Monday, June 16, 2014

An Intermediate Guide to Playing Tabletop Roleplaying Games, Part I: The Player

So, getting away from more mundane topics, I'm going to write a little about how to role-play, both as a player and as a GM. Today's blog will focus on the player side; I'll talk about GMing tomorrow. What I'm trying to come up with here are the obscure, interesting little bits of advice that you might not see in the "What is a roleplaying game?" intro to most corebooks. Stuff such as:

1. Have a secret or two about your character. I practically titter with excitement whenever a player drops a bomb on the group about their character. In a zombie apocalypse RPG I ran last year, one player...her first time role-playing!...announced that her character was pregnant. She didn't tell me at fact, she told one of the other players in private. In my current Firefly season, the doctor in the group announced during the pilot episode that he was actually a psychologist, not a medic. In a one-shot of Numenera I ran, one player had a secret backstory he shared only with me where his character was actually a robot and he didn't know. I love that shit! And don't worry about whether it "breaks" my plans or flies in the face of logic or any of that stuff. That's my job. Your job is to have fun!

2. World-build. Whether you're solving a mystery in Call of Cthulhu or exploring a dungeon in D&D, you will inevitably need to connect with an NPC of some kind. Have one ready! Think about a blacksmith your warrior trusts for all his weapon needs. Think about the town drunk who falls ass-backwards into every secret in the town. It doesn't have to be something on the spot; it can be an idea that pops into your head during character creation, and it just sits there in your brain, for weeks, until you finally notice the GM stammering to make up a name for someone, and you say "Oh, is that Jimmy? My character went to high school with him!" Again, that makes me really happy when that shit happens. You can do the same for locations, too. Maybe you have a name for the gym your character boxes at. Or the bar your character goes to for a drink. Or an exact address for your home. The GM doesn't have to use it, but having it on hand can be very helpful.

3. Pay attention to everything at the table. When the action zooms in on just one character, and that character isn't you, don't think of that as an opportunity to check your phone or make yourself something to eat. Listen to what's going on. Think of any ways you can add something to that scene. Don't steal the spotlight, or try and take over the scene; but if you can think of an interesting description the GM can use, or a cool name for an NPC the other player is talking to, that is awesome. Even better, take the opportunity to probe the other player's character about whatever just happened. "How does your character feel about that?" is a deceptively powerful question...even moreso when the GM isn't the one asking it.

4. Be present. Similar to point 3, above...a good player doesn't necessarily make a unique, involved character. A good player doesn't necessarily need to talk in character, come up with a complex backstory, or be optimized for combat. Being a good player can simply mean paying attention to everything that's going on. Take notes. Ask questions. Answer questions, when asked, completely. Don't settle for "yes" or "no."

5. Be the devil in the details. Name your favorite weapons. Invent catchphrases for your character. Give environmental actions, like when your GM describes a scene in a cold, arctic setting, just quickly quip "My character shudders and pulls his jacket closer to his skin." You don't want to distract the GM or other players; but in time, you'll develop a sense of where you can inject a few extra details that help your character...and the game...come to life.

6. Connect with everyone and everything. When the GM hands you an opportunity like "Ok, you guys are going to be on the boat for a week before it gets to the next continent. What do you do?" Try not to respond with "My character practices swordfighting." What does that say about your character? That he likes swords? That he likes fighting? What's a GM supposed to do with that? What're the other players supposed to do with that? Say, instead "My character spars with that other character," or "My character flirts with every female on the boat," or "My character tries to steal everything that isn't nailed down." Characters who don't interact with the world around them and its inhabitants are boring, and difficult for the group to work with. That's why I really hate the brooding, "dark loner" character trope; sure, he's well represented in fiction, sure, but RPGs aren't fiction. They're RPGs!

As I said above, tomorrow I'll be looking at these kinds of tips for GMs. If you have any good tips for the player side of things, let me know! Remember, though, I'm looking less at 101 stuff, and more at 202 stuff; the more obscure fundamentals that may not even occur to a beginning player to know.

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