Rutskarn’s RPG Tales: Neat Characters Are Easier Than You’d Think

By Rutskarn
on Nov 21, 2015
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

In part because Fallout 4’s thrown my perspective for a loop, I’m still tinkering with some of my arguments about Skyrim, so Altered Scrolls is on hold for a few weeks. In the meantime, I’ll be running a few tabletop-roleplaying-related posts. Below: tips for new players on making interesting character.

There’s absolutely no reason to be anxious about getting into tabletop games—I say this as a man whose first major, campaign-running dungeon master was a scabrous miscreant—but most new players are anyway. Everyone has a pretty identical fear-portfolio:

“The experienced players are going to be frustrated with me. I’ll look silly playing my over-the-top character. I’ll look boring playing my conservative character. People are going to laugh at me and then Jack Chick is going to jump out of a broom closet and kill me with a chainsaw.” These are rarely true, particularly if you follow my golden rule of tabletop gaming, which is: it’s almost always smarter to get your existing friends to play with you and all fumble around together than it is to put yourself in the hands of strangers. That evits about 99% of most peoples’ horror stories. The remaining 1% have to do with Jack Chick and chainsaws, but we live in an imperfect world.

That said, a common fear I run into with new players that isn’t just a confabulation of general unreasoning social anxiety—that is to say, a fear that can be handled directly rather than just dulled through exposure–regards playing one’s character well. The idea of creating a fictional person and playing them as a kind of performance scares a lot of people. It especially scares them when they know they’re going to be playing with people who’ve been doing this for a while and have gotten pretty good at it. It doesn’t take long for these new players to learn it’s not as hard as it looks, but there’s definitely a hump to get over.

Here’s some advice I’ve picked up and formulated over the years about how to create your first fun, interesting RPG character. I’ve aimed this advice at D&D players, but with a little imagination you can adapt it to just about any kind of game or system.

a.) Like X, But Y

Let’s take the pressure off for a first character. There’s zero shame in drawing inspiration—even heavy inspiration—from an existing book, videogame, or movie character. But there is a catch.

You shouldn’t actually be that character. Just like that character.

Even if you’re thematically identical, change the name and appearance and backstory a little. Riffs on the same concept are fine—a mustache instead of a beard, a shipwreck instead of a house fire, a doctorate instead of a knighthood—but there should be small, firm lines of separation between the inspiration and your take on it. Why bother? Well, a lot of subtle reasons—not the least of which being that your friends, who are probably playing characters with unfamiliar and untested names, might be less than enthusiastic to find they’re sharing their quest with The Doctor. But the most important reason is that pinning your character visibly to another doesn’t make things easier for you. You don’t want to cross the line of can be like an established character to must be like an established character; that’s not a player aid, that’s baggage.

Sooner or later you’ll be in the middle of a game and you’ll get an idea for something really cool—some interesting action for you to take, some shocker in your backstory, some intriguing relationship—and you’re going to want to have room to follow that idea wherever it goes without you and your fellow players getting tripped up with, “Wait, Kratos wouldn’t adopt a shelter dog” or whatever. Saddling yourself with an existing name and appearance is kind of like getting your favorite band in high school tattooed on your forehead: the sentiment is genuine, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel like you can move on and explore new things.

You may even discover a few key points of deviation through:

b.) Pregaming

This is a good one if you’ve never done any kind of roleplaying or improvisation before. When you get right down it, any RPG session is just question-and-answer. The question is, “when this happens, what does your character do?” Your answer is, well, whatever your character does. What you might be anxious about is that you’ll get to one of these questions and you won’t know the answer—or at least, you won’t be able to decide what the answer is as smoothly and gracefully as you’d like (real talk: even really good roleplayers need to step back sometimes and think, shit, what WOULD my character do here?). Alternately, people worry that the sum of their decisions made on the fly won’t amount to one cohesive character, a not-unreasonable (if overstated in terms of consequences) concern for newbies. It’s a pretty straightforward anxiety, and there’s a pretty straightforward solution: pregaming.

Write up or find a list of hypothetical choices and figure out, ahead of time, how your character feels about or would respond to each. Take your time, write down your answers, revise them if you come to another question and change your mind. Think of these situations as something like an animator’s keyframes: you can use them as reference points to extrapolate responses to a very wide range of scenarios once you’re actually playing. The questions don’t need to be particularly relevant to the setting the game takes place in; in fact, putting your character in a completely alien environment can be a good way to highlight interesting and non-obvious quirks of personality, and facing your characters with choices similar to those you personally face might help you get a handle on them.

Here are some good sample questions:

  1. Would your character enter into a relationship if they knew it wouldn’t go anywhere long-term? What’s the smallest thing that could get them to end a relationship?
  2. Does your character choose the fastest, the easiest, or the most precise solution?
  3. Dog or cat?
  4. Better to arrive half an hour late or half an hour early to a party?
  5. Cook, microwave, order out? What would be in your character’s shopping cart at a modern grocery store
  6. Would they plead innocent to a crime if they thought they could get away with it? What if it was only a very slim chance?
  7. What sin is your character most proud of not having?
  8. Your character comes to a gambling table. What’s the most they’d bet?
  9. Who would your character vote for in your region’s next election?

c.) Get Serious

In his memoir Kitchen Confidential, author and chef Anthony Bourdain goes to some lengths to capture a real person referred to as Adam Last-Name-Unknown. ALNU is just about every distasteful and disreputable trait rolled into one poxy cook: a louche, lazy, larcenous, lecherous, ill-tempered boor prone to not-so-petty swindles and antisocial behavior. He’s a backstabbing weasel, a pathological liar, and an opportunistic criminal unable to hold down prolonged enough employment to break up his essentially uninterrupted lifelong bender. You can extrapolate pretty much everything about who this guy is and what he gets up to from these points of data, with one solitary exception: he is obsessed with making bread. He may constantly flake out on work in an industry where that’s viewed as the worst kind of depravity, but he’ll sure as hell call in to make sure somebody feeds his starter. And his finished product? It tastes delicious. The best bread the author’s ever tasted.

Everyone out there is serious about something.

Remember the next time you play a bard that to your character, music probably isn’t just a tool, good for greasing the occasional orc brouhaha and helping the thief concentrate on lock-picking. Your character didn’t become a musician by writing a number on a character sheet, they became a musician through countless hours of finger-bleeding spine-cramping practice with an instrument probably worth a considerable percentage of their family’s yearly income. Music is important to them. They take it seriously, and in your own way, you should too. That doesn’t mean you need to research your character’s instrument and musical pedigree—although that’s not a bad idea, if you’ve got the time and wifi—but you should at least think about it the way your character would.

