the usual "greed", yes?

Vand never encountered a single Githyanki. The DM threw some kind of telepathic demon dude at the party and whenever a PC showed the slightest sign of deviating from the rails, the PC took damage. The foes were mostly priests.

Setting aside all but one of the many problems with that campaign: it would have worked much better had the foes of the campaign lined up at all with the foes of the characters, if the DM had bent the plot to the characters' backgrounds, or if the players had been able to bend their backgrounds to the plot.

So, if you're a player, ask your DM who your character should have a grudge against.

If you're a DM, suggest to your players that they might consider giving their characters a grudge against whatever group turns out to be the main foe of the campaign. Or, if you want to introduce a touch of hilarity, suggest to them that they have a grudge against whoever turns out to be a major ally. Or against fellow PCs -- I was in a party once where half the characters were racist against at least one other party member.

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