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Getting into Character: Some Thoughts on Roleplaying

With entire books devoted to developing a character, players have countless options for bringing them to life at the table. Does your PC have a lovable or irritating quirk that the rest of the party must learn to live with? An unforgettable tagline? Are they haunted by a past that casts a pall over all of their actions?

Anything is possible, and at least at the Gaming Honors table, encouraged.

When I started playing decades ago, RPGs were an escape, a place where I could be a hero like the ones I read about in fantasy novels. I didn’t actually “roleplay” fleshed-out characters with my friends: the game was more about the encounters, the monsters, and the magic items. As I got older, my first real gaming group was filled with members of the high school Drama Club, and the pendulum swung the other way. Speaking in accents? Check. Elaborate interpersonal dramas taking up most of the session? Also check.

And yes, I am still talking about the game, although there was plenty of drama outside of the sessions, too!

Finally, as my passion for creative writing increased, in-game RP was replaced by out-of-session backstory creation. In other words, I was writing a novel in all but name, and this served me well as I played less and less often, and for quite some time, not at all. My characters lived on the page, even if I didn’t get the chance to inhabit them at the table.

But for almost two decades now, I’ve been lucky enough to have a regular game, and I’ve had a chance to see all of these approaches–and more!—in action. And what I’ve learned about roleplaying is this: how we build and play our characters isn’t nearly as important as just doing it. Having some form of separation between yourself and your PC, one the other players can recognize, goes a long way towards making sessions fun and memorable for both their in-game moments and their out-of-character banter. My friends use accents, gestures, even third-person novelistic descriptions to denote when they are “in character.” Everyone has a character “tell.”

Why does this matter? Well, we have a kind of unspoken agreement that when one of us is in character, the rest of us respond in kind. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it helps us keep a balance between in-world roleplaying and “group of friends hanging out and having fun.” Of course, your mileage may vary, and live-streams are another story altogether, which we’ll discuss another time.

What works best for you? Does your character have a catchphrase, a quirk, an expression, that brings them to life at the table? Tell us all about it in the comments!

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