What kind of music do they like? What kind of music do they hate? Where were they when they heard the song that changed their life and who played it—a local minstrel? A relative? An exhausted-but-obliging troubadour? What opportunities did they pass by to play music, and do they ever have second thoughts?

Obviously, bards are just a convenient example. Figure out whatever your character can’t stop thinking about—chances are it will be whatever your character’s good at, but not necessarily. If you can get to the point where you can articulate or at least bullshit a strong opinion about it, your character will be that much more believable.

d.) Zigs and Zags

A truism of writing is that mistakes can be valuable—mistakes are the one things you can’t plan for, so that’s when inspiration really starts flowing. A similar principle in roleplaying is to create characters who have one totally die-roll random, obviously incongruous, or mechanically underwhelming aspect to them; all three force you to eschew cliches by putting you on something besides the most obvious path.

Example: a player in a D&D campaign rolls a random name from a table—not realizing that it would roll names from all racial groups. As a result, the name suggested for an elf sorceress is more appropriate for a dwarf fighter. Rather than try again, the player thinks, well, wait a minute—what kind of elf would have a dwarf’s name? That’s weird. That demands explanation. Soon the player has a backstory and even a few related personality traits they would never have simply invented, but that follow logically and memorably from their new background.

Another example: imagine you were playing a Western game and rolled a a gunfighter with two good stats and one bad one. The logical thing to do is to put the good stats into aim and toughness and the bad stat into something like knowledge or social skills. Doing so would give you about a thousand cowboys from a hundred movies. The most illogical thing—putting the bad stat into aim—would give you the Kid from Unforgiven. The second most poorly optimized—putting the bad stat into toughness—would give you Doc Holliday. In a game that lets you choose to be ideal, choosing not to be immediately puts you in exciting and unusual territory.

e.) The Outsider Principle

Broadly speaking, drawing from historical examples, any given community is going to be disrupted by a full-grown adult wandering off and leaving forever. Particularly when half a family’s next generation dies before 17, every able-bodied worker and potential breeding partner is precious. There is going to be a lot of social pressure directed not at any one person in particular, but at everyone, invisibly, all the time, to stay put. People who don’t stay put are going to be labeled as vagrants, bandits, perverts—just generally people you don’t want to be. This won’t need to be explicitly communicated to anybody; it will be a fact of life.

Even so, your character apparently didn’t listen. You left your community and you probably aren’t looking for another one. You’ve eschewed a socially favored and probably comfortable position in favor of constant danger and uncertain reward. Not many people do this. Why would you?

Probably because you’re weird.

Maybe you’ve got strong, iconoclastic opinions that made you butt heads with your people. Maybe you changed religions or alignments or got corrupted by outside influences. Maybe you’re just the kind of person who prefers silent weeks of marching with other antisocial camping mercenaries to yet another interminable fucking sewing circle. Maybe you like being in nature. Maybe—perhaps even probably, given the abundance of historical and modern examples—you struggle with some mental health issue your community doesn’t understand. It’s worth remembering that among adventurers, “normal” people are just about the least normal and abundant quantity.

When I’m setting out to create a new D&D character my rule of thumb is this: if I can figure out why this person couldn’t just marry somebody nice, work a field, raise a family, pay taxes, and hop into a humble grave, I’ll have a pretty good start on figuring out everything else.

All this should give you something to think about. Now settle down for this next piece of advice, because it’s important:

f.) Relax

You don’t have to do any of this stuff. You may have more fun and feel less nervous if you prepare first, but you don’t have to. You know why?

Because roleplaying games are fun and they are safe. Worrying about not looking cool while playing D&D with your friends is, well, you won’t. That’s not what you sat down for. So when you’ve done all your preparation, whatever seemed appropriate or you had time for, and you’re getting ready to play—just remember to take it easy on yourself and do what comes naturally. That this will probably improve your roleplaying is beside the point.

Next time: Turns Out Running Games Is Also Easy.

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From the Archives:

  1. Da Mage says:

    Now I don’t do a whole lot of tabletop (or any group role playing), but one aspect that you didn’t mention directly (and it does depend what role playing environment you intend to play in, as some lend more to this then others), is that your character shouldn’t try and be EVERYTHING. I think it’s a trend from modern RPG video games, but people seem to try and make a character thats good at EVERYTHING and has few (if at all) flaws. Also related to that, don’t think about Min-Maxing an RP character, that is kind of missing the point (unless your group is into that sort of thing and you separate the game mechanics from your RP).

    When I write a character I like to think of it this way, for every two positive/good characteristics that I give them, they get a negative one. You can make the negative one minor, or major, but it at least gets you thinking about some of the struggles your characters has.

    • Alex says:

      “Also related to that, don’t think about Min-Maxing an RP character, that is kind of missing the point (unless your group is into that sort of thing and you separate the game mechanics from your RP).”

      My best ever RPG character was born out of min-maxing. I started off with the idea of combining the Body Outside Body spell with a body that could both make good use of the clones and survive the feedback, and ended up with a human wizard who had been captured as a journeyman mage and subjected to magical experimentation which left her rather self-conscious, protective of another PC she saw like a sister, and with an unthinking hatred of slavers.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      Surely this is somewhat a result of the system or the challenges the GM sets? If there are enough stat points available to be adequate at everything required for the adventure, surely stat points need to be rarer/challenges need to be harder? The traditional party of Fighter, Wizard, Thief and Healer exists because of class systems, but even in a free and open system, someone who devotes twice the exp, and thus time, to a skill should be significantly more than twice as good at it. The party is supposed to be the unit that is minmaxed, by having individual specialised components.

      And chiming off what Alex said, let a player have any flavour of mechanical bullshit they can make up sufficiently entertaining story fluff for. The mechanics are there to build a story.

    • Matt Downie says:

      “Don’t make a character who’s tries to be good at everything with no weaknesses” and “don’t make a Min-Maxed character” are kind of opposites…

      I wouldn’t want to tell people in other games how to make their characters. Maybe in their game, a deadly combat monster of a PC is the only way to prevent the GM wiping out the party. That isn’t badwrongfun. There are many ways to play.

      • Syal says:

        ‘Tries’ is the key there. You can’t be good at everything, but you can choose strengths you think will apply to the setting alongside weaknesses you think won’t. You know Aim will be a lot more useful than Perform: Chickendance, so decreasing your chicken funk to increase your Aim is the “correct” choice. But a character who can’t aim straight in combat because he’s compulsively flapping to the groove can be more interesting.

        (Hopefully a GM who runs a game like that is doing it because the players have shown they want that kind of game. And hey, TPKs can be fun too sometimes.)

