USR Wednesdays: Motivation

What drives your hero to do what he or she does? For many RPG characters, the answer is simple: to collect the treasure, to stop evil from destroying the world, or even because it’s just the right thing to do. Of course, the quest-giver in step 1 of the six-step adventure design can also provide motivation for a specific adventure.

But sometimes you need to give the heroes a “kick in the pants” to get started. Though you can do anything in a role playing game ― that’s probably the best part of playing them ― some guidelines need to be in place. A hero can’t be good at everything, which is why stats have different ratings, and Specialisms only apply in some cases.

A character needs to get along with the other characters in the party, too. A lone wolf is a cool concept, but it doesn’t work in a typical adventuring group, where everyone contributes something unique to every adventure. And in most games, the player characters need to be heroes, doing something that helps themselves and society as a whole. A thief may steal, but not from his buddies. Heroes carry swords and guns, and know how to use them, but the weapons are specifically meant for orcs, Nazis, and evil minions, not anyone and everyone.

If your players need a push in the right direction, supported by game mechanics, try giving them a motivation. This is their particular reason for doing “hero stuff.” It may relate to their Specialisms, but it doesn’t provide a bonus to die rolls itself. Instead, whenever a character does something that relates to his or her motivation, award the hero a Narrative Point (probably about once per game session). A motivation is a tool to get characters (and players) moving, and to help give characters more well-rounded personalities. You can even take a Narrative Point away if a player doesn’t play the character according to the motivation that’s been selected, though if you’re using motivation in your game, your players probably are embracing the characters they’ve created.

What are good character motivations? The model for this is the classic Ghostbusters RPG from West End Games, way back in 1986. It had five Goals for characters, which are just as relevant for modern-day heroes:

I don't have an actual Ghost Die, though.
Still fun after all these years.
  • Fame: You want to live forever, you want to learn how to fly. No, actually, a fame-seeker wants to be known by everyone. You achieve this motivation when you get outsized attention: you’re on TV, bards compose a song about you, or crime lords summon you by name, because they’ve heard of your badass reputation.
  • Money: Every RPG character has this as a motivation at some level. But you’re especially interested in wealth and the possessions it brings. The abstract nature of USR means you don’t need to keep track of cash (unless you want to). But you can also achieve this motivation by talking the hotel owner into paying the heroes double their normal rate to bust ghosts, or by acquiring a rival company, whether that’s by making a deal or threatening to take proof of the CEO’s dirty deal to the feds.
  • Serving Humanity: Humanity, or whatever species you are, benefits when you’re around. This is the motivation of the classic paladin or good cop, to protect the innocent and be a shining light of goodness in the world. But don’t forget that slaying demons and keeping eldritch horrors at bay is just as helpful to humanity.
  • Sex: This means what you think it means, if you want it to (think of the classic Dead Alewives skit: “If there’s any girls there, I want to do them!”). It can also mean charming people who don’t want to be charmed. It can have nothing to do with wanting to have an intimate relationship with another person ― this motivation can be achieved by convincing the king that you’re the right man for the job on your charm alone.
  • Soulless Science: The advancement of knowledge (even magical knowledge) is what matters. You don’t want people to suffer as a direct result of what you’re doing ― switching the brains of two living organisms without their permission is the work of evil ― but a house can move into another dimension while you study the effects of the transport, as long as it gets put back at the end of the day. You like taking things apart… putting them back together isn’t always as interesting.

USR Wednesdays: Settings

By my count, USR has led to more than a dozen separate games, many found on RPGnow or on the creator’s own website. Here’s the list I have:
  • Anthropomorphic by Jay Murphy (animal people)
  • Beyond Fear by Scott Malthouse (cosmic horror/Cthulhu)
  • Blood And Silk by Shenron (samurai)
  • Ghostbusters by Shenron (um… Ghostbusters)
  • Go Wherever by Scott Malthouse (stonepunk among other ideas)
  • Halberd by Scott Malthouse (fantasy)
  • Halcyon Fantasy by Scott Malthouse (old school fantasy)
  • It Came From VHS! by Scott Malthouse (80s action)
  • Masquerade of the Sundered Sky by Scott Malthouse (gothic horror)
  • Sominum Void by Scott Malthouse (space opera)
  • Swarm Of Barbarians by Peter Segreti (Ancient Rome)
  • Tequendria by Scott Malthouse (Dunsany fantasy)
  • Fear & Loathing by Jay Murphy (gonzo adventure)
  • Sword & Sorcery by Jay Murphy (Conan-style fantasy)
  • Cyberpunk by Scott Malthouse (cyberpunk)
  • Moldvay Era by John Yorio (old school fantasy)

