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How much do motivations matter?


Gamer Talk


This is a continuous argument we've been having with a friend and I'm interested in other people's opinions, just for fun. It's more of a dnd question -real life is a different issue, much more complex so I'd rather not go there.

So in a game setting, where you know NPC-X did something evil, do you really care why?

My take: If I find Evil-boss standing over a bunch of corpses of people that she just sacrificed alive, I do not care why she did it. I do not feel pity for her because she was mistreated as a child, others were mistreated too and they didn't turn into homicidal maniacs. I will cut her head off or drag her to the local authorities to be judged and hanged. I will be thinking less of Evil-boss and more of victim who spend their last moments in agony screaming. If Evil-guy decides to atone, I would still have them dead, for justice for the victims and because if they're capable of it once, they might do it again. I would care about why the beggar stole the bread, yes, but there are limits after which your actions are so horrid it doesn't matter why.

My friends take: If I find Evil-boss standing over a bunch of corpses of people that she just sacrificed alive, I would want to know why. Under certain circumstances anyone could commit evil deeds, so I would want to know why she did it. Maybe it is not her fault. If she's trying to atone I will give her a second chance to put things right. (My friends argument is a bit watered down cause I'm repeating it but you get her point).

What's your take on this? Given a fantasy world where you're the "hero". I get there's no "right" or "wrong" here. Just interested in how people see things.


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I think its going to depend on your opinion of the DM. If you know the DM has a in dept story and has the mind to have villains have several layers then I would feel it my job to uncover them for the games benefit. If your DM has shallower characters I say go with it then try to force him to make something up on the fly.

From a DM stand point I would say if your villain is layered its kind of your job to demonstrate those layers through out the game maybe even have some critical plot element be revolved around it. It mkaes the character seem more real. therefore makes the game have a tad more realism.


Vidmaster7 wrote:

I think its going to depend on your opinion of the DM. If you know the DM has a in dept story and has the mind to have villains have several layers then I would feel it my job to uncover them for the games benefit. If your DM has shallower characters I say go with it then try to force him to make something up on the fly.

From a DM stand point I would say if your villain is layered its kind of your job to demonstrate those layers through out the game maybe even have some critical plot element be revolved around it. It mkaes the character seem more real. therefore makes the game have a tad more realism.

I'm refering more to the reaction you'd have given a pretty good backstory for the villain. RotR spoiler next...

Spoiler:
Nualia has a sad backstory and I was glad to read it and enjoyed it. But when it came to facing her my character would be "Lets kill her and good riddance." My friends character would want to talk / redeem her.


I say try friends way first and if that doesn't work your way. That is what I would do anyways.

Liberty's Edge

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I agree with you to some extent. It's murder. You don't get much worse than that.

I don't think instant murder in return is always warranted, if there is another way, but getting that person to stop harming others is my top priority. If you catch them in the act and there is a chance of saving the victim, them you shoot first, and ask questions later. As Spock says, the good of the many outweighs the needs of the few. :)

If you come after the fact and you don't have to kill them to stop them, then I wouldn't... not for *their* soul, but for mine. Killing them at that point makes me a murderer, when I could have turned them over to the laws of whatever society you are in. But still, you get them locked up permanently first, and *then* you might have time to care about why they did it.

I think the "it might not be their fault" argument is a load of crap. We all have challenges in life. They don't *force* us to become evil. If the character got dealt a bad hand in life, I'm sorry about that, but our choices are our own, and we still get to choose to be good or evil... to make the world better or worse. If you want to atone in jail, that is cool... your relationship with your deity is your own, but you don't have time to worry about why evil exists until you contain it.

That said, there are story things that could change your actions... did your deity tell you to rid the world of this evil? Then you might do it, whether or not the person was caught in the act. Does your position in society give you the right to make these judgments and carry out a sentence? Then you might make the call that the evil needs to be removed for the good of society and the person can work it out in the afterlife.