    • topazwolf says:

      I have a pathological need to min-max my character, and then precede to do absolutely nothing with these abilities and instead RP to ludicrous degrees. For instance, in Eclipse Phase I made a character who was incredibly good at both techy things and combat. And then basically became a pacifist who used my tech abilities to make art. The expectation that I’m going to take over the game being run afoul is great fun. Also it allows me to contribute when needed.

      When I don’t, I tend to make support characters with very strong personalities or quirks. I’m normally more interested in making the game fun rather than winning.

    • Mondroid says:

      I tend to run a little more severe with my good/bad ratio. Going with the theory of two good, two bad. Two good to make the character functionally a hero, and two bad so they become a character with not just a flaw, but two that interact within each other and fundamentally explain certain rationalisations for the character.
      Resulted in my Halfling Barbarian with a lower STR and CON and stupidly high wisdom, and I forbid him from ever taking a cleric class by making him Atheistic…

      Good times.

    • methermeneus says:

      Separating rp from mechanics works fairly well most of the time. For example, right now I’m playing a character with an intelligence of 12 (lucky rolls: that’s my dump stat). For anyone unfamiliar with d&d, 10 is baseline human for all stats. So, I just play my character as a bit of an idiot and try to avoid any intelligence rolls. It works pretty well, and everyone loves hearing the next boneheaded thing my character comes up with.

  2. Neko says:

    Personally I like inverting the tropes you get when picking more traditional arrangements of stats, race and class. Elven druid? No, too obvious – let’s make a Tiefling druid! Now, just how did that happen?

    Scholarly wizard? No, no, no, let’s make someone with charisma and dexterity, someone who wants to learn magic but only so they can steal more things.

    • Alex says:

      Medusa Ninja: because it’s a lot easier to sneak attack someone when they’re wearing a blindfold.

    • Matt Downie says:

      D&D (depending on edition) tends to give Elves Intelligence bonuses, which makes them good Wizards, not the Wisdom bonuses Druids benefit from. Weirdly, Dwarves usually make the most effective Druids. I wonder which is the unconventional option there?

      • Ravens Cry says:

        While dwarves might be better at it if they applied themselves, typical dwarf culture doesn’t value druids. Of course, nothing says the DM can’t cobble together a dwarven culture that does value druids!
        ***
        On another note, the trouble with decrying min-maxing is a lot of pen and paper RPG are about combat, for the same reason a lot of computer RPG are about combat. It’s hard to play a character who is an awesome character in an epic stories if they don’t survive. A ‘solution’ I had is the ‘character point’. In Pathfinder and D&D, which is what I play most, this means a skill point a level to go into a skill that your character class doesn’t typically use. For example, say a Fighter with points in Spellcraft, Why does a Fighter have a point in Spellcraft? That’s the fun. Maybe they’re a failed apprentice, maybe they guarded a wizard caravan and learned about spells so they know when to duck. Maybe your wizard has points in Intimidate, not suffering fools gladly and with tongue that could etch steel. Maybe your cleric has points in knowledge: Arcana because they have a dabbling interest in what the other side of the divine/arcane divide does.
        The point is you have something that breaks your character out of the mold and rut without making them weak or breaking them.

        • Moridin says:

          Who do you think scouts out new veins of ore and deals with strange critters coming from underdark? While stereotypical, woodland focused druid would certainly be out of place in a dwarf kingdom, Dwarves DO value clerics and druid, in D&D terms, is really just a cleric specializing in nature, and there’s a lot of nature down in the mines in a setting where drow, duergar, svirfneblin, mind flayers etc. have entire cities in the underdark.

    • One of the last characters I played was a young Wood Elf druid. She was ok at the druiding, but had a spectacularly low charisma score (like 8, iirc). She had a whole back story explaining this, but unfortunately I was playing her in a group where it was deemed entirely reasonable (even by the GM) to refer to the other characters by their class name only (I was only surprised that I was “the druid” rather than “the elf”). Roleplaying? What’s that? I quit after we hit the second tedious underground dungeon and it looked like things were never likely to improve. :/

      • Blackbird71 says:

        I just wanted to point out a common misconception here. In D&D (and other d20-based systems), a score of 8 is not “spectacularly low”, rather it is average. A score of 8-10 is considered an average level ability for a typical humanoid. I blame the mechanics of 3rd edition and later for creating this false perception, as the negative modifiers applied for anything less than 10 on an ability score does give the impression that such scores are “low”. And yes, adventurers are typically a bit above average, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t have a few average or even below average scores. Too many players nowadays don’t seem to want to play any character that doesn’t have at least one 18 and no stats under 10. While I can completely understand the desire to play a “special” hero, after a while you realize that a character with real weaknesses to balance their strengths can be a lot more interesting and fun.

        So my advice to players new and old is to not be afraid of “low” scores; embrace them and put them to use. The next time you make a character, maybe you should forget using a point-buy system that makes it near impossible to have a score below 8, and instead just roll up your stats randomly and let the dice fall where they may.

  3. Dovius says:

    Good stuff, and good advice as well. Always enjoy your writing on the topic of RPGs and looking forward to the next couple of articles.

    Somewhat off-topic, but listening back to that Diecast after first hearing it when it came out, and having run a few things myself in the meantime, dear lord does that guy infuriate me even more now.

    To quote Josh paraphrasing the dude, “I made this cool world, you can’t fuck it up.”

    THAT’S WHERE THE BEST STUFF COMES FROM, DAMNIT. Let the players have agency and they will most likely enhance whatever storyline they’re in! I didn’t intend for the players to commit bloody regicide in one of my first campaigns when said king made them wait a while longer (There were other mitigating circumstances, but I’ll leave those be), but I didn’t just randomly punish them in an overpowered way for it. I let the situation run its course and the complications arising from it made for a way more interesting situation than that I’d planned for them to follow beforehand!

  4. Steve C says:

    I love the font you chose for that title image. It makes ‘R’ look like ‘B’. Butskarn claims his name with pride.

  5. turcurudin says:

    it’s almost always smarter to get your existing friends to play with you and all fumble around together

    Which is exactly what my two friends and I did when we wanted to try tabletop RPGs when we had no experience at all in playing them. Having my players be beginners (and very good friends) made me a lot less apprehensive about learning to GM for them.

  6. Gawain The Blind says:

    This post kind of makes me want to game with Rutskarn. I bet that would be a good time.

  7. Joshua says:

    One suggestion I’d have for these new characters is to come up with a character concept that’s appropriate for 1st level (or whatever you’re starting at), not 20th level. Give room for your characters to grow, and you’ll run into less frustration than trying to play veteran persona Batman with newbie skills.

