Goals give directions and help with in-character decision making…
Goals are a critical aspect of building interesting and playable characters, equally applicable for player character (PCs) and Non-player characters (NPCs). Anyone who’s ever tried knows that it’s very hard to run a character in a believable way without any guiding principles or a clear foundation to base decisions on, and that is precisely what goals add.
A short story to illustrate the power of goals
The village elder of a small settlement has tasked the PCs with driving away a clan of goblins that have been raiding trade caravans. It’s a simple enough quest, just find and kill basically. But these players are clever, they don’t want to do all the heavy lifting themselves. The PCs want to talk to one of the merchants in town, to get the help of his bodyguards, because why not, they are armed and look tough.
Imagine now that you’ve prepared this merchant, and that you’ve given him the goal: “Gain a position of power in the village”. This goal will make your job of running this NPC in a believable way fairly easy. You know that his primary desire is to gain a position of power in the village, so he will probably not just send his bodyguards to accompany the PCs when they go goblin hunting, not unless he gets something in return, perhaps all the credit? Maybe he tasks the players with finding and killing the goblins, but they must then come and get him so that he can cut the head of the goblin leader and ride into town like a true hero, and thus gaining the favor of the villagers. But how would this have played out if the goal of the merchant was: “Help the village prosper”? Probably very differently…
A simple scenario, but it clearly illustrates the value and power of character goals.
But how do I set suitable goals?
We are now in agreement that goals are absolutely critical for running interesting characters, but how do you figure out suitable goals for both PCs and NPCs? Don’t worry, I’ve prepared 60 unique goals, categorized according to a new standard; The Grandness Scale.
The Grandness Scale
To make this whole “goal setting” practice easier I’m going to use a new concept that I invented for this post; The Grandness Scale. It is a tool designed to categorize character goals based on their scope, impact, and complexity.
Tier 1 represents personal, localized objectives, for instance, a character might aspire to visit a neighboring village or find a lost pet. These goals, while simple, offer intimate insights into a character’s life, values, and immediate concerns. On the opposite end, Tier 5 encompasses world-altering or existential ambitions. A character at this level might be driven to close a portal to another dimension or resurrect a fallen deity. These grand quests often shape the very fabric of the game world and can set the stage for epic narratives.
Use The Grandness Scale and choose goals of appropriate level when designing both PCs and NPCs.
The tables below contain 6 goals per tier on The Grandness Scale and they are separated between NPC and PC goals, because those are generally a bit different. PC goals should be more personal and sometime emotional. This is of course not a complete list of goals, there are millions of possible and suitable goals for the characters in your game, but this is hopefully a good start that will help you think about goal in a more structured and organized way. Use these as they are or alter them as you see fit. I’m happy as long as you give your character suitable goals!
