Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dungeon Motivations

A while back, Jeff Rients wrote a post titled "What's My Motivation?" for his Gameblog. Tired of players at pickup D&D games asking why their puny first-level character would waltz into a subterranean deathtrap, he devised a random chart on which the players could roll to answer that very question. It was awesome, and the idea took its hold on me. The only thing I didn't like about it was that it was only a d12 roll. I'm happy to see the under-utilized d12 get some love, but I wanted more options.

So, with Jeff's blessing and a lot of help from my friend Bret Woods, here's the expanded version:


01 PC is obsessed with proving the existence of the Hollow World.
02 PC quests to retrieve bones of famous adventuring ancestor and re-inter them in family tomb.
03 PC has terrible but enticing dreams of sitting on the throne of a vast underworld kingdom.
04 PC owes 1d6 x 10,000gp to Jabba the Hutt.
05 PC seeks vengeance against the Troll King.
06 PC's family member afflicted with disease that can only be cured with the waters from a sacred subterranean spring.
07 PC haunted by visions of a beautiful witch/drow/princess/goth chick living on an island at the center of a vast underground lake.
08 PC seeks one segment of the Rod of Seven Parts. Must obtain all to save homeland from foretold doom.
09 PC's evil duplicate (twin? simulacrum? clone?) has fled into the dungeon. One or the other must die before both go mad.
10 PC's true love has been trapped in amber and is on display in the trophy room of Lord Utterdark.
11 PC's parents imprisoned. Corrupt official will release them in exchange for the Star Ruby of Umman-Gorash.
12 PC quests for legendary sword (fighter), archmage's spellbook (MU), or holy relic (cleric).
13 PC is a naturalist studying dungeon-based ecologies.
14 PC is from another plane/reality/dimension and is looking for a way home.
15 PC was a hireling in the employ of a party that entered the dungeon days ago and has yet to return. Left to tend to their horses, PC is waiting by the dungeon entrance, grumbling about back pay, when PC party arrives.
16 PC seeks the subterranean River Lethe, hoping to forget a shameful past deed.
17 PC has lost everything they once held dear and has a suicidal death wish.
18 PC is a member of a tribe that considers surviving the dungeon a rite of passage.
19 PC has been outfitted with an unremovable, deadly device that magically transmits their every sensation to a decrepit immortal who craves the thrill of dungeon crawling. Immortal will spare the PC as long as they are entertained.
20 PC was double-dog dared to enter the dungeon.
21 PC was originally a member of the opposite sex and quests for a cure.
22 PC is doing research for an up-and-coming mad wizard who wants to construct the ultimate dungeon.
23 PC heard dungeon crawling was a growth industry and is in it for the money.
24 PC is on the run from the law, and figures they won't follow him/her into a dungeon.
25 PC is trying to impress a love interest.
26 PC is the descendant of a disgraced noble family and quests to restore its good name.
27 PC is a criminal sentenced to certain death in the dungeon.
28 PC is the illegitimate child of a great hero, now intent on proving him/herself to their deadbeat parent.
29 PC was trained from birth by a bizarre dungeon-worshipping cult and sent as an offering to the great gods of the underworld.
30 PC just adores that gloomy dungeon ambience.
31 PC is obsessed with proving something called "Unified Dungeon Theory".
32 PC's crazy old uncle has filled PC's head with glamorous nonsense about dungeon crawling.
33 PC has terrifying dreams commanding them to awaken a sleeping god.
34 PC is the impressionable younger relative of another PC and follows them everywhere.
35 PC is the overprotective older relative of another PC.
36 PC was sent to act as bodyguard to another PC.
37 PC owed another PC a huge favor.
38 PC is the indentured servant of another PC.
39 PC is the slave of another PC. Whether the PC will remain so is another question.
40 PC is the devoted friend of another PC and didn't want them to go alone.
41 PC is driven to prove him/herself the strongest of all.
42 PC collects spores, molds and fungus and will go to any length to find new ones.
43 PC seeks blood/tooth/claw/eye of a monster found in the dungeon to sell to a witch/complete a ritual/create a magic potion/hawk on the black market.
44 PC wants to completely eradicate one type of monster found in the dungeon from the face of the earth.
45 PC is an aficionado of ancient wall carvings and wants to add rubbings from this dungeon to collection.
46 PC lost a wager and must enter the dungeon as a result.
47 PC's beloved pet scampered into the dungeon.
48 PC was bullied/coerced/tricked/seduced into accompanying another PC into the dungeon.
49 PC is an adrenaline junkie looking for a rush.
50 PC is a jaded hedonist in search of new thrills.
51 PC shipwrecked nearby and needs to raise money quickly to repair ship.
52 PC was forced to stop at this backwater world when spaceship ran out of the magic items/gems/gold/other treasure it uses for fuel.