  8. Bropocalypse says:

    Another thing to remember for those hesitant to roleplay is that you don’t have to pretend to be your character. If it suits you, you can simply narrate your character’s actions. This is important for those who may have stage fright. That extra couple of numbers in their Nth person narration is valuable for removing the focus from one’s self, psychologically. It’s not you who misunderstands or spoils the moment, it’s your character. It’s not your character stumbling their words in their awesome one-liner, it’s the person telling the story momentarily slipping their speech pattern.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Oh yeah, I’ve been actively roleplaying for at least 15 years but I’m socially awkward and I still don’t always feel good trying to act out the character in social situations. I know the “can I just roll for charisma” thing is something of a running joke in the RPG community but it’s not always a bad thing, especially if you know what, how and why your character is trying to do but just don’t feel comfortable actually acting it out.

      • krellen says:

        GMs that don’t allow players to at least occasionally just roll for something annoy me, because they are denying players the ability to play a character beyond their own personal abilities.

        They may mean well by making people “roleplay everything”, but getting caught in the moment can often lead to ruining a character, either through action or inaction. A mistake or two now and then can be worked over, but over time they can add up to an entirely different character from what the player envisioned.

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          IMHO, too much emphasis on only roleplaying also makes it much more easy to see the rails. These are GMs that know how things are going to go, because they know the “right” way to roleplay the characters on hand. It’s much harder to do that when there’s a lot more wandering stuff, a lot more skill checking and a lot more need to be methodical because there ARE going to be failures and checks. On the GM’s side of that randomness is the necessity to prepare for (or at least account for) a whole lot more paths through. The epic battle at the gate may get replaced by a hair-raising cliff climb under the cover of darkness, and THAT’S OKAY. They still get into the castle, they still end up in the the chapel (even if the GM has to move the chapel from the first convenient door after the gate to the dark building next to the main keep at the rear of the fort) and they still have to face the crypt puzzle. But now it looks like they FOUND it and it was closer than they would have been had they come in that other dumb way. (That’s WINNING in the player’s mind.)

          • Bropocalypse says:

            I recently realized that the secret to mastery of DMing is the same as the secret to good writing, something almost like a Buddhist philosophy: No matter what happens, a challenge is interchangeable with another challenge. The excitement and drama of a scene, in turn, is whatever challenge the players face. If a dungeon master can learn to improvise and inconvenience(within reason) the players on the fly, then anything is possible for both the DM and the players.

  9. Christopher says:

    One of my most popular among others and personal favorite long running characters breaks the rules by being a 3.5 half-orc paladin with decently high int and charisma (for a half-orc). I was nervous about playing him at first, but he eventually grew into a very fun in a way character.

    I would say one thing to be wary of is understanding what kind of group you’re playing with. Some people have 0 interest in any sort of tragedy or drama or inter-party conflict. That last one in particular is kind of a massive thing. It’s just an OOC thing many groups do, is that their will be NO interparty conflict. If someone is playing a CE priest of “imaevilgod”, and everyone else is running mostly neutral and up, I’ve seen the CE priest do pretty much genocidal level stuff and none of the other characters will do anything about it because “you don’t do interparty conflict”. It’s something to chat about with the DM before hand I suppose.

    To delve into it; I recently played in a campaign where we were swashbuckler pirate mercenary types. Not necessarily bad guys, but certainly driven both by a desire for adventure and money. One player decided to make a CE priest of Talos. The character was insufferable and overbearing and would regularly attack or insult people.

    My character was a sailor, and loyal to his crew and his friends, and also a worshipper of the settings sea goddess. As time goes on, the priest gets worse and worse. he eventually ends up unleashing a massive storm on my characters home city because everyone must fear Talos!

    My char doesn’t take this well, and goes to the local guards and says “I know who did it, I know where to find him”. The rest of the party feels like I’ve betrayed the party, even though it was just this one guy.

    Which leads me to a second piece of advice: It’s ok to walk away from a game. If you aren’t having fun, go ahead and leave. DOn’t make a big stink about it, don’t be a jerk about it, and don’t call out another players behaviour infront of everyone. Talk to your DM. I told him what my issue OOC was (this one player had essentially hijacked the campaign), and said I just wasn’t having any sort of fun since everything anyone else did was being overridden by this one character. Am I going to be in a campaign with that particular person again? Probably not. But I didn’t burn any bridges in doing so.

    Edit: Just to clarify, it was clear there were other players who were frustrated with how this guy was interacting with the campaign. But again, a sacred rule of “no inter party conflict of any serious sort” was in effect and I broke it.

    • Hermocrates says:

      One player decided to make a CE priest of Talos. The character was insufferable and overbearing and would regularly attack or insult people.

      I think this brings up another point, which is more directed at the DMs: It’s okay to tell your players “no evil characters.”

      And a similar tip to players: If you’re playing an evil character, or a lawful good paladin, remember that you are still playing in a party with friends. You are all adventuring with each other for a reason, and unless the campaign is specifically designed otherwise, that reason is usually some shade of camaraderie.

      • Supahewok says:

        My general rule of thumb: “You can be evil, but don’t be stupid evil. Party comes first.” Or, to put it even more succinctly: “Don’t be a dick.”

        I’m currently playing in a 5e module as an Assassin, and another player is a Necromancer. We both do evil crap when the party isn’t looking, but that’s on our own time, and never goes against the party interest; as a matter of fact, sometimes it advances the party interests, just through morally questionable means that the party wouldn’t countenance if they knew about them in-character. It can be a tough act to balance, both for the evil characters and the non-‘s, and shouldn’t be attempted unless you’re playing with a bunch of mature veterans. However, it opens up more options for the party, adds some moral grey to the proceedings, and can lead to interesting party conflict, provided that the conflict stays in-character.

        Really it comes down to respect. If your evil character respects his party members, then when he wants to set a hurricane on a town, another party member can say “Dude, that’s my home town, please don’t wipe it out,” and the evil character should respect that other character’s wishes. If you’re playing with people who don’t respect their fellow party members like that, then regardless of their alignment sooner or later something’s going to come to a head. It’s a DM’s job to recognize that problem before it develops, and tell the offender to shape up or ship out.

        • Joshua says:

          My general rule is that if I’m playing an evil character, it has to be an evil character that can function in a good party. As much as Shamus disliked the character, Ammon Jerro from NWN 2 would be one example -a character fighting for the greater good who has no qualms about the means used, or the little people hurt in the process.

          I’ve also played a Chaotic Evil Knight in a Lawful Good order who was legitimately attempting to atone for his past sins, and every adventure was a test of his ideals against his basic urges.

