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View Full Version : Characterization, Roleplaying, and Character Building... Without Speech?



BrokenChord
2014-02-06, 02:08 PM
An enormous part of character development, especially in an entirely imaginary world such as a tabletop game rather than a simulation such as a video game or LARPing, is the verbal interaction with others (dialogue) and internal thoughts (monologue) of the character in question. Indeed, even when actions raise their hands and metaphorically speak louder than words ever could, what you learn about a character from their actions tends to evolve out of the notions you had of them based on what they said. At best, based on many fictional characters' actions alone, you could deduce things like "they are heroes who would sacrifice themselves for strangers" or "they are mysterious and experienced in combat." While these are certainly strong points on many characters and lend credence or doubt to established backstories quite well, they tend to craft a rather dull character by themselves if they can even convey an entire personality at all.

So today, I ask this of you on the Roleplaying section; for a player wishing to play such a character or a DM having narrative purposes for utilizing such an NPC, how would one go about building and conveying the of a character and personality of a person who is, for whatever reason, completely and utterly mute? I'd prefer to stick to mainly actions and the like, as while having a character make up for inability to speak with sign language or magic can make an interesting character in its own right, it rather defeats the point of the exercise.

Tl;dr If a character has no way to engage in dialogue or convey their personal thoughts, how can you convey them as interesting and unique characters as well as showcasing their personalities?

BootStrapTommy
2014-02-06, 02:27 PM
I played a mute in a GURPS campaign once. I had precognition and thoroughout the campaign the GM passed me hints about things to come. I lacked any means to quickly convey such discoveries to my peers. Best campaign I've ever been a part of and a character lauded by my friends as my titular roleplaying performance.

Silence is its own tool and has a way of speaking much loader than words. Silence speaks more to an unknown inner struggle which cannot be conveyed in its entirety by words, but rather is manifested fully in action. The air of mystery it conveys allows for multiply interpretation of a character, which adds depth, given they could be this or that rather then they simply just being this.

There is no reason why a character should have to speak. The majority of human communication is nonverbal anyway.

BrokenChord
2014-02-06, 06:12 PM
That tends to be the case because of body language, though, which is nigh impossible to convey during a tabletop RPG. Also, could you provide some examples of what you did to roleplay it so well? Just so I have a reference of things one might do.

Knaight
2014-02-06, 06:34 PM
An enormous part of character development, especially in an entirely imaginary world such as a tabletop game rather than a simulation such as a video game or LARPing, is the verbal interaction with others (dialogue) and internal thoughts (monologue) of the character in question. Indeed, even when actions raise their hands and metaphorically speak louder than words ever could, what you learn about a character from their actions tends to evolve out of the notions you had of them based on what they said.

There are two main options.
1) Actions do matter a lot, particularly smaller actions. Describing actions in more detail is helpful.

2) Provided the character is literate, they can write. This is worth every bit as much as speech is, and sadly neglected in most role playing games.

Mark Hall
2014-02-06, 07:05 PM
Basically, once you have a character who cannot speak, you HAVE to start acting them out, or describe their actions accurately. If you say "Bob the fighter raises his left eyebrow", then the other players have to decide what you mean by that. If, instead of saying "I'm hurt, you bastards, send a cleric", you lean over and start looking pained, the other players have to pay attention.

BootStrapTommy
2014-02-06, 07:07 PM
Body language is not hard to convey. You simple narrate it. "My character looks at Character A and frowns deeply." Suddenly Player A realize your character doesn't approve of their actions.

Provided the character is literate, they can write. This is worth every bit as much as speech is, and sadly neglected in most role playing games. This. Writing and books are often overlook. Strange for games which require so much reading to play...

inexorabletruth
2014-02-07, 01:45 PM
I've run campaigns where a player decided to be mute. It's rough and awkward. Unless you, in real life, are expressive and eloquent, I wouldn't recommend doing it.

As has already been said, in order to play a mute character you have to build a personality off the life they live and the subtleties of body language. Little things that even the DM may not prepare time for you to play out will have to become things you emphasize. Here are some suggestions for how you play your character:


Don't be mysterious. The brooding and stone-faced shtick may work for a barbarian with a bitter past, but at least they can scream at their enemies in battle or spew vile insults while drunk at a bar. You have body language. Be transparent with your feelings.
Find a kinesics chart online and create short descriptors for what key facial expressions and body posturing strikes you as connotative of your character.
Develop strange quirks and rituals for your character that stand out and make a statement about your beliefs. Being silent means you have a lot more time to think, so you're no doubt contemplative. Consider always folding the hands over the chest of enemies you've slain (if you're the merciful type) or taking trophies from your victims, like the tongue, symbolically if you're not necessarily the merciful type. Be superstitious so that you always walk backwards through a door, or never pass your reflection without making a holy symbol. Or be extremely playful, always pulling pranks and giving your mischievous nature away with a weird, wheezing laugh. Things like this will give you a trademark that will help the other players identify with you.

Rosstin
2014-02-07, 02:49 PM
I've had a bunch of mute characters in my games; a couple of my friends have a particular fondness for characters with disabilities like those. We've had characters be blind for a while, mute, some other things I can't remember.

If the roleplayer in question can handle it, it works out fine.