53 PC must spend a night in the dungeon in order to receive a promised inheritance.
54 PC has complex legal documents stating that the dungeon is technically located on his/her property and intends to claim it. Must evict tenants first.
55 PC decides to enter the dungeon while extremely drunk. PC may sober up later and regret this decision.
56 PC has a thing for "underdark chicks/guys".
57 PC believes a cryptic journal that details his/her true family history lies within the bowels of the dungeon.
58 PC wants to prove that flumphs are not extinct.
59 PC really likes dragons, heard they tend to hang out in places like this.
60 PC's loved one violated by monsters from the dungeon, must be avenged.
61 PC is an amnesiac, believes key to discovering forgotten identity lies in the dungeon.
62 PC is searching for evidence of a lost race/civilization.
63 PC is a tomb robber, pure and simple.
64 PC's loved one kidnapped and taken to be villain's consort, held in the dungeon.
65 PC realizes that being an adventurer = dungeon crawling in this world and there's no way around it.
66 PC has been injected with a slow-acting poison, the antidote for which can be made from a lichen that grows only in the dungeon.
67 PC is a former henchman of the dungeon's main villain, seeks to overthrow the villain.
68 PC secretly seeks to betray PC party to the dungeon's main villain, whether out of own malice or because villain holds PC's loved one captive.
69 PC seeks to disprove the existence of the Hollow Earth.
70 PC is codependent and feels a need to do what everyone else is doing.
71 PC comes from peasant stock and refuses to live as his/her forebears have, sees dungeon crawling as the quickest path to fame and fortune.
72 PC's ex-adventurer grandfather's last request was for PC to brave the dungeon.
73 PC was sent on mission into dungeon by liege lord/chieftain/king.
74 PC was expressly forbidden to enter dungeon by superiors - lives to break rules.
75 PC was prophesied to undertake journey into the dungeon, and who can dispute prophecy?
76 PC received divinely inspired knowledge that he/she was born in the Hollow World, and wishes to find his/her way home.
77 PC commanded to enter dungeon by master/mentor as a final test.
78 PC is trying to atone for a past misdeed or crime.
79 PC is agoraphobic and dungeon crawling is the most lucrative line of work available to him/her.
80 PC is sent to search the dungeon for a missing child.
81 PC would rather die in the depths of the dungeon than be branded the village coward.
82 PC never looks before he/she leaps - this sojourn is just the latest in a lengthy list of foolhardy endeavors.
83 PC is a cartographer of the underdark.
84 PC is a painter of subterranean landscapes.
85 PC heard there were lasers down there.
86 PC is related to the main villain, intent on bringing him/her to justice.
87 PC is another PC's rival, sees dungeon crawl as a game of one-upmanship.
88 PC determined to complete dungeon quest as holy pilgrimage.
89 PC has a pathological tendency to underestimate danger.
90 PC is actually a magically-created organism designed only for dungeon crawling.
91 PC was told by fortune teller that he/she will die in sunlight, goes underground in attempt to live forever.
92 PC longs for immortality and scours dungeons in search of sympathetic lich/vampire/wight.
93 PC faces unwanted arranged marriage, wants to "live a little" before being forced to settle down.
94 PC is fleeing persecution.
95 PC is a spelunker looking to take his hobby to "the next level".
96 PC simply enjoys killing things and taking their stuff.
97 PC seeks the missing part that will allow him/her to activate Earthshaker!
98 PC claims to be "from the future!" and insists he/she is ensuring that all goes according to his/her future's "history".
99 PC's motivation to be determined by the player. Lucky you!
00 PC instantly ascends to godhood, roll new PC.

(First twelve entries taken from Jeff Rients' original table. I considered modifying them a bit to make them more generic, but I have to admit that I love the idea of a fantasy-world dungeon crawler owing Jabba the Hutt 50,000gp. Substitute concepts and proper names with ones suitable to your game if desired.)


  1. I doff my hat to you and your friend! I can't believe I overlooked #20 in my original article.

  2. Thanks, Jeff! I appreciate you giving me the go-ahead.

  3. Ah, what a great list. I think that #97's my favorite, though.

  4. Love it. You and Jeff should submit this to Fight On!

  5. This is fantastic, bookmarking it for the next off-the-cuff dungeoncrawl I subject some players to!

  6. Love it. You and Jeff should submit this to Fight On!


    I don't see anything on the Fight On! website about making submissions.

  7. You can email Calithena at

  8. I fucking love this. #20 is my favorite, too.

  9. "I fucking love this" is about the best reaction I could hope for. Thank you!

  10. Awesome. Big awesome lists like this are making me appreciate big awesome lists even more. :)

  11. This is a very impressive number of entries. And I could definitely see using it at the table. Nice.