          Think also about the Jayne Cobb -ruthless and willing to commit murder, but goes along with the mostly good and neutral party because he likes most of them, he respects their abilities, and he benefits from the relationship. This can actually work with many adventuring teams.

          You could also play an evil character who shares the same goals as the party members, but that requires the inclusion of the DM and their overall story arc.

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          If your evil character respects his party members, then when he wants to set a hurricane on a town, another party member can say “Dude, that’s my home town, please don’t wipe it out,” and the evil character should respect that other character’s wishes.

          [evil]Perfect opportunity to be magnanimous, and ingratiate yourself with the locals, so you’ve got one more bolt-hole in this part of the country. You’re “Jerrold’s friend” here now, and you can USE THAT later. [/evil] And the difference between chaotic and lawful is whether this becomes a place to hide while waiting for the heat to die down and unload some goods at a discount and a chance to tweak Jerrold regularly about how pretty his brother is, or whether this becomes a base of power and a source of loyal minions and underlings, plus keeping Jerrold from asserting himself too much…

    • Huh. I think I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t encountered that much. In fact, in the first campaign I ever played in, the inter-character conflict was probably the best part of it. Or one of the best, anyway. LG human (my char), CN elf, NE tiefling; we bickered endlessly and any two of us could reasonably gang up on the third if necessary (very often it was my char and the tiefling holding down the elf before he caused even more trouble) but when the chips were down, we pulled into a well-oiled machine to deal efficiently with any threat. It was awesome! I still miss that campaign….

      • Christopher says:

        I genuinely think it was less that the player was playing a CE with HOW he was playing a CE. If it had been a LG paladin acting the same way, it just feels like none of the other characters matter.

        But really, the best advice I can give is that it’s ok to get up and walk away.

        • Oh yes, I absolutely agree. Don’t care what alignment you’re playing, don’t be a dick about it. And don’t meta-game; it’s bloody annoying for everyone else at the table. Sometimes, walking away really is the best option. :/

    • Blackbird71 says:

      I once played a game in which through a number of fumbled rolls on various occasions, another PC in the party had unintentionally injured or otherwise hindered my character multiple times. It got to the point where my character began to suspect that the other PC was secretly out to get him, which created a bit of distrust between the two characters. As players we had fun with it, but we got into character so much playing it out that we had to convince the DM that it really was just our characters, and there was no real personal grudge between us as players (that’s when we knew we were doing it right). In the end, a major NPC had to convince our characters to set aside our differences in order to focus on the BBEG.

      My point is that inter-party conflict can be a lot of fun if handled correctly. Let your characters react to experiences and the actions of other characters as if they were real; don’t just give outrageous actions a pass just because the one doing them is a PC. Just because your characters work together doesn’t mean they all have to get along perfectly; a little tension can make things interesting. Just be careful not to overdo it; you’re trying to add flavor to the party, not break it up. And most importantly, keep inter-party conflict in character, make sure that no one takes it personally OOC. If there is actual OOC conflict, keep it OOC and take care of it appropriately OOC. Real-life personal grudges should not be brought into the game; that just makes a bad experience for everyone at the table and no one appreciates the drama.

  10. A minor point:

    When you name your character, don’t spell something backwards, don’t use ordinary words pronounced in some forced way, don’t pick something stupid, and absolutely don’t pick the name of a famous character from some sort of fiction. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but the juvenile humor will pall … quickly.

    If you can’t think of anything, use a name generator. If the result is kind of generic, don’t worry too much. After the first session, “Dirk the Black” will gather associations generated by the game and won’t be a generic thief, he’ll be your character. The same can’t be said for “Elihpodep”, “Ivna Eydea”, or “Conan the Rumanian”.

    • Rutskarn says:

      It also makes people who are trying to get into it (which is the default goal of most campaigns, and what you should assume you’re going to be doing unless told otherwise) feel really stupid. Nobody wants to show up to play Luke Skywalker and find yourself paired up with Hand Solo and Knobby Wang Kenobi.

      One of the most awkward and unpleasant RPG experiences I’ve had was when I was told about this really serious, psychological system a friend known for his serious, psychological games wanted to try out. I went wild with it and created a really intense character, and showed up blindsided by the fact the other two players had made joke PCs. As the game went on, every time I had a serious moment or reaction, their characters would riff on it. “Jeez, bro, what’s your DEAL?”

      One of the player characters was a reference/direct ripoff of something I wanted to see, and hadn’t.

      (“Please don’t spoil anything, though.”
      “Oh I am definitely going to spoil stuff.”)

      The other joke character was…uh, uncomfortable. The player could NOT have known this–this isn’t his fault at all–but the joke circumstances of his backstory just happened to exactly resemble the worst day of my life, which had happened like six months before the game started and was still very fresh. What’s worse is that we had to play out all of our backstories–I had to relive the whole critical scene from the perspective of someone inside it and make it funny. The other players weren’t really good acquaintances of mine and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to do what I really should have, which was say, “Hey, guys, I’m gonna go sit this one out for a while, I’ll be back.” As it was I ruined his scene and ended up feeling shitty and raw afterwards.

      We never met for a second session.

      There’s nothing wrong with playing a silly game with dumb names, but man, make sure everyone gets the memo. When you show up to a nice dinner wearing boxer shorts and deelie boppers, the problem isn’t that you look stupid–there’s nothing wrong with that–it’s that you make everyone else feel stupid for trying to look nice.

      • bubba0077 says:

        That said, some of the most fun I’ve had was when a few friends of mine created underpants gnomes for Living Greyhawk. Even not playing one myself, every session with one or more of the gnomes was hilarious.

      • Not nearly as traumatic, but I am reminded of the time that I ran a Planescape game for some friends and someone asked to join right at the last minute and insisted on playing a winged halfling called Tinkerbell. Given the setting was meant to be a thoughtful probe through someone’s mental state I was not thrilled, but also wasn’t in much of a position to say no because we were staying and running the game in his house. <_< I still cringe over that game.

        Still fucking LOVE Planescape, though. *snugs her precious collection of 2e source books*

      • AdamS says:

        I sympathize. I tried to run a dark, gritty street-level supers game, and my players somehow missed the memo almost entirely. One got it (and I made sure to hold his character up as an example of the tone I was looking for) but one made a character who was just “Hawkgirl, but she’s blond and thus stupid,” another went too far on the darkness angle and made an outright emotionless serial killer, and another made a sentient swarm of nanobots who had no interest in being a superhero (!!!) but was obsessed with taking over all of the city’s coffee shops. All of which would have been cool characters, but the clash in tone between the characters and the world (as well as the clash between the different characters) torpedoed the campaign after the fifth session of me miserably trying to drag people back to some kind of middle ground.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Naming characters, the worst thing ever in roleplaying!