GPuzzle
2014-02-07, 04:03 PM
I played a mute 4e Scout a few months ago. He had bonus to Insight and Diplomacy checks with animals and had a Young Owlbear with him, so he expressed himself through the Owlbear and sword momevents. Pretty fun to play him, especially since he used to draw in the dirt with his sword when he was giving instructions.

Lorsa
2014-02-08, 05:45 AM
I've heard of this revolutionary invention called Sign Language. Maybe that's something you can try?

The Insanity
2014-02-13, 05:30 PM
I've heard of this revolutionary invention called Sign Language. Maybe that's something you can try?


I'd prefer to stick to mainly actions and the like, as while having a character make up for inability to speak with sign language or magic can make an interesting character in its own right, it rather defeats the point of the exercise.
She's not asking how to deal with a mute character, but how to roleplay a mute character.
And it's a topic I'm interested in as well. I wanted to play such a character some time ago, but I decided against it, because I had no idea how to do it and didn't want to go into a game half-arsed.

Vrock_Summoner
2014-02-14, 09:49 PM
I've heard of this revolutionary invention called Sign Language. Maybe that's something you can try?

No need to be snarky, the OP was just asking a question.

On-topic, I once played a technically mute character, but he communicated by Rary-ing with his Dretch servants and having them relay messages so it probably isn't applicable to what you had in mind.

I second what was said above, though; if you can't talk, don't play "mysterious", be obvious about your intentions and make up several quirks for the character to differentiate themselves from every other personality-less NPC with little to no dialogue.

Lorsa
2014-02-15, 04:51 AM
She's not asking how to deal with a mute character, but how to roleplay a mute character.
And it's a topic I'm interested in as well. I wanted to play such a character some time ago, but I decided against it, because I had no idea how to do it and didn't want to go into a game half-arsed.

I missed that part about avoiding sign language.

Body language and facial expression can go a long way though. Just look at Mr. Bean!


No need to be snarky, the OP was just asking a question.

I wasn't trying to be snarky, I was trying to be funny. Then again I was suffering from the flu while I posted it so maybe not the best time for such attempts.

Gettles
2014-02-15, 05:40 AM
I've had a friend who tired playing a mute character once. It pretty much immediately devolved into everyone at the table intentionally misinterpreting his gestures and accepting any suggestion he never wanted to make.

So, I guess be warned about that.

Jay R
2014-02-15, 10:41 AM
The biggest problem is that you can't accurately simulate the character's looks with words.

If you say, "Patroclus looks at Ganelon and frowns," then everybody knows that Patroclus disapproves of Ganelon's action. But that's incorrect. Only people who are looking at Patroclus at that moment should know that.

It becomes most obvious in combat. "Patroclus looks at Rosamund's bow, and then at the crystal amulet on the owlbear wizard." But how can Rosamund tell he was trying to look at the amulet? More importantly, she's an archer. She's looking at targets, not at Patroclus.

The Insanity
2014-02-15, 10:54 AM
The biggest problem is that you can't accurately simulate the character's looks with words.

If you say, "Patroclus looks at Ganelon and frowns," then everybody knows that Patroclus disapproves of Ganelon's action. But that's incorrect. Only people who are looking at Patroclus at that moment should know that.

It becomes most obvious in combat. "Patroclus looks at Rosamund's bow, and then at the crystal amulet on the owlbear wizard." But how can Rosamund tell he was trying to look at the amulet? More importantly, she's an archer. She's looking at targets, not at Patroclus.
Each player can decide what his character sees and what he doesn't. Although in a game like for example D&D, characters are assumed to see everything around them equally good (unless it requires Perception/Spot), so it would be a bit silly to say that a character can easily follow the movements and actions of all (visible) enemies in an encounter, but not his teammates facial expression (out of combat). Especially that he should know that his teammate doesn't speak, so paying attention to his body language should become a habit.

Jay R
2014-02-15, 08:58 PM
Each player can decide what his character sees and what he doesn't.

If she "decides" that she hears what the Patroclus player said, then she has "decided" that she's looking at Patroclus, and she isn't looking in the other direction. When the Patroclus player said, "Patroclus looks at Rosamund's bow, and then at the crystal amulet on the owlbear wizard," then Patroclus's player has just decided that Ganelon and Rosamund are looking at him, not at the owlbear wizard's minions.

The Insanity
2014-02-16, 08:31 AM
If she "decides" that she hears what the Patroclus player said, then she has "decided" that she's looking at Patroclus, and she isn't looking in the other direction. When the Patroclus player said, "Patroclus looks at Rosamund's bow, and then at the crystal amulet on the owlbear wizard," then Patroclus's player has just decided that Ganelon and Rosamund are looking at him, not at the owlbear wizard's minions.
No, actually. The player hears what the other player said. The player can act on that knowledge (decide his character looks at the mute character or decide he looks at something else).

Jay R
2014-02-16, 08:40 PM
No, actually. The player hears what the other player said. The player can act on that knowledge (decide his character looks at the mute character or decide he looks at something else).

Choosing whether to have your character look in that direction and use the information or not look and not use it is itself an action taken using the information.

Knaight
2014-02-17, 01:14 AM
Choosing whether to have your character look in that direction and use the information or not look and not use it is itself an action taken using the information.

However, it's not an action made by the character, it's an action made by the player in author stance. It could cause problems if you insist on everything being strictly in character, but that doesn't apply to all games.