Today I want to talk about drives in more detail. The classic FU rules describe them as defining a character’s “purpose”, or the thing they most want to achieve. However, drives can be much more than that.

Drives can be the overt reasons a character takes action, but they might also be the more subtle or implicit reasons they behave in a particular way. Like everything in FU, the scope of drives will depend on the genre and style of game, whether you are playing a “one shot” adventure or a longer series, however the core features remain the same – they are specific and they are actionable.

  • Drives are specific so that everyone at the table understands what they are and how they might affect a character’s actions.
  • Drives are actionable as they push a character to respond to situations in a particular way, giving them something to do.

Types of Drives

Drives can be divided into two key types. While both are specific and actionable, they define very different things about a character’s background, personality and agenda.


A goal is exactly the kind of drive described in the classic FU rules. It is something a character wants to achieve – something they want that must be worked towards. Goals allow a player to define relationships with other characters and the world around them.

A good goal is specific and intense. While “Get a good job” might be something a character wants to achieve, it doesn’t make for a good goal as it is not specific or particularly intense and it does nothing to define relationships with characters or the setting. “Become partner in the firm and show that jerk Randy that I’m better than him” is a much better example of a goal.

Some more example goals:

  • Hunt down the outlaw Dirty Jack and bring him to justice.
  • Prove to the academy that Storm Magic is more powerful than Sun Magic
  • See the City of Gold before it sinks beneath the waves forever.
  • Impress Mary’s father so I may win her hand in marriage.
  • Protect Dave from harm.


Instincts are a slightly different kind of drive, defining some internal passion, psychological trait or personality quirk. They are less an objective a character is trying to achieve and more a behaviour they are compelled to act upon. Where goals might push a character to take action, instincts will often come into play as a reaction to a particular situation or stimuli.

When devising instincts consider deep-seated beliefs, compulsions and fears. Paranoia, a fear of heights, compulsive gambling, and strong religious beliefs are all examples of instincts. In many ways an instinct might look like a “flaw” descriptor, which is totally okay, though an instinct does not have to be negative. “Strong sense of justice” or “always help the poor” are just as good instincts as “kleptomaniac”.

Some more example instincts

  • Hopeless romantic
  • Afraid of the dark
  • Pious
  • Alcoholic

Using drives in play

Drives have two purposes. First, they inform the game master of the kinds of stories a player is interested in telling. Second, they provide a player with opportunities to further explore their character and direct play towards interesting moments.

As an indicator of a player’s interests, drives provide a strong cue to the GM as to the kinds of stories players want to tell – whether they want to explore a romantic sub-plot, or a story of vengeance, for example. While the entire party of characters might have a common purpose, your character’s drives are about what you think is cool, fun or interesting. A good game master will incorporate a character’s drives into stories, gradually weaving the different subplots into the narrative, revealing a loved-one or enemy at the heart of some villainous web, or providing opportunities for a character to have resolution to some dark family tragedy.

Furthermore, drives help you make decisions for your character. They tell you the things the character wants or needs to do. When confronted with a choice between pursuing the villain, or turning off the trail because you spotted your nemesis, you are left with a tough choice. Which is interesting and fun.

How many drives?

Each character should have one to three drives at any time. More than this and the character will be pushed and pulled all over the place and you will begin to lose some of the clarity of who/what the character is. You can always change/achieve/evolve drives through play if needed.

If rewarding the use of drives (see below) I would recommend giving each character one goal and one instinct. This provides them with opportunities to earn both FU points and experience points by roleplaying their drives.

Rewarding play

But wait – we can further incentivise the use of drives! Not only do they make our stories more interesting and fun, players can be rewarded for pursuing their drives over an easier, more logical or practical course of action.

When a player takes action in response to or pursuit of a drive, and it makes their life tougher or the situation more interesting, reward them. Things might become more difficult just for the character, or the entire group of characters. It might set them back, increase the danger, or cause some other form of trouble.

You can reward the roleplaying of drives by giving the player a FU point, or an experience point.

FU points are a great reward when things get more difficult, as they can then be spent to get the character back out of trouble. They are an immediate reward for a player action, tangible but finite – the FU point can only be used once.

Consider rewarding XP at important or climactic moments related to the drive. Experience points are a particularly good reward for the achieving of goal-type drives.

An excellent article over at Tina schreibt was zu Spielen breaks Mouse Guard character drives into Beliefs, Goals and Instincts and gives each a slightly different mechanical advantage, which I love.

Beliefs can provide bonus or penalty dice depending upon the situation, you get a bonus die when chasing your goal, and a FU point when you act according to your instincts but it causes you trouble. Not only does each of these features do something different narratively, they also feel mechanically different, which is great.

Drives and relationships

You can also use the above to define relationships between characters, instead of the description of drives and relationships in the classic FU rules. If you want to make a relationship with another character very important, then make it a drive.

A relationship drive might look like one of these:

  • Glarion is so gullible – I will stop him from making poor decisions
  • I don’t trust Cary’s motivations
  • I will teach Sara how to be a real warrior!

If you want to make relationships between player-characters an important feature of play you might allow a character to have a goal, an instinct and a relationship drive.

Does this give you some more ideas about how you might incorporate drives into your games? Do goals and instincts make sense?

This article was first published on July 10, 2016

This article originally appeared on a website dedicated to Freeform Universal. I have consolidated that material here in order to bring everything into one easy-to-find location.