Values, Drives, & Quirks

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When designing villains and supporting characters, you can use this system to flesh them out. Values, Drives, and Quirks will give your characters nuance and make them feel alive.

Values

People have nuanced and complex beliefs, and at times have beliefs that are at odds with one another. To represent this in your character, you can choose between two and six values that your character believes in or wrestles with. Many TTRPGs have made use of the law/chaos and good/ evil values systems, allowing characters to range from lawful good to chaotic evil. You might find it helpful to think of an NPC’s values in the same way but remember that their values might change over time, especially when multiple values conflict. If a character is Logical and Traditional, but is presented with an evidence-based logical argument about why a traditional practice may need to be amended, you will have to decide which value holds greater import in the NPC’s eyes

Values Systems

Cautious/Risky. Characters that tend to be more cautious take time to plan, weigh their options, and avoid unnecessary risks. They value safety and predictability, often choosing the path of least resistance. Risky characters thrive on adrenaline and uncertainty. They leap before they look and are driven by the thrill of the unknown. Such characters might take the path less traveled, not despite its danger, but because of it.

Greater Good/Personal Gain. Characters aligned with the greater good believe in self-sacrifice and making decisions that benefit the many, even if it comes at a personal cost. They seek to uplift society, protect the weak, or serve a broader cause. Those leaning towards personal gain prioritize their own interests, desires, and ambitions. They act to further their status, wealth, or power, even if others might suffer as a result.

Honor/Pragmatism. Characters with a strong sense of honor uphold a code, whether it’s a knight’s chivalry, a samurai’s bushido, or any personal creed. They place integrity and righteousness above all else and will face adversity to maintain their principles. Pragmatic characters are adaptable and flexible in their approach to morality. While they may have their own set of beliefs, they’re willing to bend or break their rules if it means achieving a desired outcome.

Logical/Emotional. Characters leaning toward the logical end of the spectrum tend to make decisions based on facts, data, and rational analysis. They are often methodical, valuing reason and objectivity, and may sometimes be seen as cold or detached. Characters on the emotional end are driven by their feelings, intuition, and personal experiences. They are passionate and empathetic and often act on their instincts, even if it means deviating from the most reasonable path

Loyal/Disloyal. Loyal characters hold fast to their promises, friendships, and duties. They value trustworthiness and often form deep, long-lasting bonds with others. To betray or abandon an ally is unthinkable for them. Characters leaning toward disloyalty have a tendency to prioritize themselves over any pledged word or bond. They might switch allegiances if it suits their needs and see relationships as transactional or temporary.

Tradition/Change. Characters aligned with tradition respect and uphold the customs, rituals, and values that have been passed down. They see wisdom in the old ways and are resistant to altering established norms. Those advocating for change believe in personal evolution, innovation, and the need to adapt. They challenge the status quo and seek to usher in new ways of thinking and acting. Note that Logic and Risk are not mutually exclusive. An alchemist might be very logical, but still prone to conducting risky experiments. Likewise, a character who is both Cautious and prone to Change might be very intent on helping change the status quo of a circumstance, but only if they are certain that they can do so with impunity

Drives

Virtually every person has some kind of goal. This drive will inform how they behave in various situations and might guide NPCs to prioritize certain values over others when certain values align more closely with their drive than some of their other values. You can roll 1d20 or choose from the table below if you want help brainstorming a villain’s or NPC’s drive

1d20 Drive
1 Ambition
2 Survival
3 Knowledge
4 Escape
5 Love
6 Conservation
7 power
8 Revenge
10 Validation
11 Recognition
12 Conquest
13 Legacy
14 Exploration
15 Duty
16 Justice
17 Prestige
19 Creativity
20 Protection

Having selected one or more drives, consider how intense those drives are for the character. Does the character care about this drive, but not to the extent that they will go out of their way for it? Or conversely, will the character betray both their own values and their friends and family if it means fulfilling this drive? Most characters will fall somewhere between these two extremes. Although there will be exceptions, NPCs will usually be less driven, and villains will be very driven.

Drive Intensity

You might find it helpful to track NPC Drives on a Drive Intensity scale from 1-10. 1 being the lowest possible intensity, a character with Drive 1 cares about the drive, but wouldn’t necessarily go out of their way to pursue its actualization. 5 means that a Drive is a very motivating factor, and spurs many of an NPC’s decisions, but they wouldn’t necessarily go against their Values in order to fulfill their drive. A 10 is the most powerful intensity, and means the character obsesses over this. Such a character would think nothing of betraying not only their allies but their own beliefs in order to pursue this drive. For example, a very risk-averse and loyal character with a drive intensity that reaches 10 may chase vengeance even if their leader demands they don’t, and even if the risk is very high.

