Roleplaying exercises

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Roleplaying exercises

Postby darnpenguin » Fri May 08, 2009 1:26 pm

I started gaming last fall, and one thing I've noticed about my play style is a tendency to develop a basic, interrelated set of stats and skills, possibly a loosely defined backstory, first. Only after playing a few scenes as the character do I develop an appropriate personality for the character. This seems to work really nicely, except that my character at the beginning tends to be flat at best and intolerably goofy at worst.

One pregame exercise the folks in my gaming group have used on occasion is an "interview" of sorts, in which each player takes turns answering questions about his/her/its character asked by the GM and other players. This is all well and good, but maybe a bit too brief in its nature to truly flesh out the character. I was wondering if any other roleplayers here have improv exercises that help them get a good feel for a character.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby zeekgenateer » Fri May 08, 2009 3:57 pm

From the few games I've played I too don't have a good feel for a personality until after a few play sessions. The problem lies I think with that you are working with a character you only have had a short amount of time with and you must lead them through interactions with people you and your character have not yet met and don't know fully.

It's probably an inherent problem with most gamers, but I'd love to hear any suggestions.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby darnpenguin » Fri May 08, 2009 6:32 pm

I posted this same topic in the TV Tropes forum and got quite a few interesting responses. Take a look.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Mikalyaran » Sat May 09, 2009 2:45 am

I GM most of the time so when I get to play I usually have a number of personalities already somewhat well developed. I pick a type that I want to explore more and let the game bring out things in them that I didn't see there before.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Drunut » Sat May 09, 2009 4:58 pm

I have almost the same problem. I come up with a character and define his personality but when I start RPing him/her the character is always a little different, or doesn't appear the way I intended to others.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Allandaros » Sun May 10, 2009 12:24 am

Disclaimer: skipped the TVTropes link, that site just doesn't sit well with me for some reason.

I think that in a way, having a personality emerge, rather than being there at the start, is a good thing. Sure, you can have broadly defined character traits ("pompous", "fearless", "weaselly") from the get-go, but this way, the other players discover the character along with you. Keeping the character loosely defined at first allows you to have them develop in a more organic and interesting fashion, as opposed to having their whole personality mapped out precisely from the get-go.

In other words, it's a feature, not a bug. :) YMMV of course.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby privatepepper » Sun May 10, 2009 2:03 am

I do a lot of campaign work with friends, making NPCs, doing writing exercises and such.

I find that it's easiest and most believable for your main character to "do exactly what you would do, but worse".

For example, I'm a compulsive liar, and an ex-Navy SEAL. Thus, most are usually unwilling to share information about with other players and get frustrated/angry when they can't keep the treasure hidden for themselves.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Mikalyaran » Sun May 10, 2009 11:44 pm

Its like making a friend. You can pretty quickly catch onto their general personaility traits but as you hang out together more you get the chance to get to know them better. You go through good times and hard times. You deal with some crazy stuff. Eventually you know each other really well. Same with a role-playing character. It takes events to find out who they really are.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Sylladex » Mon May 11, 2009 11:52 pm

The Burning Wheel RP system takes a stab at this problem, by working parts of your character's behavior into a reward matrix. It also builds your character using Lifepaths instead of levels, so as long as you have a decent mind for fleshing out a story, you've got a character. It's not perfect, but I think it's a step in the right direction.

Also, the way Burning Wheel handles arguments in-game (via duel of wits) is very interesting, fun too.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Shane » Tue May 12, 2009 10:41 am

I've been roleplaying for... I dunno, 20+ years now, and I still find I (and most of the guys I game with) have this same issue. One thing that has seemed to help in the past is running short "prelude" adventures for each character. In these, the DM runs a short one character adventure to introduce your PC to the story. It doesn't completely get rid of that sort of awkward time where you don't really know who your character is, but it does seem to help.

The silver lining, to me, is that when everyone sort of fleshes out their character together it makes for a group that naturally has more synergy, RP-wise. Parties that don't sort of grow together tend to bicker more, and don't seem to cooperate as well - which is fine in some RPG's, but not so much in others. Depends on the tone you're looking for.

