Better Storytelling With Two-Sided Characterization – Part II

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0804

Last Musing we chatted about the importance of characterizing details you bring into gameplay.

As you provide encounter descriptions, introduce NPCs, offer treasures, tell secrets, and convey the world to your friends, you can think about both variables of the equation.

The first variable is about how you inject physical and emotional energy into your descriptions and storytelling. Use voice, body language, and enthusiasm to get players engaged.

Today, I have some tips for you on the second variable — how to reveal your campaign’s many details.


A great way to wrap your head around how to Reveal in the most exciting or interesting way is with an approach called STEP that I have have tweaked for GMing.

STEP stands for Senses, Thoughts, Effects, and Play.


Portray what the characters experience.

What does the NPC or monster say and how do they say it? Try to mimic the way they might speak. Use the words, grunts, or growls the NPC would. For places and things, do they make noise? What’s it sound like? Use metaphor or simile if you don’t want to make the sound yourself.

What does it smell like? What does it look like, especially at a distance and then as the PCs get closer? What’s the texture and temperature like? If tasted, what’s the sensation on the taste buds?


Remember my email about world views? Try to imagine the reality of the NPC or creature. What are their values and beliefs? Based on those viewpoints, how would they think? Based on the current situation, what are their emotions?

For items and locations, what’s the thinking that went into its creation or formation? Personify your laws of physics and chemistry for locations to “think like the place.”

In a coarse sense, you could slot morale, attitude, and alignment here.


Tie everything you can back to gameplay. How do the actions or potential actions of what you’re portraying affect gameplay? Either in reaction to the PCs’ actions (best case) or when you drive gameplay forward.

Thoughts become actions. Based on how the person, place, or thing thinks, what’s its behaviour? The behaviour then manifests in the game as actions, rolls, or choices.

We’re creating an effective, logical chain or thought sequence for how to uniquely reveal details to players here. Can you see it?


We start with its physicality. The Senses show this to players without telling them.

The physical nature of the gameplay element then drives Thoughts and emotions.

And how something thinks and feels determines how it behaves. And behaviour leaves a clear footprint of Effects in gameplay.

Characterizing something in your mind this way makes it faster and easier over time to conceptualize it and pick out details to enthusiastically Portray.

For example, a nasty giant in the area has guards scared. This not only guides roleplay of the guards, but you could offer skill check modifiers if the PCs try to trick or intimidate the guard NPCs.

To characterize the inanimate, give them tasty verbs when describing them. Make them active. It’s not a silver mirror. It’s a silver filigreed mirror hanging precariously from the wall reflecting the dirty, bloodstained fighter gazing into it.

Those little touches make a big difference, multiplied with your enthusiastic Portrayal.

Characterize Like A Pro

Use the Portrayal + Reveal combo to roleplay all the important details of your campaign.

Don’t toss information and gameplay elements out into play like wet noodles. Make your GMing sizzle as you impart information with energy, juicy details, and wonderful characterization.