mechanics with the personality construct for the purpose of bringing the adventure to a climax. Vicarious experience and sheer satisfaction are the rewards of taking on the unique interactive challenge. A challenge based on the desire of mentally striding onto the stage and charge a character’s presence with fictional life and vitality. To be part of an exciting story that each player in the troupe helped to create.
Playing the Part
A game character is a vessel of sculpted expression to enjoy in a vibrant mindscape. Grappling with strategic challenges and plot twists, squeezing every ounce of fun out a game by playing the part you have so meticulously created. Gamemasters build stories by assembling story details to set the stage for character interaction. A player’s character concept establishes the style of that interaction and mechanics make it possible. By neglecting the challenge of presentation, all the preparatory work of character construction is rendered useless. Character presentation brings a story to life for what is a story without characters? Don’t boil away the fictional content of a game to solve mechanical challenges, use the mechanics of a situation to justify fictional excellence.
The success of character presentation depends on player participation. Without it, a player’s role is relegated to spectator status, defeating the purpose of the game. It is not unusual in the beginning of a player’s career to be a little hesitant but that feeling fades while familiarity sets in. Gaming overall is a departure from the norm; casual discussion held together with character abstractions in a spoken, melodramatic story environment. The entire process of an RPG occurs as socio-fictional interaction with the potential enjoyment lying just beyond unbearable apprehensiveness. Cross the wallflower border and get involved. Hesitance is the product of engaging new situations with no previous experience. Situational hesitance is a powerful mechanism within the survival instinct, but what does that have to do with gaming? Internalize the very real fact that every facet of gaming - - including embarrassment - - is virtually harmless.
Find the child driven imagination that resides in us all and pretend to be your character in the story. Follow the lead of the other players and expect to make mistakes. Mistakes are free and they offer great lessons. In role playing games, mistakes lead to amusing lip-slips and spontaneous laughter. No one expects players to present their characters at the acting level of Sir Alec Guinness or Max von Sydow. It is just a game.
Get into character by focusing on the details of presentation. Choosing a name is a very good place to start: prestige and reputation are announced with the proclamation of a name. Put some thought into it and then compare it with the flavor of the campaign. Come up with some home grown names, flip through some favorite novels and the like until you find a name that works. Play with combinations of names and historical figures. Check name books, heralds, and surnames - - a name inspiration could come from anywhere. Pick something that fits the character and swirl it around until it becomes part of the character’s concept.
Styles of clothes and speech patterns also help build a character’s presence. By creating first impressions and attitudes, they are the first line of visual interface to be described by the player and perceived on a constant basis (by PC’s and NPC’s). These details are somewhat tied to the genre and setting, but there is always room for style. Personal items always help make a strong character connection with all the players. Jewelry and other accouterments add fun elements to the presentation of the character and can actually be brought to the game table to create and augment character ambience. Along with superficial characterizations, players can rely on their hard work of character construction for additional input. Bring the character to life and play the part.
Little by little as a GM directs scenes by identifying exact setting details (NPC’s, background, and story situations), players can further their character’s presentation by applying it’s motivations as a plot unfolds. Characterization is crucial to any story and a golden opportunity for players to flesh out the paper and get involved with character entrance. It could be the beginning of a campaign during the adventure party’s gathering or the start of a new adventure as a new circle of NPC’s engage the players’ This manner of interaction gives the players a chance to state their own character’s position in the context of the story to establish character presence. The manner in which a character is introduced to a story establishes character relevance. It also sets up the potential for internal and external conflict by creating more connections between campaign and character by adding to the current adventure and subsequent sub-plots.
Artwork is a another great way to help present a character. Draw (or have drawn) a picture of your character or use photographs found in books and magazines as a source of inspiration to conjure more detailed character images of your character. Give yourself and the rest of the troupe an infallible image of what the character looks like. The solid visual connection you make with other players makes the character more memorable. By accurately defining the character’s appearance, the rest of the troupe has an embodiment of the character idea they must involve in their story images.
Another aspect of role playing is body language. Physical positioning, movement, and other subtleties can enhance character presentation. Internal emotions bubble to the surface from mind to body. This projection can be reproduced and exaggerated during role playing segments to enhance the experience. Facial ticks, hand gesturing during speech, funny walks, raised eyebrows and a host of other peculiarities can be used to heighten character ambience. Body language also helps a player stay in-character by acknowledging a physical difference, reminding the player not to forget about the character’s “independence”. Let the details of the character concept come to the surface and be seen as well as heard.
I am acquainted with no immaterial sensuality so delightful as good acting.
Lord Byron (1814)
Presentation: A State for Legends
Grasping at wisps of fabricated intuition, players now have the tools to bind them together and create a legend. A legend hinted at in the systematic notation of the character sheet, waiting to be experienced and played out for the remembrance of tomorrow’s tall tale campfire stories. Your character waits to stride onto the stage and claim its fifteen minutes of fame through player presentation. Presenting a character brings the masks of expression to the forefront of game interaction and the creation of the story.
