View Full Version : Tips on Improving Role Playing

Secret Agent Man
2009-06-13, 08:45 AM
I now have a few games under my belt. I've got the mechanics down to a second nature almost. I have noticed, however, that my role playing is generally lacking. My characters, despite alignment, always tend to lean towards what I myself would tend to do (that said, I've never played * Evil yet). It's also difficult for me to come up with in-character dialogue.
Does anyone have any tips that I could use to help improve in these areas?

2009-06-13, 08:48 AM
Roll up a character that is notoriously bad at what you'd normally do. Is your first impulse to kill it with fire? Bam! You're a Beguiler, with a massive array of skill points and not a blasty spell to speak of. Like to make everyone be your friend and avoid confrontations? 6 CHA Orc Barbarian does not avoid. 6 CHA Orc Barbarian smash.
With in-character dialogue, it all depends on what sort of character you're playing. When in doubt, ham it up! (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LargeHam)

Tempest Fennac
2009-06-13, 08:48 AM
I have similar problems due to an incredibly limited emotional range, as well as my inability to think how other people think and a lack of creativity. Changing 1 or 2 aspects of your personality when you make a character while trying to stick with what you changed could help a bit, but if the differences are too small, people may not see them.

2009-06-13, 08:52 AM
Maybe, if you're just starting out, actually playing yourself, or some way you've imagined yourself, is a way to go. Base a character on the sort of person you'd like to be, or you think you'd be, and base its actions on what you would do in that situation. Then you can start branching out and trying less in-character (for you) traits, decisions and personalities.

2009-06-13, 09:17 AM
That's what I started doing. When I started gaming, I usually played "me, but with x personality trait magnified." Eventually I started to branch over into "me, but with x passion and x personality trait from someone else." Eventually you get to the point where you realize, "hey, this guy is nothing like me, but I'm having a lot of fun!"

In addition to focusing on personality traits, what might make your attempts easier would be to figure out a few goals and motivations for this character. Write them down and refer to them or direct your character's conversation and roleplaying toward them at least once a game. Eventually, your character's personality will shift in that direction.

2009-06-13, 09:30 AM

*Cracks knuckles*

Alright. Here's the first step: distance yourself from the character in question. Remember that you're playing a game, and he's living in a real world. As long as the game is entertaining, you should be having fun...whether your character lives or dies. The character, on the other hand, treats every fight as a life or death conflict...because it is. A player might be tempted to run after that wounded dragon that just killed half his party, knowing that it's weakened now, but only a really courageous or really distressed and desperate character is likely to do the same. After all, you were lucky to survive. Is it really time to push your luck?

Therefore, realize that your goals and the characters should be separate. If your goal is to play a convincing character and have fun doing so, the character has much more freedom to act the way he or she should, as the survival of the character is no longer your goal, but the character's. Now bring your mind back to the character, but this time...try to look at things from the character's perspective, and not from your own at all. Is he headstrong and hasty? Good. Open that door without thinking about what's waiting on the other side. As a player, this is a terrible idea...but for the character, it's just the way things go. Alignment doesn't matter as much as personality, so make sure you know their personality cold before you try anything.

So ask yourself questions. What makes your character angry? Happy? Sad? What drives him or her onward? What frightens him? What superstitions does he have? How about hobbies? What quirks? What are his pet peeves? And so on.

Here are three websites loaded with questions and inspiration that may help you craft a convincing character. After that, it's just a matter of practicing.

Ash's Guide to RPG Personality (http://rpg.ashami.com/)
The 100 Most Important Things to Know About Your Character (http://www.geocities.com/poetess47/100questions.html)
100 Character Development Questions (http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474976908598)

Lastly (this is a big jump), drop those dice you know how to use so well. Try a system you don't know, and focus on playing a character, not mastering the rules. Maybe try one of the Storyteller games. Changeling: The Lost, for example, is a game where combat isn't always the first option, and there are no "hard-and-fast" rules for social situations. It forces you to play as your character, as playing by the rules isn't always an option.

And then there's my favorite: find a Free-form game online, and try that. It'll quickly get you in "playing as a character" mode faster than...well...pretty much anything. Just remember...you're telling a story, not trying to win. If you character suffers setbacks or injuries, then it's part of an epic tale, not a loss that should be mourned.

If you have any more questions, don't hesitate to PM me...I love this stuff, and helping people learn to roleplay better is one of my favorite ways to spend my time. And I'm not joking when I say that.

