Roleplaying Resources

Getting in Character


From Zioth, on 08-12-03

For the past seven years, I've been DMing a PBeM. The remainder of my RPG experience has been with a free-form game I made up, where the characters don't come with built-in personalities (so you're basically role-playing yourself).

Last night, I played a PC for the first time in a live D&D game. I wrote up an elaborate character sheet, complete with history, description, personality, quirks, and an outline of the character's thirty years as an adventurer (starting level was 10, so I decided he'd been around for a long time, taking it slow).

Now in the PBeM-style that I'm used to, my preperation would have been perfect. The character would have been internally consistant, reacting in ways appropriate to his personality and history. In this live game, though, I had a problem; there was no time to think. I ended up putting so much effort into remembering the rules and responding spontaneously to situations, that I couldn't really role-play well. Naturally, when I reviewed the session in my head later, I knew how my character should have responded to situations he encountered, but that's still the PBeM way of thinking.

Now I expect that as I play more, I'll become more comfortable with the idea of a live game, but my question for now is this: What do serious role-players do to get in character? How do you avoid spending all your time scrambling to respond at all, let alone IC?


From Darok

I try to act with all the mannerisms of my character, down to the littlest detail. If my character has a tendency to bite his knuckle when he is thinking, I acquire it. If he has lost his left arm, I stop using the left arm for anything while I'm playing the game (which makes for weird ghost-limb effects for me after the game is over, but thats another matter entirely).

The more that you pick up and incorporate into your being for that time, the more it will work, and your character will become a sort of persona/mask you assume while in game. Try to even use those mannerisms out of character. If s/he has lost their left hand, don't use yours for anything save as a stumpy limb would be used. The little things add up.

But… that may just be me


From Rayan4d2

Darock has the right feel for it. In a live game you cannot look at a situation and think to yourself “how would my character react to that?” You need to immerse yourself in your character so that you become that character, and think just as that character would. Its going to take some practice and you will need to find the comfortable spot where you are acting like your character but its not over the top.


From Alrunic Silverfyre

It's basically all been said by those two who posted before me. Very good advice guys. Now, it would be nice if I only had to worry about playing one or two characters when I head over to our group's twice a weekly sessions. Over 4 years, we have all, collectively, incorporated 120 characters into the game. I have most of them (about 42 at last count) simply because I am also the DM and a big time fan of making characters to explore different types of personalities and characteristics. I too did internet free form and AOL role playing…as well as email role playing. Now to get into character, definitely become that character. How does one do this? Simple. For the rest of that evening, you are no longer you. You are that character. I know this sounds kind of weird and everything but you cease to exist while this other “part of you” becomes apparent. All your mannerisms should be that character until you leave that session. Your habits are gone and replaced by his or hers. It really is as easy as it sounds…just take to your character's mind and leave yours behind.

Starting Simple

From Trydan

For a newcomer, these things sound pretty daunting. So the trick is to keep it really simple, and as you gain gaming experience, expand your style.

For me, I prepare a little booklet with my character stats, and the relevant sections of the SRD, cut-and-pasted into it. That saves me diving into the PHB everytime I need to do something. E.g. if I'm playing a Bard, my booklet has not only my character sheet, but also the rules for Bardic Song and the entries for each spell I can cast.

Also included is my character background. Now from that, I derive 3 mannerisms. E.g.:

  1. Each time the character makes a suggestion, he begins it with a hesitant “er.. er.. er..”
  2. Whenever I declare a combat action, always add “… shouting Have at thee!”
  3. Whenever something goes wrong, I cover my eyes with my hand and say “Why me? Why today?”

Then, I write one of these mannerisms on the top of each page of my little booklet in large font (or felt-tip pen). Thus, every time I go to the booklet (which is often at the start of the game), I see this large reminder to throw in a mannerism.

Sure, I miss a lot, but after a while, the other players get to know that passionate bard, uncertain at times, but enthusiastic and stout-hearted.

The next trick is to make a point of declaring your name - especially at the beginning of the game. Don't just say “I'll attack the orc”. Instead say, “Taq the bard attacks the orc, shouting Have at thee!”. Soon, you'll find the others will have learnt your name, and will start calling you by it. (Make sure that you call the others by their character name too.)

Yes, this is simple. Yes, it is not very sophisticated. However, for a newcomer, it will quickly get them to a point where they can start to seriously immerse themselves in the game. And others can readily latch on to something that sets the character apart from the player.

I hope that helps.

Example Character

From PhaedrusXY

Heh, I'm kind of wondering how easy it's going to be to role-play my next character. He's a ninja with alot of ranks in Bluff and Disguise, and the ability to change his appearance at will (as per the 3.0 version of Alter Self). He is also on the run from various organizations and individuals, and so always goes by assumed identities and has an item that lets him be constantly under the effects of a Mind Blank spell.

I'm thinking I'll start out with several identities to use and a few details about each of them, including how they look and quirks about their personalities, and add more later as the game goes on. I was also thinking of saying he uses the identities of real people that he's met and studied, so that if anyone tries to scry for him using one of his false names, they'll get the real person instead of just having the scrying fail (from the Mind Blank). This might get some innocents killed, but he's not exactly a nice guy (formerly NE assassin trying to reform, now TN) and it will act to further confuse his pursuers and keep them off his trail.

