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Gaming Tips - Getting into the story

Copyright Eric Brad ©2002

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

Whether you've been playing role-playing games (RPGs) for years or whether you are relatively new to the hobby, it should be obvious that the Gamemaster (GM) comes to every session with an adventure, scenario, or mission all cooked up and ready for your enjoyment. What may not be so obvious is that YOU, as players, have a lot to do with the flavor, structure, and content of those adventures.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a GM is making sure your players have a good time at every gaming session. Players seem to enjoy sessions when they are interesting and engaging for them and their characters. The best way to ensure that your players enjoy game sessions is to create adventures that help them develop their characters into more interesting and complex personas. Adventures that help characters grow and achieve their personal goals will be the most engaging and most interesting for the players.

One way to engage players early in a campaign is to have players develop detailed character backgrounds that can be used as source material for the GM to create interesting adventures. But as the sessions and adventures progress, a good GM will watch to see what motivates the characters in the game by watching them play. What relationships do they begin to form? What about the world attracts their attention? What kind of allies and enemies are they making? In some campaigns, the characters are swept along in a series of pre-destined events provided by the GM and all that is left is for the characters to deal with what comes at them. Other campaigns are very loose at first with seemingly random adventures and stories until the GM can hook into what the characters are all about, and only then do the adventures take on a richness and vividness as the characters become personally involved.

As a player, getting into the 'role-playing' aspect of the game can be a lot of fun and can also help the GM bring in more interesting story lines and adventures. As you role-play your character's personality (their likes, dislikes, quirks, interests, morality, etc.) you also give the GM things to work with in developing new adventures and plots. In my experience as a GM, the adventures that are suggested by the players and their characters' actions have been among the most fun and the most satisfying.

An example of this is a game in which the Magician of a group was mugged in an alley in one of the larger cities and had an amulet stolen. The player ran his Magician as good-natured and helpful. In fact, he had saved the party's bacon on more than one occasion with a well-timed spell or just being willing to talk with NPCs when others were reluctant. So the group decided to take on the Thieves' Guild in order to retrieve the amulet, which was a family heirloom and had no magical properties! For several sessions the players worked diligently to outwit the local Thieves' Guild in order to eventually retrieve the amulet for their Magician. The player who ran the Magician was pretty flattered by the loyalty of his friends and everyone had a great time in what was a character inspired set of 3 adventures.

You can take any opportunity to role-play during a gaming session. One of the easiest ways to get more out of role-playing in your game is to try to stay in First Person literary voice as much as possible and avoid Third Person voice. Instead of saying "my character goes up to a city guard and asks directions to the keep" you could say "I walk up to the city guard and say 'excuse me, good sir, do you perhaps know the best route to the Baron's Keep?'" In response to the first statement, the GM would likely say, "he tells you where the keep is." In response to the second, the GM may say "the guard looks you up and down and says 'Good evening m'lady. What brings you out on so cold a night as this? The Baron's Keep is out near the swamp but it is dangerous, perhaps I could assign an escort for you?'"

The same goes for interacting with other players. Instead of saying, "what's your riding skill?" you could say "it's time we got some mounts for the next part of the journey, can you handle a horse?"
You see the difference.

One of the best parts of "role" playing is that you get to play a character may be very different from who you are. You get to act and react in ways that are very different from how you might handle something. Your character should have a personality and interests and quirks, why not express them? Here are some suggestions to bring out more of your character's personality during the game.

  • Talk to Non-Player Characters. Often GMs use NPCs to provide details of an adventure or background information through a conversation in a bar or on the street. Be sure to chat with city guards, bar tenders, fellow travelers on the road etc. You never know what you might find out.
  • Seek things out. Characters can always ask for information about virtually anything. You might be interested where the best horses in town are or what inns to stay at or "what the deal is with this Ogmar the Flatulent" they've heard so much about. It is always much more interesting to find these things out "in-character" than just asking the GM to tell you.
  • Ask about the world. Your character is living in a world full of helpful (and not so helpful) people. Why not ask about things that could improve your characters abilities? The local Herbalist can tell you what the most abundant healing herbs in an area are and what they are likely to cost you. A good soldier or weapon smith could tell you a lot about the efficiency of various weapons. An armorer can counsel you on finding an armor that would offer you good protection and not be too encumbering. And questions about etiquette and social customs could offer you a chance to use some of those Influence skills you've been learning!
  • Don't overlook the trivial. Your character has interests. Some of these might not have anything to do with weapons or spells or anything that will make you more invincible in combat. Go to the market place and look for that fine silk, take the time to gather good wood for the arrows you make in your spare time, join the Leather Worker's Guild so you can buy and sell quality leather goods. These are all things that add dimension to your character.
  • Talk to each other. You've taken the time to develop these really interesting characters. Why not use each other as ways to further develop them by interacting "in-character". And, oh yes, a GM will frequently give one of the characters specific information about an adventure or the world. It's much more fun when the High Human Cleric asks the Fair Elf Ranger a question rather than Player A asking Player B.

Another aspect of being in First Person with your character is that you may be able to get information about game mechanics that you, as a player, couldn't ask your GM. An example might be a conversation in a pub between a party of new adventurers and a couple of retired former adventurers. In regaling the "youngsters" with tales of their exploits, the old timers might happen to mention that they lost two companions in a battle with undead zombies because their companions did not have enchanted weapons. Now the players have learned that they will need enchanted weapons to damage zombies, something a player could never ask a GM directly! Your conversations with NPCs may reveal a wealth of information not only about the world, but about how some of the rules of your game may apply!

So you see that getting in there and really role-playing that character in first person can yield lots of benefits. First it will help you combine the best elements of a great game with a great novel that you and your fellow gamers are writing chapter-by-chapter, session-by-session. You will likely end up with a more vivid picture of the world and its inhabitants, not to mention a more personal involvement with the adventures. You will get to explore your character's interests and abilities as they develop over the course of the campaign. And perhaps the most interesting benefit of all, the GM will begin to provide even more interesting adventures that personally involve your characters and their ambitions!

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