-The Djinn

2009-06-13, 09:30 AM
To roleplay more, you'll need to make a deeper character.
You'll need a backstory: who are really your character? Is he the eldest son of a farmer, trying to earn money to buy back the debt on the farm, or is he a mercenary, fighting for whoever pays?
The backstory provides motivation:will you save the peasant village for free, or will you demand payment up front?
Try to set some goals for your character, and then do what is best to attain those goals.
When you've done this, you can start to try to think more like your character and really get into the role

Secret Agent Man
2009-06-13, 10:46 AM
Such great responses. I figured starting out as playing what is essentially me would be the first step, followed by gradually separating myself from my character. I will say, Narmoth, that the lack of a cohesive and well thought out backstory is something my characters have been lacking. I need to put more thought into them, for sure.

Djinn_In_Tonic, wow, lots of good input there. I might take you up on that PMing offer, as I am in the midst of developing a character for a future game. I agree with you 100% about the dice thing. One of the problems I face is that I game with others who have played for a long time, and they tend to metagame a lot, which is something I'd like to try and avoid.

Good stuff.

2009-06-13, 11:11 AM
If you can't make it, *steal* it!

Just think about how a favored character in a book, comic, cartoon, TV show or movie would respond. Wise-cracking quip like Spider-Man? Catty comments like Buffy's Cordelia or one of the Heathers or House M.D.? Square-jawed man of action like half of Arnold Schwarzeneggar's characters? Portentous and prone to grandiose speechifying like most of the bad-guys in just about every bad fantasy movie, ever?

Sometimes it's fun to even use the most cliched commentary, and have your character talk like Dr. Doom or some James Bond villain. "You dare defy me!" "You cannot resist the awesome power of Karthoun's Pyroclaustic Fury!" (throws normal fireball) "Surrender and die! There is no 'or.'"

Many of the characters from Firefly or Star Wars or Babylon 5 are eminently quotable, if you are a sci-fi fan. If your tastes are a little more mainstream, the Godfather has some good lines, as do many movies starring John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. The guy who plays Snape in the Harry Potter movies (and the head thief from Die Hard, the 'Spock' clone from Galaxy Quest, etc.) is another actor that it can be fun to 'crib' off of, as he often plays a curmudgeonly sort of fellow. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the dude from Sahara tends to play more good-natured happy-go-lucky irreverent characters, and can provide some mannerisms to handle that sort of character, such as describing how the character pays little attention to details, shrugs off things going wrong with a chirpy optimism, ignores social protocols with a big grin, etc.

Base your character loosely on one of them, or on a synthesis of them (like Sarah Conner, if she was a tough as nails street-waif-turned-Rogue, and not a waitress-turned-warrior-woman, like House M.D. if he was a sarcastic, bitter and somewhat disillusioned Druid, sour on the whole concept of civilization and on the value of humanity as a species).

Some celebrities in real-life have quirky and memorable personalities, such as Howie Mandel's breathless overenthusiastic way of talking too fast and rampant germaphobia, which can make for a fairly unique 'character.'

Obviously, there's a fine line between letting a character (real or fictional, although it's not always easy to tell how much of a celebrities 'real' personality isn't just another mask they were) inform your role-playing, and making a grotesque parody of that character. Using Howie Mandel as an example, if you describe that character as looking like Howie Mandel, and then act like him, it's a step too far. If the character looks nothing like him, and is some scrawny seventh son of a minor noble / Wizard's apprentice who is excited to be out of the academy for the first time 'on a real adventure!', but also squeamish and prone to complaining about the uncomfortable bits of adventuring (such as not sleeping in a bed, not having warm meals, not having clean laundry, etc), and you never bring up Howie, the behavior you've cribbed from him will appear to be 'natural' to the character, and not just copycat behavior, which, as anyone who has played a superhero game and had a couple of Wolverine clones come to the table can tell you, gets a little tired. :)

As I did above, trying to come up with a life-story that would 'explain' why the young mage talks too fast and freaks if he gets dirty, helps to make the behavior 'yours' and not just a knock-off of someone else's characterization. You want the character to be bitter and grousy like House? Come up with a reason why his disillusioned. You want the character to be socially clueless? Come up with a reason why that sort of thing never mattered before to the character. (Raised by wolves? Raised by druids? Raised in a tribe that considered 'politeness' to be lying and telling someone what you *really* thought of them to be honest?) The character is friendly, always having a hand on someone's shoulder, always butting into conversations, displaying little or no sense of modesty? Perhaps they had a large family, and a small home, and the concept of having private space was never really an issue. Perhaps they miss being surrounded by their many siblings, and are adopting the party as their 'new pack.' Or, same situation, and a different sibling might be obsessively private, absolutely cherishing privacy, something they never had growing up, and is becoming increasingly anti-social and indepedent, learning to hunt, cook, clean up after themself, etc. after a childhood 'unable to hear themselves think.' That sort of origin makes for a good Ranger or Scout type. Asked if they grew up in the woods, the character would be, 'No. I grew up in a city, with twelve brothers and sisters, and I couldn't wait to get the heck out of there...'

