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Being a Good Role-Player

posted Sep 18, 2013, 5:44 PM by Christopher Ellison

Getting my wife to play any kind of paper-and-dice roleplaying game is an uphill battle.  It’s not that she isn’t into them; she always enjoys it when we do play.  Her biggest issue when it comes to RPGs is fear.  She’s afraid that she’s “not good” at playing, and she often lets that keep her out of games.

Now, I won’t say that there’s no way to be bad at playing an RPG.  I used to think that, but over the years, I’ve changed my mind.  Munchkining, rules-lawyering, and general narcissism all can ruin games, and I consider extreme consistent examples of those behaviors to be “being bad at role-playing.”  My wife, though, doesn’t really exhibit any of those game-wrecking behaviors.  She really gets into character, comes up with new and interesting character quirks, and generally works well with the other players.  She has, however, decided that there is something more to being “good” at role-playing than just playing the role.

As a result of her concerns, I started thinking about what does make for a “good” role-player.  I always thought it was a pretty simple equation, but to begin to speak intelligently about it, I started to break it down into these key points.

  1. Pay attention to what’s going on.  Remember where you are in the scene and what’s happened.  The GM should help with maps, sketches, or even just flowery and descriptive language, but as a player, it’s still your job to just pay attention.

  2. Pay attention to who you are.  Remember that you’re playing a character.  At first, that character will be somewhat ill-defined, but that’ll change the more you play him or her.  When something strikes you about your character, write it down.  Remember it.  Play it up later.  Build on it.  In time, you’ll be amazed how into character you can get if you try.

  3. Share.  Remember who the other characters are and give them opportunities to shine.  Don’t worry about doing the coolest thing of the session or being the baddest ass.  This doesn’t mean your character and the other characters have to get along; far from it.  Intra-party conflict can be a lot of fun.  What it does mean is that you should look out for opportunities for those other characters to shine in some way, and when those opportunities arise, help them shine.  They’ll do the same for you.

  4. Don’t worry about the rules.  This is the GM’s job.  You just need to know about your character’s talents, basic skills, and penchants so that you can keep in mind what your character is likely to do.  It’s the GM’s job to explain the scene to you; it’s your job to react like your character would.  The GM will deal with what rolls, checks, or whatever are necessary for your to succeed.  This is where my wife’s worries come in; she always worries that she's forgetting some important skill, feat, or ability.  The thing is, though, she doesn't have as much experience with RPGs, so part of the GM's job is to remind her of relevant skills and abilities.  Her job is just to be her character, and that's something she's very good at.  Everyone flubs rules from time to time; no one really cares.  What people care about are those amazing moments that can happen when each person at the table is really into his or her character.

  5. Most importantly, have fun.  It is a game, after all.

If, at its most basic level, this sounds a lot like the start of a “how to be a good improviser” list, I think that makes a lot of sense.  After all, what are RPGs if not a sort of long-form improv game with no audience?  It wasn’t until relatively recently that I connected the two in my mind, though.  I’m hoping that by writing this down I can convince my wife that she’s a better gamer than she thinks she is.  Maybe then she'll be able to let go, have more fun, and let gaming be a little less of a chore.