Some NPCs may have more than one drive, but to keep a character from becoming too unwieldy, an NPC should never have more than 12 total Drive Intensity between any number of Drives.

Drive Intensity should be variable as a campaign progresses. Events may reinforce a drive, causing the drive intensity to go up, or a new drive may present itself, taking up some of the available space for a character’s drive. For example, a character with the “Justice” drive may witness another act of extreme oppression, and this would cause their Drive Intensity to go from 5 to 6. Conversely, a Character with a strong Revenge Drive Intensity may fall in love, going from an 8 to a 6 as their “Love” Drive increases and does not leave room for Revenge to fill up so much of their Drive Intensity. When drive intensity reaches 1, a character may let go of a specific drive entirely

Quirks

While quirks are usually the least complex part of an NPC, they can make the character deeply memorable. An NPC might have a funny voice or a huge love of potatoes, for example. The only limit on quirks is your imagination, but a short list of example quirks is provided below.

1d20 Quirk
1 Quirk 1 Insists on being paid in small or valueless objects, such as acorns or pocket lint.
2 Always wears a fake mustache, even over a real one.
3 Constantly seems impatient and pulling out an hourglass during meetings
4 Looking for their pet rock
5 Claims they are from the futre... or the past
6 Obsessively rearranges items on a table or furniture in a room.
7 Makes dramatic exits... then returns because they forgot something.
8 Believes the moon is haunted.
9 Often loudly talking to themselves, at times with their own reflection.
10 Brings their own cup and utensils with them everywhere. Will not eat or drink food anyone else has handled. Will not shake hands or touch people.
11 Swears they once dated a ghost.
12 Consults a rubber duck for advice.
13 Can’t turn left.
14 Extremely superstitious, knocking on wood, throwing salt over their shoulder, and some wildly outlandish practices.
15 Refuses to sit on anything other than the ground.
16 Always refers to themself in the third person.
17 Has an explosively negative reaction to a particular food group.
18 Physically incapable of making eye contact, instead looking slightly past someone.
19 Always eager to share their latest grand theory of the universe.
20 Believes themself to be a great inventor, but has never made a useful invention.

Example NPCs

Here are a few neutral NPCs and a few villains created using the Values, Drives, and Quirks system. You can use these NPCs as a framework for making your own memorable NPCs. Some of these NPCs are less fleshed out, using only a couple Values, while others use all six Values and several Drives.

Two Value Characters

Aureylia The Seer

Emotional Greater Good Character

Aureylia is a young oracle driven by visions and her own intuition. She often feels the weight of the world on her shoulders and is determined to steer events toward the greater good, even if it requires personal sacrifice. An MC might play Aureylia as a character who acts impulsively based on her feelings or visions, always with the intent to benefit the many.

Aureylia would be quick to anger and action and would never sacrifice a friend or innocent, even if her actions might cause harm to herself or her long-term goals. Aureylia would be quick to trust the players if they tugged at her heartstrings, but also be quick to reprimand and even leave the party if they made a logical decision that harmed innocents in some way.

Master Chen

Logical Traditional Character

Master Chen is a venerable monk who has spent decades in a secluded monastery. He values the ancient teachings and rituals of his order, approaching problems with a calm, analytical mind. An MC might portray Master Chen as a voice of wisdom, offering insight based on ancient texts and using meditation to solve problems. He may resist new methods or magic, believing in the tried and true.

Master Chen would be amenable to logical arguments. While Master Chen is slow to change due to his traditionalism, arguments that are laid out rationally and supported with data would overcome his love for the old ways.

Ser Davin

Cautious Loyal Character

Ser Davin is a seasoned knight who’s fought countless battles for his kingdom. Though his valor is unquestioned, Davin tends to avoid unnecessary confrontations and prefers diplomacy over direct combat. He’s also unfailingly loyal to his liege and comrades, putting their welfare above his own. An MC might play Davin as someone who advocates for strategic retreats or negotiations and is often called upon to mediate disputes within the party. He could be resistant to undertake quests that seem treacherous or have unclear motives.

Ser Davin would put his allegiances above all, and often urge those who took his council to practice caution. He would be slow to trust the heroes, but invaluable as an ally once his trust is earned.