I don't necessarily think that the needs of the victim supersede the needs of the perpetrator in a larger sense, but when it comes to murder, they do because it is one person having a chance to live and theoretically atone, and the other person doesn't have that chance. It would be pretty hard to have a sad enough backstory to justify destroying other people's backstories and potential to change.

Stopping someone from killing another person is the top priority... no matter how bad your life was, it doesn't justify you taking the chance to *have* a life away from someone else. So, no... I don't care about your motivations one little bit until you are prevented from taking away other people's ability to have motivations of their own. If it were a lesser crime, perhaps it would be easier to balance your needs and someone else's, but there is no balance in murder.


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Not caring why things happened is the first step on the path of the murderhobo.


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And what are the next steps.

Takes notes using the same stationery he used to frame the tanner for gremlin hoarding to drum up some excitement.


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Freehold DM wrote:
Not caring why things happened is the first step on the path of the murderhobo.

I thought it was: "You do not talk about Murderhobo Club."


Freehold DM wrote:
Not caring why things happened is the first step on the path of the murderhobo.

True. But letting people get away with things cause daddy didn't love them may be the first step to a society of murderhobos. You'll get away with it if you have a good enough sob story.

Edit: Not letting someone get away with a crime does not nessessarily mean you kill them.


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Oh no, you can talk about it, it's just NPCs you're murdering, it's not like they're people, anymore.

They're mostly ghouls now, though I think Phil's a vampire.

The Exchange

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber Subscriber

To me, exploring the motivations of my (and other) characters is part of what I like about roleplaying games. That does not mean that I need to feel pity for the villain because of [insert random sob story here]. But it means that, given the chance, I want to try to understand how they came to be the person they are. If there is a chance for redemption, it depends on the group and their choices if that's an option (I'm not playing characters all the time that care about that, but sometimes I do; Same with the players). But not to know or not even wanting to know but just killing for well, they deserve it, so who cares why they did it, indeed comes dangerously close to murderhoboing in my eyes. Valid playstyle for those who like it this way, but not one I prefer.

I don't know why you think that caring about motivations would equal "letting the villain get away", though. I know you didn't want to go into real world things, but to use that analogy, just because in my country we do not punish criminals with dead no matter what they did (out of general principles we think that are much more important) does not mean that we simply let them get away with it. Nualia's (or Tsuto's or any other villains) backstory don't excuse the crimes they commit(ted), and if there's no other possibility, they might still end up being killed


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Alni wrote:
Freehold DM wrote:
Not caring why things happened is the first step on the path of the murderhobo.

True. But letting people get away with things cause daddy didn't love them may be the first step to a society of murderhobos. You'll get away with it if you have a good enough sob story.

Edit: Not letting someone get away with a crime does not nessessarily mean you kill them.

You hit the nail there.

You want them to be redeemed? Then you shouldn't them go, you have to work towards it.
I believe you are responsible for both the lives you take and you save. If that person that you let live continues causing harm it's partly your fault.

So, you want to give someone a second opportunity? That's OK, but assume responsibilities and take charge of that person, teach them that a different path is possible.

I talk from the point of view of a GM whose players are convinced redeemers and who is used to have NPCs around that they want to redeem. With not so much work, that can make awesome stories.

In my S&S game I loved Isabella Locke so I made her slightly more reasonable so they had a slight opportunity to keep her around. They did and they redeemed her (well, she is still CE, but she is enjoying life and focusing her destructive impulses towards what she calls "the idiots". She isn't causing harm, so I count her as redeemed). She was around until the end of the campaign and she even got into the PC group when our another Aquatic Sorcerer had to miss some sessions.


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Alni wrote:
Freehold DM wrote:
Not caring why things happened is the first step on the path of the murderhobo.

True. But letting people get away with things cause daddy didn't love them may be the first step to a society of murderhobos. You'll get away with it if you have a good enough sob story.

