The first and foremost concern of any and all Exalted players have during character creation should be their character’s Motivation. While this might sound easy enough, it’s actually pretty tricky to come up with one that resonates with a character personally… without ending up with something far too generic.
What’s My Motivation?
According to the Exalted corebook: “Motivation is a short description of your character’s primary goal. It’s what drives your character to go out and be a hero, and it is part of the reason the Unconquered Sun chose her for Exaltation.”
Of course this is with regards to Solars. The other Exalts have other patrons that grant them an Exaltation under their own criteria. As mentioned, a Motivation pushes characters from being a passive inhabitant of Creation, into a Pro-active force of change (and hopefully, good.)
Beyond the Mundane
“Become Wealthy”, “Marry someone nice and have a happy family.” or “Live a quiet life on a tropical Island.” These are normal Motivations that are insufficient for Exalts. This is primarily because they’re not the stuff that would make good stories. A good way look at building a Motivation is to ask yourself, “Is this something that a Hero should be doing?”
Motivations for the Exalted need to be Epic. These surpass normal concerns and scale… and require many sessions of play to accomplish. Saving a village is one thing, saving a Nation is another. Motivations necessitate a considerable investment of time, effort and emotion.
Hopes and Dreams
Idealism is key. Exalts redefine the world according to their hopes and dreams, pushing further and further into the realm of making their wishes come true with their bare hands. To quote a line from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann’s Kamina, “Go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb!”
Make it Personal
One very important thing about Motivations is that it has to mean something personally to the character. Things like “Flip the Imperial Isle upside down” or “Punch a Behemoth so far that it breaks the dome of stars and out into the great beyond.” fulfill the requirement of it being something that no mortal person could hope to accomplish, but are poor motivations since they don’t mean anything to the character.
By sticking to personally significant goals, there’s a greater emotional impact and gravitas to the character.
People’s hearts change. So do their Motivations. Mechanically if a Motivation is met, then the character gets to pick a new motivation. However, it is always a good thing to consider evolving a prior motivation to a next logical (if more improbable step.)
People naturally find ways to restrict their dreams and ambitions. “I’ll never earn enough money to go to GenCon.” “I’d never be able to climb Mt. Everest, that’s just crazy!” “She’d never give me the time of day, I’m a loser!” These are all the things that Exalted aspires to trump. Certainly these are mundane examples, but to a denizen of Creation, an Exaltation allows them to override these little mental “brakes” that we all have.
Putting It All Together
Wayward Falling Star, a Tribal Chieftain from the West is taken captive by slavers who come to his island home to kill and capture his tribe. However, thanks to the grace of the Unconquered Sun, is Exalted, and breaks free. He finds himself leagues away from his home, trapped in a land he has never seen, and surrounded with the remaining survivors of a dozen disparate tribes and barbarian cultures, all of which were taken like him to become slaves.
Enraged by the nature of the Slave trade, and the loss of his people, the Tribal Chieftain rallies the survivors, using his charisma and strength and the bonds of suffering they’ve suffered to unite them as one people to eke out a new life in this unknown land.
Wayward Falling Star’s Primary Motivation is:
“To Establish a Nation State of Free Men, who will serve as a Sanctuary for those Enslaved.”
This is not an easy task, as they must content with the elements, establish trade, and forge a new cultural identity in a land that isn’t theirs. Once his fledgling band of ex-slaves manage to settle and find a place to call their own, and construct some semblance of society and defend it from those who would destroy them, his Motivation then moves on to:
“Destroy Slavery as an Economic Artifice and replace it with something Better without Demeaning Human Life.”
Wayward turns his attention then to dismantling the practice of Slavery, based on his first-hand knowledge of being taken as a Slave against his will, and the deaths and suffering of his people. This is yet another massive goal, as Slavery is an important economic mechanism that provides income and goods and services to many nations.