JP On Gaming

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

[Old pro tricks] 5 ways to better roleplay

A few new players I have been playing with lately have been commenting they want to get more into the roleplay element of the game. So I decided I would make these occasional post to this series.

I spent some time thinking about how to help them get better. And if they have a better game experience, mine improves as well does it not? With this goal in mind here is my list.

1 - Imitate don't duplicate

When create a new character, imitate that person but noticing some of the most important thing that distinguishes this person from another: a pirate's speech pattern, an Italian's hand gestures, a woman playing with her hair, a woman constantly adjusting her jewelry, a nervous person playing with a cigarette, someone with bad hygiene scratching, the President's speech pattern (the last three are awesome for that), a flamboyantly gay person's attitude, the shifty eyes of a paranoid person. Yes these are stereotypes, but they really help you get in character, and it helps people either categorize you quickly as to the type of character you are and convey personality.

Seriously. Look around you in a public place. At a quick glance, you quickly make your mind about the TYPE of person you see.

Think of a moment in a game when you sat down with new people and one player describes himself as "highly aristocratic and snobbish" but slouches and laughs at fart joke, it doesn't work... But if he looks down at every one disdainfully, introduces himself curtly, and demands a bottle of wine for himself. Then yes.

2 - Start small

Very few great actors or writers started off that way. They had to work as understudy and rose through the ranks. That's why I recommend that you start small. Pick one quirk about your character, something you can do easily and that you can remind yourself. I used to place notes on my character sheet to remember about the character. Perhaps it's a keyword, or a hand gesture, or something to put you back in character.

These small things that remind you will eventually become second nature.

3 - Go Big

This may sound like the opposite of #2, but it is not. By go big, I mean that whatever you do, make it in a way that others can notice. It's what I sometimes refer as "the Steve McQueen," based on SMcQ's performance in the Magnificent Seven. If you don't know, throughout the movie, whenever SMcQ is on-screen but not the center of attention, he does something that draw your eye to him: he plays with his gun or hat, he dusts his coat, etc.

There is no point in role-playing something no one else will ever see. If your character has a tick and plays with his fingers, do it above the table where other see it. There is no point in doing it beneath the table away from everyone. Do it where the others can see it - or can pick up on it.

This doesn't mean that you necessarily do some wild, grand gestures all the time. You can wow people with a withdrawn character. Just make it so others can notice. That's what it means to "Go Big."

4 - Keep it In-Character

Perhaps the biggest thing... ask question of others in character and respond to them in character (IC). This has the double advantage of engaging someone else. After a time it becomes a reflex. It also helps others differentiating you the player vs you the character. If you-as-PC speak like Jerry Lewis, people pay attention to you because they quickly make the distinction.

Staying in character often draws other players into the game.

I won't lie that it's hard.

It is very hard to do in a consistent fashion.

But the rewards are awesome and worth the effort. Not only do you raise your game, but others will do it too.

5 - Consistency is important

This is the one that links all of the others and raises the bar. Without consistency, others never know how to approach you, and in doubt, they will not communicate with you as a

This one is something I've seen a lot of. A player comes up with a good shtick, does a grandiose show for the first 10 minutes then his character disappears, replaced by the same character the guy is. Players "default" to an out of character conversation if they have a choice. So Imitate, start small, go big and keep in character, but do it consistently.

Some of my characters

For a number of my own characters, I have small tricks I use to get into character quickly.

- Sir Azrel was an LG character of mine who was a demon hunter and something of a snob. At the start of every game, I would straighten myself and begin looking down my nose at people, knowing they would never meet the exacting standards I set for myself. In spite of this attitude, he was a kind and compassionate man.

Sir Alexite is a retired PFS character of mine who was a Hellknight. He spoke with a Cluzeau-French accent. At game time, I would make gestures like a classic actor would, and keep playing with my pretend puffy shirt and cravate.

Katharan Was my first character in PFS, and the first Colorado-based PC to reach retirement level. She was a complete Paris Hilton style shallow bitch that spoke with a Borat-like accent.

Katja is my character in Reign of Winter (and PFS), she is very traditional and extremely shy around people. Before any game, I do two things: first I start avoiding eye contact and keeping my gaze down; second I lower my voice to a low pitch and say something simple often times "No" or "I'm Katja".

Viviana is Katja's older sister and something of a minion. When playing her, I wrack my body a few times with severe twitches then call out in a raspy voice "The Mistress is great!"



  1. got any tips on how to translate that to playing via a VTT where you might only have voice - the gestures etc arent being seen?

    1. Actually... I do! Stay tuned... it will appear shortly.