Edit: Not letting someone get away with a crime does not nessessarily mean you kill them.

killing a room full of people because dad didn't love you is a hackneyed, absurdist motivation, nonsense meant to encourage black and white morality where bad guys are just "crazy" and you don't need to talk to them or interact with them beyond killing them because you're the hero. At best, murderhobo 101. At worst, a sucker used by evil forces upon their own up and comers to separate the chaff from the wheat (and possibly appear good while doing so, if someone who is a public face is the secretly evil organization drops the dime, as it were).

Killing a room full of people because your dad didn't love you, but your new dark God does, and has introduced you to a an entire new family of people just like you who society doesn't understand and subjects to nonsense rules and laws meant to make them and you feel bad about yourselves is a much better motivation and is somewhat relatable. At best, the character is being manipulated by forces beyond their understanding, their feelings of loneliness and isolation are being capitalized upon by the entity. At worst, the character is a serial killer who has found another group of people just as twisted as they are and has gained a powerful otherworldly patron to assist them in their violent acts.


Last example seems like... Laori? XD


Freehold DM wrote:
Alni wrote:
Freehold DM wrote:
Not caring why things happened is the first step on the path of the murderhobo.

True. But letting people get away with things cause daddy didn't love them may be the first step to a society of murderhobos. You'll get away with it if you have a good enough sob story.

Edit: Not letting someone get away with a crime does not nessessarily mean you kill them.

killing a room full of people because dad didn't love you is a hackneyed, absurdist motivation, nonsense meant to encourage black and white morality where bad guys are just "crazy" and you don't need to talk to them or interact with them beyond killing them because you're the hero. At best, murderhobo 101. At worst, a sucker used by evil forces upon their own up and comers to separate the chaff from the wheat (and possibly appear good while doing so, if someone who is a public face is the secretly evil organization drops the dime, as it were).

Killing a room full of people because your dad didn't love you, but your new dark God does, and has introduced you to a an entire new family of people just like you who society doesn't understand and subjects to nonsense rules and laws meant to make them and you feel bad about yourselves is a much bettSigher motivation and is somewhat relatable. At best, the character is being manipulated by forces beyond their understanding, their feelings of loneliness and isolation are being capitalized upon by the entity. At worst, the character is a serial killer who has found another group of people just as twisted as they are and has gained a powerful otherworldly patron to assist them in their violent acts.

Sigh. Fine "Daddy didnt love you" is a simplification that I used not to expand. Did not mean that it is literally the only motivation of the evil guy. Your second scenario is a good example of a possible evil guys back story. How would your characters react to the second guy in your post was my question.


WormysQueue wrote:

To me, exploring the motivations of my (and other) characters is part of what I like about roleplaying games. That does not mean that I need to feel pity for the villain because of [insert random sob story here]. But it means that, given the chance, I want to try to understand how they came to be the person they are. If there is a chance for redemption, it depends on the group and their choices if that's an option (I'm not playing characters all the time that care about that, but sometimes I do; Same with the players). But not to know or not even wanting to know but just killing for well, they deserve it, so who cares why they did it, indeed comes dangerously close to murderhoboing in my eyes. Valid playstyle for those who like it this way, but not one I prefer.

I don't know why you think that caring about motivations would equal "letting the villain get away", though. I know you didn't want to go into real world things, but to use that analogy, just because in my country we do not punish criminals with dead no matter what they did (out of general principles we think that are much more important) does not mean that we simply let them get away with it. Nualia's (or Tsuto's or any other villains) backstory don't excuse the crimes they commit(ted), and if there's no other possibility, they might still end up being killed

I'll just answer this and leave it at that since I really want to hear others opinions. I don't believe motives are irrelevant but after a point I do not "care" for them when it comes to the judgement of the bad guy. I would like to know that the Orc went on a killing spree because the villagers threw stones at it, would tell the villagers how they drove the Orc to it and that theyre idiots, bigots, dont do it again but I would still have little sympathy for the Orc (depending of course on what they did. Killing and torturing the villagers and spraying grafity on the village barn are not the same.)


