Character Development, Part 2
Roleplaying is an active part of Dungeons & Dragons. You’re telling a group story in which every character is the hero (or villain) and using a full box of crayons to color in the details makes the game better and more enjoyable for everyone.
But you might feel a bit scared about sitting down with friends and trying to muster a bad British accent. Maybe you want to explore playing someone very unlike yourself but you don’t exactly know how to…do that. Worry not, fellow adventurer! It’s easier than it sounds.
When sitting at the game table, there are times when you will talk as you the player, and times when you will roleplay as the character. This is the RP part of D&D and one you may have some trepidation about.
The differences between the two roles are myriad, but important. As a player, you may understand the intricacies of the situations you find yourself in and you know what you would do if you were the person standing there.
But you’re not. Your character is.
One way this difference can be accomplished is by acting at the table as your character. And this, perhaps contrary to the screams of terror going on inside your head, can be done quite simply.
- Change your facial expressions. When physically inhabiting your character, you don’t need prosthetics and wigs and cosplay. You can simply show how your character is thinking, or talking, or behaving by being more animated in your expressions. Grimacing, wincing, narrowing your eyes, there’s a lot of options here.
- Change the way you speak. I mentioned earlier that using accents is something you might see fairly often on “professional D&D broadcasts” and it’s certainly a very obvious way to separate you from your character at the table. Even if you think you suck at accents, the point here is to make a distinction so the other players understand that you’re now your character and behaving as such, so feel free to perform your very bad Cockney. But if you’re embarrassed about even trying an accent, you can also just change the way you speak. Speak faster or slower. Make your range higher or lower. Take long silent pauses as your character considers their words.
- Use literary license. I strongly urge you to try actively roleplaying as your character by adopting some mannerisms or vocal tricks because they’re fun for everyone. Believe me, not one of your friends is going to tell you that you suck doing your own character. And when you try roleplaying, others are more likely to join you. However, if you’re adamant that you just can’t do it, verbally announce your characters intentions, e.g. “If it were me I’d probably just run away, but Rhogar is a true believer and he knows what Bahamut expects of him so he growls ‘I’m going in!', draws his broadsword and charges forward his full movement, shouting his god’s name.” If you speak your character’s actions out loud, embellish!
- Always be embellishing. Whether or not you elect to actively roleplay your character at the gaming table, describe your character’s actions with theatrical aplomb. Why just draw your sword when you can fix your opponent with a steely gaze, draw the corner of your mouth into a vicious sneer, and say “you may think you have tasted steel before, but you’re going to savor this for a long time to come!” Your turn is your time to shine, to illustrate the edges of your character, draw in the details, and lend them some truly awesome individualism that makes the others look forward to your roll of the dice. Be brave, adventurer!
Perfection is Boring
Good drama does not come from doing everything right. Good drama is messy, characters make terrible choices and throw themselves into situations that are difficult to come back from without being changed.
While D&D is a game with mechanics and rules and dice, your character is going to make choices throughout their campaign that will likely affect not only their own lives, but the lives of their companions, and quite possibly the entire world you inhabit.
I’m not advising you to do dumb shit for the sake of drama. Don’t go charging blindly into a dark chasm likely inhabited by a troup of warring goblins for the sake of screwing with the campaign and your fellow players. That’s just bad gamesmanship.
Instead, consider first how your character would handle the situation and why they make those choices. Ground your choices using your character’s motivations.
If your character has never been in this situation before, are they likely to charge in blindly or to wait and go back to the tavern and get some more information? If they’re convinced that their responsibility in the world is to rid it of danger, they probably would go charging in, but would they also put their companions in mortal danger? Maybe they’d even wait until night and go out alone to do some reconnaissance.
Keep in mind that, like in life, there are always options. While it’s easy to get bogged down in debate and not take any action at all, your dastardly DM is likely to take advantage of that indecision and force an option on your party. Realistically, when you’re standing at the edge of battle there’s usually not a lot of time for debate. Engage or retreat, but making your decision character-based creates a more engaging and entertaining game for you, your fellow players, and the DM.
You’re a Hero, So Be Brave
The bottom line is this: How often do you get an opportunity to literally act out your fantasies? D&D provides you ample chances to have some fun by pretending to be someone else. And it is fun! So, how do you get around your own roadblocks and start having more fun?
Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. If it’s the opinion of others, you’re playing with friends! Your friends like you a lot, or they wouldn’t be your friends. If you think it would be weird or abrupt to suddenly break into character since you’ve never done it before in front of them, give them a head’s up.
Don’t apologize. One lesson I take from a public speaking course I attended many a year ago which I use in everyday life is to not apologize for everything. In the course, it was about things like tripping over your words, or some awkward or just plain bad slides, or even just coughing. The reason being is that no one cares, and you’re only drawing attention to the thing you’re trying to draw attention away from by needlessly apologizing for it. Bring this attitude to the gaming table, too.
Do it because you want to. The bottom line for any desire or passion is that you’re doing it for yourself. When you’re watching someone else roleplay, you might feel they’re doing it for you, as entertainment that isn’t necessary to the game. But anyone who roleplays their character in D&D will tell you they do it because they love doing it. It’s nice that you’re enjoying it, but it adds an extra fantastic facet to this game that’s lacking in most every other game you’re going to play with your friends.
If you want to do it, do it! Try it out in a game, see how it handles for you. Kick the tires and fiddle with the controls. We can assume you want to try it if you read all the way to the bottom of this thing, so don’t wait, start roleplaying your cool character in your next gaming session.