Playing roles

It's a role-playing game! This is what we do - adopting the role of an imaginary character, and reacting to the situations those characters are confronted with - but we often have different styles and abilities.

Some players will act out every action of their character, speaking in their voice for the whole game session, while others will describe their character's actions in third person. Some players will look to portray characters with similar skills to their own, or vastly different. It's part of the escapism.
Me, I think that part of the fun of role-playing is exploring characters who are better, or worse than ourselves - I'm a weak, short-sighted nerdy type, but I'd prefer to play a sharp-shooter outlaw, or an axe-wielding mercenary. I agree, though: now and then, it's fun to play an heroic exaggeration of oneself.

Different styles

Some players are good at in-character dialogue - they will slip into the persona and speak as though they were acting in an improvised play. In grammar, that's called direct speech. Other players don't enjoy that so much, and prefer to refer to their character's speech in the third person: they'll say "Grog the Barbarian says he doesn't want to do that," rather than speaking as though they were Grog: "Grog not want to." That's called reported speech.
Of course, both these styles are valid. We're playing a game - we're really more interested in having fun, rather than pushing people's comfort zones.
Reported speech even allows you to add descriptors, rather than trying to pull off the acting for your self. "Grog the Barbarian bares his teeth and growls that he doesn't want to do that."
It also lets you put some distance between you the player and the situation your character is in, which can be useful if you're having an in-character argument, or - maybe more uncomfortable - seduction.

Social skills

Some gamers advocate doing away with social skills in games, but I don't like that approach, as I think it's unfair. Specifically, it causes problems when you have charismatic players playing uncharismatic characters, and vice versa.
For example, imagine a very forthright and centre-of-attention kind of guy playing a character who is supposed to be significantly below average in the charisma stakes. He makes no allowances for it, in game, and just plays with his own level of social ability.
Conversely, consider a player who is rather socially awkward and lacking in empathy, playing a character who is meant to be suave, cool and a ladies' man. He tries to role-play those traits - but we really have to rely on the dice results to see how cool and seductive his character is being.

To counter these examples, I felt I needed to come up with a couple of house rules:

Resolve social skill checks before role-playing
  • Where game rules include a mechanic for social skills, get players to make their dice rolls for social interactions before role-playing the outcome
  • It can be just as fun to role-play bad results, as it is to be successful
Discuss the player's social intent, then roll
  • Get the player to describe what they're trying to do, including any specific topics they want to include
  • Modify the skill check to account for good and bad points
  • This method works well with players who aren't Machiavellian masters of manipulation, but want to play such characters
Combining the two ideas above lets you get the best of both: you can adjust the difficulty of the check based on the input from the player, and then role-play the results.

Rewarding the quiet ones

Many RPGs explicitly tell you to reward good role-playing, with in-game bonuses, extra improvement points, and even treasure. I generally like this sort of thing in principle, but it can be easy to overlook players and characters who are equally contributing to the enjoyment of the game.

Off-line role-playing - by which I mean submitting in-character write ups of game sessions, drawing elaborate maps from explored regions, anything of that sort that shows deep engagement with the game - is a source of great joy to me. I find it really exciting when someone has taken time outside the game to do their write up, or make props, or whatever.
This sort of off-line role-playing should be rewarded! That's especially important if the player is shy of role-playing at the table - watch out for this sort of player. They're the ones who don't speak up much, or avoid talking in-character, but still seems to be enjoying themselves, and aren't goofing around. Remember to allow their off-line outlet to count as much as other players' exemplary role-playing at the table.

Lots of actors relish the chance of playing a flamboyant character, an insane persona, a disabled character, a vile villain - all because they get to flex those acting muscles. Look at me, I'm acting! Notice how a great many Best Actor awards go to such intense performances?
Sometimes, though, a character's nature won't allow for much overt role-playing at the table - a silent loner, or a shy youngster - it's not appropriate for these to command much attention during the social parts of the game story.
Watch out for these characters - don't let yourself get too dazzled by overt displays of role-playing from flamboyant characters to the extent that you over look these more subtle types.

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