Tier 1 goals
|1||Herb Seeker for the Ill: Travel to a neighboring village to acquire rare herbs needed for a family member's ailment.|
|2||Concerned Guardian of a Lost Pet: Desire the safe return of a town child's lost pet cat and appreciate any assistance in its search.|
|3||Messenger of Important News: Wish to ensure the secure delivery of an important letter to a friend in a nearby town.|
|4||Harvest Helper Enthusiast: Offer assistance during the harvest season, hoping to aid a local farmer and learn about agriculture.|
|5||Restorer of Sacred Places: Aim to repair a local shrine damaged in a recent storm and seek materials or help for the restoration.|
|6||Festival Participant: Look forward to attending a local festival, eager to engage in its games, dances, and traditions.|
Player character goals
|1||Family Keepsake: You've inherited a small trinket from a family member, and you wish to discover its origin and significance.|
|2||Mentor's Request: Your mentor, before passing away, asked you to visit a specific location and pay respects on their behalf.|
|3||Lost Melody: You once heard a haunting melody in your dreams and now seek the musician or the origin of this tune.|
|4||First Craft: As an apprentice, you wish to craft your first masterpiece, be it a weapon, potion, or artifact, to prove your skills.|
|5||Local Hero: You aspire to be recognized in your hometown by performing a deed or service that benefits the community.|
|6||Ancestral Lore: There's a family story you've always been intrigued by, and you're determined to find out if it holds any truth.|
Tier 2 goals
|1||Mediator of Land Disputes: Seek a peaceful resolution to a feud between two neighboring families over a land dispute.|
|2||Caravan Safety Advocate: Express concern for the safety of traveling caravans and hope for reliable guards to ensure their protection.|
|3||Investigator of Livestock Mysteries: Desire answers to the mysterious disappearances of local livestock and appreciate any assistance in the matter.|
|4||Village Defense Organizer: Aim to bolster the defenses of a nearby village frequently harassed by goblins and seek help in training the villagers.|
|5||Festival Enthusiast: Wish to see the town's annual festival succeed and are involved in its organization and event planning.|
|6||Guardian of Family Treasures: Hold deep concern for a family heirloom stolen by a known thief and hope for its safe return.|
Player character goals
|1||Rival's Challenge: A local rival has publicly challenged your skills. You aim to best them and earn your place as the superior talent.|
|2||Forbidden Love: You've fallen for someone from a rival or enemy faction. You're determined to find a way to be with them without causing conflict.|
|3||Guardian of the Forest: A specific area in a nearby forest is under threat, and you've taken it upon yourself to protect it and its inhabitants.|
|4||Secret Society: You've caught wind of a secret society that aligns with your interests. You wish to find and join them, or uncover their true intentions.|
|5||Lost Library: Rumors speak of a hidden library containing rare knowledge. You're determined to locate it and gain access to its secrets.|
|6||Redemption Quest: You made a mistake that affected your community. You're on a quest to make amends and restore your reputation.|
Tier 3 goals
|1||Guardian of a Cherished Relic: Express deep concern for a cherished family relic taken by a notorious bandit leader and hope for its return.|
|2||Bearer of a Tarnished Reputation: Suffer from a tarnished reputation due to false accusations and desire to see the truth come to light.|
|3||Seeker of a Lost Love: Often reminisce about a lost love who moved to a distant city and express a deep longing to know of their well-being.|
|4||Defender Against Coastal Threats: Show concern for a coastal village under threat from sea raiders and aim to bolster its defenses.|
|5||Investigator of Forest Anomalies: Curious about the strange occurrences in a nearby forest and wish to uncover the underlying mystery.|
|6||Advocate for Safer Trade Routes: Recognize the dangers of the main trade route and aspire to find and establish a safer alternative for merchants.|
Player character goals
|1||Ancient Bloodline: You've discovered that you hail from an ancient and powerful bloodline. You seek to uncover its history and reclaim any lost heirlooms or powers.|
|2||Mystical Prophecy: A seer has foretold of a significant role you're to play in an upcoming event. You aim to prepare and understand the full extent of this prophecy.|
|3||Cult Infiltration: A dangerous cult has taken root in the region. You've decided to infiltrate their ranks, either to dismantle them from within or learn of their true intentions.|
|4||Guardian of a Relic: You've been entrusted with a powerful relic. It's your duty to protect it, understand its capabilities, and ensure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.|
