Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Article: Don't Be the NPC

There are many aspects to a tabletop role-playing game that sets it apart from other types of games. The type of dice, the fantasy setting, the story-telling, the fact that you’re forced to physically interact with real people rather than sit behind a gaming console while eating Cheetos in your underwear. But perhaps the most obvious and often overlooked aspect that sets things apart is the actual “role-playing” element.

The best adventures always seem to happen when players surrender to the story and really become their character. It’s not easy to do, but the payoff can really be something memorable. Seriously, how many games of Battleship, Operation, Blackjack, or even Call of Duty do you actually remember? To surrender to the story in a role-playing game opens the possibility of true magic happening as that story comes to life. But the burden falls on you, the player.

To succeed, you need to be able to let loose of your rationale mind, as well as your emotional connection to the character you’ve created. It isn't so much playing a character as becoming that character, at least for a short period of time. It doesn't matter if you're a brawny warrior, rogue magician, or bundalin thief--you've got to be willing to slip into that headspace and see where it takes you...as well as the game itself.

Here are a few tips to help you immerse a little more naturally into the game:

1) Know your stuff. Be familiar with the character’s personal attributes, skills, and abilities. Don’t be “that guy” who’s surprised when one of the other players points out your 80% ability to disarm a trap five minutes after watching a companion get impaled by poisonous darts.

2) Create a back story. Even if the details of your story don’t come out in an adventure, knowing where your character comes from, the details of their life, and why they’re out there adventuring helps shape that character in your mind. These details will help you, the player, determine certain actions, decisions, and even interactions.

3) Don’t metagame. One of the worst sins of role-playing is to make decisions based on “player knowledge” rather than “character knowledge.” Naturally one of the fun aspects of gaming is the opportunity to talk about your adventures with friends, and in the case of Laughing Moon, to see if, and how, those adventures link up at all. However, to use information gleaned from one of those conversations in your next session just isn’t cool. Furthermore, just because the dungeon maze is set up in front of you, and quite clearly you can see the seething pit of despair behind Door #2, remember that all your characters sees is the door. Play it out. Make decisions based solely on what your character actually knows, and let the dice roll.

4) Play fearlessly. That’s right, don’t tiptoe around situations that your character would dive into. I know you spent an hour rolling up your sneaky dwarven cutpurse, and I know you’ve scraped through a dozen adventures and acquired a collection of interesting loot, magical weapons, and a pile of gold coins taken from the still-warm bodies of your victims. But if you aren’t willing to put your character in danger—to really play that character to the hilt—then what’s the point? You’ve got to put it all out there, and be willing to lose all that you’ve gained. Go big or go home, right? If your character isn’t the smartest person in the party, then you probably shouldn’t be the one offering up the battle plan, or the step-by-step jail break. Play your character, not the clingy fear-riddled player with a strange over-emotional investment in a fictional character.

The four points mentioned here may seem obvious to some, but even the veteran gamers are guilty of falling out of character from time to time. You want to be an active part of the game...NPCs (non-player characters) are for your Game Master to manage. So get into your character, think through their background, motivation, and skills, and see what surprises come out of it. The trick is to give yourself the freedom to immerse in your character, trust in the story, and just let yourself escape for a time.

You'll find its quite adventure.


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