This may end up being a two-part blog, depending on how far I get with the first half of the topic: how characters, especially vampires, gain and keep their motivation through a long Chronicle, and through the life of the character. The second topic will discuss how we, as players, gain and keep motivation to play a wide variety of characters, games, and fandoms.
Motivation isn't just for under-performing highschool students anymore, and it is perhaps one of the most important foundations for a character that we want to keep playing. Without motivation, there really is no reason for our characters to live (or die, or kill). There is generally a reason why people do things, and the characters we play in RPGs are no exception. One of the great killers of vampires especially is jadedness and ennui, when a vampire loses their motivation for existence and starts thinking that they've seen it all before and there's nothing worth fighting for anymore. In a weird way, older vampires prove how necessary motivation is by its opposite: without motivation, they are not only boring characters, they are more prone to finding a permanent escape by death. This ennui frequently grows to the point where an elder vampire's reason for existence is to exist - many lack a positive motivation, but are rather inspired by many negative motivations: the fear of death, the fear of what will happen to their plans should they die, the fear of what their enemies will do in their absence.
Negative motivation can work - but only to a certain extent. If a character is inspired by negative motivation, they quickly become a staid and uninteresting character. "Another threat to my power? Squash it like *that*. Can't squash it? Run away and hide until it blows over." Well, THAT was an exciting roleplaying session. This disinterest can be alleviated if your Storyteller gives your character powerful and intriguing antagonists, but this can only go so far before tripping up on the same idea that they don't do anything novel. This also doesn't fix the problem of a character lacking a positive motivation.
Now vampires, by the very nature of their existence, are much more prone to negative motivation than positive motivation. (The World of Darkness being what it is, the same could probaby be said for any given character. Fighting a losing battle is a running theme of all the franchises: vampires have to stave off ennui, their "peers", and fundamentally the Beast itself. Werewolves have to tackle the Wyrm, the Rage, and humankind's thoughtless industrial expansion. Wraiths have to be wary of eternity, the rapacious forces of the Underworld, and the namesake Oblivion of unexistence. I'm not up on my Mage lore, but I imagine they shy away from too much Paradox, the oppression of forces like the Technocracy, and the fact that magic is a dying power in the world. That's a big load of depression for any character right there, and is exactly the reason why positive motivation is another necessary aspect of any good character.
Positive motivation can come in many forms. Returning to Vampire: The Masquerade, positive motivation usually revolves around protecting loved ones, maintaining Humanity, fighting the good fight against corrupt and despicable elders, and keeping personal freedom in the face of centuries of manipulation and control. Any vampire can struggle for these things if they choose to, but in most cases characters have another, more personal motivation. This motivation is frequently negative - "I must destroy the Ventrue elder before he destroys me" - but they can take on a more positive aspect with a little tweaking. My oldest character, Rick Gentle, is almost an Anarch, which means he is generally opposed to those same Ventrue elders that a negatively-motivated character fights. However, this antagonistic relationship is tempered by his more personal and positive motivation: to find out who and what he is. What does it mean to be Gangrel? Eternity is great, but what is there to do with it? Who has the answers to life's and unlife's many questions? Here, a lack of identity on Rick's part (Rick being a member of the so-called "Generation X") is used to inspire his motivation as he searches for very tangible answers to intangible concerns.
The thing about motivation, though, is that it follows the law of diminishing returns: if a Storyteller is paying any attention at all, then the goals and motivations of a character should be satisfied sooner or later. Eventually you rescue the princess, fight off the Ventrue elder, conquer the city, save the world, etc. But then what? What happens to poor Rick after he discovers who he is? At some point, motivation has to ask a very existential question: What else is there? If a character gets to this point when they are asking this question more often than not, the graceful solution is probably to retire them. Chances are, a vampire character especially will have also reached the point where they are primarily motivated only by negative concerns. The well and truly BIG motivations - "I want to conquer the multiverse!", "I want to become a god!" - require a huge buildup to be carried off, and as I mentioned a few blogs about ("Damn You, Drizzt Do'Urden"), eventually things just become too epic to continue holding a player's interest. A strange idea, I know, but I've felt this myself before.