Anyway, just my two cp. Hope that helps!
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby LordDarksea » Mon May 25, 2009 4:27 pm

Speaking as a GM (retired/on hiatus as i've not actually had a chance to play in let alone run a game in over 2 years) I'll drop in the main things that i use and have worked for me.

1. As a GM I try to co-make my players' characters with them. individually. If i'm going to run a new game before hand i announce the general details, curry up interest and get people to build up an appropriate sheet. By the time they've got through that, they have the benefit of having the equivalent of one session to get to know their character already. there will usually be some one on one RPG in that character creation, so that certainly helps.

2. As a GM I always ask my players for a decent, full prose back-story to be written out that ties in their stats. I reward EXP for this as if it were a full game/story. by this point the character's usually know their characters inside out. they WILL develop into them in game, that goes without saying, but they are in a very strong position by this point.

3. depending on the players and characters and how well they can act /are inside their character's head i decide whether to begin slowly with an unfurling plot. thus character revelations (as they come to know how they are) coincide with a deepening of action, so the two fit together nicely. Alternately, and with competent players, i begin in res media, and hope for luck!

As a player, the best thing you can do is the second of these. write out a history. look at the traits and work out why they have all of them, what made them like they are. if you feel slightly hippie(mancer?)ish, talk to them.

hope all goes well,
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby chrono » Wed May 27, 2009 2:20 pm

I can see some very good suggestions in this thread, as well as in the tvtropes one. However, being a slightly odd person I offer my slightly odd approach:

Most of the time I play myself, with a twist (oh come on, don't roll your eyes like that, at least give it a shot and see what I mean).
The thing is, I'm often introspective and have a firm grip on my personality - I know exactly what I'd do if I was rich, or if I was broke (or even homeless), exceptionally strong or disabled... I know what I'd be like if my parents were aristocrats, or if I grew up in a village, forest or under a bridge. I'm pretty sure how I'd use magic powers if I had any or how would it affect me if I saw death on a daily basis, had to kill and skin my own food or for that matter if my parents died when I was 3. Of course most likely I wouldn't be exactly like what I think I'd be in all those circumstances, but the point is that I can imagine it easily (so at any given time I still know what my character thinks, what he wants and strives for, etc).

The most positive side of this approach is that it totally excludes stereotypes - since I'm not a stereotypical person a character that has my personality steers clear of common pitfalls like "your standard fighter", "just some druid who likes nature" or "lawful stupid", "chaotic idiotic", etc... So the next step is to customize the personality though his backstory (which could be almost random for all I care) - what I do is take a personality I know and mold it around circumstances that I have thought up (or at least have a good understanding of, in cases when backstories are mandated by the GM or coordinated with outers). Once I have done that, I know who my character is and can explain each decision and motivate every word that comes out of his mouth. From that point on it only takes a small effort to envision everything that my character would be thinking - from how attached a fighter is to his sword to how likely the wizard is to fireball a demon with a dozen mind-controlled villagers around it to save a village.

That's all the character development I do before I start a game. From then on each encounter changes my character's personality, though intentionally each thing that happens in game has more weight than it would normally have on a person who has been alive for 20, 50 or even 100s of years (as it sometimes happens). So from the outside it looks like the story leads to character development and I never end up with similar characters. In fact all that happens is that circumstances influence one default personality, however so far nobody seems to have noticed that I do it this way (and if they did they never complained).

There is of course one major pitfall - DnD does offer near limitless possibilities of story and characters, so this way of building a character doesn't work for all cases. The good thing is that I usually don't like playing characters that are highly incompatible with my personality... For example I'm pretty sure I could play a dragon well enough and I'm sure who I'd be if I was a vampire or skeleton/zombie who retained their intelligence, but there are definitely limits to my imagination and self-awareness... I've never played a female character and I wouldn't bother with druid, much in the same way that I can't find motivation to play myself as cleric or bard. On the plus side, those never seemed all that appealing to begin with, so I'm sticking to my way ;)

There are a ton of other minor benefits and pitfalls, and to avoid being tedious I'll mention just one of each:
pro - It's easy to remember what a character is like even after not having played him for years. Once I recall his circumstances (i.e. read the backstory and adventures with the group) he's as good as back to life
con - I have to rely on other ways to build most NPCs, as well as characters with inferior intelligence or wisdom (pretty much everybody has a hard time playing a character much more intelligent/wise than they are, though I've only seen a handful of people who can play int 5 or so characters without having to resort to stereotypes)

PS: a stray thought (comes as a bonus that sneaked past what I really meant to say) - I can't help but wonder how most PCs aren't arrogant pricks. Being level 5 means that you can kill 9 out of 10 people around you with a sneeze... You've defeated hundreds of monsters and chances are you only had to flee from a handful of adversaries (if at all). Your backpack alone costs more than some people earn for a week (not to mention the goodies you have inside).It seems to me that in the real world this would make even the most humble people I know into right bastards.

