Player Advice: Why Does Your PC Adventure?

Knowing why your PC adventures is a cracking way of understanding how he might act while delving dungeons. It is a dangerous profession after all and few – if any – individuals take it up for no good reason.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Sometimes writing a lengthy background for your PC is too much hassle. You might not be able to find the time or the inclination to be creative. Alternatively, it may be you suspect the PC may not survive the rigours of his chosen profession for very long and the effort of a long, involved background seems a waste. Deciding why he adventures, though, is a great way of getting quick insight into his character.

PCs can decide to adventure for any number of reasons. A few of the most common include:

  • Accused: The PC has been accused of a serious crime (perhaps justly, perhaps unjustly). To escape their punishment (or to pay off a hefty fine) he now adventures. If the PC was wrongly accused, he may also be looking for revenge or the means to prove his innocence.
  • Bloodlust: The PC loves violence and meting out death to his enemies. The only way to do so legally is to adventure.
  • Glory: The PC has a burning desire to be famous; slaying monsters, exploring renowned deathtraps and protecting the innocents is an excellent way of achieving fame. He may alternatively seek to prove his worth to an specific organisation – perhaps an order of knighthood or a wizards’ guild – so that he might be welcomed into its august ranks.
  • Love: To prove his worth to his beloved, the PC is adventuring. He may be seeking unending wealth, renown or a certain object stipulated by his love.
  • Power: The PC desires to be powerful. PCs that adventure to accumulate power normally do so for some other (hopefully benign) reason.
  • Protect: Many PCs take up the adventuring life to keep the realm, faith or something else safe from monstrous incursions or other threat.
  • Rescue: The PC may be searching for a missing loved one. They may have simply disappeared one day or could have been taken during a raid by slavers, orcs or some other group.
  • Revenge: The PC has been wronged by someone and they adventure to gain the means or power to have their revenge.
  • Searching: Obsessed with a particular item – perhaps an artifact or holy relic – the PC quests to gain it for himself. Alternatively, the PC could be seeking forbidden knowledge, a lost, legendary locale and so on.
  • Thrill-Seeker: The PC was bored in his former life; adventuring provides the thrills he seeks.
  • Told To Go: The PC has been told to adventure by someone else – perhaps a local noble, religious leader or family member. He could even have been kicked out of home. Interestingly, this kind of adventurer might not actually want to be an adventurer and could dream of settling down some day.
  • Wanderlust: The PC wants to travel the wide world and see all there is to see. These PCs are wanderers and rarely stay in the same place for long.

Help Fellow Players

The list above is by no means comprehensive. Do your PCs have other motivations to adventure? Did I miss something blindingly obvious? Let us  know in the comments below and help your fellow players breathe life into their PCs!

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

10 thoughts on “Player Advice: Why Does Your PC Adventure?”

  1. The only one I’d add is “On the run”, which probably isn’t as common as the ones you list. A powerful family is the target of some nefarious group (rival house, political enemies, etc.) and is wiped out. The PC adventures out of necessity and attempts to becomes a faceless adventurer, with travelling to remote adventure sites keeping off the “grid” so to speak.

    1. This is a great addition. I wish I’d thought of it, particularly as I had a player in my campaign use a similar background mechanic to explain why he had left home.

      Thanks for mentioning it!

    2. How about “Noblise oblige” obligations of the nobility, it possibly falls under ‘told to go’ as this is something like meeting the expectations of society but perhaps under the broader idea of Societal Demands (things society demands of us). Another idea could be Questing? though this could be back tracked to why is someone questing which may be more useful.

      Hmmmm… perhaps you could ask the question of “What does a/the/their particular society demand of adventurers?” in a future column.

      1. Noblesse oblige was exactly what I have been thinking about for my next campaign. My idea is to get back to the Feudal roots of D&D, where instead of heroes “outside” of the system, they are all members of wealthy families. I am thinking of creating the families and family trees, with open spots in them for the players to choose from. The local lord requests the families send forth one of their own to help the fiefdom deal with issues plaguing the land.

  2. This may fall under “Searching” but then again, might deserve a category of its own… Family Birthrite. I had an new character introduced to the party and her motivation for joining the group was that she was looking for information on her missing brother and the haunted house that he was holed up in turned out to be her ruined family home. Her brother was the “Big Bad Guy” at the end of the mission. So essentially she was a great big walking plot-hook and the heir to the estates that the party was investigating and attempting to cleanse.
    By that same token, I’ve often had characters who were either looking for family, or trying to prove themselves in some way, in order to claim their birthrite in some form or another. Whether it was trying to win parental approval, or to win leadership of their clan or tribe, or some other reason, being motivated by Family in some form or another is a fairly common theme.

  3. Some I have used:
    To lift a curse (on his family)
    To earn a living (soldier who lost his job after exposing corruption, looking to make his way with the skills he knows)
    To get away from home (after the death of her love)

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