From what I've experienced of character motivation to date, one important part of the process is keeping things in perspective. Start off small, then add on a new layer of motivation, another goal that's a rung or two higher than your previous one. Jumping straight from "basic survival" to "I want to become a god!" not only puts a grotesque amount of pressure on the Storyteller, it also sucks a lot of life out of the character. Why, exactly, do they want to become a god? It can't be because they want the power to raise the spirit of their dead lover, because that hasn't happened yet. It can't be because they want to reshape the world in their own image, because they haven't lived long enough to discover just how much the world sucks. For characters who have had this level of development, there are reasonable steps on the path to godhood. Even Antediluvians have incredible weaknesses to go along with their incredible powers (I've only heard of one to date who can temporarily counteract the danger of sunlight). Poor Cappadocius had this exact motivation - to become a god - and look what happened to him. His lust for knowledge was a great positive motivation, but it wasn't backed up by proper character development. (At least none that us mere mortals ever got to see.) He seemingly just decided one night "Oh, hey, the best way to know everything is to diablerize God".
Following a reasonable series of steps, and not making too many too-big leaps along the way, can be directly paired with your character's own personal issues, concerns, and problems. Not everything needs to have an exterior, tangible opponent. Especially in the case of vampires, whose bodies are all but immortal, external threats tend to pale in comparison to spiritual or psychological concerns. Growing comfortable with who they are sets a vampire on the path straight to ennui and jadedness, and this is why Humanity, morality, and the Beast are such big themes in the franchise. Motivation springs from within, and it's a good idea to have two parallel sets of things to motivate your character: the practical, external plot run by the Storyteller, and your character's desires and inner yearnings. It's kind of silly to put it this way, but I've found it handy for giving more depth to my characters by asking of them: "Where do I see this character in five years game-time? Ten? Twenty? One-hundred?" Answering these questions - judged by what I know about the character and their immediate circumstances - usually gives me some ideas as to how to give them positive and negative motivation both. In fact, of the two, positive motivation is still the more important one, because if a character has the positive motivation of "Protect my mortal family", then the Storyteller can use this to create negative motivation by launching a new Chapter centered around a threat to the character's mortal family.
The third way of gaining and keeping motivation I have just hinted at: ask your Storyteller. I haven't played Rick Gentle very much, but when I did, my Storyteller was great in giving him external motivation to go along with his inner motivation. Play the character a little, put them in extenuating circumstances and then listen to how they react. They probably want to survive the immediate mortal danger, but why? What are they planning to do afterwards, and for whom? (Or to whom?) Your Storyteller may give you all the motivation you need for a new character: It is your job to overthrow the corrupt Ventrue elder. Why? Because he's evil, that's why, and your character won't put up with it anymore. That's when you get to decide exactly what personally motivates your character: do they want to destroy the elder because he is causing harm to innocents, or do they want to destroy the elder only because they are attracted to the power he wields and wish to take his place?
The fourth and final piece of experience I have to share is that it pays to be a little selfish when it comes to motivation. A roleplaying game is designed to let us live out our own fantasies and desires in a relatively safe and free environment. If you've always wanted to be President, or an astronaut, or to learn how to pick up chicks without getting slapped around, then give the same goal to your character. See how far it takes them in life and unlife. Take some of your own inner motivation and stick it in your character, then set them loose. If you want to be immortal, there's no better way to live a hundred years as one than to put the same fear of mortality and the same ambition for longevity than in a vampire. Never be afraid to question your character's inner motivation, either, as that can lead to some extremely intriguing material in the game, when they discover that they might have been motivated by the dark and secretive lusts of the Beast this entire time.
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