How To Become A Better Actor?

Bad actor GM

A reader sent in this plea for help. Do you have any tips for him?

Hi Johnn,

In many ways, there is no scope for subtle NPCs in an RPG. I need to portray strong personality traits to ensure these features are made clear to the PCs.

Plus, it would help to distinguish my NPCs from one another.

Do you know actors for whom you would be happy to watch them do anything?

Some film characters just sizzle on screen from the way they are portrayed, and I would want to watch them for far longer than the plot allows.

Now, I know ALL my NPCs cannot have this sizzle, but I would like for some of them to have that quality.

And I feel my delivery of NPCs is lacking.

I can see I need to improve how the NPCs behave, to emphasize their traits, but I cannot help but think my delivery of acting the NPC falls short too.

I may simply be a poor actor, but I would like to improve.

How can I be a better actor at the game table?

- The Bad Actor GM

If you have any acting tips for our unsizzling GM, please post a comment below with your advice and ideas.

  • http://www.snowman.org Tracey

    Hi John,

    The way I do it is to envision what I think the character would act like and then try to figure out what actor would portray him best. Then I try to mimic that actor.

    I don’t mean doing De Niro impressions but use the inflections and actions that would give the character s personality. Then go for it. You can’t be afraid of looking goofy (that’s half the fun!) or it will impact the delivery.

    The last piece of advice I have is practice before you play. Do it in front of a mirror if you can so you see what your facial expressions are.

    Hope that helps,
    Tracey

    • http://www.roleplayingtips.com Johnn Four

      Mimic the actor, not the character. Great tip! Thanks Tracey.

    • http://anthonyhj.tumblr.com AnthonyHJ

      This was one of the bits of advice I was going to offer; cast your characters before you play them. If you see Sean Bean in your head when you think of your NPC, you already have half the characterisation done for you.

      Two little things I would add though:
      1) Make sure you write down the actor and/or character in your GM notes for next time.
      2) Rehearse important speeches or advice, scripting it ahead of time, so that you are not searching for the right words at the table.

  • http://www.anim5.com/ anim5

    “International Detective Dragons From Outer Space”
    http://www.anim5.com/IDDFOS/1-20_index.html

    Episode 14:
    http://www.anim5.com/IDDFOS/show_014/IDDFOS_014_June-30-2006.mp3

    This episode delves into the intricacies and avenues of
    improving character portrayal while playing table-top or
    other Role Playing Games.

    Admittedly, describing the dynamics of performance
    and relaying some of my experiences and observations
    about vocalization and character portrayal, may not be
    all that useful for heavily experienced RPG veterans.
    It can be accurately argued that steady role players have done
    more acting than I have for the past 15 years, simply through
    regular Game Play.

    And even as I thought all those things while recording the episode . . . . somehow . . .
    it still didn’t manage to shut me up.

    anim5
    ..

    • http://www.anim5.com/ anim5

      Note -
      The contents of the audio directly relevant to the question begins at 23 minutes into the episode.

  • Stacey

    There are a few things I would look at first… one, what is your character really like? Are they shy, reserved or loud and in your face. Then become that character… be more quiet, look down more, slump back more in your chair. I have found that body language speaks a lot! Also ask your group, ask them to describe an NPC and see if what you portray is what they are picking up. Ask them what they would need to get the NPC better or if everything is just fine. Many times I feel I did not “nail” an NPC and find out that my group got it perfectly :) Relax, enjoy, be silly, over emote…. I am sure you are doing better than you thought :)

    • http://www.roleplayingtips.com Johnn Four

      Welcome, Stacey. Thanks for the tip.

  • George

    When I was more active in theater and performing bit parts, I liked to memorize the thought behind the lines, not just the lines themselves. I would come up with a mantra I could recite mentally that helped me think like the character. For example, when playing Big Jule from Guys and Dolls, I mentally recited, “Let’s shoot crap.” When I saw video of the performance, I was surprised at some of the things I did, gestures, facial expressions.

    • http://www.roleplayingtips.com Johnn Four

      Thanks for the tip, George.

  • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/willsavetonegate Lee V.

    When getting in character, I like to “pick one and run”.

