Welcome to the table!
So, you’re getting ready to start your campaign – you’ve come up with a character concept that you really like, and are looking forward to trying out at the table. But for any player, one of the most difficult parts of starting a new campaign is getting comfortable with roleplaying your new character. The real key to being confident in roleplaying your character is just being yourself and having fun – I know it sounds clichéd, just let me explain.
Writing a robust backstory for your new character is the best way to start figuring out how to roleplay them. It doesn’t have to be the next Lord of the Rings; it can just be a series of bullet points if you don’t particularly enjoy writing. But pick a starting point that feels fun, and think about your character’s parents and family situation, (however you want to interpret that, it’s a fantasy realm and can be as non-traditional as you and your dungeon master are comfortable with).
When you’re happy with this starting point, think about what formative experiences they may have had – perhaps they were crewing a ship that pulled an ancient magical sword from the depths in their nets, and in a dark dream filled with eldritch horrors the spirit inhabiting it forged a lifelong pact with you? Or maybe their ex-wife left them and they’re on a desperate quest to become the most legendary hero the realm has ever known so they can win an expensive, drawn-out custody battle? These formative experiences will also give your dungeon master extra material to work with when developing the storyline for your game, so don’t be afraid to leave gaps that can be filled in over the course of the campaign.
Do keep in mind that your table will have a tone: epic high fantasy, grim-dark horror, or just laughing at your mates’ ridiculous antics. Matching this tone is important; everyone at the table is going to suffer from the emotional whiplash if your dungeon master has to switch from Hjalmir the Dwarven Prince’s epic battle to reclaim the legendary warhammer of kings, to your “epic” quest to keep your house after a messy divorce. Again, as clichéd as it sounds, the most important thing is to have fun telling a collaborative story with your friends.
For context, in the first game I ever ran, I had a mighty dragonborn monk, wise to the secrets of the universe from years spent in exile from her brood, fighting and drinking alongside Paddleman, the 2’6” barbarian chieftain of a gnomish clan of outlanders obsessed with crushing skulls and white-water rafting. There are a lot of mixed messages in here, as navigating the niceties of your social miasma is a complex and individualistic challenge, but the general takeaway here is to make sure you get to write the kind of character that feels fun to you, while at the same time doing your best not to get in the way of your fellow players trying to do the same thing.
Once you have established a backstory that you’re comfortable with, start thinking about how that would influence them as a person. For example, if they grew up oppressed by a ruling class, perhaps they seek to help others who are kept down by elitists, or enjoy stealing from the rich just to knock them down a peg. I personally have tried taking Meyers-Briggs tests in character to think about what their priorities and values are, but if you’re more partial to star signs, or Chinese new year zodiacs, for example, you could use those to determine how your character’s backstory may have influenced their personality. Do take into consideration that the traits you have developed through your backstory will likely evolve over the course of the campaign (i.e. character development). Therefore, giving yourself room to grow can often be more fun in the long term, as opposed to trying to build a perfect character from the get-go.
After you have developed an origin story for your character, and thought about how that might affect roleplaying them once the game starts, it can be helpful to consider what their flaws might be. This will depend on the kind of game you’re participating in to a considerable degree: if you play in a war-game-style campaign then building the most combat-optimized character possible might be your end goal, but if you’ve reached this point in this article then roleplaying is presumably of some significance to you. And if you want to enjoy roleplaying, giving your character flaws will add more to that than anything else
Before you start thinking about how to handicap your new character, you may wish to consider the fact that the entire point of playing TTRPGs is to have fun, and as such the game is entirely reliant on everyone involved having a good time. If something comes up that you as a player aren’t comfortable with, then it helps to have a character who isn’t happy with it either. With respect to that, you should also try to avoid playing your character in such a way that it takes away from the fun of other players, or the DM. This links back into the importance of considering the tone of your game, and doing your best to match it in a way that still seems fun for you as a player.
Don’t get me wrong, regardless of your character choices, you always have the choice to opt out of a scene or let your DM know if you’re feeling uncomfortable, and it is always better to resolve real-life issues out-of-game. With that said, it will make things much easier (especially if you’re a newer player) if your and your character’s ideals line up. Before the start of the game is the best time for you to think about what might get in the way of you having fun; both as a player, and for this new character you’ve been developing.
TL;DR – The most important thing about roleplay in any TTRPG is to have fun playing in-situ as your character, without taking away from the enjoyment of others at the table. Certainly, maintaining some consistency is important, but ultimately no one else can tell you how to play your character. Just be supportive, and employ a “yes-and” mentality (get enthused about your fellow players trying something ridiculously stupid, and adapt to rapidly changing situations without complaining about what has already been determined by the dice). And most importantly, remember that your character will echo their creator; so if you find something funny then your character probably will too. It’s a chance to tell entertaining stories with friends, not an audition to the latest high fantasy movie, so just have fun with it!
I look forward to seeing you at our table,