“Ah! Hello there! You must be the new class of students. Welcome, welcome! I’m Bilbert Wigglepike, adventurer, playwright, and actor extraordinaire! Of course, as theatre enthusiasts, you must have seen my gripping yet hilarious comedy, The Life of Beasley? No? What about my romantic classic Gnomeo and Harriet? Rated eight thumbs up by that unlucky critic who took the Zeigfried girl’s seat! Really, no? Well, surely you caught my dear friend Elphaba’s autobiographical musical Wicked during her short time here? No?!? My goodness, you need more help than I thought!”
“I can teach you to bewitch the mind, to ensnare the senses, to pull at the very soul of all those who see you. Not through sorcery, trickery, alchemy, but through your own quirks, history, and emotional honesty."
"I warn you: it will not be easy. Crafting interesting characters is a work of intention more than of luck. It requires concentration, focus, and determination. But for those who persevere...well, generations of actors have hungered after the joy of performance, the adulation of a pleased audience. And some small degree of that unique, exquisite satisfaction...can be yours.”
“And let me say this: acting, or, as I prefer to think of it, role-playing, is Serious Business. I will not tolerate any foolishness...”
“...or tomfoolery of any kind in my Theatre!”
“...Oh, who am I kidding?”
“*Sigh* Welcome to Heroica Theatre...”
Heroica Theatre is an Out-Of-Character discussion topic, where various thoughts, ideas, and advice about portraying your character can be discussed. Along the way, Bilbert and his troupe of performers (including several familiar faces!) will illustrate some of the concepts being discussed. But don’t let that stop you: any topic related to any aspect of roleplaying is welcome at any time. And feel free to be creative; who knows? Maybe you will be the Heroica Theatre’s next great star...
Opening Night: The Roleplaying BasicsAct I. Creating an Identity: Character Story Inspiration
To sum up the acting technique of “transference” pioneered by the great actress Uta Hagen, one might say that “Acting is about finding ourselves within the character, and the character within ourselves.” Roleplaying is much the same; though the form and style may be different, it is still about taking elements of ourselves, combining them with elements we consider to be not of ourselves, and using them to create an entirely new character to display to the world. The primary difference between acting and roleplaying is, in roleplaying there is no set script, and the players together combine their talents to breathe life into the world.
Even the greatest players in the world can’t play a character that is undefined, however. There’s a reason we don’t read books about speechless, lifeless, immobile statues; it would be dull and uninteresting. A character without their own defining traits has little more life than one of those statues.
Roleplaying great Waterbrick Down once said this:
Waterbrick Down said:
If you get stuck, remember some of the basic questions: who, where, when, why, and, later on, how. Who was my character raised to be? Where was he/she born, where did he/she live before coming to Heroica? When did my character leave home and come to Eubric? Why did my character leave home and come to Eubric?
Remember, too, that great characters are defined by contrasts, the difference between who they should be and who they are; consider: the sacrilegious, irresponsible paladin with a drinking problem, the ex-bandit ogre with a noble spirit, the wacky, comedic magician marked by darkness, the 200-year-old Elf with the maturity of a teenager, the rogue with a heart of gold, the quirky chicken sidekick who’s actually a demon of darkness, the honorable orc who becomes a paladin. Real people are messy and at times inconsistent; your character should be, too.
Above all: your character should make sense to himself. All of our quirks and inconsistencies have some sort of reasoning or story behind them. You don’t have to know everything, but if you can have a few defining moments of their life set before you start playing, you’ll be in a good position to start off strong. If you can, from your character’s perspective, examine what you know about their history and find it reasonable and believable, then you’ve got a good base upon which later roleplaying can build.