    Pick one trait or characteristic and go with it. Keep the single descriptor in your mind as you interact as the NPC. Keep it simple, but always run with it. For example, maybe we encounter a nervous goblin. In all things the NPC goblin does, remember it is nervous. With the descriptor in your head, everything you say or do will be colored by the fact “it is nervous”.

    As you practice and get better, you may find the one trait change through the course of play. Maybe the goblin is no longer nervous, now it is playful, perhaps a little too playful…

    To increase complexity, replace the single trait with a single person, either someone you know well, or a favorite actor/actress. Remember to color everything the NPC will say or do as if you were that person. It may seem cliche, but why not portray a wise, old sage as one of your grandparents? What would grandpa say if his young grandson ran off to slay a dragon?

    • http://www.roleplayingtips.com Johnn Four

      Thanks for the tip, Lee.

    • http://www.scabard.com stolph

      Agreed. The players aren’t going to remember all the nuances of an NPC anyway. I also change my voice when playing an NPC, which also makes him more memorable.

  • http://murdocksmarauders.blogspot.ca/ David

    For the best, low-cost, acting training seek out your local theater group – they are always looking for male acting talent.

    If they have a theater sports league then you have the perfect venue to rapidly explore all sorts of different and energetic characters.

    If the theater troop does not have a theater sports component, consider starting one – after acting in a show for them.

    If this going out into the public for acting skills is just too much for you, then read up on theater sports and have a few ‘improv’ role-play nights with your regular RPG players, have everyone participate in 2-5 minute ‘scenes’ and keep changing them. You could gain some new skills this way, perhaps enough to have you decide to try out the public venue …

    • JOHNNY

      Use props or mannerisms to help you individualize your characters and give your players a way to recognize them.

      • http://www.roleplayingtips.com Johnn Four

        Thanks, Johnny.

  • Mattias Karppinen

    If you feel like a “bad actor”, you may want to try to impersonate people you know/love/hate/etc and merge that with the NPC’s agenda and behavior. Works for me when I quickly need to improvise NPC quirks and manners.

    • http://www.roleplayingtips.com Johnn Four

      Thanks, Mattias.

  • Miri

    Hey there!

    Acting… I think you’re making it a little too complicated. If you think about playing an NPC like acting, it’s easy to crowd yourself out with negativity. “I don’t know anything about acting!” “I don’t know how to act!” “I can’t act!”, so you convince yourself yo’re doing it wrong and it’s hard to come back from that.

    Instead, get back to the basics a little bit and think about roleplaying. When doing NPCs, don’t think of yourself as GM, think of yourself as that eager kid with a character sheet. The kind of player you want to have, mind you, not the statmonster, but a player. Don’t put the GM-pressure on yourself. Every NPC you have is just the same as a PC, just not a part of this spotlight. He might be more or less powerful, but his story is not these characters’ story.

    Think about how yo would play a PC. And then add to that. Think abot who your character is. Is he an archmage from a mysterious island? What kind of phrases does he use? If he’s a formal kind of guy, start trying to talk without using any contractions. If he’s a street tough, start talking slang and throwing trash-talk into his dealings with the PC. The voice and the choice of words is the first step to good acting.

    Then start adding motions, too. When your NPC is angry, scowl. When he’s lying, make shifty faces. When she’s being coy, put your hand up to your mouth and glance sideways. Expressions really add life to a character and an NPC is no exception to that.

    Acting is more a combination of little steps and little things than a big, secret ‘art’.

    And don’t forget to watch your favorite live-action movies and TV shows! If you see one of those characters yo just love, start analyzing how the actor does things. When you saw the evil queen lying through her teeth, and yo just knew she was evil, what made her look that way? When you saw the cute, naive princess, what made her seem so innocent? And what did she do differently from the queen? THe best way to study acting is by example.

    It’s not easy, but it’s really fun to learn! And don’t be afraid to ham it up a little, either. Over-the-topness adds a nice drama to any quirk.

