As everyone comes into a roleplaying group with different expectations I wanted to lay out what I see as a standard style of play within my campaigns: a balance between roleplaying (acting in-character) and tactical action. Roleplaying entails not having the character respond according to game stats and game advantage but according to how the character would react based on that character’s perspective, beliefs, and experiences… this could be in both combat and non-combat situations. Within combat, another element that enhances immersion is the use of descriptives to enhance the overall feel and sense of what is going on.
In-Character vs Out-of-Character
One absolute that I hold players too, is that the player will have their character take any given action according to knowledge that only the character would have. For example, a character would not have meta or setting knowledge privy to the GM through fluff or GM only content and thus would not take appropriate actions. Likewise, a character would not necessarilfy know the stats of an opponent and react accordingly unless that character has battled that opponent before or had done such in the past. In the latter situation a lore test could be called by the GM to see if the character actually knew the relevant information.
Along a similar line, I do not want players looking up opponent stats or item knowledge that the character would not know mid-game or even out-of-game as I see it as adverse to the immersion for the group as a whole. This goes back to the what would the character know vs what the player knows or in-world knowledge (character knowledge) vs. meta-knowledge (player knowledge).
Part of roleplaying is the mystery and unknown. Having meta-game knowledge of non-character knowledge can and does break the suspension of reality. Also if the GM changes things around (which I do often to keep opponents fresh vs “oh no more tyranids”) players are not going to get concerned that the GM is “cheating”.
If a player questions what he does or does not know, a simple lore check can be used to resolve the matter.
Note, given we are acting within the confines of a game system. There will be times players are talking in terms of what their character can and cannot do in terms of characteristics, advances, equipment, etc. in a given situation but the discussion should be around those terms.
Two types of actions a player has a character take fit into the category of in-character actions: Roleplaying and Flavor Descriptions. In-character actions, including roleplaying and flavor descriptions, should be fitting for the character and setting.
Roleplaying comes in many flavors. I let players act to their comfort level. Though I do prefer players that get into character and act (even against the players better judgement) according to that character’s personality, beliefs, and emotions. A couple of examples:
- A Space Wolf may prefer to feel the breeze on his face vs. the stale, recycled air of his power suit and thus eschews his helmet except in the most dire of circumstances.
- Another character may be headstrong and quick to jump into a fight. This leads the character rushing into combat without waiting to see what his team is going to do or to hear what his squad leader has planned.
- Another character seeking glory may ignore the team’s objectives or squad leader orders to take on the most powerful opponent in order to gain greater personal glory.
In short, roleplaying involves taking actions that fit how the character would act but not how the player would act.
Roleplaying is rewarded with bonus XP; especially when done in first person. Truly heroic roleplaying may be rewarded by additional means such as renown or awards and decorations (if such would apply).
Flavor descriptions are how a player describes how his character acts in a specific situation adds to the overall atmosphere. Consistently done, it can be quite entertaining and enhance the atmosphere for all involved. Examples are:
- [Brother Skold]: “I howl at the top of my lungs like a wolf baying at the moon as I wave my psychic powered sword of iron metal and charge the slavering Tyranid horde.”
- [Brother Gregor]: "I draw my claymore, stand upon the stone, and call out to the men of the Imperium to stand their ground before the onslaught of heretics and rebels for the Emperor is watching their deeds to judge them in the afterlife.
- [Brother Zydan]: “With efficiency and coldness of a machine I stalk into the hail of las fire and begin to lay down my own hail of return fire to drive the rebels behind cover.”
While these can be done in third person, they are most effective in first person. This dovetails into Point of View.
Character Point of View\Viewpoint
An important element that helps immersion is point of view.
When a player acts, speaks, or describes his characters actions, this should be done in first person. A first person makes the roleplaying more immersive for not only the player but for the entire group; especially if done consistently. A third person view makes the character more of a game piece on the board, while a first person view makes it more personal to the player.
Character Point of View can sometimes be discomforting but in 30+ years of GMing the players who have always gotten more out of my games, were the ones who acted, spoke, and described their character’s actions in first person.
Typical point of view character descriptions do not refer to the character’s name (unless giving a speech) but involve the use of “I”, “my”, “mine”, etc. in the description. When roleplaying, first person speech is given as if the character is talking. Instead of saying “Brother Skold tells the PDF to stand their ground” say “You PDF. In the name of the Emperor, stand your ground.” Dont worry I dont think anyone will confuse you the player vs. the character in what you say.
If there is the chance that the other players and\or GM may confuse you the players questions with that of the character, state ‘Out of character, I have a question on…’.
A Final Comment
Like I said in the beginning I do not require players to roleplay. It boils down to comfort level. Though I have seen players have a far more enjoyable time when they roleplayed vs. when they didnt. I have had players who joined my campaigns who didnt roleplay at all (but instaed just ‘roll played’) and when they began to truly roleplay, they couldnt stop.
My campaigns are built around characters, their beliefs, their habits, and their personalities. It can be a very personal experience if a player desires it to be so. A player will gain far more from the campaign if they roleplay vs. just treat the game as an exercise in game mechanics.
And my final comment, I do reward roleplaying: acting in character, flavor descriptions, and acting within point of view.