Desires & Values: The Yang & Ying of Motivation.

Someone recently asked me how to create a good character. Although crafting characters is more art than science, I think I can offer a simple answer that might be useful to some that struggle with it. I say that a good character is one that is able to respond to any scenario in an interesting way. Whatever the plot may be, a solid character will find a way to engage with it. In other words: they need to be easy to motivate.

How do we create such a character? I think two aspects are absolute essential: desires and values. Desires will allow the character to formulate and pursue their own goals, and so engage with the world; values in turn will allow the character to respond to it. Desires are active; values are reactive. The pursuit of desire will invite resistance; whatever you are pursuing, there will be those that will want to prevent you from achieveing your goals, either because they want the same thing, or because it offends their values. Having your own values will invite you to do some resisting of your own, reacting against perceived evil. These two are the Yang and Yin of a character; the positive and the negative element. Both can be a source of that which both players and DM’s alike want from a character the most: Motivation.

When a character only has desires, but no values, they will pursue their own goals with little regard to the impact they will have on the world. These are the characters that are only interested in one thing – say, wealth, or fighting strong enemies – and will only move when these specific carrots are dangled in front of them. Catering to such specific tastes can be exhausting for the DM, especially if each character in the party likes a different carrot. A character needs values to check their desires.

When a character only has values, but no desires, they will sit passive and wait until the DM presents them with a scenario that is offensive to their morality. These characters do not move on their own, and are unable to drive the plot forward with their own power. They lack life and energy. Values need to be challenged by desire; there must be temptation, conflict, a dilemma.

When a character has neither desires, nor values, nothing will be able to move them. They might obey direct orders, but will do nothing on their own accord. They are the worst kind of characters, and the most boring to play.

So here then is my answer. When creating a character, be sure that they both have plenty of Desires, and strong Values; the Active and the Reactive elements, the Positive and the Negative, the Yang and the Yin. 

Ying Yang

I think whoever desinged this symbol might have been on to something.

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