    • Lagr Dagrsen

      That hits the nail on the head in my tool shed. After all there were at least three lines added to Edal the bartender’s write-up. Use them!! gleen from them what a noob RPGr would have up their sleeves to take “Eddie” from the Whispering Willows pint slinger to any or all of the bartenders from the hot clubs of the day. Remember, Most the time we are our own worst critics, and the “players” have no klue who they are interacting with till YOU breath live into them…. So just breathe

  • Matthew

    I like the character trait focus idea but try to include your body in your portrayal. If the goblin is nervous then maybe he doesn’t make eye contact or maybe he constantly wrings his hands or plays with something. The grandfather may stroke his beard when thinking or, if you really want to get fun, he will hand you sweets when you say something intelligent. I had a thief who couldn’t keep his hands to himself, by the end of the encounter the players were creeped out because he would constantly touch their arm when speaking to them.

  • Nathan

    I’d like to second the suggestion above about using actors as inspiration, but I’d also like to twist it around a bit. Whenever I’ve tried to use well-known actors as the basis for NPCs, it always ends up with the players remembering the actor, not the NPC. They say stuff like, “We go back to town and ask that Sean Connery guy if he wants to buy the artifact.”

    Instead, I’ve found it immensely useful to base NPC behaviors on non-actor personalities. What if that ranger out in the woods has a personality like Johnny Cash? What if the shopkeeper talks with his hands like Bill Clinton? What if the crazy sorceress tends to tell rambling stories like Ellen Degeneres? Players will latch onto a vocal imitation and that could ruin your NPC, but if you simply pick a different mannerism, attitude, or motive, your NPCs will take on a life of their own.

  • marofthepixie

    I start with voice. I try to give each important NPC a different voice. Problem is, I am crap at imitations, accents and doing voices, so I made up a way to make different voices without having to think about it too much. I use different mouth shapes. One NPC may talk as if they have a marble in their mouth. Another may speak with their lips in an “o” shape. Another speaks with their lips drawn in a tight line. Another speaks as if the right side of their mout is stuck together. Some of these sound odd, but they do give NPCs a simple, consistent and distinct voice.

    Another easy trick is regionalisms. Again, using real regionalisms would require research and effort, so I just make them up. A farmer may say “as regular as turnips” or “as sure as snails on strawberries”. He instantly becomes a distinctive NPC. I have no idea is turnips are regular, but neither do my players, so it works anyway. A carpenter will constantly refer to tools, nails, wood, etc. Whenever I need to add emphasis I make up a new regionalism. “As X as Y” is really easy formula; where X is what they are talking about and Y is something from their profession. It is really easy to slip into conversation and it makes your farmers very different from your carpenters.

    Lastly, I did a bit of research into body language and “tells” on google and use them whenever I can slip them in. Eye contact is an easy one. Creepy stares, intense gazes, furtive glances… the eyes tell you a lot, and if you are silent when doing it it really focuses the Player attention onto you.

  • Forrest Elam

    If there is one thing I have learned it is that creativity is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. And since acting, particularly in-game acting for NPCs or PCs, is creative and improvisational, here are some ideas based on ways that I have strengthened my creativity and improvisational skills.

    I was lucky enough to get involved with a comedy/improvisational group quite a few years ago. I took some beginners workshops put on by my local ComedySportz franchise (they have several scattered across the country now) after going to watch a few shows. This was incredibly valuable in exercising and expanding my creativity and acting ability. There are many other such Improv groups out their as well, including at your local college or school. Basic acting classes might be good too, however I found the workshops to be much less intense and a much more welcoming setting for picking up skills and getting to practice them with others who are learning them along with you. The key is to get involved in each activity as early and as often as possible because as I said the more you do it the better you get (and the earlier you do it the less chance you have of letting shyness or inhibition stop you from joining in). I enjoyed them so much that I eventually went on to become a actlete with the local team. It was a blast and the more I used those skills the more my creativity grew.

    You could play Improv games with friends and/or watch improv shows if you get the chance too. “Whose line is it anyway” on TV is a good example (both the original British version and the current American version) and will give you good ideas. And if there is a ComedySportz team or other Improv troop near you go see a couple of shows then check to see when their next beginners workshop series starts (and how much it costs if they are charging for the class). Watching DVDs or shows of Improvisational Comedians like Robin Williams, Craig Ferguson, or Jonathan Williams could be useful too, but actual hands on workshops are the best.

