The importance of character
I do a metric ton of table top role playing. Far more than I should. I know, I know I should spend that time writing because that is my job. I won’t. It’s what I do for better or worse. It’s beside the point today anyway. Today I want to discuss the importance of staying in character when cooperatively telling stories.
In games like Pathfinder, Dungeons and Dragons 5e, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying it is the players’ job to tell a story with the dungeon master. Sometimes there is competition about overcoming one or another and killing people horrendously, but for the purposes of this article we’ll ignore those heathens. When telling a story there are a few things that need to take place. There needs to be a setting, a concise goal, a character or characters who want to accomplish said goal, and at least one pathway to accomplish this. The arguably most important part of this is consistency of the story world, but after that comes your role as a player.
So what does a character consist of, and why is it important to the story? A character, especially a player character, consists of stats that represent the fruits of their history, a background that matches these stats and can explain how you obtained each, and a few traits and characteristics to define how they behave. These are important because they give your Game Master and other players information about your character to use to predict behavior. This allows the Game Master to throw out character specific plot hooks, have family squabbles boil over at opportune moments to create tension, or a plethora of other things that reward you as a player with an increased sense of immersion. For your other players it allows their characters to develop realistic emotional ties to your character, which increases their feeling of immersion. When your entire party does this well then the world suddenly feels bustling with activity
What happens when you fail though? There’s a lot that can go wrong. Primarily you’ll face frustrated party members or Game Masters who get sick of your character breaking the story with eratic behavior. As a player you may face frustration as events the Game Master crafted specifically for you crumble into a disaster leaving you and friends dead and the game a wipe. There are thousands of possibilities for how your failure to stay in character ruins immersion and breaks games. For simplicity’s sake though just try to think of it in these terms; when you fail to stay in character you break immersion which means suddenly your background, family, training, sworn enemies, loves, goals, and dreams all become ephemeral and fall apart leaving everyone else holding the bag for your failure.
How can you stay in character better? I use tracking tools. In particular I use a character sheet I created using NBOS Character Sheet Designer for the Pathfinder Role Playing Game. The additional information can be added to just about any character sheet. I’ll leave the basic information I track below the post.
Are there any tips you have for staying in character? If so please share your wisdom in a comment.
1. Where was the Character Born?
2. Who are their parents?
a. Are the parents/family still alive?
3.What was your character doing before the adventuring life?
4. Why did your character leave their previous life?
5. What did your character leave behind?
6. What does your character want? (motivations)
7. How does this character differ from you?
8. How is this character similar to you?
9. What are your character’s fears?
10. What was your character’s most embarrassing moment?
11. What is your character’s crowning achievement?
12. How does your character treat:
a. The powerful?
b. The weak?
c. The rich?
d. The poor?
e. The desperate thief?
f. The selfish thief?
g. A town prostitute?
i. Their family?
j. Their friends?
k. Their rivals?
m. Their foes?
o. The corrupt?
13. Who was your character’s first love?
a. What was their story?
14. Who did your character look up to while growing up?
a. Does your character still look up to this figure?
b. Does your character think their current situation would make this person proud?
15. What went according to plan in your character’s life?
16. What events were completely unexpected?
a. Was your character able to capitalize upon these events?
b. Did any of these events cause dramatic setbacks?
17. Who was your character’s childhood best friend?
a. Are they still friends?
b. Why or why not?
18. What is your character’s catchphrase?
Role in Party. Circle one: Tank, DPS, Healer, Support
Five Man Band Archetype. Circle one:
The Hero — The leader of the group. Can be clean-cut and upstanding, bold and charismatic, serious and driven, or some combination of the three.
The Lancer — The second-in-command, usually a contrast to The Hero. If the Hero is clean-cut and/or uptight, the Lancer is a grizzled Anti-Hero or Deadpan Snarker; if the Hero is driven and somewhat amoral, the Lancer is more relaxed and level-headed.
The Smart Guy — The physically weak, but intelligent or clever member. Often nerdy and awkward played for comic relief. Sometimes unconventionally young (early- to mid-teens). Sometimes a trickster and a buddy of the Big Guy. May be the one with all the “street” connections.
The Big Guy — The strongman of the team. May be dumb. Or mute.
The Heart — A peacekeeping role to balance out the other members’ aggression, bringing them to a nice or at least manageable medium. The Heart is often but not always female. Sometimes referred to as “the useless girl”.
Secondary Archetype (Only for those whose characters fit one archetype solidly and parts of a second one solidly as well):
Traits (Follow the link for an explanation http://bit.ly/2fusCRe ):