One couple, two perspectives, tons of geekery

Monday, September 13, 2010

Role Playing Your Way Out of a Paper Bag

There are a lot of parallels between acting and role-playing. Some people focus more on it than others, but we feel that everyone wants to portray their character well. With all the similarities, we can take a lot of lessons from acting. For some readers maybe you are in an acting program and know this stuff, but if you are new to the hobby, or maybe just haven’t taken actual courses you might still be looking for a good tip or two.

Here are the 3 best, and some of the simplest tips we have gotten from acting friends. These simple steps can help you get straight into character and help scenes flow so that everyone can feel like Academy Award winners.

1) Know where you are coming from and where you are going. This is such a helpful tactic to get into character. Before you start a scene, decide where you are coming from and where your character is going after the scene. You could be coming from the bathroom, your car, or just have fed off of some poor victim. This gives you a general idea of the mood you’ll be in. Did you just leave your loving wife, storm out of the house from your oppressive parents, or were sent out of your haven by an elder vampire. But you’ll be surprised at the how well this mental activity grounds you. And can help carry you into a scene. We have found it a good exercise particularly if your distracted or not in the mood to play your character. Also know where you are going. After this are you going to a restaurant, or to meet up with a date, or to a werewolf caern? This can really help you pace the scene you’re in. Are you in a rush to leave? Do you want to avoid where you are going? Who or what is important enough to stop you from leaving? The great thing is you don’t even have to think about the consequences of your choice, it will just flow in the scene as long as you have a clear idea of where you came from and where you’re going. Two simple decisions that help a scene so much.

2) Don’t say No. This is an improvisational acting rule, and seeing as that is largely what we are doing it’s an important one. What this means is try not to contradict other players - riff off of what they or the Story Teller/Game Master staff describe to you. For example: Your character gets shot for a lot of damage. The medical person comes up and heals most of it and says “It’s not as bad as it looks” to justify the medical skill. Don’t then go and say “What? It went right through my shoulder! Can’t you tell a grievous wound?” Now you have undercut the other players’ skills, are pushing the barriers of disbelief because now we all have to think of another reason a first aid kit and 3 seconds fixed a gunshot, and are retroactively describing a vague event making the other person look ‘wrong’. None of those things are fun for people and make it harder for the scene to flow. Whenever possible always try to be moving forward and not trying to be explaining things that already happened, that’s what we mean when we say “Don’t say no”. You’ll find the scenes will flow better and feel more natural, and more importantly the other players will feel it, and think you are a great actor/role-player.

3) Have a voice for the character. You don’t need to be good at accents, or impersonations. You don’t need to change the sound of your voice in anyway (though you certainly can if you like). Just adopt different vocabulary and mannerisms. If it’s your first time just copy someone, if you’re a veteran you can pick and chose all the traits you need from experience or your own head. Pick an actor, TV character or a friend and just try to talk like them. Make sure it’s someone you know well, or watch a lot. Just try and use the types of words they use and speak at the rate they speak. Are they always excited, are they normally very patient, do they use 8 words when 3 would do? Just try to pick someone a bit different than you (and your other characters if you are playing more than one, or NPCing or such) Try to have a few vocabulary word they fall back on to express things, like exclamations, insults or pet names. Just think about the words you use a lot, and when you use them. Then think of different words or phrases and use them in the same place. Little changes like that can help define a character so well. You’ll be amazed when you finally break character and everyone realizes it without you having to hold up your hand with your OOC finger gang sign. Now if you want to get into accents and vocal distortions and all that by all means go for it, it all helps, but don’t feel like you’re a bad role-player because you can’t do them well, because by the end of the day they are not needed. What is needed is to just have a separate way of speaking for that character that you can settle into. Eventually you’ll find it comes naturally when you’re in character, and your friends will think you deserve an Oscar.

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