    For a small investment of your time a workshop can yield a great return in both creativity and acting ability. Your portrayal of your NPCs will improve and the next time your players throw you a curve while role-playing you will surprise them by hitting it out of the park!

  • Bret

    One thing I did recently was start to learn a new language, old norse in fact for when my players entered a region in my homebrew world that is full of vikings. My players loved it, so maybe create demonic or use some tolkin elf to give your npc’s depth if you’re not a great actor this could mask that and be enjoyable to all

  • Bean Awale

    On each major NPC the party will be meeting more than once, put a little block of notes for their distinctive features and traits that you will be using to portray them. When the party meets these people again, make sure the way you play them is consistent.

    -Vocal variations. Not necessarily accents, though if you can do those and it’s a setting where people from different accent groups mingle with minimal social ramifications, go for it. Speed, enunciation, word choice, specific repeated ‘thinking/stalling’ words, vocal pitch, all can be varied and will all imply different things about the character’s background. Try to match the traits to the character. A high-voiced fast speaking character will seem young and impulsive, a slow-speaking deep voiced character will seem large and either slow-witted or thoughtful, depending on what they are saying. A well-spoken erudite character who speaks like the PC’s are something they’ve stepped in is more likely to be assumed to be a higher class/nobleperson. And so on.

    -Physical traits: One eye, or a facial scar? Close an eye, or contort your face any time you’re playing that NPC, and remember to do it the same way each time. If you are really stuck, props can help. Keep a bag of scarves, hats, toothpicks, chewing gum and miscellaneous props handy.

    -Gestures/Movement: Sit differently in the chair. Get up and pace. Use arm gestures. Do they move fast or slow? Are they confident or nervous? What do they do with their hands as they think? Fidgetting with a pen or a die, head-scratching, beard stroking, ear tugging, and the steepling of hands are all good thinking gestures that are easy to do as the NPC considers whether to tell the truth, lie, or throw the PC’s into the shark tank. Are they religious? Is there a warding of evil or blessing gesture habitual to believers in their religion?

    Don’t go overboard on traits though. One or two things is usually enough to distinguish one NPC from the other. Unless you’re doing it for comedic effect, in which case, throw in everything. NPC’s like Bartender X at No Name Inn where the PC’s will stop once don’t need as many distinguishing traits as NPC’s they are likely to re-encounter or who will be part of the longer plot. Do you remember anything about the last cashier you encountered? Probably not.

    You can also practice NPC characters while planning for sessions. Are your NPC’s working together on something? Write some of the planning as a conversation between them to get used to what diction they’d be using. You can also practice delivering larger exposition as the NPC in a mirror, or use a video camera.

    One final thing I’ve found generally helpful. Play your major NPC’s as though they are PC’s. To the players they’re an NPC, but they don’t think of themselves that way. They’re having their own adventure/mission in life, and they are the ones trying to get what they want out of the party to help them reach their own goals.

    Good luck with it!

  • Will

    An easy trick that I use is to do an impression of a specific person or character from a movie or show. Locking-on to a specific example helps your impression remain consistent.

    The key is NEVER, EVER LET THE PLAYERS KNOW WHO YOU ARE IMPERSONATING. If you tell them, they’ll compare your impression to the real thing, and you will be found wanting. If you keep it a secret, all that matters is consistency.

  • Chad E. Benson

    When creating the NPC, you must decide, “who that individual is”. How do they interface with the world around them? The question is this, how many of your previous NPCs are memorable to your PCs? Do something, they might not expect… for example, make your NPC a mute, that can’t speak, or a having taken a vow of silence. Get some chalk and a hand held chalk board, and make gestures and write, (preferably in something exotic, like runes) and show it to the PCs… if you’ve already blown their minds, and they don’t make a decipher script, or linguistics check… then a game of scharades is underway before most of then realize that they’ve been drawn in. Think outside the norm. The bashful noble, a stuttering politicianetc… surprise the PCs with the exotic.