I also have a Western game that I don’t have an author credit for, and there’s a character sheet for USR Traveller farther down the USR Google+ page.
usagi 300x225 - USR Wednesdays: Settings
Rabbit bodyguards, Drakkar cage fighters, drug-addled journalists… they’re all possible with USR.
It’s exciting thinking about all the opportunities for games that are in these rules sets — combining them, too, gives us Shadowrun (Cyberpunk plus Halberd) or Usagi Yojimbo (Blood and Silk plus Anthropomorphic). I wanted to create this list to have a running total of all the USR rules sets in one place, and to spark ideas for settings that are “missing.” I’ve touched on superheroes in my last few blog posts, but haven’t created a full setting. We have Ghostbusters, but what about Star Wars (including all the eras of the story)?
I hope this list is an inspiration to you to find these games, try them out, and offer your own contributions to a future edition of the list. I’ll be working on some settings, too…
What genre should be developed into a new setting next?

USR Ghostbusters 2016

Finishing off the official Ghostbusters teams with the new gang… These are mainly thanks to someone on Tumblr (I think): shame on me for not getting credit on the character cards for the actual Ghostbusters RPG that I found.

Ghostbusters 2016 - USR Ghostbusters 2016
I still haven’t actually seen the movie…

Erin Gilbert
Goal: Serving Humanity
Action: d8
Wits: d10
Ego: d6
Specialisms: Physicist (Wits; background), Athletics (Action), Follows Her Instincts (Ego), Tell Fibs (Ego)

Abby Yates
Goal: Fame
Action: d6
Wits: d10
Ego: d8
Specialisms: Parapsychologist (Wits; background), Proton Gloves (Action), Notice (Wits), Convince (Ego)

Jillian Holtzmann
Goal: Soulless Science
Action: d6
Wits: d10
Ego: d8
Specialisms: Gadgeteer (Wits; background), Proton Pistols (Action), Acts Weird (Ego), Run (Action)

Patty Tolan
Goal: Serving Humanity
Action: d10
Wits: d6
Ego: d8
Specialisms: History Buff (Wits; background), Proton Tractor Beam (Action), Brawl (Action), Quick With A Comeback (Ego)

USR: Ghostbusters 1984

Talon Waite over at the USR Google+ page asked for the Ghostbusters (the 1984 “boys” and 2016 “girls”) with his new Ghostbusters USR rules. I have the old West End Games d6 system box set, except for the box itself, and the dice: it has the rulebooks and the flimsy, perforated cards for items and “character sheets.” They’re all in a brown paper bag from my FLGS.

Ghostbusters box - USR: Ghostbusters 1984
Yep, I don’t have the game box.

The cards are still perfectly playable, and I used them for inspiration for the USR characters. These stick to the rules in Ghostbusters USR (including 5 health and 3 Brownie Points each).

Peter Venkman
Goal: Sex
Action: d8
Wits: d6
Ego: d10
Specialisms: Smarmy Psychologist (Ego; background), Bluff (Ego), Seduce (Action), Parapsychology (Wits)

Ray Stantz
Goal: Serving Humanity
Action: d8
Wits: d10
Ego: d6
Specialisms: Enthusiastic Researcher (Wits; background), Occult (Wits), Run (Action), Driving (Action)

Egon Spengler
Goal: Soulless Science
Action: d6
Wits: d10
Ego: d8
Specialisms: Single-Minded Inventor (Wits; background), Physics (Wits), Good At Explaining (Ego), Focused (Wits)

Winston Zeddemore
Goal: Money
Action: d10
Wits: d6
Ego: d8
Specialisms: Secret Military Past (Action; background), Heavy Weapons (Action), Encourage (Ego), Bargain (Wits)