Better Storytelling With Two-Sided Characterization – Part I

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0803

Better Storytelling With Two-Sided Characterization

Characterization is how you roleplay the people, places, and things in your adventures. Here’s how to add panache, style, and zing via characterization to engage your players more and become a better storyteller.

To me, it’s all roleplaying. But in the literary world, they call it characterization.

When the PCs encounter something, you need to tell your players what it is and why it matters to them.

However, you don’t want to do this in a boring way. You want to make it as interesting as possible so your players want to play with it.

Each thing you make entertaining, compelling, and engaging adds a cumulative +1 Fun to your story. Even the small stuff. (But avoid the inconsequential stuff so you don’t waste time down a rabbit hole.)

Imagine an adventure where all the NPCs, locations, clues, secrets, treasures, traps, and, well, everything interesting to the players, gets characterized? That would be so much fun to play!

The Two Sides of Characterization

To avoid being boring, we want to characterize things in our campaigns.

There are two parts to doing this.

The first part I call Portrayal. The second part I call Reveal.

Let’s dig a bit into Portrayal today, so you can try it out next session. Next Musing I’ll cover Reveal.


Players feed off your energy. If you are excited and enthusiastic, your players will be too. Even if you are being grimdark, the energy you put into portraying the action and details of the game will be infectious.

Here are four quick tips on how to become better at Portrayal.

Use Body Language

A lot of Portrayal comes from your body language. Eye contact, posture, hand movements. Standing up, moving around. Varying your voice.

It does not have to be acting, per se, if you are worried about that. It’s how you are on Christmas morning when you’re about to open the mysterious big and heavy wrapped box. It’s being physically and emotionally involved.

Try Acting

Great Portrayal can be acting and roleplaying though. Become the dour merchant or the arrogant paladin. Speak like they would, and use body language they might.

Use Story Structures

Some Portrayal is pacing and sequencing.

Make gameplay faster to add speed-tension, or slow it down to add thriller-tension.

Leave the juiciest morsel to the end, with a dramatic pause a moment before.

Or put the vital clue in the middle to reward clever and attentive players.

Picture It First

A lot of portrayal comes from your imagination.

If you can picture in your mind’s eye what you are roleplaying, that helps guide your body language, roleplay, and acting.

Give It A Shot

Characterization is about embodying the details players need so they can imagine the world and what’s happening to their characters.

With some attention and energy towards how you Reveal these details, which I’ll cover next Musing, you can inject your group with a huge sense of fun and excitement. And that’s contagious.

Give it a shot next session and let me know how it goes.

For more tips that might help, try these links: