Adventures in Role-Playing: Becoming your Character by Chalybsanimus

Originally posted 2016-04-03 12:00:09.

Mary Sue – originally a term meant to indicate a self-insertion character; a character that embodies the author’s ideal self-expression.

I started this article with the above definition intentionally because I am going to destroy it.  

One of the things we talk about in roleplaying games is the idea of immersion; that is, the ability to subsume yourself into the persona of your character and temporarily become them, just like how an actor becomes the role they are portraying.  It’s usually the sign of a person extremely dedicated to actually playing as the character, instead of just playing the character.  This is not meant to be elitist, but a sign of a different style of play.

The reason I hate this term is because it attempts to denote that all the author wants to do is be the character they are writing, and yet, we are told, as writers, to make characters that our readers can identify with, and in a way, take the place of in the story.  As roleplayers, we’re all amateur writers.  We create characters that we should be able to easily play while still fulfilling a role in the game.  The only reader we are worried about is ourselves.

The other thing writers are told to do is “write what you know.”  Now some take this to mean only what you know, but it also refers to doing research, and going out and learning more.  But then again, what do we know better than ourselves?  And so our characters are a combination of what we want to know, and what we know of ourselves.  Don’t believe me?  Look at your characters closely, and how they act and react.  How they think.  What they tend to do.  I am more than willing to bet that you will find little bits and pieces that remind you of yourself.

Kind of scary?  It shouldn’t be.  If the character was completely foreign to ourselves, we wouldn’t be able to relate to them and portray them well.

Now, what can you do to really get into character?  There are a great number of ways.  First of all is learning deep down secrets of your character.  One of my favorites is the Character Questionnaire.  These, sometimes lengthy, questionnaires help you think about your character, and their motivations and history, helping you create and discover deeper parts of your character.  Some of my favorites are found at The Mother of All Character Questionnaires,  20 Questions for Deep Character Creation, and 27 Questions to Ask Your New Character.  These each have strengths and weaknesses, but more than anything they draw you deeper into your character, prompting you to really think about not just what your character does, but how and why he or she does it.

And understand, the genre of the game matters very little to these questions.  So you’re not playing a character that has any supernatural traits to them?  Modify the question just a little apply.  Talk about a specific weapon technique your character knows, or a particular set of skills that separate you as an individual.  Don’t know about your family in character?  Maybe you’re an orphan?  Fill in the family questions with dreams of what you characters hopes are his family.

Another technique is journaling.  Some of the people here have played in enough of my games to know that in long-running campaigns I will award bonus experience for keeping an online-style blog journal written from the point of view of your character.  This gives you a creative outlet for what may be going through your mind at the table, and even better, gives you a chance to explore your character’s psyche deeper, discovering what they are really thinking as things occur in the game.  And it’s going to help your GM immensely.  The little things that crop up in those journals will give your GM fodder to customize the game for your character, drawing you deeper into the narrative.

And that’s really the goal of immersive gaming: submersing yourself in the narrative being created by you, your friends as the other characters, and your gamemaster.   You have to get inside of the head of the character you have created and, in a way, become that character for the few hours you get to play.  You don’t necessarily have to start speaking in first person, or affecting things like accents and idiosyncrasies of speech.  But you do have to know your character very intimately.

But you also have a responsibility here as well: you cannot play the same character over and over again.  You have to tweak each character as a chance to play something new, something just a touch revolutionary for yourself.  Embrace a different characteristic of yourself as the core of the character.  Take the time to make something intriguing for others, and that they can interact with meaningfully.  Note I did not say “get along with.”  You don’t have to make a simpering character that just goes along with everything meekly, necessarily, but you should keep in mind that you are supposed to be functioning as part of a whole.

And reach out, as I said earlier, past your comfort zone.  It doesn’t have to be drastic.  You don’t have to Crossplay (that is, playing a different gender than you already are), or try to deny every characteristic you have.  I have seen people try do that, and far more often than not, they end up hating the character and hating their game time.  But you should change some things up.  Always play dwarves?  Try playing an elf or a Halfling.  Really in love with your melee warriors?  Trade yours in for an archer, or a spellcaster.  Can’t get enough of the cerebral bookworms?  Switch it up by playing a sneak thief for once.  

In the end, you will find that as you expand your repertoire of knowledge by stretching your roleplaying legs, it is easier for you to get into your characters and make revolutionary, for you, characters that are fun to play, and fun for others to interact with.