GMing: A Carrot

…In the “carrot vs. stick” meaning, that is.

One of the problems I encountered in the After the End campaign, as previously detailed, was a lack of proper forward-motivation in the players’ characters that made them more difficult to direct, as GM. Since then I’ve found a potential solution from an unlikely source, my current computer game obsession, Crusader Kings II.


For those not similarly afflicted, I will explain. In CK2, any character that is a ruler can voluntarily specify an “Ambition” to pursue. Examples include “Get Married,” “Have a Son/Daughter,” “Amass Wealth,” etc. Each Ambition has specific requirements, and specific rewards for completion of its objective(s); for example, “Amass Wealth” requires accumulation 500 wealth points (and is unavailable if you already have that much), and if successful, the character gains a free point in his Stewardship trait-score. An Ambition not yet fulfilled can be changed to another after a cool-down period has expired.

I’d be willing to bet that it’s a rare GM that hasn’t asked his players to submit some sort of “personal goal” for their character—it’s just common sense, and almost a necessity for a good GM. My revelation as a result of my CK2 exposure is two-fold. First, a GM could create a list of available Ambitions for players to choose from (“multiple-choice” is always easier/quicker than “essay”), perhaps with a “custom” option; this channels the players motivations in a direction useful to the GM’s plan, and can give players some idea what to expect from the campaign in general. Second, a GM could provide specific rewards for completion of the specified Ambition, such as free character-points toward related Traits or new Traits themselves, or perhaps some meta-game benefits like Plot Points (or whatever). In my mind, these Ambitions need not be tied to specific Traits already possessed by the character, but they would certainly benefit role-playing of those Traits through the resulting action-focus. I would suggest that potential rewards be scaled to the difficulty/scope of the Ambition—small reward for easy objectives, large rewards for long-term or difficult ones. I’d suggest that the “cool-down” should also apply; maybe allow changing Ambition once per adventure/series, or at set stopping points, or maybe even just a fixed number of sessions.

Here’s a practical example of a few appropriate Ambitions, using After the End.

  • Turtle Up: Find a safe place to call home and get set up there; reward: 5pts to spend on crafting/survival/traps-type Traits
  • Find Missing Family/Friend: Success conditions are obvious; reward: 5pt Ally, or -5pt Dependent (and allow the 5pts to be recovered as usual, spent on whatever)
  • Acquire Favorite Weapon: Success conditions are obvious; free Weapon Bond Perk
  • Go Home: Success conditions are obvious; reward: free buy-off of related Disads (like Obsession), or just freebie Plot Points, but should scale with how far or difficult-to-reach “home” is—maybe allow a character “rearrangement”

I haven’t tested this yet, but I’m quite confident this would solve some problems and be extra fun to play with. I plan to use it in all my future campaigns, unless it turns out to not work for some reason. Of course, my examples here are assuming use of GURPS, but it could fit as easily in any system.

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