The Road to Emotionally Compelling Roleplay…

In the past months, I had a few people express to be the fact that they are bored with their game, can’t figure out how to sink their teeth into the meat of things, or feel slightly on the outside of the story going by.  They ask me how I consistently manage to get into emotionally deep roleplay and wish they could do the same. I find the issue is often worse in games which are very character and story driven, not mod driven, so there isn’t constant action to distract someone from the lack of emotional connections. So, here are my completely biased tips on how to get into compelling roleplay.

1. Care About People: I’m not talking the have a few friends and people you BS with at the bar or stupid o’clock. I’m talking the “I will stupidly run out into a fight because I realize you are there…” or “You make me question my morality…” or “I shouldn’t stay in this stupid town but now I’ve met you and I can’t leave!” care about people. It doesn’t have to be romantic. Your character may have been a loner before this. Might have lost everything. Might be scared to love again. But find one or two people you are comfortable roleplaying with (or just click with, if you are new) and make them in character FAMILY. Be willing to put your life on the line. Listen to them and let them change your in character world, if just a little bit. Risk opening your heart up for family or love again.

2. Care About SOMETHING: Okay, you still aren’t there. Maybe you don’t connect well with people, or your character just can’t open up to someone right now. Find SOMETHING to care about that is viciously and immediately relevant to what is going on in the plot of the game. Find a reason to be passionate about it. Be it history, politics, a disease, a research experiment, what have you. Then bite down on that thing like a terrier and don’t let go. Follow it to the other people in town working on it (please don’t make that thing completely irrelevant to other people OR plot) and convince them WHY you deserve to be a part of the pursuit. Prove why you know about this thing. Annoy them until they let you in the door. This McGuffin is your holy grail and you will pursue it zealously.

3. Learn Things About NOW: If 1 and 2 are no good for you, at least your character needs to figure out someway to survive in this town. Make it your mission to learn exactly all of what is going on. Go building to building and ask what they’ve encountered recently. Ask if you can help (in exchange for information or payment, of course. Maybe both!) See other people’s take on plot and see which plot seems to spark your interest the most. Once you’ve stumbled on one that interests you, loop back up to recommendation number 2 and pursue!

4. Be Broken, but Not TOO Broken: A completely useless, broken suffer puppet of a character is rarely fun to roleplay with. However, a character with deep flaws or a single deep, miserable issue that means they cannot function fully independently no matter how much they hate Other People is a good way to drive personal roleplay. Put some fatal flaw into the character that forces them to reach out and be vulnerable with other characters. Ask for help, or break down (for a few moments) bad enough that it’s clear you NEED help. Then you can go back to being independent and tough, but let people see your broken side (without being a useless weight who is ONLY a broken ‘suffer puppet’) and see where it can lead.

5. Talk to Ops: I have literally never storytold a game where we wanted people to be bored. If you are truly struggling and want to sink your teeth into something, please come down to ops, patiently wait for an ST/Witness/Marshal, and let us know what is going on. If nothing else, we can send you out as a hook for the next mod. Maybe being saved from something awful in the woods will help inspire more roleplay on the list above.

6. Listen to Others: There is literally no better bonding technique in LARPing that letting someone else tell you about their character. Sit down at a bar, buy someone a drink. If you’re playing that Super Ice Cold Rogue Loner character who DOESN’T CARE, then consider it a spying mission. Who knows what information could be valuable when someone starts rambling. Write things down. Get shit on people. Not only will they like you better, you might stumble across other ways to get into plot in the future. And hell… your IceIceBaby Rogue might actually find out they LIKE someone.

7. Let a Secret Slip: The ONLY interesting secrets in a LARP are ones that eventually get out. If you are holding something close to your chest and bored/feeling like you can’t get into game, then it’s time to let it go. Get drunk. Say someone slipped you an in-character mickey! Have a flashback. Let that secret out in some horrible, dramatic fashion and watch the dominoes tumble.

Once you get into this sort of roleplay, don’t back away from it! Bite deeper, explore further, get more stories, dare care about more people! It can be a bit scary to really throw oneself emotionally into a story, but the returns are almost always worth it. Don’t shy away once you’ve taken a step down that road.

Happy storytelling, folks!


2 thoughts on “The Road to Emotionally Compelling Roleplay…

  1. Meinberg says:

    This is a really good guide! Though, ironically, one of my deepest relationships at DR started by getting drunk at stupid o’clock at the bar (though this was super late, like there were like four people awake in the entire game at that point).

    Having a motivation is super important though, having goals can drive action, and having a strong goal can pull in others to create fun play experience for everyone. And showing that your character really cares about something, investing time and resources into it, talking to the staff about it, is a good way of making it be a thing that appears in the game.

    I’ve thought a lot about the idea of central characters, especially in a chronicle game, and I think that it is possible for anyone to become a central character if they are investing in the world and invested in the community. It is work, but it is so rewarding.


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