I'm a big fan of roleplaying games, so I've decided to start writing advice and tips on the subject. You'll find these entries on my website (once it's on its feet properly), but for now here's one of them.
There is no shortage of RPG blogs out there that will give you advice on how to properly roleplay your character. A lot of those are really good and provide solid advice. A lot of them are really long and require a lot of work, though. Sometimes it almost feels like homework. Who has time for that?
What I propose is a roleplaying hack called the 4D.
Here’s how it works: realistically, there are only a handful of broad situations in which your character will find himself. You need to figure out what your character is likely to do, broadly, in these situations. For this example, I’ll be using the common action/adventure type of RPG (D&D, Pathfinder, Savage World, FATE, etc). These activities are:
- Discovery: How does your character react to learning new things or seeing unusual sights?
- Danger: In the event of a dangerous situation like combat, traps or natural hazards, how will your character react?
- Dialogue: What’s your character like when he talks to people?
- Diversion: How does your character relax? In what types of leisure activities does he engage?
Sound vague? Yeah, it’s supposed to be. What’s important, though, is that these situations are common in RPGs and, most importantly, easy to recognize when they happen. You don’t want to be scrambling around trying to remember what Clyde the Bard does when threatened by green-wearing nobility. We’re not trying to solve specific situations or achieve Shakespearian levels of character depth here.
Note that unless you are playing an insane character, you shouldn’t follow your guidelines to the letter at all times. If it’s obvious to the character that following his instincts would be very bad, then he would probably show some level of self-control. Of course, make sure to roleplay those conflicting thoughts.
Here are some examples based on characters from some of my previous RPG campaigns:
Mona the mechanic (All Flesh Must be Eaten)
Mona is a survivor of a zombie apocalypse. She lost an arm in an accident and is a notoriously heavy smoker. She teamed up with others for the sake of survival and while she tends to be gruff with her fellow survivors, she considers them the next best thing to family.
- Discovery: If it’s broken, try to fix it. (Regardless of what is actually broken: a machine, a relationship, a promise, etc) Otherwise, let someone else deal with it.
- Danger: Protect my own by taking the offensive.
- Dialogue: Complain a lot. Always ask for more details.
- Diversion: Smoke. Work-out. Build something pretty (using sculpting skill).
Nym the wizard (Dungeons & Dragons)
Nym is a wood elf that grew up among Druids, but was cast out after it was discovered that he had noticeable arcane talents. He now travels with a group of adventurers, trying to do good.
- Discovery: Always try to figure out the origin of the situation.
- Danger: Protect the innocent at all cost.
- Dialogue: A bit awkward. Oblivious to the customs of “civilized” people.
- Diversion: Play the flute. Dance. Go on walks.
Charles Dawker (Trail of Cthulhu)
Charles is a hobo who got pulled into a criminal investigation due to his knowledge of the London sewer systems. A thieving, drunken lout, he has little interest in getting to the bottom of the mystery, but he always ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Discovery: Find someone else to deal with it, unless it could be pawned/used for getting alcohol, in which case try to steal it.
- Danger: Swing wildly from quivering coward to drunken maniac.
- Dialogue: Bring up religious beliefs a lot. Disregard discomfort that topic could be causing.
- Diversion: Drink or finds ways to get more to drink.
So there you have it, my little hack for roleplaying characters. Let me know what you think. And feel free to apply the 4D technique to your current characters and post it in the comments!