As a player, your tools are question, contemplation, and discussion. Tools that are a culmination of direct plot interaction to understand a character’s point of view. The heart of any character is a player’s desire to control the raw materials of game
Character Entrance: Every game session offers players the opportunity for character entrance. Like walking onto a stage to play the part, players can do the same as soon as the GM sets it up. Let the first active scene introduce the character’s status-quo. Establish the character’s mood and demeanor while interacting with existing characters. Make announcements, visit campaign locations, do things the character should be doing besides standing around waiting for something to happen. Check on the character’s current affairs “in-character”. Use it to impact on the story and give it flavor. A strong character entrance will also give the GM a better chance to move smoothly into subsequent scenes, getting the game off on the right foot.
Live Table: Take advantage of live-table. Once the GM calls it, keep it going; stay in character and interact. Polish your presentation skills and make a character worth playing. Know the story and how you want to affect it. The height of character involvement is during live-table; characters are interacting, the plot is moving, and the experience is crisp. Get involved and help make it happen.
Method Acting: A technique tried and true used by actors the world over is method acting. Method acting calls upon your own experience as an interpretive source when peering through the eyes and hearts of characters. By referencing your own past ideas and feelings, it sometimes makes the characters position easier to understand, and even easier to role play.
Narration: When role playing, don’t forget to narrate. Characters do more than just posture and speak, they do things. Describe in detail how a character functions in an encounter. Explain how the character does things, and how it reacts. If a character bows for an entrance, and you don’t want to bow, describe it. Explain the physical movements and pertinent internal thinking. Spice up presentation with quality verbal description. If you were reading a book or watching a play about your character, how would you want it to be seen? The game master and other players only know what you tell them.
The meanest foe faced when role playing is stage fright. Deal with it by putting it into perspective. First of all, you are not on stage. The only audience is your friends. You are supposed to get silly and have fun with your friends, otherwise its work. Secondly, use the greatest source of energy you have - - spontaneous adrenaline. As your heart begins thump, pour that energy into your presentation. Use that nervous energy to fuel your character. Try to focus on the cognitive and sensory points of interest to augment your involvement. Describe your character’s actions, subtle, and overt and break into monologues and engaging discussions. Don’t be afraid to throw yourself into the role with outrageous lines. Sometimes the best lines are the cheesy ones. They evoke relevant and powerful emotions and in story context can even be highly illuminating by emphasizing the most important parts of a scene.
Lastly, don’t be shy. Character’s can be shy, but a bashful player only misses out on the fun. From a tactical point of view, less than adequate participation can stunt the character’s mechanical growth and in turn constricts the character fictionally. A GM calculates experience points substantially based on participation. If you don’t join in, you don’t get the points. Move past the shyness by getting involved a little bit at a time. Over the course of a few game sessions, you will develop the habit of throwing in your two cents on a regular basis. Before you know it, you will be eagerly searching for the horizon of the next adventure as a stage for your very own legend.
Who Pulls the Strings?
Aside from maintaining the balance between player/character knowledge, be wary of player peer pressure. The player character collective should work together to solve a story question, but never at the cost of compromising the true nature of the characters! To do so would be the equivalent of cheating. Never change a character’s decision or position as a result of player coercion. Sometimes a particular character will choose differently than the group. The debates that arise because of the issue at hand is not be ridiculed, but to be reveled. Discuss and resolve story debates in-character! That’s what role playing is all about. Instead of overcoming external conflict (dragons, evil armies, lawyers, etc.), it turns into an internal conflict. Internal character motivations in the adventure party pulling against each other and creating conflict. Role play the scene, enhancing it with conflict, and find out how the character’s decisions will effect the story. Imagine how distasteful a book or movie would be if none of the characters ever deviated from your expectations or encountered conflict.
After character entrance, the GM will direct the game flow in scenes. Scenes that progress the story during a “live-table”. “Live table” is when a scene breaks into total role playing and necessary question (for complete player/character comprehension) and conflicts are discussed as characters. Everything the player says is what the character says. The ebb and flow of role playing question phases moves the story along an gives an opportunity for each player to contribute. Important contributions of player creativity focusing on the comprehensive involvement of the character. As each player’s character helps progress the intricacies of a story, the uniqueness will help to shape each detail. The way players direct their own character includes dealing with all character perspectives. Learn how to accurately describe character actions for the benefit of all the players. Think about what you character will say beforehand if possible and plan out what role your character will play in a scene. When your turn is at hand, mental preparation makes character interaction easier and more vivid. Ripping all conflict out of a scene meant for the characters to deal with is reduced to argumentative players. As each goal is revealed to the PC’s, a position of agreement or disagreement should take place in the voice of the character.
For example: Characters may not like the King whose quest they are carrying out but may need the quest to be completed nonetheless. To further complicate matters, maybe one or two of the characters vehemently disagrees with the rest of the party, increasing the story challenge. The scene is lost, game flow is disrupted, and everyone is annoyed. Real-time conflict has defeated the purpose of the game. Don’t displace story conflict with bad play habits. The puppet is yours and the capacity for expressive involvement is unlimited; just do it in character.
Role playing is like acting, only easier. The character is created by the player and better understood because it is known from the inside out; however, knowing the character is the first step. Next, a player must get involved in order to actually role play. Go with the flow of the game, and when turn and timing allows, use the following strategies as launching points to get involved.