Stand Up Like a PC and Play Your Character

I know this is a blog about D&D crunch, but it’s so hard to play the game every week and not expound on what I consider an integral part of the game. But this is Rules As UNWritten, so there’ll definitely be some crunchy cookies here at the end. If you can’t wait til the end, there’s a sample of the Personality Boons below, and you can click here for a pdf of all the cards to use in your game immediately! If you just want to see them all on their dedicated page, go here.

Personality Boons: Give them out when players typify their characters in great role playing scenes

First things first, for all you players out there: Play your freaking character. And I’m not talking about showing up with a pencil, character sheet and dice on the table, taking role appropriate actions and pulling your weight in the challenges. Don’t play the character on the sheet, play the character in the world. I’m talking about personality and how you can technically have a character on paper but a vacuous representation of them in the game world. Don’t do this people, you’ve got a great opportunity to have fun here, so never forget walk in their shoes and talk with their motivations.

You have look at your character and ask yourself what makes them different from every other character. It’s really important, not just for your enjoyment, but for the enjoyment of everyone else at the table. If another PC has an elaborate character, they’re not only having fun painting the game a different color, but they’re sending you a message to step up your game and make something out of your robotic expected “hero.” You can have a strong and charismatic paladin, but you don’t have to be a knight in shining armor. Nor do you have to be the extreme opposite just so you feel like it’s completely different. There are so many shades of grey in character development that can be extremely interesting and fulfilling, so find what makes them unique and make it happen at the table! But if you have a hard time doing this, and I can understand if you do, there are a couple guidelines below to help make your character more rewarding.

Guidelines for Players

  1. Five Words: Give your character five words to describe her demeanor, personality and perspective on life. Put those five words on your character sheet, reference them often and play them out.
  2. Need Help? Look At Your Build: If you don’t know how to identify your character, it’s all right there in front of you. Your character is defined by all the choices you make every time you level. Oh, you took Toughness? No, he didn’t just wake up and have a thicker neck. Announce to the group that your character has been eating a lot more and doing push-ups after every extended rest. “That’s it,” he’s says, “if we’re going to keep getting into these fights, I’m gonna beef up the ole sack of potatoes.” Have him stretching his neck while the rogue is searching for traps. Have him constantly eating jerky right after a battle. Have him dance on his feet to keep his muscles warm right after a short rest. See, you took a feat and made it a character trait. It’s easy.
  3. One Character Trait Per Game: Sure, you could say he’s a funny guy because he has a high charisma. Come on man, push it further. If you really want to play a character who is humorous, don’t say it, show it. Come to every game with a joke. Do it, it’s your homework. It’s not hard, it’s a simple character trait, so don’t just say he’s funny, make him funny.
  4. One Development Per Level: At the beginning of each level, look at a part of your character’s history, identity or relationships and choose to develop one thing about them. Just one thing. It’s more difficult than you think. Take that one small part of your character and change it slowly so it is different by the end of the level.
  5. Remember Those Five Words? Change Them: Great characters never stay the same. You don’t have to change all five words actually, you get to keep the ones you just can’t live without, the ones that DEFINE your character. But the others? Change them. Develop them. Over time your holier-than-thou perfect paladin begins to doubt herself. Over time your I’d-do-anything-for-money gangster rogue begins to grow a heart.

Follow these guidelines for some serious fun with your character. They’ll feel brand new; they’ll have dimension and substance that you can really put your finger on. You’ll feel more like your character is a real person, but the best part about role playing like this is that it’s contagious. Because it’s really hard to role play a character by yourself, you’ll confront their characters with a rich personality, and hopefully then they’ll want to distinguish their characters from yours, and it spirals into what is known as fun. I therefore have one more guideline to add to the list above:

  • Help Your Party Members Develop Their Own Characters: Do you see that warlock struggling with the weight of her dark patron? Don’t just stand there rogue-without-a-heart! You could give her a shoulder to lean on while working on your character’s own struggles with companionship, or drive her to reject the chains of coward patron entities that won’t show their faces to drive home your character’s immovable personality. There are so many options, but most importantly, remember to help the other character get closer to a resolution with the quality they’re trying to refine.

For the Dungeon Master

You’re not getting off free at all here. Just because you’re not the one running the characters doesn’t mean you get to sit idly by while they do all the heavy lifting. On the contrary in fact, your job could be the hardest. Number one, the thing that contributes most to a lack of role playing at the table is inspiration. The players can get stifled or shy and your job is to make it as easy as possible, to light the tiniest of sparks at the feet of the players. A lot of players actually need some lighter fluid, a stack of kindling and a blowtorch to get the inspiration moving, but start small with any stimulus you offer so that they can feel like they own the character that much more when they do get to developing them.

This is all more like advice and less like real crunch, so below I present some tangible tools for the Dungeon Master to help dig out those character personalities.

Personality Boons

To download the pdf of all Personality Boons that you can cut into cards and use in your own games click here. You can also see all the boons on its dedicated page here. Here’s how they work:

  • Hand out Personality Boons when players…
    • show off the qualities that make their characters distinct
    • make a strong effort to develop their character
    • role play a particularly great interchange with other PCs or NPCs
  • Choose the most appropriate trait from the bank of cards. Every possible trait may not be in there, but something close to the character’s disposition will still provide a reward.
  • Avoid handing out too many Personality Boons, the benefits should be encouraging but not expected. A good measure is one boon per session.

The idea with Personality Boons is to foster good role playing, not to hand out a lot of random bonuses, so consider carefully when you choose to hand out these awards. These are a great alternative to the recently introduced Fortune Cards, but in my opinion better as they do not simply supply players with a stack of chance perks, they promote the identity and growth of the characters’ personalities at the table.

It’s worth noting that even though some of the Personality Boons may seem to have a negative connotation, all of them provide a benefit of some kind. If a player seems uneasy with the fact that they are rewarded with a quality that they find unsavory or doesn’t depict them in a clear light, let them know that it’s a great opportunity to see how others perceive them and they can choose to play their character differently in the future. And that there’s nothing wrong with playing a character with less than moral motivations, so long as the game still functions cooperatively and everyone is having fun. Remind them that great characters never stay the same, and perhaps this is part of their character’s journey. They could also choose to embrace the quality they’ve been acknowledged for (especially if they like the boon that comes along with it), and that too can help develop their character.

I hope you get a chance to flip through these little morsels and use them in your game. They’re great for ice breaking new groups and reinvigorating old characters with their classic eccentricities. Enjoy!

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