PSS: personally, I find this way of doing RP more interesting than just pulling personalities out of my behind. Anyway, you can also use the personality of somebody you know really well combined with the (most likely unusual) circumstances of RP games and also get very similar results.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Xafierah » Wed May 27, 2009 3:40 pm

For any character I've RPed, whether in a chat room based game, tabletop game, or MUD, I've developed a backstory. How the character's personality changes depends in part on the game:

In the FASA Star Trek game, part of the character's development/creation was a cadet cruise, etc. These things awarded points, but also gave you some ideas to work with on developing the personality. Was it a success? Was it a dismal failure? How much in-between? What would that do to my character as I have them at that point? This type of organic development does make for a much fuller feeling character than one that's developed by one set of dice rolls, assuming no other work put into that character. On a side note, I tried to avoid races that were heavily played - let's face it, you pick a Vulcan, everyone's gonna compare you to Spock. Pick a half-human half-Orion, and there's less for them to go by, except perhaps that you dance well. ;)

In the MUDs and chatroom based games I've played, I've just come up with a backstory, and went with it. Since in those cases, the characters were new to the situations in some way - "You've just arrived in (genning city), and go to investigate (newbie tasks)", or just arrived at your new assignment as an ensign, well, there's no harm in the character being changed to some degree by what happens. We're all a bit out-of-sorts in a new setting, so there's nothing artificial or wrong about the same being true of our characters. We're changed by new situations, and so are they. Maybe they aren't as noble as they (we) thought they were. Good internal struggle to work out.

I think that's a long, roundabout way of saying I make my backstory, then see what happens to the character and let them discover themselves and how they change according to their circumstances.

(Of course, that's harder for an NPC who is supposed to be well-established and hardly a green adventurer/recruit, but time and experience makes those easier to develop more soundly. Basing it on someone you know - already suggested in this thread - is a good help there.)
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Housellama » Thu May 28, 2009 6:47 pm

Mikalyaran wrote:Its like making a friend. You can pretty quickly catch onto their general personaility traits but as you hang out together more you get the chance to get to know them better. You go through good times and hard times. You deal with some crazy stuff. Eventually you know each other really well. Same with a role-playing character. It takes events to find out who they really are.


This. Very much this.

I am a systems monkey. I admit it. I start with an idea, then I stat a sheet for it. The act of putting the character down into the system helps solidify the idea. But the character is just that, an idea, until I've had a chance to play it a bit. Every character evolves. It really is like hanging out with someone. Over time, the relationship changes, and can take you places you never expected to go.

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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Blacktail » Fri May 29, 2009 8:38 pm

I usually have characters pretty well fleshed out for text RPs, but when I made my character for a D&D game, I was out of tabletop RP practice. I just knew I was a ranger, and I had these skills. I looked at the skills.
-Move Silently
-Hide
-Survival
And other practical things. I considered them for a while, wondering how to craft a backstory.

Then the skills came together.

Niska Raltz, 24-year-old Asian ranger, used to be a zombie fighter. From there came a whole war, and I'm now twelve pages into a story about her for my final project in creative writing. I found her dull, but once I got into her, Niska became great fun. She has the occasional PTSD attack and flips out on the party and fails diplomacy checks all over the place.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby kin » Tue Jun 02, 2009 3:55 pm

Whenever I know I'm going to be playing a game, I like as much notice as possible. I think of an archetype I've never had a chance to explore - a religious zealout, for instance - and then I twist him by making him something unusual to the archetype, like a ranger. That gives me enough of a different visual cue to make sure I don't just stereotype the role, but come up with something different. Then I take a good amount of time in my morning commute to just daydream about the character, thinking about what he would do in certain situations, what his goals are, etc.