Coming Soon: Crafting a Back-Story: The Present as a Key to the Past
Act II. Weaknesses and Strengths: Believability in Relatability:
Let’s be honest: a character that always succeeds, has no flaws, and never makes mistakes (or worse, who blatantly disregards their failures) is rather unlikeable. There’s an entire trope about Mary Sues and Marty Stus that cover exactly how they become unlikeable in far more detail than I can here. On the other hand, a character that tries to pour on the angst by constantly failing is no more likeable. The key is to find a good balance between the two, in order to make your character actually likeable.
In all honesty, writing a believable, relatable character is kind of like trying to plan and host a game or a Quest; the key word here is balance, making your character strong enough, within reason, to believably handle themselves in the dangerous world of Heroica, while at the same time keeping them weak enough to, well, fail once in a while, which the dice WILL cause from time to time. This is doubly important in non-dice-based situations, where poor roleplaying can make you look quite silly indeed; if you’re a brand-new Hero who’s just arrived at the Hall, and you pick a fight with an experienced Hero with an Advanced Class, you are not going to be able to knock them out in one hit, no matter how poetic your description of the event; it’s just not believable. (This brings up another common roleplaying problem, one we’ll cover more in Act III.)
Remember when we were defining the broad strokes of the character, adding depth through contradictions? That’s also a great example of balanced, relatable believability. Consider Lord Lawrence Boomingham, a mighty Paladin of Heroica. He is strong and hardy, as a Paladin he defends himself and his allies with his shield while also possessing the ability to heal them and himself when injured; a potent combination, to be sure. Bravery (bordering on impulsiveness and recklessness), combat skill and strength, and magical healing abilities are his strengths. However, he also has his weaknesses: he’s a chronic alcoholic, he’s brash, arrogant, rude, self-centered, racist, and, perhaps most tellingly for a Paladin, thoroughly irreverent. His strengths are balanced by his weaknesses, and though he may not always be likeable, he can be at times, and above all he’s always relatable.
Let’s consider another great example: Althior Emorith, Sage. Armed with plenty of great gear, a magical sidekick, an Evoker girlfriend, and every single elemental Gem in existence, at first glance he may seem unstoppable, but he’s balanced out by his weaknesses. For one thing, Finnegan is incompetent, and in-character Althior isn’t much further behind. He’s a bit impulsive, has an ego the size of Jupiter, and takes himself and his work way too seriously. Althior also exhibits a different kind of dramatic balance; he straddles the line between “serious” roleplaying and comedic relief, at times the noble, troubled magician marked by the demon Abraxas himself, at others just a goofy loon.
Character flaws are important, but this final observation is even more so: none of the best players in Heroica try to win all the time, and this is key. Good players let the dice fall as they may, and, when their character fails, they use it as an opportunity for character development. In Quest 4: Taming the Lions, De’kra the
Most importantly: don’t tell us all at once. Roleplaying requires patience; we don’t want to see the character’s whole story in an hour-long episode, we want to see it unfold over weeks, months, years.
Coming Soon: The Road Goes Ever On: Playing your character for the long haul
Act III. Characters in Conflict: Playing a Jerk Without Being a Jerk
“All right, auditions for Elphaba’s yearly revival of Wicked are open once again, which means it’s time to figure out who is going to play who. Let’s see who we have here first. Roll call! De’kra?”
“De’kra is present.”
“Harriet the Super Sleuth is here for the poultry and applesauce.”
“As is Mehmet Attabar.”
“I, Hoptet, ready.”
“And I’m here.”
“And I’m here.”
“And I am!”
“Well, I was here before all of you, so...”
“Shut up, Drake, you KNOW I was here before even you were.”
“Please, Drake everyone knows all of you were here after ME!”
“Hey, I’m here, too, you know--”
“Uh, you guys do realize that multiple personalities do not qualify you for multiple roles, right? And, contrary to popular belief, it does NOT in itself make you more interesting, so--”
“I disagree as well!”
“You and I are actually the same person, does that count?”
“No, dear, we’re here as a joke, so we don’t count; we’re not real characters.”
“NOT REAL CHARACTERS?!?!”