Alni wrote:
WormysQueue wrote:

To me, exploring the motivations of my (and other) characters is part of what I like about roleplaying games. That does not mean that I need to feel pity for the villain because of [insert random sob story here]. But it means that, given the chance, I want to try to understand how they came to be the person they are. If there is a chance for redemption, it depends on the group and their choices if that's an option (I'm not playing characters all the time that care about that, but sometimes I do; Same with the players). But not to know or not even wanting to know but just killing for well, they deserve it, so who cares why they did it, indeed comes dangerously close to murderhoboing in my eyes. Valid playstyle for those who like it this way, but not one I prefer.

I don't know why you think that caring about motivations would equal "letting the villain get away", though. I know you didn't want to go into real world things, but to use that analogy, just because in my country we do not punish criminals with dead no matter what they did (out of general principles we think that are much more important) does not mean that we simply let them get away with it. Nualia's (or Tsuto's or any other villains) backstory don't excuse the crimes they commit(ted), and if there's no other possibility, they might still end up being killed

I'll just answer this and leave it at that since I really want to hear others opinions. I don't believe motives are irrelevant but after a point I do not "care" for them when it comes to the judgement of the bad guy. I would like to know that the Orc went on a killing spree because the villagers threw stones at it, would tell the villagers how they drove the Orc to it and that theyre idiots, bigots, dont do it again but I would still have little sympathy for the Orc (depending of course on what they did. Killing and torturing the villagers and spraying grafity on the village barn are not the same.)

you open quite the can of worms if throwing rocks at someone results in a scolding and potential self defense(thrown rocks can kill, and if more than two people are throwing rocks you have a mob on your hands) means you get killed.

The Exchange

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber Subscriber
Alni wrote:
I'll just answer this and leave it at that since I really want to hear others opinions. I don't believe motives are irrelevant but after a point I do not "care" for them when it comes to the judgement of the bad guy.

I'm not even saying that you need to do so everytime (or at all, if it isn't your cup of tea). And if we're staying with Nualia as an example, I personally think that she is beyond redemption very much at the point the PCs meet her. Still, her history add an additional dimension to her actions and make her more interesting as an NPC.

Using your Orc example, in my game it could very well be that the consequence of the attack on the orc could eventually be an all-out-attack of the orc tribe against the village of the stone-throwers. In this case, just killing the orc might actually worsen the situation, while a look behind the picture might motivate the PCs to do something about it before it is to late. So understanding the motivations behind the events might add additional solutions to a problem the PCs might not even know exists when they stumble about it.

If they don't care they might have the opportunity to defend the village against the orcs. If they do, they might be able to avoid the escalation by being proactive. Meaning that caring about motivations adds options to the game, which is my preferred way of GMing.


WormysQueue wrote:
Alni wrote:
I'll just answer this and leave it at that since I really want to hear others opinions. I don't believe motives are irrelevant but after a point I do not "care" for them when it comes to the judgement of the bad guy.

I'm not even saying that you need to do so everytime (or at all, if it isn't your cup of tea). And if we're staying with Nualia as an example, I personally think that she is beyond redemption very much at the point the PCs meet her. Still, her history add an additional dimension to her actions and make her more interesting as an NPC.

Using your Orc example, in my game it could very well be that the consequence of the attack on the orc could eventually be an all-out-attack of the orc tribe against the village of the stone-throwers. In this case, just killing the orc might actually worsen the situation, while a look behind the picture might motivate the PCs to do something about it before it is to late. So understanding the motivations behind the events might add additional solutions to a problem the PCs might not even know exists when they stumble about it.

If they don't care they might have the opportunity to defend the village against the orcs. If they do, they might be able to avoid the escalation by being proactive. Meaning that caring about motivations adds options to the game, which is my preferred way of GMing.

Interesting points. You seem like youre a good GM, I liked the idea of branching depending on the judgement / actions of the PCs.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Here is an example of why motivation matters -
the culprit was mind controlled. Suddenly, you need to know who planted the mind control in the first place.

