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Nerdarchy > Dungeons & Dragons  > Character Stories  > 5 Sources of Motivation for 5E D&D Adventurers
5E D&D adventurers motivation This Is Your Life Xanathar's Guide to Everything

5 Sources of Motivation for 5E D&D Adventurers

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Salutations, nerds! Today I’m sharing five reasons a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons character might be out adventuring. So often at the table a Dungeon Master asks what the party is doing at the beginning of a session and players pause before admitting they don’t know. This is fine! Sometimes you figure out a 5E D&D character’s motivations as you’re playing. Today I want to go down a list of reasons your character can run with and what kinds of adventurers fall under these umbrellas.

What’s your motivation as adventurers?

5E D&D adventurers do it for the money

Adventuring is lucrative! There’s gold in them there hills, don’t you know? Or mines. Or you know, dragon’s lairs. Wherever you happen to be questing at the moment.

Consider how 40 gp is enough money for a commoner to live a luxurious lifestyle for a tenday. Think about how much gold your character had at the end of their last campaign. You go on an adventure and you come back set for life. You have the kind of money adventurers can use to just throw it at problems and make them go away if they want.

Become  adventurers for a while, save some peasants, slay a dragon and live in the lap of luxury for the rest of their lives. Good deal! Sign me up. I would do it. Like, me — not my character. I want this career option please! Who do I talk to about this?

5E D&D adventurers do it for the glory

Adventurers eventually become legends if they do it long enough and you know there are some people in the world who find motivation in fame. You want people to know your character. You want to hear bards sing about the Legend of Gorian the Great!

A character like this wants to be in the middle of everything. No matter what they do they’re going to make sure people see them doing their heroic deeds. They don’t want your gold but they sure as heck want credit. A little bit of showboating is to be expected and this is okay. Adventurers like this always hamming it up for the crowd can be loads of fun to play and loads of fun to watch.

5E D&D adventurers do it to get away

Something happened back home. You got into a fight and someone died or you were framed and if you go back there you’ll hang. You were exiled because you didn’t want to follow the letter of the elder’s law. You disobeyed the king. You don’t like the man your parents arranged for you to marry.

Whatever the case may be you said no and took off. Right now you’re doing whatever comes your way until you figure out somewhere else to live and what to do with yourself. You’re one of those adventurers and maybe you decide you like kicking in the door, beating up the monster and taking its treasure.

This one is a really good one for people who want the DM to pick on them, by the way. I love it when players give me this to work with because inevitably you end up with a session where you go back and visit the character’s home town and they have to face their past. It’s good stuff.

5E D&D adventurers motivation This Is Your Life Xanathar's Guide to Everything

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything provides a terrific resource with This Is Your Life to define the circumstances that shaped your character. The images at the top show a young street urchin who pilfers a pouch and discovers they snagged a spellbook. Much later the character becomes a wizard. Between those two defining events the character serves on a ship’s crew and uses their magic to help. Later she survives the sinking of the ship and loss of all their possessions — except that spellbook! [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]

5E D&D adventurers do it for the quest

So your grandfather just turned 111 and left you his cursed artifact. You  found out you have to take it to some far distant cursed mountain to destroy it or the world is going to end. Or someone stole your little brother and now you have to go navigate his hellscape while making friends with a bunch of goblins along the way before squaring up with him in a really Salvador Dali kind of surrealist stand off.

There’s a quest. You have something you have to do and maybe you’d prefer not to. Maybe you volunteered for the call. Whatever it is you have something that needs doing and you’re going to do it.

Two things to remember about this motive:

If you’re playing a reluctant hero this is the way to do it. Don’t make a DM pry you into the adventure if your character wouldn’t go — give them the reason why you gotta go.

You’re going to have to work with the DM because this motivation has to be something that works with the scale of the campaign everyone agreed to be a part of as adventurers. Don’t be afraid to bring it up because this makes orchestrating and plotting for a campaign easier. If I were your DM I’d love you for explicitly sharing your character’s motivation.

5E D&D adventurers do it to make the dream happen

You’re one of the adventurers because there’s something you want very badly and this is the best way you can think of to make it happen. Maybe your character wants a mentor back home to notice you. Maybe your character wants to publish a great bestiary added to for many years to come. Maybe your character just wants to become the world’s best chef and learning recipes from all over the world is the motivation for your quest!

Go become one of the best adventurers ever. Open the mage school. Write your own spells. See the world. Collect the blood of 1700 adult humans to forge the iron in their blood down to a sword actually wrought from the blood of your enemies and impress your clan with your craftsmanship! Adventurers like this have a strong motivation. There are things to be interested in about the setting and questions to ask the DM. This makes them engaging to play and easy to drop hooks for and this is always a good thing.

If you’ve got a copy of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden you’ll find a whole bunch of character hooks and secrets in the introduction to inspire your characters’ motivation. Likewise resources like the Heroic Chronical in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount and This Is Your Life sections in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything can really help develop fun and intriguing ideas for motivation of your adventurers.

For those of you ambivalent about your motivation for adventurers going forward I hope I’ve given you something to think about. Go kick some butt with a purpose. And of course, stay nerdy!

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Robin Miller

Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Robin Miller lives in southern Ohio where they keep mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. They have a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and they are happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Their fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.

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