This is an article on how to help players get into character. It was editted from contributions by Al Petterson <firstname.lastname@example.org>, with commentary and additions by Sarah Kahn. Sarah's comments are in italics. There are three caveats to all this advice:
SK: It's time-consuming, but well worth the effort. Jumping straight into a character is *hard,* even for the best role-players, and this approach allows people more time to get comfortable with their character before they are called upon to perform in front of a larger group. Role-playing in front of a group can be pretty daunting sometimes, particularly when you aren't quite comfortable with the character yet. One-on-one prologues can help to reduce the self-consciousness factor.
SK: Just a brief caveat that, although well-intended, this approach can get a bit cloying if you aren't careful with it. Maybe it's just me, but I react fairly negatively to questions like: "How does this make you FEEL?" It has a...new-agey psychotherapeutic sort of tone that happens to rub me the wrong way. YMMV, of course, but I just thought I'd mention it, if only to offer a possible explanation for the cause if you DO try this one and notice one of the players cringing in horror.
AP: A great question to ask is: "What is important to you?" Keep asking variations on this question until you can figure out... oh, let's say three scenario hooks that threaten, or offer, things important to this character.
SK: The one-on-one prologue is, IMO, really the best place for this. Once the actual game has started, this question usually seems rather out-of-place. And besides, if you're looking for plot hooks, you need to get an answer to this one before the game starts anyway.
SK: I'd also like add a somewhat subversive addendum to it. Once the player *does* seem to be getting into the character's internal life, try suggesting an emotion that you believe to be simply WRONG. If the response to "you're starting to feel pretty nervous about this..." is "I am NOT! I'm so deeply in denial that I haven't even BEGUN to contemplate the ramifications of the situation yet. I've been busy thinking about..." then you know that you've done your job well. And a gratifying meta-game moment it is, too.
For some people, the second person is more conducive to
role-playing, while the use of the character's name is a little
For others, such as myself, a very self-conscious THIRD person stance (referring to the character by name, for example) is far more conducive, while the use of the second person is a little bit disruptive.
Figure out which camp the player falls into, and then USE it.
I have never met ANYONE, however, for whom "your character" is a very helpful term. There's always a first, of course, but until you meet one, I'd also suggest avoiding using those words.
This can be a little intimidating, particularly for shy
players attempting to portray smooth-tongued characters.
I was rather fond of someone else's (Magnus'?) suggestion of meeting the players half-way on this one. Reassurance that yes, you ARE taking the character's skill into account, but you'd still like the player to TRY, is sometimes needed for players who, quite rightly, don't want their suave characters to be done in by their own social ineptitude.
The "goodie" technique with which I'm more familiar is the
incentive of screen time. Pay less attention to players who are
being boring. Interesting characters tend to generate interesting
sub-plots. This one is really pretty self-perpetuating; it tends to
happen automatically anyway.
At the same time, if you want to *encourage* one of the boring players, then it is often advisable to pay *more* attention to them, impose interesting sub-plots upon them, and so forth. Does this contradict the paragraph above? Yes, it does. Cope.
SK: I'd advise being careful with this one, myself. Ideally, the PCs should follow the prevailing community standards for reasons other than fear of retribution. Too much of this sort of thing can subvert that goal.
SK: This is a little hostile, isn't it? Correcting totally out-of-character actions is a good idea, but I think that this is usually better done gently. Remember that the fear of "looking stupid" is often one of the major obstacles to role-playing in the first place. Reinforcing this fear by making a player feel stupid for making an error seems likely to me to make him simply unwilling ever to try it again. Bland actions and non-committal statements are safer. They are also, however, the sort of thing you are trying to discourage here. I'd really not recommend this approach. Really.
SK: This can also be of some use in avoiding the "role-playing backlash" that some groups can fall into once they have decided that role-playing is the One True Way (tm). There's a certain type of gaming that often follows a "conversion" to role-play-intensive gaming: humourless, angst-ridden, narcissistic... You know the stereotype. Avoiding humourlessness in the early stages is probably a good way to reduce the risk of this happening.
SK: Yup. Get rid of all of the action-adventure genre conventions. Try running a game with a more internal focus. If you really love the action-oriented genres, you can always return to them later, once the players are more accustomed to role-playing.
Fast pacing, in my opinion, seriously inhibits role-play. If you want to get really extreme, play in Real Time. Real Time demands role-playing.
Run a "plotless" game for a while. Throw away the plot hooks and
all of the other accroutements of plotting for a while and see
what happens. This is a bit like slow pacing, in that it demands
a higher degree of role-play from the participants. If the
players don't role-play, well...then nothing much is going to
happen at all. It's up to them: boredom or role-play. Their
choice. If they start giving you those blank looks, shoot the
blank looks right back and demand to know what they want to
If you like plot, you can always re-introduce it later, once the players have got the hang of the role-playing.
It's much easier to have a good handle on your character's background if you helped to design it yourself. Without a strong sense of background and culture, good role-playing becomes very difficult indeed. D&D-type fantasy games often suffer from this lack. A priest ought to know the theology of his religion, as well as its history and cultural context. It's hard to play an educated character if you know nothing of the literature or history of your culture. Most people, particularly those unaccustomed to role-playing, find it easier to assimilate this sort of knowledge if they are permitted to help develop and create it in the first place. Enjoying reading the GM's 500-page explanation of your character's theology is usually an acquired taste.