“My parents are dead!”
“Uh...sir, stories of familial death are rather overused as well, perhaps you should consider--”
“*sigh* Do none of you understand? Bizarre, over-the-top quirks of your personality are not what make for interesting characters! It’s conflict! Quirks define the personality, and conflict develops it! When used within reason, conflict can--”
“RAAAAAAAH! HULK HATE PUNY GOD!”
“No, no, you've got it all wrong! To use conflict, you have to--”
“That’ll teach you to run around with that no-good tramp Harriet!”
“OW! I said I was sorry! OW! Finnegan made me do it! YEOOOOOOWWW!”
“Well, at least SOMEONE'S using conflict right. Humorously, granted, but right.”
“OW! OW! OW! OW!”
“Ooh, looks like fun! Can I join in, Bilbert?”
“ No, Harriet. No you may not.”
There are three elements to every successful story: character, conflict, and creativity. We’ve already learned how to define the broad strokes of the character; now we move forward into the area that will bring your character to life: conflict.
To explain why, let’s do a quick review: We’ve figured out what makes your character unique, we’ve made sure that the character’s quirks make sense, we’ve made efforts to keep the character believable, and, importantly, we’ve learned not to rush the roleplaying, but instead to keep things in reserve and reveal them over time, when the opportunity presents itself. You now have the makings of a deep, interesting, fun charcter--congratulations! There’s only one problem: how to reveal this? Where ARE the opportunities for character revelation and development? The answer, of course, is conflict, but there’s one more thing we must observe.
Why ARE the rather annoying, overdone character aspects we saw a few moments ago so particularly prevalent? (Granted, these examples were rather over-the-top, but they are still remarkably common.) Why do new roleplayers perceive them (incorrectly) as THE go-to fixes for roleplaying*? Ironically, it’s because they instinctively recognize the importance of conflict, but fail to see opportunities for it outside of their own “bubble.”
Conflict comes in two flavors: internal and external. Internal conflict occurs when two aspects of a character’s personality come into conflict; it’s an essential part of a realistic, honest portrayal of a character, but it is NOT the place to start your development. For one thing, internal conflict as a primary motivating factor is much better suited to novels, movies, and other works involving a single protagonist. In a world defined by the interactions between characters, external conflict is far more important; as roleplaying great Zepher once put it,
External conflict, on the other hand, is not only a great opportunity for roleplaying, it’s also part of being a generous roleplayer; after all, since interaction with someone else’s character is a valuable opportunity for you, it stands to reason that it is just as valuable an opportunity for the other party. Character interactions are the heart of an open roleplaying community, and if you make an effort to help others’ characters grow, their own responses will return the favor.
A word of caution, however: pets and other “companions” are NOT sources of external conflict; it may defy logic, but interactions between any characters played BY you are considered internal conflict. To put it another way, when two (or more) of your own characters interact, no matter what happens, YOU have determined the course and end result of the interaction; unless you are a superb roleplayer, there is little risk of anything happening that you didn’t already expect. By contrast, you never know where external interactions will take you; for example, Althior and Arthur’s interactions on Quest 17 led to an apprenticeship that neither party expected. As the old saying goes, “no risk, no reward.”
So, how should you go about finding and using conflict? Here’s a hint: it’s not by walking up to another character and randomly punching them in the face, or challenging them to a drinking contest, or accusing them of burning down your home village. Such things, when planned in private with the help and consent of both players, can be dramatic and interesting both to watch and to play, but it’s seldom the place to begin. Just walk around, casually comment on the various conversations and goings-on of the time, and generally just react to things the way your character would. (Knowing to a degree what your character will do or say in a given situation is an important part of defining who they are, the “basic questions” of Act I will help again here.) Sooner or later, your character will say something another disagrees with, or they will say something your character objects to. Congratulations, you’ve just encountered external conflict!