Granted, not every murderer or evil cultist was under mind control. If your PC is interested in redeeming others, or preventing others from becoming an evil, murdering cultist, it becomes important to understand why they chose the path they traveled.

I'm not saying that such villains deserve forgiveness or redemption, yet it may help a PC to watch the signs and stop someone else before they go to such a path.

Besides, keeping a villain yammering about their backstory is a great way to learn how to strike them psychologically, learn their plans, and delay them long enough if you need extra time.


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To me motivation matters, but only under a particular threshold. For petty crime, such as theft, motivation matters. For crimes of state, such as treason, motivation matters. For crimes of passion, such as a drunken argument that escalates to murder, motivation matters.

Crimes that involve voluntary intentional harm to an innocent, such as mass sacrifice, are liminal acts. They cross the threshold and motivation no longer matters.


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I don't think labelling it as game-mechanical Evil is necessarily the primary motive issue, although that CAN parallel Good-inclined characters' intentions most of the time, Good-inclined characters aren't necessarily self-consciously pro-Good / anti-Evil AS SUCH, they simply have preferences / world views that tend to map to that most of the time...

As example, what if this is euthanasia? Or mercy killing of innocents who would otherwise be tortured to death by captors? Nevermind situations invoking conflict with "greater good".

There just isn't a UNIVERSAL answer to this, which seems to be what you're asking for. FOR A CERTAIN CHARACTER, they may react in a certain way regardless of motivational nuances. For another character, those nuances could be key re: their responce to it. One character could generally not care about most motivational issues, but a certain one could be especially relevant to them. Those characters could have the same game mechanical alignment, because alignment does not dictate your actions, but is a gross measurement of it, and multiple moral courses of action can fall within a given alignment measurement.

The iterations the OP explores seems equally plausible to have nothing to do with Good/Evil dichotomy, rather than Lawful Neutral who happens to follow Good-inclined laws while "not caring about motivation". (not that all LN characters even whom tend to recognize Good-inclined laws need behave that way, per above) Personally, I don't think "not caring about motivation" (at all, 100%) is truly Good, although I suppose one could try to maintain that position for quite awhile if provoking circumstances didn't challenge it.


Oh this is a morality thread I thought it was a general RP thread I humbly retract my posts and exit now.


Quandary wrote:

I don't think labelling it as game-mechanical Evil is necessarily the primary motive issue, although that CAN parallel Good-inclined characters' intentions most of the time, Good-inclined characters aren't necessarily self-consciously pro-Good / anti-Evil AS SUCH, they simply have preferences / world views that tend to map to that most of the time...

As example, what if this is euthanasia? Or mercy killing of innocents who would otherwise be tortured to death by captors? Nevermind situations invoking conflict with "greater good".

There just isn't a UNIVERSAL answer to this, which seems to be what you're asking for. FOR A CERTAIN CHARACTER, they may react in a certain way regardless of motivational nuances. For another character, those nuances could be key re: their responce to it. One character could generally not care about most motivational issues, but a certain one could be especially relevant to them. Those characters could have the same game mechanical alignment, because alignment does not dictate your actions, but is a gross measurement of it, and multiple moral courses of action can fall within a given alignment measurement.

The iterations the OP explores seems equally plausible to have nothing to do with Good/Evil dichotomy, rather than Lawful Neutral who happens to follow Good-inclined laws while "not caring about motivation". (not that all LN characters even whom tend to recognize Good-inclined laws need behave that way, per above) Personally, I don't think "not caring about motivation" (at all, 100%) is truly Good, although I suppose one could try to maintain that position for quite awhile if provoking circumstances didn't challenge it.

Interesting view. It does depend on the character you are playing. And you are right in the last paragraph. Even though I try not to play a stereotype, my characters are almost always on the "lawful" side but not necessarily good. Not looking for a "right" or "good" answer just how people play it / their characters react.

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