You Don’t Have to Speak in Character

I’ve been slow to update this blog recently because I’ve spent more time at the table. I’m a player in one campaign, a referee in another, and I’m preparing to restart that open table I wrote about in 2022. This means introducing more people to RPGs — friends, coworkers, acquaintances, etc. — and that means overcoming barriers that make roleplaying seem harder than it is.

One thing I’ve stopped doing (for the most part) is speaking in character. I don’t enjoy it, I’m not good at it, and it wastes everyone’s time if I’m fumbling around looking for the exact right way to phrase my argument. I’m not an actor, I don’t like roleplaying-as-improv-performance.

Instead, I just describe how my character approaches a social situation — yeah, he wants to appeal to the king’s sense of duty to his people. He’s being extremely polite and formal with his language, and he’s using plenty of flattery.”

There we go. That communicates everything I wanted to get across, without getting bogged down in word choice or tone or what-have-you. It also highlights the decisions inherent to a negotiation. I need to find the right way to approach this conversation, using the information I have available to me, or else I won’t get what I want from this person.

I’m far from the first person to come up with this idea, but it’s completely changed how I approach roleplaying games. Personally, it’s a lot less stressful for me both as a player and as a referee.

A corollary is that I’m increasingly in favor of ditching social stats. I tried this in the short campaign I ran last year, and I thought it worked really well. In this conception, being persuasive isn’t about being generally charismatic or getting lucky with the dice — it’s more about finding the right angle for an argument using the available information. If I know this non-player character is greedy, I should make it profitable for them to do what I want. If this other NPC cares about their deity, I should appeal to their faith somehow when making my case.

The way I see it, a conversation is a puzzle, and that’s something better left to players than their characters. They don’t need to put on a performance, they just need to solve the puzzle.

April 10, 2024