      This is the thing that takes most time, most thoughts, research, and ends with everyone making fun of the name anyway.

      My approach: I try not to have too many characters. Seriously, it is the single most painful chore in all of tabletop RPG.

      See also: My screen name around here. I tried for ages to come up with a good alias for internet purposes, and ended up having to steal one because I hated all the other options.

  11. Hal says:

    It sounds like you play a lot of much more nuanced games centered around social interactions. I can’t say I’ve played many of those; my experience has been with action/adventure centric games like D&D.

    You can still have those detailed, interesting characters there, of course. However, there are some elements that need to be kept in mind in that kind of game dynamic, but the most important is this:

    Character details are only interesting when they interact with the game.

    This may seem counter-intuitive to the advice given above, but let me explain.

    First, you are most likely not the only player at the table. You’re probably playing with three or four other characters, and you’re most likely acting in pursuit of some quest/goal/mission/etc. There’s a good chance that the game will focus more on the things you’re doing, and although your character may still get the spotlight on occasions, talking through something overly personal (for the character) that doesn’t relate to the mission or your reasons for being there may just be distracting. It may be cliched to say, “Those orcs burned down my village,” but you may get more mileage out of it over, “That orc chieftain reminds me of my father, and I always regret not having a deeper relationship with him, especially after he died while I was so young . . . ”

    It’s also crucial that the things that make your character interesting have some manner of visibility to the other players. If it’s something entirely internal, either for the player or the character, then is it really all that interesting? If it’s not making an impact at the table, then it’s not doing what you wanted it to do. For example, a friend of mine played a character that he imagined as a “Clint Eastwood” mysterious, strong and silent type. What others would say with threats and angry words, his character would communicate through body language, hard looks, and penetrating stares. Which sounded interesting, but in practice it meant that his character said very little and often just glowered at an enemy. Was there something rich and nuanced happening? Maybe, but none of the rest of us at the table got to participate in it.

    Finally, it’s just worth pointing out that characters are much more interesting when those details are moored to the world the game takes place in, as big (or small) as that is. In the first game I ever played in, the game took place in a single city. My character came from a far away place, shaped by events nobody knew of, influenced by people no one would ever meet. That’s not impossible, but it meant that my character had very little connection to the world, making interaction with it difficult. It also meant the character didn’t really care about the world beyond generic heroic motivation.

    Again, the point of all this is to say that a character is only as interesting as it can be seen (and enjoyed) at the table. “Interesting on paper” is fine, but only you will get to enjoy it. A character that’s interesting but distracting or inappropriate to the game won’t be enjoyed, at least not by the other players.

  12. Adalore says:

    I think I managed to skip the awkward newbie character creation stage, what instead happened is that my newbie stage DM never was able to let the character exist.

    I mean my first legit DnD character was a half-elf bastard son of elven nobility that was a druid, there is so much space for STUFF there. None of it happened. At all.

    Now I throw around characters like…
    (these are all in pathfinder)
    Shale, non-human(small, a bit beastly) in a co-leadership position with his people trying to gain social traction for himself and his community. Also is obnoxiously sneaky rogue and will find out where you live if you prove to be a threat. Will throw himself at things that are actively endangering loved ones or clan members…or even just the same species. Tends to spend back into his community, most likely out of my characters to buy completely mundane shiny gifts for others.

    Kloe, Human Eldritch knight, adopted into nobility, said nobility are…were-creatures of various sorts. Very direct and will brute force problems if it’s the most resource efficient method even if she can cast 6th level spells, also hits things with a greatsword and has platemail on. Currently attempting to collect impressionable youths that got dragged into the DARK LANDS by more clearly defecting family members. Has annoying ferret familiar that talks to everyone(homebrewed lightly). Refrains from spending personal funds but when provided an external budget will spend that to its limit.

    Tristana, Half-orc Redeemer (Paladin), professionally a city guard and genuinely lawful good. She makes people feel really bad about their actions when she comes to arrest them. Unaware that she is a paladin, she is effectively a rogue paladin as far as the city state is aware and hoping that she dies on the mission they sent her on. When she returns, as overt paladin, there is most likely going to be a political civil schism. Currently just thinks she is an amazing pep-talker when she heals people with lay-on-hands. (also obnoxiously tight with money.)

    Like I am finally able to do character concepts and have them do things. Even the PALADIN that I wouldn’t even pretend to risk in my first 2e game where my druid had squat happen. I got some space to roleplay the character I make. Though I joke about the party in the case of Shale and Kloe as the rest of the party is dangerously full of anthropomorphic characters.

  13. MichaelGC says:

    In part because Fallout 4’s thrown my perspective for a loop, I’m still tinkering with some of my arguments about Skyrim[.]

    Intriguing! Will look forward to that. I don’t roleplay myself, but I do find the whole process and the various approaches and strategies very interesting, so will look forward to more RP articles from the Professor, plus of course the associated comments.

    (In general, whoever had the original idea to have Rutskarn writing regularly on Twentysided needs to be repeatedly patted on the back until it perhaps actually starts to hurt just a tad.)

  14. JAB says:

    There’s a continuum, from rules light roleplaying [maybe most extreme in a convention LARP] to pull-out-the-encyclopedia rules heavy “roleplaying.” It’s all good, although it gets messy if there’s a mismatch in what people expect.

    However, I feel fairly strongly that rules lawyers should not play rules heavy games, with non-rules lawyers.

  15. MadTinkerer says:

    “Because roleplaying games are fun and they are safe.”

    As someone who has played quite a lot of different RPGs including D&D and has had quite a lot of fun, I do want to give a cautionary warning. I have no problem with tabletop RPGs. I have no problem acting on stage with a memorized script. I have no problem playing sports in the dark. I have no problem playing certain kinds of LARP in brightly-lit rooms.

    As it turns out, however, I can’t LARP in the dark because it can trigger panic attacks. This is a completely irrational problem due to very specific trauma that I have been through that has nothing to do with anyone making me feel unsafe during the game. I actually felt worse for the people running the LARP (where I had the attack) than I did for myself because there was no prior warning or symptoms that I knew about right up until I was suddenly curled up on the floor shaking uncontrollably.

    So just be aware that in very rare cases you might encounter a new player who, due to circumstances that are not the fault of anyone there at the time, simply can’t handle some particular new thing for some completely irrational reason. You don’t need to go around telling people about trigger warnings because you will not be able to predict what will trigger people. They will likely not even be able to tell you ahead of time what might happen, because they are completely new to the hobby.