Now what? Do you punch them in the face now? Unsurprisingly, the answer is (usually) no. Often it’s best to let the conflicts simmer, lightly disagreeing as anyone would, but for the most part acting with composure and decorum. Only once your character has endured a realistic amount of provocation should they respond in kind. How much is enough? That varies by character. A roaring Barbarian brute would likely be more likely to lose his temper in an argument than a diplomatic Knight, but what of a Knight whose dead lover was an Orcish maiden, and the boisterous Cleric at the bar is boasting of his superiority over those “worthless greenskins”? In any case, the key is to wait for the right moment. Roleplaying is, really, an endless string of compounding reactions; for the most part, you can let the world itself get the ball rolling.
One final tip: anger is not the only response to conflict; it’s simply the easiest. Using the example of the Knight with the dead Orcish lover, a new or intermediate roleplayer’s reaction might be to leap from the bar and deliver an angry tirade against the racist, self-righteous Cleric; a more seasoned veteran’s response, on the other hand, might go something like this:
Kelwyn Greycloak felt an empty burning sensation in his gut, one that had nothing to do with the spicy meal Schezerade had set before him. He looked up across the bar at the arrogant Cleric. “Judge not what thou hast not seen,” he remarked coldly. Dropping a few copper commons on the table for the--ironically Orcish--barmaid, he set out for the balcony.
Three years. Three years it had been since Kelwyn had lost her. As he reminisced about those happier days, he felt the Cleric’s eyes gaze contemptuously upon him, and he turned away, his body language declaring to all his desire for solitude.
Not only is this a more unusual and interesting response, but it also allows for a more reasonable third party--perhaps a reassuring Ranger like Skrall, or the mostly-goofy but occasionally wise Mage Althior to speak to the Knight, showing a somewhat different side to their own character and allowing Kelwyn, in turn, to reveal more about his past to them. The reaction of Kelwyn to the Cleric allows other characters to react to him, and him to them, and so on and so forth. Less obvious choices like this one are more difficult than instinctive reactions, but they also allow greater opportunities than mere arguing or fighting.
And make no mistake: good roleplaying is hard. But at the end of the day, it’s a greatly rewarding experience, and well worth the time and effort.
Unusual roleplaying choices are often linked to characters with an unusual perspective on a given situation. Players who encounter difficulties in creating such unusual perspectives are encouraged to read about De’kra the Echo (played by Tanma), Cronk the Orcish Paladin (played by CorneliusMurdock), and the devious but not necessarily evil Lady Wren (an NPC played by Zepher).
Coming Soon: Rush Hero: Exercising Patience in Roleplaying.
Act IV. Burnin' Love: Cheap chocolates and rushed role-playing
This Act has its own soundtrack here.
“When you meet the someone who was meant for you, before two can become one there’s something you must do.”
“Do you pull each other’s tails?”
“Do you feed each other seeds?”
“No! There is something sweeter everybody needs…”
“ I've been dreaming of a true love's kiss, and a prince I'm hoping comes with this, That's what brings everaftering so happy!”
“ And that's the reason we need lips so much, for lips are the only things that touch. So to spend a life of endless bliss, Just find who you love through true love's kiss!”
“ Aaaah, aaaah, aaaaaaaaaaaah!”
“Aaaaaugh! Aaaaaugh! Aaaaaaaaaaaaugh!”
“She been dreaming of true love kiss?”
“And a prince she hope comes with this; That's what bring everaftering so happy.”
“That reason she need lips so much?”
“Yes, lips are only thing that touch.”
“ So to spend a life of endless bliss, Just find who you love through true love's kiss!”
“ You're the fairest maid I've ever met, You were made...”
“ ...to finish your duet!”
“ And in years to come we'll reminisce...”
“ How we came to love,”
“ And grew and grew love,”
“ Since first we knew love through true love's kiss!!!”
“Ahem. Yes, well, done good show everyone! There’s just one problem...it’s all absolute poppycock.”
“Did someone say cock?”