  • yosef bender

    some time we can act better behind a mask i use a voice morphing as my mask to kind of hide behind it give me more concordance

    http://www.screamingbee.com/product/MorphVOX.aspx

    this is the best program I found you can make a voice and put a picture of the NPC by it . then I give the NPC a defining quark or trait it can be verbal or body language. next I try him out. sometimes I will record the NPC monologue and just play it while I preparing something. I also tape if any one is overhearing a conversation and hand the tape recorder and headphones to the player that is listening or ease dropping.
    as him telling the story back to the group builds the role playing

    lastly I almost always put a picture or a mini sometime=mes both of the NPC on the frond of my Dm screen so they can link the voice to a picture some how the picture makes the character come alive.

  • Yosi Moshe

    Hi there,
    Just wanted to add a few things of my own to the list:
    1) One of the best ways I’ve learned to use from my improv lessons was to use a kind of an anchor: Something that you can relate back to whenever you’re stuck. Usually, it’s used all the time in the way one talks or behaves or sits etc… When I’m playing a weak person, for example, I sit with my shoulders hunched. It makes me shorter (so I look up all the time), it’s not that comfortable (so I’m a bit nervous and grumpy) and so on. When playing for example a high statues person (like a noble, for example), I usually talk without moving my head. The change is quite immediate, and suddenly you talk with little to almost no gestures (but each one is far more powerful), my face is a little bit less revealing and soon…

    2) I think in terms of status. Status is not a static thing, and changing it can make quite a difference (when you lower your status to below the other’s status, you get comedy, for example) but it also can create personality. One thing to remember, though, is that status doesn’t have to correspond to the person’s role in society (think about a lab where the janitors have a higher status than the scientists…).

    3) Try to think like the character instead of trying to impersonate her. Don’t try to be Lucy, be Lucy. Mantra is a nice way to do it, but so are thoughts like “go to the door quickly, but like there’s no hurry”, or “curse a lot, but like it’s a compliment”.

    Hope it helped a little bit,
    Yosi

  • Josh

    Practice accents and speech patterns and try to give each npc a different one. Like will said, using other actors or characters can help a lot. One thing I like to do when I get in a pinch is model an npc after a video gae character, preferably one that came out before voice acting was a big thing. My favorite game series, Suikoden, has given me literally hundreds of characters to draw from if I have to whip up an npc on the fly.

  • Michi il Disperso

    I love to act during a session as a DM.
    I have some theatre experience so i think i’m advantaged; but some exercise would do the trick. During a session you have just few moments to act, not like a two hour long scene; so i usually exagerate the traits of the NPC, to make them easy noticeable and PC get used to them, and recognize them. Very important is to make really different interpretations between NPC, different tone of voice, different speech, different facial expression…
    Maybe you can try it in front of a mirror, a cat, a little sister, ecc.. is very important to have an audience during the exercise, it help you to focus on the result!

  • Ian Hatchett

    Dear John and Bad Actor GM

    After many years of gaming I developed what I call a “Kinetic” acting method.
    It’s all about the energy.

    PREPERATION

    The first thing I do is make a not of two or three mannerisms or tells for each character. These can be as simple as pushing my glasses up to the bridge of my nose with my middle finger or leaning my head lazily to one side.
    The second thing is to pick an accent for the character. This isn’t a random accent, but carefully chosen. By using a southern texan drawl and lazy mannerisms you give your audience or players an instant impression of the character.
    The third technique is to familiarize yourself with the motivations and flaws of the character aloud while using the accent and mannerisms.

    With practice this technique will allow you to:
    a) Remember your NPCs better.
    b) Portray every NPC individually
    c) Slip into the ‘skin’ of an NPC quickly.

    ACTION

    When you come to portray an NPC you will know how to sound and act, but then you have to BE them at gametime.

    There is a single fundamental truth which helps all of us:

    “EVERY REACTS THE SAME WITHOUT PRIOR STIMULUS OR KNOWLEDGE”

    It is the lifetime of the NPC which shapes what happens during a conversation. By working out what has shaped the personality of the NPC and what knowledge they have you can determine (almost as easy as with basic physics experiments) roughly how they should react.

    For example: Marcus the gladiator is a ruthless killer owned by his master, but will have empathy with the plight of slaves. He faces death and combat every week in the arena – in the case of intimidation, violence is his go-to response.

    His owner Crassus on the other hand sees slaves as a commodity, when he is protecting a slave he’s protecting an investment. He sees the consequences of death in the arena every week, but has no wish to suffer it himself. His response to physical threats without defence is probably to fold.