At that point, usually the day before the first session, I roll the character and pick equipment, because by then I have an idea at what he would be good at.

After that, its full immersion into the story and attempt as little meta-gaming as possible in the first few sessions, to attempt as little breaking of suspension of belief as possible.

Seems to work for me.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Moleculor » Thu Jun 04, 2009 6:03 pm

LordDarksea wrote:2. As a GM I always ask my players for a decent, full prose back-story to be written out that ties in their stats. I reward EXP for this as if it were a full game/story. by this point the character's usually know their characters inside out. they WILL develop into them in game, that goes without saying, but they are in a very strong position by this point.


I have actively refused to play in games based on this single 'requirement'. I'm not a writer, and generally if I attempt to write out my character before I play them, I end up finding out that what I've written is highly incompatible with the rest of the party and/or how I'm playing him, which breaks the sense of immersion far more than any full prose backstory can provide.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby Lucilla » Sun Jun 14, 2009 7:41 pm

I think most of us probably gravitate to certain styles which relate to our real personality (not necessarily a positive correlation - many of my favourite PCs have been glory hounds, unlike me). What I have often found is that early ideas of "what the character will be" are kicked into touch in two or three sessions either because of events in-game or just a growing understanding of the character. A fighter that was originally intended to be a gung-ho, smite first and ask questions later (if at all), paladin wannabe became "Ivar the Unlucky", a self-doubting, gun-shy loser due to not rolling above a 12 in his first two sessions. Meanwhile, a medical investigator in Conspiracy X developed into almost a living person when I realised how lonely she was, I found myself worrying about her mental health and did she have an eating disorder...
Pre-campaign discussions/mini-solo-adventures can be very helpful, partly to give some of these features a chance to take shape. As a GM if I have a particular campaign theme in mind I'll try to spend some time with each player thinking about character so that no one plays Captain Photon in a guns n' drugs campaign, and give me some ideas for character-specific plots to run. But nothing much survives contact with the monsters...

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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby copperhamster » Mon Jun 15, 2009 1:14 am

It's the problem I've always had with Gurpsish games; you get benefits and weaknesses and spend/receive points based on your character's personality and character flaws in addition to his 'power' and weaknesses. Youy're even supposed to come up with dependents, enemies, all allies and connections, etc. It gets tedious.

Where it becomes a problem is, I don't like to spend three weeks figuring all this crap out to begin with.

I prefer to come up with a 2-3 line description to start with, and let it grow 'organically'. I've had very few characters with real detailed backstories created before hand that I really liked. But then I'm more of a 'plan a bit then work out the rest as we go' kind of person in general anyway.

NPC's are similar, I rarely write more than an index card worth of info on them, until they become 'core' NPCs.
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Re: Roleplaying exercises

Postby LordDarksea » Tue Jun 16, 2009 5:32 pm

Moleculor wrote:
LordDarksea wrote:2. As a GM I always ask my players for a decent, full prose back-story to be written out that ties in their stats. I reward EXP for this as if it were a full game/story. by this point the character's usually know their characters inside out. they WILL develop into them in game, that goes without saying, but they are in a very strong position by this point.


I have actively refused to play in games based on this single 'requirement'. I'm not a writer, and generally if I attempt to write out my character before I play them, I end up finding out that what I've written is highly incompatible with the rest of the party and/or how I'm playing him, which breaks the sense of immersion far more than any full prose backstory can provide.



Sorry for the delay in replying Moleculor.

Overall, a fair point, but not one I've actually encountered from any of my players to date! I think the comment made a few times by others in this thread about different players and groups having different styles and finding your own voice probably goes here. I generally tend to run quite character-driven stories, from both my players and my NPCs perspectives. I have also primarily played only with people studying either drama, English, history, archaeology, philosophy or some combination of the above. This may have affected (or effected, never can remember the difference) the outcome.

As for incompatibility with the rest of the party... I never let that get me and generally tend to actively encourage it. It generally isn't too long before my players are at each others throats and drowning in the consequences of their actions 8-)

Going back slightly, I've just remembered one player that i gamed for several years ago, who didn't like writing back stories. I used to do an initial one-on-one session for a few hours to get the character up and running, which worked quite well also.

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