    There was one podcast I listened to where an experienced player described how she burst into uncontrollable sobbing at the plight of a fictional child during a tabletop game because it reminded her of a real person who had recently been through a similar situation in real life. Like me, she was adamant that it was very much not the GM’s fault and there really wasn’t anything anyone could have done beforehand.

    There’s something about RPGs that can play on people’s emotions. Often it’s the good kind where you’re “living the story” and everyone has a great time. Occasionally something might happen that is just too much for a player for reasons that are no one’s fault. Just bear in mind, first time GMs, that things might happen beyond your control, and that it’s not your fault.

  16. Pyradox says:

    So do you think it’s a rule of the universe that if it’s someone’s first campaign, the DM will be awful and the campaign will suck?

    That’s been true both times I’ve experienced it – my own first campaign, and someone else’s. Each time it’s been the GM wanting to run the campaign so there are probably some warning signs here I’m missing.

    The first time was a 3.5 campaign that went much like Rutskarn’s worst campaign ever, but on a smaller scale. It started out with menial chores, escalated to fights we couldn’t win, took a stop at the naked torture dungeon, and then the guy who did it to us just teleported away so we could never find him.

    The more recent incident, which is still ongoing is a Stars Without Number campaign with some of my work colleagues.

    If you aren’t familiar, Stars Without Number is what happens if an old school D&D player thought “this system is a little to fair on the players”. Stars hates you and everything you stand for, and will bog you down in bureaucracy, math, poor balance, awful design, and a slavish devotion to making your lives difficult and short.

    As usual I wanted to play a talky character, and as usual this works out in my favour only if a) I get a REALLY good roll, and b) it doesn’t carry any sort of actual consequences. In circumstances where NPCs want to make something happen, no amount of rolling will make them amenable to persuasion. This was also true of the 3.5 campaign.

    This kind of environment brings out two kinds of players. Those who will sit cowering in the corner for fear of an instakill roll, and those who abandon all hope of roleplaying a coherent character and just let the chips fall where they may. Most of our group is the latter, including myself.

    The result of such chaos however is that this means my character utterly despises our party for ruining all his careful plans, and got increasingly frustrated as failed rolls burned bridges with his allies, expended his resources, put him in unnecessary danger and repeatedly forced us to surrender without anything interesting happening.

    And I haven’t been quiet about it this time either. I’ve been doing everything I can to point out where the terrible system design is making things unfun (stopping short of criticizing the DM himself because first things first). However, said GM thinks that constant failure makes for a more interesting story, and so has been unwilling to change a thing.

    But bad roleplaying is better than no roleplaying, so I continue to throw my character into the grinder each week.

    My plan is to run some sessions of my own to show people how it’s done, but those keep getting cancelled due to lack of attendance. I suspect the GM may have something to do with that, but I’d like to hope not.

    • lucky7 says:

      I’m proud to be an apparent exception to this rule. My players and I are in our first campaign, and we’re all having an excellent time.

      • Mmmm, the first campaign I played in was fine, too. I was dating the GM, so I think the other players were worried that he might go “easy” on me as a result, but in fact he never did – and I would have chewed him out first if he had. We ended up with a really entertaining team dynamic and the campaign ran for several years before we (the players) all went separate ways.

        The first thing I ran… hmmm. Was probably my take on a detective story in ancient Rome using CoC rules (and if you just thought, “Oh! Like the Falco novels then,” you are quite correct). It kinda worked, but mostly because the players were 1) very experienced and 2) very forgiving! I would by no means hold it up as a triumph, but nor was it a crushing disaster.

    • krellen says:

      I’m not sure that’s an accurate depiction of Stars Without Number, actually. Your GM seems to be judging things too harshly. Every character will have a +1 in at least one statistic, and so a first level character trying something they’re trained in (not specialised in) will probably have a +1 to their 2d6 roll, thus making 8 the most likely outcome. Examples of things you’re supposed to be able to accomplish with an 8:

      Sprinting (not running) over a palm-wide beam.
      Fixing a computer with scavenged parts.
      Demolishing a house with carefully-placed grenades.
      Cleaning a corroded laser pistol.

      A 9 – the most likely result for a character doing something they’re specialised in – changes those to these:

      Sprinting over a tightrope.
      Fixing a computer with scavenged parts from a different world.
      Building a silicon chip factory with Tech Level 2 (19th century) equipment.
      Cleaning a corroded psitech (ancient tech that’s mostly unknown now) weapon.

      (My read of the “clean a corroded weapon”, BTW, is that’s the roll you need to make that laser pistol you found buried in the muck of the swamp you’re exploring working again.)

      SWN is a less-crapsack version of Warhammer 40k, really. There was a time when things were more advanced, but bad things happened and it all broke, but things are getting better and there aren’t dark gods trying to kill everything.

      Your problems likely have far more to do with your GM than with the system.

      • Pyradox says:

        Yeah I know our GM’s bad, but I’d still say it’s a mix of both, compounded by the fact that this was everyone else’s first time with the system. Actually, I believe only one of us (not me) had a +1 in anything at first level, because we didn’t know we were supposed to be stacking background packages and min-maxing our characters to be even basically competent. We looked at the list of like 30 stats and went “better go broad or we won’t be able to do anything at all”.

        Here’s what I mean when I say the system hates you: One session, I did some math when fighting some security guards – the chance to hit them for my first level character was only 20%, because they were wearing standard, commercially available armour available at level 1.

        If I recall correctly, they had 5AC from wearing Woven Body Armour, and my character had a -1 in projectile weapons and no dex bonus, so I needed a natural 16+ to hit.

        Foolishly, I’d wasted my background packages on stealth, talking and a bit of medical knowledge, because I believed those things would allow me to make an interesting character. I should have realised when character creation was “roll 3d6 and enjoy the results” that your character’s stats aren’t supposed to have anything to do with how you role play them, because otherwise they won’t live long enough to role play.

        If I had been double-trained in combat and using a stat I had a +1 in, for a maximum of +2 to my roll instead of -1, that’s still only a 35% chance to hit. That’s as the most combat capable Psychic or Expert character you can make at level 1. A warrior would have a whopping 40% chance to hit which is still less than a coin flip. They’re hitting twice as often as I am, but they still only hit twice every 5 rounds.

        My character also has 5HP, after we convinced the GM to allow us to get max rolls on our first hit dice. Finally, after a couple of months of playing, last session we levelled from 1 to 2. I rolled a 1 and a 2 on my brand new 2d4 hit die, and so my level 2 HP is exactly the same as it was at level 1, taking into account the fact I have a +1 con mod which is doubled at level 2.

