In our time-honored hobby of roleplaying games, one of the trickiest things to do when seated at the table is to make your character come alive. I’m not talking about recovering hit points, I’m talking about making that character feel like more than just a collection of statistics and powers.
I know that there are those who sneer at the roleplaying aspect of roleplaying games — which blows my mind — because they just want to Kill That Orc and Take His Stuff. The advice I’ll give below does not get into having to write five-page essays on the intricate psychology of your character, or having to take acting classes — it’s meant to be some simple tips that anyone can do, to just make things a little more interesting for themselves, their players, and their DM/GM/Storyteller.
First, let’s talk about your voice. RPGs involve people talking at the table, both out of character (“Can I roll to see if I can make that jump?”) and in-character (“YOU! SHALL! NOT! PASS!”). If your character talks in a way that is different from your own, that right there will really help the character come alive. Voices are memorable — it’s been noted that in the D&D campaign that eventually gave rise to the Dragonlance novels, the guy playing “Raistlin” chose to affect a low, raspy voice as his way of getting into character, and I think it’s fair to say that him making Raistlin so memorable with methods like this is what led to Hickman & Weis to making that wizard such an important focal point of the setting.
So, what to do with your voice? Some people like to use foreign accents — faux-British is a favorite for many in fantasy-settings – but not everyone can pull this off, and your attempts to mimic such accents might grate on people’s ears. An easier and just as effective solution is to pitch your voice just a tiny bit higher or lower than your normal speaking tone — you’ll be surprised how much different you sound, and how it nicely differentiates you from your character.
There’s also the matter of what you say. Does your character have a catch-phrase or a battle cry? It doesn’t have to be especially clever or original, but if your character says it once or twice a session at appropriate, it can become memorable. I have a friend named Nicole, who played a Dragonborn Cleric of the war god Kord — she liked to punctuate someone in the party pulling off a particularly awesome fit of combat bad-assery with “Kord Approves!”, which became the rallying cry of the group as a whole. Also, despite being the party’s healer, Nicole would have this cleric grumble whenever someone needed such help, with a rumbling snarl of “ah, rub some dirt in it and walk it off, mammal!”, but still grudgingly applying the cure spells. She didn’t say these things constantly, but by using them occasionally at the right time, we really got a sense at the table of what this cleric was like — gruff, boisterous, proud, and always ready for a good fight.
There’s also the visual element. If you are skilled enough to draw your character, that’s always awesome — but if you’re not an artist, what then? Well, maybe you can come up with a simple written description of something distinct that your character wears. Something like, “my fighter wears this green medallion that his mother gave him, that has a symbol of two crossed spears on it.” It’s a small thing, but now your character has just that much more uniqueness — and maybe the GM might want to turn that medallion into a plot point! And by having a personal item of note, it can be something you refer to in your roleplaying. Maybe your mother made you swear to do a particular thing, or take on a quest, or avoid a certain place that’s associated with that item. Maybe the fighter always gives the medallion a squeeze for good luck before entering battle? Little details like this really make characters feel like real and interesting people.
So, if you’ve ever worried that your characters seem dull, or just don’t stand out much at the gaming table when compared to what your friends are playing — try some of these techniques! I’ve used them myself for years, and my gaming’s been all the more fun as a result.