Half-Lucidity: Getting into Character

Actors, singers, dungeon masters, and roleplayers all talk about getting into character, stressing how vital it is to the quality of the performance / game to have good roleplaying. And we know what it is, or at least what it looks like, just by intuition. But how does one get there, without years and years of practice or innate talent (or psychopathic manipulation)?

The answer is (not-entirely) simple: what would your character do, and why?

Roleplaying will come more naturally if you understand your character’s background and why their personality has turned out the way it has. This requires some more effort on the development side, but will reward you with increased immersion. It’s one thing to have your character obsessively collect puppies and paint them sky blue. It’s funny a few times, but after a while, with no apparent reason for it, it can quickly become a mere annoyance.

But what if he had a strong reason? Strange as it may be, what if his reason for painting puppies is because he’s secretly part of a doomsday cult that believes the world will end under an invasion of blue dogs, and he is setting up the end of the world by painting the dogs blue and indoctrinating them into hyper-aggressive dog soldiers when no one else is looking? Not only is it more interesting and possibly generating its own involved storyline, it’s also freaking hilarious, and evolves from slapstick to an inside joke.

Here’s my example:

Jenny has decided (or been coerced by her impatient and demanding DM) to expand her horizons and roleplay someone besides the standard-issue lithe, manipulative rogue type. So, she goes with a gruff male fighter named Jeff, because she wants to use the line from 22 Jump Street. But her DM isn’t satisfied with that. ‘What’s his personality like? Why is he a fighter? Why is he going out to save his village?’

Now, the easy way out is to make him a gruff mercenary who is (naturally) grizzled by his years of experience, and is saving the world for dimes and dames. But such a character is so cliched it’s difficult to play him well without spending an exhaustive amount of time developing the history of an already matured character.

So Jenny makes Jeff a nervous, withdrawn momma’s boy. And before her DM can pester her again, she preempts him and thinks about why he might be this way, and how on earth such an individual would become an adventurer.

“Jeff was never really any good at anything. He was always middle of the back, and never stood out. He wasn’t really that strong, or smart, or clever or talented. The only thing that others ever noticed about him was that he was always there, rain or snow, sleet or hail. He knew he would never stand out here, and he feared the loneliness of growing old without someone beside him or real friends. So though he’s not really brave, strong, smart, or any adjective that would indicate a hero, he’s got a heart of gold and a will of iron, and no matter how many times you knock him down, he’ll get back up, again and again. The strongest warriors are those that don’t quit. And though he hasn’t received a lot of love from his village, and has little to keep him from leaving, he wants to be the hero. He wants to save the day. And he wants something to matter enough to him that he’d die for it. Realizing that nothing will matter that much if he doesn’t try, he’s decided to risk it all, do or die to be reborn a hero.”

Jenny’s DM stares at her, and slowly begins to grin.


More important than mannerisms, accents, quirks or oddities, knowing why your character is risking his or her life is the most important part of roleplaying in D&D, and roleplaying in general. Embedding yourself in the character’s desires and emotions will allow you to more easily perform their associated verbal tics and make player decisions that feel like they really matter. From this proceeds a story that makes more sense, requires less DM prodding, feels freer, more organic, and much more entertaining.

Quirks are just icing on the cake (very much appreciated and iced cake is preferable to plain cake).

P.S. Doing young or inexperienced character with a fairly shallow background is actually better for roleplaying than some guy who’s had decades of experience and taken every sort of blow a man can take. Those young characters can still have traumatic events that define them, but their youth and relative inexperience means that the adventures they undertake can still leave a mark on their still impressionable minds. Plus, the younger the character, the less time you have to cover when making your background.

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No Context #2: And Now For Something Completely Different

Have you ever gone out on a rescue mission for the most uncomfortably designed sex-robot who was kidnapped by psychotic drugged-out desert bandits, only to be lured into an ambush of animatronic suicide teddy bears engaged in a dangerous game of landmine frisbee, then upon acquiring and taming the sex-robot, whose circuit boards have all been replaced with cheese pizza, been roped into performing in a concert for the king of the raiders by a giant mutant lizard thing with claws the size of your forearm, playing a giant electric guitar made out of a 40mm anti-aircraft gun, while also protecting him from assassins in the middle of the mosh-pit concert while he rocks out the hardest anyone has in ages, killing several dozen audience members with his guitar cannon, and instead of being rewarded with money, been showered with dozens of copies of his newest album?

