Non-player character motivation came into focus during the playtest session I ran last Monday, short as that session was. In the two hours played, the characters not only had the opportunity to meet the village smith and the tavern keeper, but also Archer, the settlement owner and administrator.
I originally intended Archer as a simple landowner looking out for the well-being of his workers. A harsh, but fair, man, he had a history from time in the capital only briefly mentioned in the background. He would hire the characters to investigate problems because he didn’t want to risk his own assets, his miners. To him, losing a 100 silver pieces in fees seemed like small potatoes to losing a miner or three who would otherwise work out hundreds or thousands of silver pieces in valuable ore.
However, Archer’s trajectory took a bit of a turn…
When the characters faced off against an unexpected attack on the beach, Archer appeared in his city clothes, with dashing looks, a goatee, leather armour and an impressive sword. Despite the rapid despatch of the foe, Archer insisted on participating. He went from a landowner to a city-dweller with money and aspirations, looking to create himself a little empire. One character, Paraxis the Humble (something of an upper-class charlatan himself) suggested Archer should dive in quick to strike home the killing blow to ensure the appropriate respect of his people. Claiming the kill would reinforce his commitment and ensure his position as hero and saviour of the common miners and fishermen. His rich clothes and last minute killing blow became symbols of Archer’s vanity. I knew amongst the traits listed on Archer’s character card I could now include vainglorious (I word I love for some reason and only get occasional chance to use!).
Before the session I had sketched out the character with slightly more than one-dimension, but by the end he bordered on getting at least three. In playing the part and exposing the character to the unknown, in the form of four very different players, plain-and-simple Archer acquired new layers of complexity, in his character and motivations, that I hadn’t accounted for. Now I can include these in his final write-up for the adventure module, adding significantly to his value, both for the immediate adventure and as an ongoing character should the PCs choose to linger long enough.