    SUMMARY

    Know your NPCS, mentally link the knowledge to their mannerisms and their speech and you should be there.

    One other suggestion: Most gamers have a pen/pencil to hand, this is the ultimate prop and stress reliever. It can replace an engineer’s pencil behind an ear, it can be held as a general’s pointer, if can be a gangster’s toothpick (if a long one). Just changing the way your hold your pen, you give yourself another mental pointer to your character and give your players another way of differentiating from the characters you portray.

  • Mark

    Lots of great suggestions so far – and any or all of them can help. Here are a few thoughts to add from an old actor and gamer:
    1. Prepare – Anything can work, if you prepare. If you use a voice, prop, impression of actor or character, catch phrase, whatever it might be – plan ahead and make an actual note for yourself. That will let you be consistent and not have to improvise everything which is very hard for many people.
    2. Acting is Reacting – There is a huge difference between reciting pre-planned verbiage as an NPC and role-playing live interaction between the NPC and PCs.
    3. Impact is Power – Keep in mind when the actions and words of PCs impact an NPC and cause them to change behavior, the PCs are engaged and have power. When those actions or words don’t impact the NPC, it makes PCs powerless. Both are appropriate for different situations; lowly adventurers shouldn’t concern the king, but should affect the bar owner.
    4. The Hippocratic Oath – Above all else, do no harm. The worst thing you can do to ruin a role-playing session is distract the players from the flow of the game. Players can forgive almost anything (inconsistent accent, odd mannerism, etc) as long as it doesn’t sidetrack the flow of the game. If you haven’t prepared, or are unsure of some new acting trick – then don’t do it until the next session when you can be more comfortable with it. In most games, everybody has a part in telling/discovering the plot so if you as the GM throw in something that doesn’t “work” within the story, then you’ve broken the PCs world and that is worse than simply having an NPC that isn’t particularly memorable.
    5. Don’t worry, keep playing – You’re going to have to play hundreds of villains, sheriffs, farmers, drunks, clergy, etc over the years and you cannot have a unique and special trick for every single one.

  • JessWQ

    You could always concentrate on the acting part first. The first few things I’d suggest are:

    Voice: With every character, I try to use different tones and styles of talking. Some are really relaxed and words are drawn out. I try to add a hint of attitude or seduction to the way I say my words as the character. I do have a few characters who talk in quick spurts, too. Notice that people with some sort of nobility or royalty, or all around class tend to speak slowly and draw out their words, spoken in a low tone. More paranoid or hyper characters tend to speak softly and quickly. Some characters have a higher pitch to their tone, some are lower, while even others may fluctuate tones pending on situations. This is an easy technique to use when you act out different characters and it creates an obvious switch-over to other characters. Voice, within itself can say a lot about the character; that’s what actors do with voice-overs.

    Accents: I play a 7th Sea game currently. Every time our GM switches over to a character of another nationality, he switches his accent. He is very talented with accents and it makes for great entertainment as well as realism to the game. If you are worried about how the accent will come off, you can either not worry about it (as it’s said in our game, “it’s the game of bad accents! Acquire one, it’s okay!”) or you can practice. I was surprised at how many YouTube vids actually help out with not just languages, but accents as well! But, even a nearly close to bad accent can make a definite difference in which character is being role-played.

    Body Language: Body language within itself can make for a great and obvious transition between characters. While noblemen may sit in a relaxed state in the corner of a chair, the arm resting on the back of it and one leg out, or very straight up and proper, nervous characters may be sitting hunched close in to himself in a protective nature, etc. The way a person moves can tell you a lot about what kind of character he or she is. Also, if you role-play both female and male NPC’s, you should know that the body language is very different. You can actually look up “Body Language” on Wikipedia, where you will find a whole bunch of great tips for this area.

    Eye Contact: Eye contact can give the audience some hint about what kind of person it is. Usually confident characters will look someone in the eye and not even blink while other more self-conscious or nervous characters might look away while they talk or look in the eyes of another and then quickly look away and then dart them around. Most people look to the lie when they are fabricating something or lying. Eye expressions can give the characters an idea of the type of emotion a character feels, like widening them out of excitement, looking away in embarrassment, etc.

