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Roleplaying in PFS by Avatar

This was originally written by Matt Goodall on Facebook, but Facebook's format means his very valuable articles are being lost to the deluge of posts over time, so I'm reposting them here.

I want more roleplaying in PFS. I want people's characters to have personality not just stats, so I'm writing some tips and I'm hoping others will jump in and add to it.

PFS is different to a home campaign where you play with the same friends every time and you can't expect the GM or other players to lead into your background or tease out your story, you have to bring it/shout it out yourself.

Voice/Accent: Have one. raise it higher, lower it, make it faster/slower, choose an accent, it helps in multiple ways. It lets others at the table know you are talking in character, and what you aren't. It adds to the realism of the game. It makes you realise how much/little you are talking in character. It actually makes you act more in character, it helps you think like your character. Watch out for and listen to voices from all kinds of media, PC games, movies, music, and take from that and use it. I find that having a simple phase that I say in that voice really gets me into character for the game. My latest character really comes to life for me when he introduces himself with a strong 'Transylvanian' (Ustalavian) accent.

From the last session I can still remember Phil's 'Arnold Schwarzenegger' accent for his Hellknight Conrad shouting "What the hell is going on?", Andrei's sniveling toad Randolf (with an F not a PH) Kulpher yelling, "I always knew you'd turn on me Savroth" in his wormtongue voice just before hitting poor Savroth with the full unholy power of Asmodeus, and Shaun's Savroth voice that always reminds me of a weird butler for some reason, with little phrases like "good..." and "yessss" that really reinforce the feeling that Savroth is both abhorrent and strangely compelling at the same time.

Sorry, no excuses like:

Please go to the effort for the game! You spent at least an hour making your character's stats, spend at least an hour bringing your character to life. If I play or GM with your character for 5+ hours and all I know at the end of it is the PC's name, race, and weapon or spell of choice then, to me, you haven't added anything at all to my roleplaying experience at the table.

Be a hero with a heroically memorable personality!

The essence of roleplaying is talking and acting in character, so while it might seem obvious - TALK IN CHARACTER.

It really comes down to the percentage of time you talk in character as opposed to not doing so. The ideal would be to only do these two things while at the table: talk in character and describe your character’s actions. Anything else is a distraction that pulls everyone at the table out of the game. No one is perfect, but try to improve the percentage of time that you do talk in character and minimise out of character chatter.

Ways to do this:

  1. Learn the other characters’ names and use them. Learn the NPCs’ names as well, a good pathfinder has a journal to fill out all the details of the adventure, so should you as a player have a bit of paper to fill out these details as well as other details of the adventure.
    Overuse these names a little for clarity. Rather than just saying, “Let’s go to the tavern”, try “Savroth, let’s go to the tavern”. The second leaves no doubt that you are talking in character, the first pulls people out of the game just a little, as they wonder very briefly whether you might mean that you want to get a drink after the game. This is useful if you are having a disagreement / discussion with another PC, to let everyone know that your characters are disagreeing but that it is only your character, not you as players.
  2. Actually say what your character is saying rather than just describing. Instead of saying “I try to fast talk the guard”, instead try “now good sir, you can see we are gentle folk who have perfectly legitimate to reasons to be allowed to enter.” You don’t have to go through the entire spiel of convincing the guard every time but at least say a sentence or two before going for the Bluff check and grabbing the dice. If it is an important social encounter, such as in “Hellknight Feast” it is critical to your mission to do this. There are some exceptions, usually to save time, like when the rogue has been scouting ahead (and the GM hasn't taken the rogue player into another room) for the rogue to say “I tell the others what I saw in the rooms I scouted” rather than rehashing what the other players have already heard from the GM once before. The trick is to try and do this as much as possible because and turn it into a good habit.
  3. Don’t overuse gamespeak: “I five foot step, then perform a trip combat maneuver, then take my AOO when the monster provokes, and use Power Attack”. Yawn! “I going to diplomacise him.” Yuck! Nothing bores me more in-game than the mechanical repetitious use of gamespeak. Try to avoid using game words when you could describe the same thing in terms your character would use. In Living Greyhawk, there was a common meme saying, “we Greyhawk the bodies”, to me it made the whole scene feel repetitive, metagamey, and boring. It would have been easier and more flavourful to say “we loot the bodies.” Even when in combat and you do have to use game words to describe your actions, at least try to interspace it with things your character would use. The cyclic nature of combat means that you have plenty of time to think of an appropriate in-character quip to issue on your turn. Comic book heroes and villains wisecrack and make jibes at each other because reading a couple of pages of combat without any dialogue wouldn't be as interesting, it’s the same at a roleplaying table. In the combat example above, if the player had finished with “Take that you filthy Taldan dog!” then it would have brought some good characterisation to the whole thing.
  4. Show me, don’t tell me. If you say “my character is a grumpy old dwarf” then you've told me, but that isn't as engaging as saying something grumpy in character, “Damn elves, always sneaking around behind people backs, in my day…”. Telling the group something about your character is actually better than not saying anything at all, especially if it is a physical description thing, but if you try and work in an element of your character in-character it’s even better and especially good if it relates to the scene at hand. A recent example I can think of was when one PC was disguised as a a slave and locked up in a cage as part of an infiltration mission, one of the other PCs (a Hellknight) came up to the caged PC and said “savour your time in that cage, I was raised in Chelish slave pits, it was best time of my life.”

Have one or more catchphrases. You are watching the Simpsons and you hear “Ha ha”, “Excellent!”, “aye caramba”, or most obviously “D'oh!” you know who said it. As one of your characters develops you may find you develop some of these. Remember them, heck write them down, and use them as a flavourful way of expressing your character. You may be able to think some up between sessions as well. Think about what your character says to introduce themselves (“The name’s Jim Stalwart ma’m”), what the character says when angry or surprised (“Mighty Abyss!”), or wants to swear (“by Calistria’s sacred nipple rings”), what the character would say to swear a binding oath or while saluting a superior (“House Thrune prospers!”) what the character says as a battlecry when engaging a climatic foe or using one of his or her signature abilities (“I do this for Taldor!”)

As you can see above, think about what gods, factions, organisations, countries, or other loyalties, ties, or background might cause the PC to use a certain saying. I only recently found out after adventuring with some friends of mine that the word “Ca’cha” is orcish for elf, archer, coward (or all three!) In a lot of ways it’s easier to come up with cool catchphrases before you need it and then make use of it, but a catchphrase that really suits the moment can be truly glorious. Either way it is very cool roleplaying everyone at the table will appreciate.