The Funny Thing About Motive

I started up a new Skyrim character the other day. This is my third character, and I like to try to make the character their own person rather than a vague avatar of myself. This time, I tried an Argonian – lizard person for those of you unfamiliar – and I actually really like the race. I was trying to decide what made her different from my last character, who was a jovial elven werewolf. As I went gallivanting about collecting flowers just out of Helgen/tutorial, I decided she was the scholarly type, slowly developing the narrative that she got the idea Argonians and dragons might be related and she went to Skyrim to study the connection, only to discover she’s something called the Dragonborn. From there, everything she’d ever wanted to study fell right into her lap, along with a lot of danger.

That said, I faced a challenge with this new character. I have a pretty hard time not stealing everything and subsequently joining the thieves’ guild. But I can’t imagine why my Argonian would be into thievery. I mean, the idea of not stealing everything is just baffling. That’s not how I like to play and what’s the point of playing if I’m not doing it the way I like? But now I can either lose my narrative and just do the thief thing or I can try to invent a reason why she’d become a thief. Subsequently, her history of dealing with racism and scorn and having no funding for her research to the point where her desperation drove her to a moral edge that was easily tipped by an offer by one of the guild heads was developed.

How can you say “no” to an illicit job opportunity from this guy?

I faced similar problems with other plotlines, like destroying the Dark Brotherhood, which I like to do but requires the murder of a (horrible) old woman to initiate. The thing about Skyrim is every time I make a new character, sure, I have so many options of plots to carry out – but each time, they are the SAME plotlines. And for many of them, it’s not hard for me to decide that this character will help that NPC because of some plausible motivation, but it is going to be the same actions with the same results – I’ll help restore the mines of Raven Rock, whether because I will be paid for my services, or because I like the old man investigating why they were shut down, or I want to help his wife by getting him to stop investigating the danger himself, or because there’s a mystery to unravel…so many different motivations, all the exact same quest, exact same actions.
And that’s the funny thing about motive. If you desperately need a character to do something for which they have no motivation, the first thing you should do is figure out what the character would do instead and work with that – but if it’s just not working out, you should be able to tweak the character or twist the motive enough to manipulate the character into doing what you want after all.
This is mostly useful to me when playing DnD – my privateer is being awfully friendly with the mainlanders of whom she ought to be suspicious, but it’s not hard to refine her motivation of finding some treasure on the mainland to “I’m juuust smart enough to know I don’t have the skills to find it on my own and I need to make friends to accomplish this and you don’t make friends with hostility” to make it so she’ll work together with the other PCs and help the DM get the band together.

Irrean was the first character for whom I actually purchased a Heroforge mini. It was awesome.

But DnD is just another type of storytelling and skills you learn there are useful for solo storytelling – writing. Learning how to twist motive without breaking it, going beyond the reach of what your character would ever do, is a skill worth practicing.

About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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4 Responses to The Funny Thing About Motive

  1. Talonos says:

    I was annoyed in Skyrim. I heard it was a vast open world where I could do what I wanted, but the first thing I considered to be a decision point was railroaded for me. I tried to do was keep the tablet for myself. The little 3-D model looked like it had a map on it, and I was thinking I could follow it MYSELF instead of giving it to that guy who sent me to fetch it.

    I forget how they did it, but somehow, mechanically, they FORCED me to give up that tablet. (I think next time I sent to the castle, they wouldn’t let me out again until I gave up the tablet.) I was sad. Thus, I realized they didn’t want a character; they wanted a puppet who also sort of acted as a self insert.

    This is why I don’t like the term “Role playing game” in reference to computer experiences.


    • Ugh, yes. Even on big things, you don’t always get a choice. Like, while I enjoy the Thieves’ Guild, it stilll bothers me that there isn’t an option to try to save Riften instead and destroy the Guild (and friggun Maven). I get that it’s a little more complicated than that since taking down Maven would interfere with the Civil War quest, but I feel like there still could be options.
      Or the companions – what if I hate werewolves and want to join the Silver Hand? Is that an option? No. I just have to let the fact that werewolves who rip out the hearts of men roam free weigh on my conscience.
      I can’t blame you, it’s a pretty cool tablet. That said, fitting a character’s motive into a railroad plot IS the point of the exercise 🙂


  2. ProfTomBot says:

    I used to play Morrowind so I relate. It took me a few characters before trying the Argonian and they turned out to be my favorite.


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