Six- value Characters

Elara Moonshadow

Logical, Personal Gain, Loyal, Traditional, Honorable, Cautious Character

Elara is a scholarly elf who values ancient wisdom, loyalty, and tradition. She acts out of personal ambition, wanting to elevate herself in the elven hierarchy. While she holds a code of honor dear, she always approaches situations with caution

Darius StormForge

Emotional, Greater Good, Disloyal, Change, Pragmatic, Risky Character

Darius is an emotionally driven human warrior. His primary motivation is to serve the greater good, even if it means bending or breaking his personal code. Having experienced numerous betrayals, he finds it challenging to remain loyal. He embraces change, often advocating for new methods and approaches. In conflict, he is pragmatic and often takes significant risks.

Lord Elarion

Logical, Greater Good, Disloyal, Change, Pragmatic, Cautious Character

Lord Elarion is a calculating revolutionary. Once a prominent scholar, is now a mastermind who is secretly seeking to upend what he believes to be an oppressive regime. He believes in a world that works for everyone, not just the elite. Every action moves a piece on his vast mental chessboard. He is cautious and works through many identities and intermediaries. His true identity is a mystery to most. He dreams of a brighter future, but his methods are immoral, destructive, and violent. There is nothing Lord Elarion wouldn’t do to hurt the ruling elite.

He views himself as a martyr, staining his hands with blood so that those who will enjoy the future don’t have to. He would call himself a freedom fighter and savior, and he would say his drive is freedom and fairness, but his true drive is vengeance, whether he would admit it or not.

Drive: Vengeance (Intensity 7)

Triggering Event: His firstborn son was killed in a meaningless war declared by his king despite Lord Elarion’s counsel. He advised the king not to wage war, but his perspective was ignored and his son was lost as a result.

Lord Elarion would be very triggered if the heroes accuse him of being oppressive or immoral. He believes his vengeful quest to be righteous, even if his methods are cruel.

He would likely reassess his antagonistic relationship with the heroes if they evoke empathy through familial relationships, especially those of a parent and child.

Unnamed Villains

The following villains are not as well fleshed out as Lord Elarion, and might be useful in jumpstarting your own ideas.

The Religious Tyrant

Emotional, Personal Gain, Loyal, Traditional, Honor, Risky

The religious tyrant embodies fiery passion and conviction. Such a villain values loyalty and expects it from their subordinates. They would rely on ancient religious customs, what has worked before, and believe that impulsive decisions often lead to strife. The religious tyrant makes decisions based on conviction and tradition, not based on calculated outcomes

The Unpredictable Mercenary

Logical, Personal Gain, Disloyal, Change, Pragmatic, Risky

The unpredictable mercenary will always pick the winning side, and switch sides without batting an eye. They will often make what appear to be grand elaborate (and often risky) gestures, but there is a method to their madness.

The Guardian

Emotional, Greater Good, Loyal, Traditional, Honorable, Cautious

Bound by oath, the guardian places their sworn responsibility above all else. Perhaps they are protecting an ancient secret. They would give their life to uphold their charge and would be unwavering in the face of diplomacy and threat of force alike.

The Ambitious Innovator

Logical, Personal Gain, Disloyal, Change, Pragmatic, Risky

The ambitious innovator is a visionary, always on the cusp of the next groundbreaking discovery. Obsessed with progress and personal glory, they often skirt ethical boundaries in their experiments. Many admire their genius, but their his ruthless ambition and disregard for consequences make them a force to be reckoned with.

Values in Action

Imagine a scenario in which Elara and Darius come across a forgotten temple said to contain a relic with immense power. The entrance to the temple is adorned with ancient runes that warn of dire consequences for those who dare to enter with ill intent. However, they also learn from local lore that the relic has the power to heal any wound and can even bring the dead back to life. Rumors also suggest that a dark cult seeks the relic to perform a ritual that will plunge the land into eternal darkness.

Elara, being logical and cautious, would first try to gather all available information about the temple and the cult. Given her lean towards personal gain, she might see the relic as a means to increase her standing among her elven peers. Her sense of honor would likely make her wary of using the relic improperly. And her commitment to tradition could mean that she’s knowledgeable about ancient protocols for approaching such relics. She would probably seek an alliance or council with elder elves before making a move.

Darius, driven by his emotional nature and desire to serve the greater good, would feel an immediate urgency to prevent the cult from getting the relic. His pragmatic approach might lead him to consider collaborating with the cult temporarily to understand their intentions, only to betray them later. His tendency towards disloyalty and risk could result in him storming the temple with a handful of allies or even alone if he believes the threat is imminent. He would be less concerned with the traditions surrounding the relic and more focused on preventing potential catastrophe.

Their shared situation highlights their contrasting motivations and approaches. While Elara would act methodically, consulting with others and gathering information, Darius would act impulsively, prioritizing the immediate threat over potential long-term consequences.