Patrons, Causes, and PC Goals

Have you ever had a player not be conducive to play because their PC just wouldn’t believably sign on for a particular mission, or would be confrontational with someone who was supposed to be central to the campaign world, maybe someone the PCs were going to serve?

I think we’ve all had that player at one time or another (or been that player a time or two, if we’re really honest).

Most readers of the gaming portions of this site know that I’m big on not making the job of a GM complicated when it comes to adventure design, but I’ve always approached it from a story/adventure generation point of view. Now I’m going to combine that with an integration of player goals using the simplest tool possible: the patron.

What is a Patron?

For purposes of this concept, we’re going to define a patron as the following:

Patron • Any person, organization, cause, or other entity that a group of players have sworn fealty to in such a way that their adventuring career serves the best interests of the patron first and foremost.

A shorter version would be: it’s why the PCs are adventuring.

Having a patron in the game ensures that everyone is following the same goals, and willing to follow the same entity. It makes things simpler at the table.

What are some possible patrons?

  • A lord or lady looking to increase their political status.
  • The ship the PCs serve on as crew; on a mission of exploration, war, or simply to keep flyin’.
  • A religion the PCs are all dedicated to bolstering the reputation of.
  • The colony of apocalypse survivors trying to stay alive.
  • A city the superhero PCs protect.
  • Etc.

While reading that list, you might have thought of some examples in games you’ve played before; likely games where the focal point on such a patron (even if they didn’t call it that) focused the game more than most.

How to Use Patrons

While there are many ways to use a central figurehead for your games (and I’ve got some specific rules for using it in our upcoming game Age of Anarchy), here are some general tips for using them.

  • Come up with the patron together. There may be some player buy in issues if the GM creates it, but if the table creates it altogether there should be no problems with everyone getting behind it.
  • Create the patron before creating characters. This will give players a guideline to the type of game, and appropriate characters (and character goals), they will be playing.
  • Give the patron a goal to work towards. This gives the players a reason to act.
  • Complicate the road to the patron’s goal. This gives the players issues to resolve on the patron’s behalf.
  • Use the patron’s situation and behavior to demonstrate setting changes due to the PCs actions on missions.

But Don’t the Players Have to Be the Heroes?

This is a general rule in roleplaying, and for good reason. If this question popped in your head while reading the above, ask yourself:

Is Wash and Jayne any less of a hero because they serve under Malcolm Reynolds?

Are the X-Men less than heroes for serving Professor Xavier?

Are the crew of The Enterprise unheroic minions because they serve the goals of Starfleet? (You can see here that there are multiple levels of scope these patrons can take.)

Is the PC group working to save a village in trouble comprised of “non-heroes”?

I say “nay!” In fact, it is in the goal that is larger than the heroes that makes them heroes in the first place. Self-serving PCs out for murder or loot are, to my mind, anti-heroic. But serving a greater cause, and sacrificing for the same…that’s the stuff of legends!

My upcoming game system, The Perpetual Motion Engine, uses patrons as the core of the system, upon which everything else is built. Campaigns are designed around the rise or fall of a patron, and player characters are created and advanced based on how well the players are working towards the patron’s goals.

What are some ways you’ve used patrons in your games?

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