I’ve been busy with my top 100 list and Halloween for the past couple of weeks, so I haven’t written much about Dungeons and Dragons. Today I’m getting back to it and look at creating an NPC for Dungeons and Dragons. This is a topic…
Tag: Role Playing
The last part of playing your D&D Character, there is no 401 for this course. To me there are three main parts that I wanted to talk about. The first was figuring out how to be in character and staying in character as much as…
We’ve started going down the route of playing your D&D character, in 101, we talked primarily about how much you should stay in character, and the expectations of being in character and differentiating in and out of character should work at the table.
In 201, I want to take it more into actually playing your character, bringing your character to life at your table, so it has a different voice than just your voice.
I think it’s something that is pretty easy to do, have a character that sounds like you, acts like you, and thinks like you. And I don’t think that is a bad way to role play, sometimes, but there is much more that you can do beyond that to really play your character in Dungeons and Dragons and not just play yourself.
So, why do I think you shouldn’t just play yourself or your idealized version of yourself?
For me, I see role playing as an opportunity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world from a different perspective. Now, I don’t mean that you should play a racist jerk because that’s different from who you are, you’re probably going to be annoying everyone at the table, but playing a character who has issues with another race and using that are an opportunity for your character to grow, can work well if done delicately. But even beyond that, you can play someone who has a different view of religion than you do, a different view of politics, of money, or murder hoboness than you do. Or in a different vein but equally as challenging, it can be an opportunity to play an extrovert when you yourself are in introvert, or vice-a-versa.
That’s the theory on why you might play someone different than you and I encourage it, but how do you go about doing that and doing it in a way where it isn’t a stereotype?
I think a good starting point is to create a character who has a tick of some sort. It could be that they are extremely scholarly, or maybe they have a catch phrase (keep it short and use it sparingly), or some default fighting style (every character should have one), but more than that, something that you can always do as your character in a role playing situation. Or something that is interesting about them. In a one-shot game at a convention, I played a monk dinosaur who was observing the other dinosaurs in the tribe and using it as an anthropological study. When I needed a role playing hook, I would lean into that. Or in another game, I was playing a mage who dressed like The Dude from The Big Lebowski and did drugs, so when I needed a role playing hook, I’d channel that.
These are pretty simple hooks, but they gave me a way to always step back into the character. Another way to think about it is to compare it to learning an accent, or doing an accent. Most of the time there is a phrase or a word that you can use to do your version of an accent. It’s that thing that allows you to step into the accent, in the same way, these ticks or hooks are ways for you to step into playing your character. It sounds weird, but it’s going to be a faster way to role playing your character and a good way to jump start it. It also makes it easier to step into role playing someone who isn’t just like you, because you have that way to change your mindset.
I want to address one more thing about these hooks before I talk about combat again. And that is the idea of using an accent or silly voice for your character. This can be used well to keep yourself in character. Such as whenever you are speaking in that voice, you are in character, and when you aren’t, you are out of character. However, there are a lot of people who aren’t great at doing voices. If you’ve listened to Dungeons and Flagons, you can tell that I will do voices for NPC’s and monsters when I’m running the game, but I have a pretty limited selection of voices that I can do. So don’t feel pressure to do this for your character, and don’t compare yourself to Critical Role when doing voices, they are professional voice actors, they literally make a living doing voices.
Now, I want to circle back to combat for a split second. I talked earlier about having your move. The default thing that you go with when you play your character. It’s important to have this a character not just for role playing, as it will become your characters thing, but also for the game, so that you can make combat go more quickly. I know for a lot of people, myself included, I prefer the role playing aspect of the game, versus the combat aspect of the game. And combat, if not done well, can end up being a longer part of the game than the role playing. So, the signature/default move for your character is there for two reasons. One, it does give that hook to get you into the mindset of your character in a combat. Two, and as importantly, it means in combat you are ready for your turn. If you know that you can always roll two attacks with your great sword, when it comes to your turn, you are ready to go. Sometimes you’ll do different things, but if there is nothing obvious and different to do, you can take your turn fast. That’s why I think it’s something that should be required by the Dungeon Master and players at the table to hold people to having that default move.
Now we’ve talked a bit more about how you can get into character and play a character who isn’t just like you. Next time I want to talk more about creating a direction and arc for your character within the game that you control.
