Roll Initiative #4 Staying In Character

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Welcome back to Roll Initiative! This week, we’ll be talking about that most mysterious- and rewarding- part of tabletop roleplaying games… the role-playing! Once again, I’ll be using some of my own characters as examples here.

This is the part of tabletop gaming that takes the most getting used to. To the uninitiated, it’s definitely the part that looks the strangest. Still, this is the part that separates this style of gaming from ordinary board games like Monopoly and Munchkin.

Roleplaying your character in Pathfinder is akin to improv theater in some ways, minus the pressure of having an audience (unless you count your buddies, and odds are good that they’re not judging). I actually have a little background in theater- I was in quite a few plays during childhood and acted in a few student films, so stepping outside myself to perform as a character in a fictional universe isn’t that foreign to me. Not everybody interested in RPGs has this kind of experience, though- so if you’ve never done any sort of acting or theater, it’s usually best not to start out with a character whose personality will be outlandish or too far removed from your own. For me, it was an easy transition.

My first character, Augra the half-orc monk, was conceived as being sarcastic and a bit grim, but good-humored. This wasn’t hard to roleplay at all- it’s not that far from who I am in real life, although a bit angstier (he is a half-orc, after all). From the first session, bouncing off the other players was easy, thanks in no small part to his personality being easy to replicate consistently. Over the course of the campaign, the character changed considerably in reaction to the plot, eventually becoming less cynical and more heroic, to the point where his Alignment shifted from Lawful Neutral to Lawful Good. It felt natural and easy.

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For my next character, I wanted to try roleplaying a personality a little further from my comfort zone. The character, Icarus (an elven Investigator), was a detective of sorts, analytical, proper, and polite- and with a sort of fancy accent reflecting his lofty education. This was a trickier experience, as I’m certainly no detective in real life. Even after watching a ton of Sherlock, I wasn’t entirely confident in my ability to portray an Investigator.

But in roleplaying, challenging yourself is part of the fun.

Was I successful in playing the role of Icarus? Well, fairly so, methinks. I don’t think I roleplayed that 20 Intelligence extremely well, spending a good deal of that adventure overthinking a riddle, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. Moreover, when I was done, I felt like I’d given my personality a workout. That illustrates my main point, the thing that makes roleplaying so great: it’s not just a game, but a social gathering and a creative exercise all at once.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re sitting down at the table to do some roleplaying:

1. Your character isn’t you. They might be prone to making decisions that you, the player, might not. Just because you think it’s a bad idea to go spelunking in a goblin cave doesn’t mean your character would agree.

2. That in mind, try to keep in mind that your character might not know all the same things that you do out-of-game. For instance, you might know that a particular enemy has a certain weakness, but that doesn’t mean that your character in the game shares that knowledge. Exploiting that kind of out-of-game knowledge is called Meta-gaming, and it’s frowned upon.

3. Play to your stats! If your character has low Wisdom (less than 10, for instance), they might be reckless and blunder into a situation that you would otherwise treat cautiously. A character with low Charisma might be shy or socially awkward… or a total jerk. Those stats don’t just affect your character mechanically- they’re roleplaying aids. Use it!

4. Keep those skills on your character sheet in mind, too. Diplomacy, Intimidation, Bluffing, and the like aren’t just resolved by rolling the d20 and adding in your bonus. Roleplay it (intimidate is especially fun for this purpose!) You’d be amazed how vastly different some of our game sessions have turned out thanks to the use of these skills alongside some creative wordplay.

That’s it for this week, folks. Tune in next time