Continue reading No Context #2: And Now For Something Completely Different

D&D Story #1: No Context

Saturdays are great. Particularly when not taking your ADHD meds.

Contained within Landsknecht of 4/2/2016 are events various such as multiple electrocutions, a satanist cult, attempted assassination, a very unconvincing viking, a vampire, and an explosive tampon.

Read on only if you have an appreciation for the puerile, the crass, and the absurd.

Continue reading D&D Story #1: No Context

Day One (?): It’s the Players that Make the Play

Okay, first real post.

Now that we’ve made an acquaintance of each other (if we haven’t PM me for an intimate, sensual, and mentally disturbed personalized Acquaintance-Maker 9000), here goes:

The Case Against Heroes: Storytelling in Roleplay and Writing

Heroes just aren’t that fun to GM for.

This is not a belittlement of players, nor of the heroic narrative. It’s a commentary on what makes a truly fascinating hero, as far as writers, dungeon masters, and role-players are concerned, condensed into three neat points, and probably leaving out a lot of other details (I need more than one post, alright?)

In a good campaign, regardless of what plot the DM may have laid out, it is ultimately the players’ characters who tell the story. At least, I assume that’s what a good campaign is because my players are still with me, and I’ve come to accept that whatever story I write down is not the one that will be told.

With that said, the player characters do not necessarily tell a good story. The DM may not have a better one either. In fact, separate, without communication, it is virtually impossible to create a quality story. It might create some occasional eye-roll worthy moments or the odd burst of laughter as a random passerby is mugged for his kidneys, but characters disjointed from setting can’t tell a story that can touch (a subject for another blogpost in itself.)

When it comes time for a new setting and to ask my players to roll up new characters, I’ve noticed they tend towards the epic scale of character origins. The example I’ll use here is with a Pathfinder campaign I homebrewed in a vaguely Asian setting called Saichu, a low fantasy feudal JapanChina with some Scottish elves and giant lizard men (called Syntar in setting) tacked on for flavor. I began preparations for it about a month in advance, my players having the same time to stew on their characters.

What we got was a former bodyguard to the empress of the Syntar turned bounty hunter, a possessed sorceress whose father was a retinue man of the shogun, an initiate demon-hunting monk of a long forgotten order dedicated to fighting the god of chaos (and talkative crows), a crackshot yakuza assassin cancer patient (an example of everything that can go wrong with dice-rolled stats), and a drunken samurai with serious daddy / brother / mommy / relative issues.

Though taken as a sum this should have been an amazing combination, it quickly became a train wreck of a campaign. Players tried to murder each other on at least three occasions, someone tried to debate trickle-down economics with a samurai lord, and the Syntar kept kicking people through doors. Not only was the balance of combat destroyed, but the story itself failed to progress meaningfully, in large part because the characters were already too developed. Not by levels or power, but by their stories. With so many vastly different objectives and no particular reason to work together nor common background, the group lost cohesion, and stumbled sluggishly from one DM-suggested objective to another.

This mess was in large part my fault. Because I had failed to effectively communicate the idea of ‘progressing’ characters to my players and had failed to coordinate their character creation, the campaign limped on for six sessions before they caused an apocalyptic flood while attending a communist musical.

Was it a boring campaign? No, not by any stretch. That result depends on what you, whether player or DM, want out of a campaign. If you’re just here for a bloody good time, then there is no reason not to indulge in ridiculously overblown characters and frequent overreaction; i.e., trolling.

But if you are intending to tell a serious story in which your characters undergo meaningful change, and exit the plot with some profound internal insight, then the characters must also fit the setting.

At any rate, this is a complex topic, best discussed in multiple parts, and preferably without Charles Barkley yelling at me from the next room over.