Gesture, Voice & Salt — Helping Players Roleplay
Got this great question by email last week:
A lot of people at my table bring some pretty good game.
I rarely roll with an accent unless there’s a good reason for it – but I have to admit it’s good for differentiating between when you’re in character vs out.
Any ideas for how I can better convey in-character vs. out at the table?
Thanks for the question!
Here are three ideas for you. But first, let’s chat quickly about time.
Game the Tiny Details
Play the long game. I don’t know about you, but I do not figure out a character until at least three sessions in.
Probably because I overthink it.
I like to mull over my guy’s ability scores. What does a 6 mean? What about a 16? And then I want to add details based on class or profession, race, skill mix, and so on.
I don’t do character accents either.
Instead, I try to tetris in tiny details of my character’s emerging portrayal over time.
A turn of phrase he repeats as an exclamation. A way of unsheathing sword or quill. A mood. A set of the jaw.
Cramming details together feels fake to me. That’s just me though.
I love it when friends bring oatmeal-eating, accented-cussing dwarves, squeaky emo droids, or shifty tobacco-voiced grifters. They probably want me to hurry up and graft together a persona.
I’ve tried. And I need to walk in my PC’s shoes and hat for awhile first. And then those tiny details come out.
Perhaps try this approach. Add something subtle each session. See how things stand half a year from now.
Meantime, I need to do this more often with my recurring NPCs. They stay kinda the same. Thanks for the reminder!
Let’s approach from the opposite direction.
Create a personality and game up to it.
Give your character a gesture, a voice, and some salt.
I’m going to assume you’re at a game table. So we can see body, head, and arms.
We need a physical quirk we lean into when portraying our character.
Everyone at the table will see this and take your queue. It will also become second nature to you after a half dozen uses. Clear and simple. Perfect.
d6 Roleplay Gestures
- Jaw. Jut it out, shift it to one side, or tuck it in.
- Spine. Stiffen or bend your back.
- Shoulders. Throw them back, hunch forward, or move one up or down.
- Eyes. Squint or open wide.
- Eyebrows. Wrinkle or raise.
- Hands. Clench, wave, point.
There are a lot more gestures and facial expressions possible, but the ones above show great character without any weirdness or extending yourself too far. If you’re with a new group, over-the-top body language might make some players uncomfortable.
A simple gesture helps everyone know you’re in character at a glance.
In my campaigns, there’s one NPC who has appeared probably 113,000 times.
Ye old Mr. Gruff Voice.
I drop volume and tone, and speak from the back of my throat a bit more. That’s signalled “I’m speaking NPC” for decades now.
Maybe I’m just being lazy. But when I use that minor voice change, players instantly know I’m in-character.
Accents need not be the only approach. Try modulating your voice a bit and everyone will know you’re in character when they hear you.
Give your character a strong belief. Act as if you believe it. You’ll give off all kinds of signals that you’re in-character then.
d6 Character Beliefs
- Honor is everything
- A Minor Case of Defensive
- Con Artist
- Chip on Shoulder
- A God/Magic/Tool Solves Everything
Beware making choices that cause meta game friction by adhering to a belief too much. Be flexible and use good gamesmanship to make a character belief fun for all.
When you add some salt, everyone will know you’re in-character when they roleplay with you.
I hope these ideas help your friends know when you’re in-character versus speaking as yourself.
While there are many ways to roleplay better, we are limited on what signals we can emit to signify when we’re in-character.
I’ve used all the above ideas for PCs and NPCs. They are more on the subtle side, and subdued in some cases, but consistency will teach the group exactly when you’re in and out of character pretty quickly with these approaches.