I have a few personas I've come up with so far, including an aged human male monk who is kind and wise, an attractive and spunky half-elven rogue girl, and an absent-minded gnomish male rogue. I'm thinking a surly half-orc or ugly human male might be good too, for when I'd rather not draw attention and be left alone in the less than savory parts of town. The character has a combination of monk and rogue abilities, so he can pull all this stuff off convincingly. He also has some magical powers, but I'm not sure if I want to try convincing people that he is even a multi-classed mage of any kind, and that would probably draw more attention than any of these identities.

As far as interacting with the rest of the party, I'm not sure how to handle that exactly either. It would probably be better if they didn't even know out of character about the details of my character's history or who he really is, since it would reduce their urge to metagame when interacting with him and would force me to roleplay his paranoia more thoroughly. I'm thinking I'll pick one of the personas and just assume it while I'm with them. Of course, this might let my pursuers catch up with me eventually, and force me to either lie or come clean with the party at least partially. But I have compelling reasons to want to remain in their company (and no, it's not to kill them ), and don't want to let them know that I can change my identity any time I want… at least not until I learn to trust them and think they can trust me, which might take a while.

Character Before Mechanics

From Trydan

Suppose I have this idea for a Rogue/Bard who works for the Town-Criers guild as a reporter. That's the concept. I now explore this a bit further, and come up with some basic ideas. This results in a paragraph or a few bullet points of the basic traits of the character. In the case of this example, I posted the concept in the first message of the thread: Background for investigative reporter. It's a bit verbose, but it doesn't have to be. Just a few points will do.

So then I come to the mechanics. What I mean here is the numbers on the character sheet. This usually means several sections. Note that these are “planning” notes, and not simply just filling in the boxes on the character sheet. This makes you think about the character and not the numbers. This makes a big difference.

  1. Abilities - Consider each in turn, write down “high” “medium” or “low” depending on the priority of the stat for that character concept. Don't roll them, don't assign them. Just “high” “medium” or “low”.
  2. Feats - Which are a “must-have” for this concept. Write them down, including any prerequesites. For the reporter, it was skill focus (gather information) and alertness
  3. Skills - What skills are a “must-have”. Write them down, including the basic ability for them. For the reporter, it was gather information, followed by bluff, listen, search and spot.
  4. Spells - If appropriate, note your “must-have” spells. For my reporter, it was expeditious retreat and detect thoughts.
  5. Abilities revisited - now go back and bearing in mind the prerequisites of your “must-have” feats and skills, roll/asign your stats, keeping in mind your original ideas on “high” “medium” and “low”. If you find that you are changing them around at this stage, it means you are being driven by the mechanics, not the concept. This is okay, but think carefully if this is what you actually want.
  6. Class progression - This may be just your starting class, but try to think a few levels ahead, and write them down.

By now you'll have half a page to several pages of scribblings/typing. This then constitutes the “mechanics” section. I usually then pad it out to make it readable. I also include notes as to why I made some of these choices. It is a good idea not to throw these notes away at this stage, even though you have neatly copied the numbers to your character sheet.


Well, these notes provide the rationale behind your choices. And you should refer back to them, when you are deciding about going where to allocate new points on an increase in your character level.

The other thing that goes into the mechanics section is a cut-and-pasted copy of any relevant rules from the SRD. As these notes are kept with the character sheet it may make it easier, rather than ploughing through the PHB each time.

After the mechanics are done, I then move on to the other sections of the notes, e.g. equipment, background, etc. Sometimes the background is a vignette, instead of a history. That is a snapshot of a day-in-the-life of the character, enough to be a good introduction to the other players in the campaign. The vignette for the report er character is given here.

I hope that helps. If anyone is interested, I could write a full article about this character generation technique. Or, if someone suggests a concept, I could show you how I would work it into a character - sort of a worked example. Just let me know…

Start from the Past

From KismetRose

I can give you a few ideas given what I've done (hope they help!):

It is good to start out with some idea of where the character has been; I started gaming with Vampire, where a backstory was a requirement, not merely a request. I found that I could get really carried away if nobody stopped me, however, and that a lot of the work I did was left for naught. I try to monitor myself when I'm creating backstory so that I don't get superfluous.

However, it is one thing to know the major events of your character's past - it is another thing to try to imagine and experience what they feel about those events. I try to do a little bit of that, and it often leads me to realize little details about the character.

I've found that it can be very difficult to find the character's voice when you're too busy fretting over your own goals as a player. Sometimes you have to just quiet your own wishes long enough so that you can consider what the wishes of the character are. It should be all right to ask for a moment to think when a really important decision comes up. It helps to consider the kind of person the character is when you're making split-second decisions, so that even if you don't have much time to think through the details, you're at least acting along the lines of what your character is like.

I try to give myself a few game sessions to really discover the character's voice. It is very difficult to get a character down pat during the first real-time session of a game, especially when you're playing in a format where you have to handle a bit of voice, body language and so forth. And it can be very easy to be hard on yourself for not living up to the performance you feel you should've done. I find that being hard on yourself only makes things worse.

I do my best, when I am playing, to personalize the abilities and the details of my characters. My bard had rhymes to go along with every spell he knew, for example, and he had specially made clothes. I try to think about the equipment and the weapons and the spells as my character would regard them. What would they consider fun, a chore, boring, a necessary evil, etc?

I address other group members by their character's names rather than their own when we're playing, and I try to get them to call me by the name of the character I'm playing.

Eventually, getting in character becomes an automatic process. The thing is, it can be difficult to jump from one kind of character to another if you've been playing one character for a while. You may have to go back down to the detail level with a new character even if another one automatically comes to you.