        An average laser pistol, available at level 1, and wielded by those same guards hits for 1d6 damage. I will be instantly killed 33% of the time I get hit by a single shot.

        Unless the GM was secretly supposed to make our enemies way weaker than what starting gear would imply, this game still wants us to suck and die.

        Our party has lived this long through cowardice, surrender and my desperate attempts to use the stealth and persuasion I invested in to avoid combat altogether.

        • Aldowyn says:

          There’s a campaign running on youtube (Rollplay’s Swan Song, if you want to look into it) where one of the characters jumped headlong into an opposing ship (athletics roll, success), and proceeded to kill about five people with a knife.

          This was like the second session. I’m convinced some kind of miracle happened. (30+ sessions later, only one PC has died, although they’ve come close plenty of times)

          • Pyradox says:

            Ugh, if this game can be played in an actually fun way I’m just going to, I dunno. Arrange a hostile takeover?

            Like I’m not mad at the idea the system can be used for good, but that it isn’t and could be.

        • krellen says:

          That is one truth I will give you: combat is brutal in the system, and relies largely on hitting (and not getting hit). Maybe you should talk to your GM about giving more opportunities to avoid combat because of this (it’s a realistic conflict system, and so should allow for realistic conflict resolutions, which generally involve no one actually pulling a trigger.)

    • Doug Sundseth says:

      “But bad roleplaying is better than no roleplaying, ….”

      Your life; your decision.

      It happens that I disagree fairly vehemently, but there you go. 8-)

      Seriously, you might want to check out play-by-Skype/Hangouts options if you can’t find anything better locally. It’s not as good an experience in some ways, but the chance to play a game that’s not filled with suck is a substantial compensation.

    • Dovius says:

      As someone who’s currently running a Stars Without Number campaign, I’m legitimately wondering how your GM is running this game if some of this stuff is truly applicable.

      “Stars hates you and everything you stand for, and will bog you down in bureaucracy, math, poor balance, awful design, and a slavish devotion to making your lives difficult and short.”

      The system is, if anything, a stripped-down barebones version of 2nd Edition. The single-most complicated calculation I’ve been able to find in the core rulebook is the one determining a player’s maximum level in a skill, which is 1 + (PC Level/3, rounded down). Aside from that and the encouragement of changing rules if it provides a better experience, there’s an entire chapter detailing the author’s reasonings behind the rules and advice for changes to them depending on the party situation or the desired type of campaign.

      I’m not discounting any of your issues, because I realize how different two games can be even if run in the same system, but I do honestly think that it might be better to look towards the GM as the source of the problem than the system itself…

      “And I haven’t been quiet about it this time either. I’ve been doing everything I can to point out where the terrible system design is making things unfun (stopping short of criticizing the DM himself because first things first).”

      …In which case it’s also better to have a discussion with the GM himself regarding the campaign’s direction instead of seemingly constantly debating about the rules of the system you’ve freely chosen to game in.

      • Pyradox says:

        I didn’t mean the calculations were complex, I meant more that the math in the game is generally not in your favour.

        I have of course talked to him privately about all of these concerns, including how the game is progressing. When I speak up during a session it’s because something unfair or unfun just happened. I’m just not shouting out “this sucks and you suck for doing it!” because that would be rude.

        We have thusfar gotten our GM to change two rules.The first was allowing max rolled hit die at level 1. The second was not having to pay ludicrous amounts of cash to level up. I suspect he only went with that because all of us were telling him it was terrible at once, and even then he wouldn’t commit to it until he’d had a week to think it over.

        He has also tried his hand at house ruling: If we attempt something we aren’t trained in, we face an even higher DC than normal, on top of the -1 penalty, and may not be able to attempt some things at all if he doesn’t see it as realistic.

        You’d better believe I talked with him about that at length, but he still went for it.

  17. Zak McKracken says:

    People are going to laugh at me […]” These are rarely true, particularly if you follow my golden rule of tabletop gaming, which is: it’s almost always smarter to get your existing friends to play with you and all fumble around together than it is to put yourself in the hands of strangers.

    From experience, that sort of depends on your friends and how they play. I’ve had more than one situation where my character was being addressed as representative of the group and some of the story’s outcome depended on his reaction. I started saying something, looked around, saw the frowns, corrected myself, interrupted that halfway, thought again and finally said what I thought made the most sense. And spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out why everyone was upset with me. Me, not my character!

    Then again: I had about 6 years RPG experience at that time, most others had maybe 7 … I think the advice should be not just to play with friends but also try and gauge how serious they are about “winning” versus role-playing, versus telling interesting stories.

    … and I think there should be an acompanying article to this one explaining how to be nice to newbies.

  18. Ivellius says:

    I really like this post. I’ve sent it to someone with little tabletop RPG experience already and think almost anyone getting into the hobby could do well to read.

    I think for new players getting away from an evaluative perspective on RPG “performance” is really difficult. You want to feel like you’re playing well, but that’s not the goal with most groups. It’s more about the experience, about communication and exploration and getting to do things that are, well, fantastic. Even in a TPK, the question at the end shouldn’t be “Did I succeed at what I did?” (because that’s up to the dice) but rather “Did we enjoy the experience of playing our characters?”

    Can’t wait to see your GM version of this post. I have more things I want to say there.

    Really, though, I want to make this article my default online response whenever anyone talks about wanting to try D&D.

    • Supahewok says:

      The biggest stumbling block I’ve encountered with newbies is getting them to accept that gameplay in a P&P game is like living real life: you can try to do anything. The last couple of newbies I played with had trouble with accepting that; they thought that RPG games are Skyrim, and therefore a tabletop RPG game should be Tabletop Skyrim. And of course in Skyrim, despite the sandbox, you’re rather constrained in your actions: there’s usually only one solution to any quest, and it usually involves copious amounts of violence at some point. Getting them to move beyond that mentality was… certainly an uphill battle. Particularly when the first things those newbies would do with their newly discovered freedom was blackjack, hookers, and blow, no matter where the party might be at that moment.

  19. Del_Duio says:

    Hey man, this is cool!

    Any chance you’d want to do a review for a computer game I’ve made on Greenlight called “Just a Cleric”? It basically plays into tropes in that he’s in a party that’s too good so he’s never used. The intro story has all of them getting killed by a dragon which sets up the game from there.

    The music’s pretty out there however I think the mix of the pixel-y graphics and real instruments works well. There’s a demo available from my site with a link on the page.

    It might not be your thing, but think about it because it might just be your thing after all! At least with guys who know what a d20 or THAC0 is I might have a shot :D

    Just a Cleric on Steam Greenlight

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