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Alright, so now you’ve started building your D&D character, let’s talk about playing your D&D character. Dungeons and Dragons after all is a role playing game, so you need to take on the role of your character. For this, we’re going to assume that you’ve…
Back into building a D&D character. We’ve talked previously about the simplest ways to make a character that doesn’t step on other players toes, that fits into the game, and one that is fun to play. Next we’ve talked about how you can use the…
Alright, we’re going to take that character creation to the next level. The first level, 101, is the very basic that you need to do. I go into details in the post on what those three things are, but to recap:
1. Make a character that fits the game you’re playing
2. Make a character that doesn’t have to always be in the spotlight/step on the other players toes
3. Make a character that is fun for you and for the table.
Those things can all be purely mechanical at that point, so you might only have an extremely simple backstory created. In 201, we’re going to create the basic backstory or more so, the basic role playing pieces you need to think about.
The fun thing, D&D already has something built in for that. In the backgrounds section, and I’ve talked about this before, they have you roll for four things, personality traits, ideals, flaws, and bonds. These are going to be your building blocks for Character Creation 201.
Probably the easiest section to talk about because we all have an idea of what personality traits are. Someone can be pompous, demeaning, trusting, quick to anger, and so many more things. Pick one or two things that are your characters ticks and put them into personality traits. It can be as simple as your character is trusting and nice. And it really can be as basic as that. However, a lot of the time you’re going to want to provide a bit more context. For example if your character is easily angered, that’s going to be annoying for everyone to play with a character who gets mad at any sort of slight. Instead, you have a character who gets mad when whenever anyone talks about their family, that’s interesting.
Another one that is pretty easy, what is it your character holds sacred. Maybe they firmly believe that all goblins are evil. It could be that an ancient religion must be revered. This is really the pillar of your character. Now, ideals might be fairly easy to come up with a good one as compared to some of the others, but you do have to ask yourself some question. What if something or someone goes against your ideal in your party or you have to ignore your ideal for a little bit in the game for the story? Going back to the goblin example, what if you have to interrogate a goblin and you’ve always just murdered them before? What if you come across a goblin village with goblin children in it who are playing a game? There’s a tendency to use the ideal as a black and white thing where you’ll act one way on one side of it and another way if you cross to the other side. With the goblin example, not a goblin, you’ll give it a chance, is a goblin it deserves to die. What happens instead if you give yourself room to role play in that, and your character struggles with what to do in the goblin village? It doesn’t mean you change your ideal, it means that your character as depth. And the goblin example is a very concrete example, but it generally shows the idea that is being shot for.
This one is a bit trickier, who are you really connected to, or what or where you are connected to in the world. This could also be seen as a “why you are doing this” sort of thing. Maybe you have a baby sibling who you are going to protect by going out into the big world. Maybe you have a village that was kind to your in your time of need, maybe there’s a certain god or a relic. It’s interesting, because this doesn’t have to be something you’ve experienced in your life yet. For example, if you decided there’s a holy relic, it could be long lost, and your bond to the world is that religion and finding that holy relic. Bonds also don’t have to be a good thing, it could be a bond if you’re a rogue where you owe the thieves guild money. I would say out of all of the traits, the bond is what is really going to drive the character into adventuring and keep driving them forward in the campaign.
The best for that, and I’m serious about this. This one should be the best part, like the personality traits, your flaw is going to be something that can really inform your role playing, and can create some very interesting moments. However, a lot of people look at a flaw, and they don’t really want to take one, because they want to be that near perfect hero like Superman who can save the day. You’re not, you’re probably not even the A-Team, you’d be lucky when starting out to be on a team at all. You are a messed up character who has most likely had a hard life, you’re going to have flaws. So make them real and make them something that affects you in a game. If you go with, whenever I see a demon, I curl up into a ball and can’t do anything, that’s not a good flaw. One, you might not be playing a game with demons, so it won’t ever effect your character, or it might be a game about demons and now you’re going to be worthless. Take something that you can role play into in interesting ways, and something that, if you want, your character can overcome. And once they’ve overcome it, put down another flaw, the next in line or maybe something else that has come out with how your character now copes with the previous flaw.
By adding in these four things, you now have gone from a character that is fit for the framework of a game, and is going to mechanically fit in, to a character that is starting to have reasons for doing things, and places for you to role play. And that’s what character creation is, a place for you to set-up how you’re going to role play throughout the campaign.
This is also a good time to mention that the personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws can all change throughout the campaign. I talked about it in the flaws, how you might overcome the flaw, or maybe your bond will shift as you dip for a couple of classes of warlock. So those are very tangible game reasons, but beyond that, the first couple of sessions it might just shift because you find yourself playing your character differently than you thought you were going to. So let these things be able to change those first couple of sessions as you lock them down, and then give yourself character arcs to go through as you complete a bond and form another.