Love. For some reason, it’s one of the most popular attempts at roleplaying.
“I’ll say. ”
You get out of here! Now, as I was saying, roleplaying romance is extremely common, to the point of being overused. The thing is, almost no one knows how to do it right.
Here’s the thing: there’s more to love than rushed roleplaying and cheap chocolates. Love between your character and someone else’s should flow naturally out of good roleplaying in general, it’s not a “quick fix” for a character-developing interaction. How many couples do you know of in the real world who fell into instant, everlasting love at first sight? No, Haldor and Jess and Althior and Alexis don’t count.
Now, if I had my way, no one would even try to roleplay relationships, it would just happen between characters--or not. However, since few people are willing to let such things develop, let’s go over some of the common romantic archetypes, and how to use them correctly.
First up is the ever suave ladies’ man. This character is completely uninterested in long-term relationships and focuses primarily on the physical aspect of relationships. Note that, despite the term “ladies’ man,” this archetype swings both ways; Harriet the...playwright/actress is a prime example for those seeking to fulfill this archetype. Granted, she is rather unsubtle about it, but if you’re the type to try and force a relationship for your character then subtlety is most likely not your strong suit. One final note: the dramatic arc of “woman meets a ladies’ man and slowly but surely ‘tames’ him with her love” has been done to death. Don’t do it.
Next up, we have the “dark but sexy” type, a.k.a. the “bad boy.” This character feigns indifference, which somehow just turns the ladies on. Gods help me if I know why. Expect to see a LOT of skin-tight leather, especially if the character is a woman. By definition, most of these characters will be Rogues, but others can pull it off. This, too is overused, particularly for men. More often than not, you come off looking like an Edward Cullen knock-off, so keep that in mind before you try it.
Finally, we have the desperate, failing nerd. This one is less overdone than the others, and is more forgiving as well, but take it too far and you could come off as obnoxious. This is best used as a jumping-off point for other interactions; i.e. as the final stroke of bad luck that sends the character down a darker path--as a defining character trait it gets stale fast.
Really, roleplaying love is just like the real thing; if you try to force it, it’ll fall flat. Also, like characters themselves, relationships need flaws and foibles to make them more interesting--a pair of jaded, bitter exes are far more interesting after the breakup than they were during the “honeymoon phase.” In fact, generally speaking, relationships, whether they’re still going or not, are more interesting in retrospect. The start of a relationship is slow, awkward, and honestly difficult both to go through and to watch. Characters who have been together for a while (or who used to be together in the past but aren’t anymore) have a history and background together that lend each other an added depth. This is, at its heart, the purpose of good roleplaying: to give the other characters, through your own actions, and extra dimension of depth and interaction with which to work. In the specific case of relationships, the backdrop of the romance (or the loss thereof) lets the other character reveal aspects about themself that they might not otherwise get to see. And that leads us to my final point.
Roleplaying relationships fail (in this case, “fail” means “to become uninteresting”, not necessarily “to break up”) for the same reason so many real ones do: the participants fail to realize that relationships are more about giving than getting. Relationships, when done well, are one of the single most effective ways to add depth and interest to your character. The thing is, you have little control over it; when you choose to build a relationship with another person’s character, you are putting your character’s own development in their hands, and they in yours. Those who recognize this responsibility, and who exercise it with care and discretion, are truly roleplaying greats. Despite my earlier, joking disparaging of their relationships’ origins, Haldor and Jess and Althior and Alexis are both excellent examples of this side of roleplaying; they really do bring out new aspects of each other, and open each other up to unexpected interactions that might not otherwise be possible. You all would do well to learn from their example.
"Well, that's it for Opening Night! We hope you enjoyed it. Be sure to drop by often--I...erm...we're coming up with new plays all the time, and we're always open to comments and criticisms. Enjoy your time at Heroica Theatre!"
Edited by Flipz, 27 October 2012 - 07:29 PM.