2009-06-13, 01:44 PM
I believe that my roleplaying as a player improved a lot when I DMed myself during a campaign with a lot of npc interaction.

As a DM you don't have to role-play one character but multiple characters at once. That way you get a much better feeling for portraying different personalities.

You can experiment with wacky personalities without being afraid of not being able to pull it off. When the character doesn't work you either stop using the NPC or just kill it off without remorse. This level of emotional detachment from the character makes roleplaying much easier but is usually difficult to archieve for players. That's why inexperienced roleplayers are usually reluctant of portraying "inefficient" personalities and thus give their characters as calm, logical but boring personalities.

You also have much less pressure when playing NPCs because you don't have to think about how to solve the problem the GM throws at you and stay in-character while doing so. You can just stay in-character with your NPCs and let the PCs solve the problems.

When your group won't let you DM here are a few easy to play character types you could try as a role playing practice in a series of one-shot adventures. Provided that you stop worrying about the consequences of your in-character actions and that the rest of the party is willing to deal with your character.
-a coward who runs away from any danger and has to be dragged along. (being the parties skill-monkey gives them a reason to cope with this).
-a retarded character who can't figure out anything on his own and asks stupid questions all the time (fighter build).
-a rags-to-riches character who is used to luxury and being pampered. Freak out whenever confronted with an uncomfortable, dirty or humiliating situation (most character builds can be played that way).

The other players will most likely hate your character at first but after a while they will realize that it is great fun to roleplay with a suboptimal personality.

2009-06-13, 02:09 PM
One thing that I like to do is keep journal entries from my character's perspective. I find that it adds a lot of depth, and helps you get into their head a lot better.

Hope that helps.

2009-06-13, 03:21 PM
Roll up a character that is notoriously bad at what you'd normally do.


Also, try stealing a technique from Burning Wheel. In that, every character has three (or more) Beliefs*. Write some for your D&D character! The general syntax goes:

"I believe [opinion], so I will [action]."

(The opinion does not have to be true. The action does not have to be reasonable.)

Then, while playing your character, if something comes up that triggers your beliefs, act according to them rather than what you might normally do, even if it seems irrational.

An example:

Brillochin the capital-D-Dwarf hates elves. He has a Belief that says "All elves are untrustworthy; I won't ever listen to what they tell me."

Whenever an elf speaks to Brillochin, he goes "Pah!" and spits on their pointy shoes for good measure. Even if the elf is trying to warn him of an ambush or poison in his ale.

Of course, if you phrased that Belief "All elves are untrustworthy; I will kill them on sight." then your game might be exploded. Be careful to make a socially functional character. :smalltongue:

*Basically, you get fate points every time your beliefs get your character into trouble - this drives the story along while simultaneously giving you extra ability to deal with the trouble you've just created.

2009-06-13, 03:25 PM
just play the Ultimate Warrior (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laiZgrIpbcA)

2009-06-13, 04:54 PM
Something else that you might find useful (similar to what Djinn_ provided; thanks!) is putting together a 10-Minute Background (http://forums.gleemax.com/showthread.php?t=1036571).

I have the same problem of not knowing how to properly RP. As so many have said, fleshing out your character can't but help.

2009-06-13, 09:47 PM
To echo what Set said - read some authors who excell at characterization, then steal from them. 'Fake it 'til you Make It' works really really well. I'd say avoid stuff that everybody has encountered - Harry Potter, Firelfy, etc. Challenge your self a bit.

Some great fantasy authors whose characters are NOT typical cutouts:

Ursula LeGuin - the Earthsea books especially
China Mieville
Fritz Lieber
Lois Mc Master Bujold
John Crowley
Susanna Clarke

and don't orget the master of memorable characters, Chas Dickens.

2009-06-14, 01:43 AM
If you're like me, you don't actually have to start out with a character fully formed. If you have a rough idea of what they're like, just a few defining characteristics and a short backstory, then actually playing them will add a lot more than what you could do while you were creating them. Of course, it can lead to surprises... I've found characters taking on lives of their own, to the point that I once had to leave a party because my character's development (including an alignment change) was so at odds with everyone else's that we ended up with a "You know, I like you, but if you stuck around any longer, I'd have to kill you"... which was interesting to play out. Not that that would actually happen every time; every other time, I either had no problems or just worked it out OOC with the other players. But you do take the risk, when you let your characters do what they "want", of ending up going in the wrong direction to stay in the party. On the other hand, it's always made them seem that much more real to me.