|5||Lost City Expedition: Legends speak of a lost city with untold riches and knowledge. You're determined to mount an expedition to find this city and uncover its secrets.|
|6||Vengeful Pursuit: Someone you cared for was wronged by a powerful individual or organization. You're on a quest to seek justice and ensure they answer for their deeds.|
Tier 4 goals
|1||Mourner of a Betrayed Mentor: Hold deep resentment towards the notorious warlord responsible for a mentor's death and hope for justice.|
|2||Bearer of a Cursed Lineage: Suffer from a family curse and seek ancient artifacts and rituals that might lift it.|
|3||Displaced Heir Seeking Justice: Desire to rally support to reclaim a family title and lands unjustly seized by a rival faction.|
|4||Seeker of Forbidden Knowledge: Show a keen interest in forbidden lore, hoping to uncover truths about the past despite the dangers.|
|5||Patron of Legendary Craftsmanship: Express a wish to commission a legendary weapon using rare materials to counter a looming threat.|
|6||Guardian of Sacred Ruins: Aim to restore a desecrated sanctuary, seeking aid to purge it of the dark forces that have taken hold.|
Player character goals
|1||Legacy of the Elements: You've learned of a ritual that can restore balance to the elemental planes, but it requires artifacts from each plane. You're determined to retrieve them.|
|2||Rise to Leadership: A power vacuum has emerged in a significant organization or kingdom. You aim to rise to this position of leadership, either for personal gain or to bring about change.|
|3||Dark Artifact's Curse: A powerful and cursed artifact is causing havoc. You've taken the responsibility to find and neutralize this artifact, understanding the dangers it poses.|
|4||Dragon Pact: An ancient dragon has offered a pact: serve its interests, and in return, it will grant you power. You're navigating this alliance, deciphering the dragon's true intentions.|
|5||Lost Pantheon: Gods once worshipped have been forgotten, and their temples lie in ruins. You're on a quest to rediscover and restore reverence to this lost pantheon.|
|6||Realm of Shadows: The barrier between the material world and the shadow realm is weakening. You've taken it upon yourself to strengthen this barrier and confront the entities trying to break through.|
Tier 5 goals
|1||Watcher of Dark Powers: Express deep concern over a dark sorcerer amassing power and threaten the realm, hoping for heroes to confront this menace.|
|2||Guardian Against Abyssal Threats: Alarmed by a portal to the abyss releasing demons into the world and seek ways or allies to seal it.|
|3||Seeker of Elemental Harmony: Worried about the chaos in the elemental planes causing natural disasters and hope for champions to restore balance.|
|4||Believer in the Relics of Fate: Share legends of relics that can alter fate and hope for their assembly to avert a prophesied apocalypse.|
|5||Opponent of the Expanding Empire: Oppose an evil empire's expansion and enslavement of lands, desiring a leader to rally an army for liberation.|
|6||Mourner of a Fallen Deity: Lament the death of a benevolent deity that cast the world into darkness, praying for a savior to resurrect them.|
Player character goals
|1||Seal the Abyss: A tear between the world and the Abyss is allowing demons to pour forth. You've taken on the monumental task of closing this rift and pushing back the infernal tide.|
|2||Resurrect the Divine: A beloved deity has been slain, casting the world into turmoil. You're on a quest to gather the means to resurrect this deity and restore balance.|
|3||Confront the World-Eater: An ancient entity, known as the World-Eater, is awakening and threatens to consume all of existence. You aim to confront and stop this cosmic threat.|
|4||Unite the Warring Realms: Multiple realms are on the brink of a cataclysmic war. You've taken the mantle to broker peace and unite them against a common, hidden enemy.|
|5||Rewrite Destiny: The Tapestry of Fate has foretold the world's end. Not content with this prophecy, you seek the means to rewrite destiny and chart a new course for all of existence.|
|6||Guardian of the Nexus: The Nexus, a point connecting all realities, is under threat. You've become its guardian, defending it from those who wish to misuse its power and ensuring the stability of all worlds.|
Closing thoughts on these character goals
Without goals you’ve got no guidance when running your characters, which applies to both PCs and NPCs, so make sure all the characters you build have a suitable goal. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be something simple like; “Keep livestock safe” or “Humiliate the blacksmith”, regardless what it is, it gives you a direction and a foundation to base your decisions on when running the character.
And a closing piece of advice, never, ever plan out how the character is supposed to reach their goal, that’s not relevant at all, it’s just wasted prep time. It’s the players job to interact with the world and find solutions to the problems they encounter.