    I know it sounds weird, but you could also try to act out these guys as a practice run before actual game sessions. Get a feel for them before you “go on stage”. It’s like what most actors do with “Method Acting”.

    Hope this helps.

  • JessWQ

    One thing I forgot to mention is that with all these things that will help you act, the subtle traits or other details will come in naturally. Once the actors figure out who these characters are by the way they act, they should see what you are trying to pull through for them to see as well.

  • Matt

    I just have one technique:
    Use a Scottish accent
    (it seems to work well enough)

  • Josh Richardson

    As a professional actor and a GM, I’ve come to really enjoy fleshing out my npc’s. My group has learned to recognize which npc I’m playing by my posture, or the dialect and speech patterns I use. It’s a lot of fun. Here are my tips on how to “perform” npc’s that really sizzle.

    First, each npc should have at least one trait that’s all their own. It could, but doesn’t have to be a physical thing, it could be that they hate all elves, or wizards, or rogues, and when they interact with that member of the group, they’re always rude and contemptuous. It makes for really fun interactions when the pc’s have to go see their fence for stolen goods, but one group member hates going because she always gets hit on by the gross old gnome, for example.

    The more you use an NPC, the more traits they should have. Keep notes on traits you assign them – for example, a recurring aristocratic npc might 1. speak with a proper British accent, 2. have a mangled arm, 3. be hard of hearing, and 4. mumble whenever he talks about money.

    Keep good notes so you can be consistent, and your group will really start to remember and look forward to seeing recurring characters. They’ll develop histories with them, and come to care for them. We had an old retired soldier/farmer that came to our group’s rescue a few times, and when his farm was torched by some orcs, the pc’s took it personally and wreaked holy vengeance on his behalf. It’s really fun when your players invest like that.

    I hope that helps, and good luck!

  • http://www.roflinitiative.com Geoff

    There are a couple things that I find lead to more interesting “acting” at the game table.

    1. Know the NPC’s motivations and act according to those. What are the 3 things they want most and in what order? (note: to stay alive can definitely and often will be one of those things!) Focusing on the motivation gives the NPC direction and something for the players to work with or push against.

    2. The suggestions others have left about picking an actor (or an established fictional character) as a starting point is a very efficient way to come up with basic behavior patterns. My games have had everyone from Hermione Granger, to Rick Moranis’s character from Ghostbusters plugged into a standard D&D universe.

    3. Don’t be afraid to PLAY! Don’t worry about being a good actor. If you push how far you can take a character type and have fun with it, you’ll instill a much more memorable picture in the minds of your players… and play the character even if you are in the middle of a fight! Jack Sparrow fights very differently from Brienne of Tarth!

    4. Listen! Along with the above, it is important to listen to what your players are saying when they interact with the character. Don’t just push a single agenda (e.g. I hate players, smash at all costs!) or roll over as soon as they succeed on an intimidate check (unless that is what the character would do.) If you are listening and playing the character’s motivations, you may find yourself developing richer tactics when dealing with your PCs.

  • Default Idiot

    Do pour emotion into your acting.
    Do act with your voice.
    Do gesture with your entire body.
    Do risk “going over the top”.

    Never engage your players, always engage their characters.

    If you connect with their PC’s, the players will readily accept your performance regardless how eccentric or bizarre it may seem to you.

    My game group is made up of player/GMs and each person gets the GM’s chair for 6-12 months. Our most dour and conservative player/GM hates the roleplaying aspect of gaming, but if I as GM slack off on my NPC portrayals he is the first to accuse me of being lazy.

  • http://anthonyhj.tumblr.com AnthonyHJ

    One tip I have for people without a physical table is never to neglect their body-language, even if nobody else can see it.

    The way you sit, the way you hold your head and even the facial expressions you pull are all there in your voice. You might not be aware of it, the players might not be consciously aware of it, but it makes a difference.

    Actually, it’s much easier to ‘act’ your NPCs with nobody watching because you don’t feel like you are being judged.

    The flip-side of this is that you probably need to work on your posture; sitting properly improves your voice and lets you breath better. The ‘DM’ is a character too, so play them as someone who is confident and in charge…