I’ll be as upfront as possible: I get really shy and self-conscious about my “performance” whenever I try my hand at actual honest-to-goodness role-playing. A few months ago a friend was visiting from out of town, and I had been invited to participate in a casual Thursday night gaming session for a one-shot. The whole time I was driving up to the game, I was trying to think of interesting role-playing ideas. It wasn’t going well.
It turned out to be that we were playing a sequel to the Princess Bride using the “Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies” system (a review of the system, this post is not). Everyone at the table was a fantastic role-player; I’d personally seen them all knock socks off with their gaming skillz. And then there was me, the chump who just tags along for the ride. Lucky them. Let’s just say, I felt a little intimidated.
I was playing the part of Westley. Though I have not seen the movie in quite sometime, I have a strange super power that allows me to retain movie lines like nobody’s business and then endlessly annoy anyone I’m talking to by randomly inserting them into conversation. From the moment the game started I knew I was in trouble with capital T. Within two minutes of the game’s opening, the visiting friend did one of the best impressions of Inigo Montoya I’ve ever seen. He was saying something awesome in a sweet accent, and he was saying it to me. My mind went blank and I panicked.
Right then, at that exact moment, I knew this shit was for real.
These people had no qualms about embarrassment; they were jumping head-first into their respective roles. They were funny, creative, and intelligent folks. I am none of these things. So what did I do? I stole—rather obtrusively—from the movie-version of my character. I was lucky enough to fall back on the one thing I knew: movies and television.
It is entirely possible that I’m, like, 30 years coming late to this party, but this is the “seriously-only-way-I-know-that-will-consistently-come-up-with-interesting-and-different-stuff” trick to making a character concept. If you’re an actor, or a hardcore role-player, this advice isn’t for you. This is for people like me that, when faced with an undefined character concept, cannot come up with anything good.
So what should one do in such a situation (on the shores of the Serpentine Sea)? Steal it.
Yeah, it’s cool. Don’t just dabble and only steal a few lines, take the character wholesale, change the name or a few other details, and just be him or her. If you are embarrassed and think other people around the table will judge you for it, that’s crap. They’re totally stealing stuff too.
In my experience, it is really important to steal from what you know. In my case, that happens to be movies and television. If you’re an avid reader and love characters from books or comics, go that route instead. Regardless of where your larcenous desires are directed, the same concepts apply. If you’re at a table (either in your home game or at a convention) where everyone else seems to be spouting off sweet one-liners and thinking of awesome stuff to do “in character,” it makes perfect sense to ninja a character someone else has made.
In my case, I was lucky that I got one of the characters that were actually in the movie. Had I been charged with portraying one of the other characters, I would have been in troubled seas; like, ‘Pirates of Dark Water’ bad. Why, you ask? Because it is one of the only ways I can step back from thinking “what would *I* do?”, and instead start to think “what would Westley do?” Still, this approach works well even if you aren’t actually playing a character from a movie. Frankly, it just makes sense to do it. When we play games, we’re always thinking “How would that look in a movie?” Deep down, I think people want to see iconic characters around the table. Though they may give you grief for playing a dwarf that is remarkably like Gimli, those players should be thanking you. Who WOULDN’T want a Gimli in their party?
Finally, asking that key question about your newly re-named icon, it always helps to pick a few things—an accent, a couple of sayings or lines, or even a signature ‘move’—and just ‘role with it.’
Next time, on “Role like the Pros,” I will describe the best method I know for role-playing villains! See you next time!