What are your thoughts on Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws? How do you use them in your games?
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I decided it was time to jump back into some D&D topics, and I wanted to try something a little bit different, instead of just dispensing advice, I wanted to go through the process of building out a campaign that I may (or may not)…
I’ll be getting to some heavier strategy games, but those aren’t going to be the games for everyone. Some people want a game that focuses more on the storytelling aspects of the game. I’m not going to say games like Dungeons and Dragons which are inherently more involved role playing storytelling games, because while they are awesome, they are a bit more involved and have a different barrier of entry than board games to getting them to the table.
This is a dark storytelling game where everyone has their own family of misfits and your job is to make your families life the most miserable until they all have perish. You each take turns playing cards on your characters or other peoples characters, but the real fun of this game comes in with the storytelling. When you play a card, you add to the story and the world that you are building where all the families live how the horrible things build up over time until your family eventually has passed away. There is a lot of alliteration on the cards, and the game while having so many horrible things happen feels like the book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, in a lot of ways. The game plays fast, and because of the storytelling, everyone is involved.
Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger
Now this game you aren’t telling the story yourself, but you’re making the decisions for your character as they traverse the house of danger. With a name like that, what could possibly go wrong. But the game is fun and silly as you make decisions and even when you die, like you would in the choose your own adventure books, you come back where you left off. You can also play with as many people as you want for this game and either have a single person reading the story, or it is more fun to pass the story cards around so everyone has a chance to be the lead of the story.
Near and Far
This is the most gamiest of all the games on the list thus far. Near and Far has you take various characters through the world of Near and Far and interact and unfold a story as they search for a lost city. The game has a couple of really nice story elements to it with a great board that is in a book. So each game, as you progress through, you play a different set of pages in the book, and there are different story elements for the world. Then as you explore the locations, you can start to craft your own characters story and get traits that might help you in future games. I love the artwork in this game, and even though it has a story aspect to it, it’s definitely replayable because of the game mechanics themselves.
Legacy of Dragonholt
Legacy of Dragonholt is the closest thing to a role playing game on the list, and actually could be consider role playing game lite. You do build a character you’re going to play with, and the whole story takes place in certain passages of a book. You have a lot of different scenarios you can read through, as you try and solve the mystery that is taking place at Dragonholt. It’s a very accessible game and gives people a little bit of a feel of a role playing game without the investment that you might have otherwise with Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder.
This is a beast of a game, and you’ve seen how much I write about it and love it. While the combat is actually pretty tactical, Gloomhaven has a bunch of story between things as you progress forward to try and figure out what the gloom is that is coming to the town of Gloomhaven. You also have city and road events that give you a chance to make a lot of different story decisions. The ever changing cast of characters you are playing with keeps the game vibrant as well and a lot of fun. Now, this is by far the heaviest game on the list and won’t be for everyone as it does combine that strategy with storytelling, but if it seems interesting, the number of hours in the game makes it very worth the price tag.
Stuffed Fables is an adorable game where players take on the characters of various stuffed animals who are protecting their little girl from the monsters and things that live in the world under the bed. So while she sleeps you keep them from waking her up. This game has a book with maps in it like Near and Far, but the game play itself is simpler and the story is more tightly written. Each page of the book plays slightly different, but everyone about this game is crafted so well from the weapons that the stuffed animals fight with to the amazing figures in the game. It’s a game that also isn’t too complicated so with a little bit of help, a kid would be able to play this game with adults.
Now, there are a ton more storytelling games out there. Once Upon a Time, T.I.M.E. Stories, 7th Continent, Arkham Horror LCG, Arabian Nights, but there is one more I want to touch on.
Pandemic Legacy is a game that has a lot of strategy and thinking through turns, but the game itself as you play through the various scenarios has a ton of strategy to it. The way the story progresses from month to month works really well. If Gloomhaven is too much of a bear for you with a strategy and story game, Pandemic Legacy is going to fit that niche for a lot of people. And getting it to the table will be something people want to do again and again.
What are some other story games that I’ve missed? Do you have one that is your favorite? Are some of these games too light for you?
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This ties into the articles I’ve written on different characters class, backgrounds, and most recently on having a happy backstory instead of having a darker backstory, so it’s area that I’ve covered a fair amount, but I wanted to write about it really focusing in…