Category Archives: Roleplaying

Role-playing 110 – Character Development

I’ve covered character improvement already, so now I’m going to talk a little about character development. The distinction, to me, is that the former is tied to the levelling mechanics of the game being played and the latter is tied to the narrative.

When entering the hobby, it is entirely okay for you to focus more on engaging with the game through a mechanical approach and learning the ropes before diving into the role-playing aspect of things. The D&D game that I’m typing up in the Actual Play section of this website remains focussed on the player characters and not their backstories for this very reason.
It is important that you feel comfortable with the game before increasing your engagement with it. As such, if you don’t feel able to deal with matters beyond what your character is currently experiencing, tell whoever is running the game. They’ll understand. There is a lot of trust needed around the game table, so to speak, and if one player isn’t comfortable with what they are doing, it will show and the game will suffer.

Assuming a certain level of comfort and familiarity with the game, then, how can you further develop character?

There are, as ever, a few ways to do this, and I shall try to explain them to the best of my ability.

The first method is the most obvious; through role-play. This is what you’ll find yourself doing through the course of play as your character reacts to the events of the game. You’ll find this method to be a constant drip of development as your character (guided by previously established facts of their personality) responds to the situations they find themselves in.
Something else to realise about this method of character development  is that other members of the party will play a large part in how your character develops. Inter-character relationships and interactions are a huge factor in how they will grow over the course of the game. Whilst you are under no compulsion to allow these things to impact your character, it’s generally better for group morale to follow them through to their end.
One of the most enjoyable things, in my experience, is to see how your character reacts when other party members put them in impossible situations.

The second method is tied to the first, but definitely separate; through play. As you play, you will discover what aspects of the game you like, and which ones your character feels like they thrive in. At the very least, you should have a good idea about which aspects of the game you would like your character to improve in.
Just by taking an interest in these aspects, you’ll be signifying to the person running the game that you want to see more of them and, all being well, they will likely plan on involving them more often. In this way, you should be having a self-directed manner of character development that evolves organically over the course of the game.

The third method is something that requires you to step out of the game and, as such, should only really be done when you are a) comfortable with doing so and b) when you are comfortable with whoever is running your game. The latter is important because this method requires you to talk to the GM about what you want for your character.
A lot of the time, this method will also involve clues and hooks you include in your character backstory.  If you are comfortable with leaving your character plans hidden in the backstory for your GM to uncover and elaborate upon, that is perfectly fine.
If you want something more, however, you need to arrange some way of talking privately to your GM. When you are able to do this, tell them what you think the future of your character could involve, what aspects of their personality you want to explore and whether or not you want anything else to happen. Really, if you get the chance to do this, you should tell them anything you want to regarding your character and the game, but I digress.
By telling them any of this, you are letting your GM know what you enjoy exploring and playing. As a result, they will hopefully try to incorporate more of it into the game.
One benefit of this method is that, in your discussion, the GM may suggest things about your character and their development that haven’t occurred to you but that you like. Another is that they may include things in the game that you’ve never thought of but which act as a good springboard for character development.
As a coda to this, you can also talk with your fellow players to discuss how their characters can help with the development of yours for roughly the same benefits.

Whatever you choose, it is important to remain comfortable with your choices.

These are only a few possible methods, of course, but hopefully they are informative. If you can think of any more, or have any other comments, let me know below.

Atlas Inspirare: Marcher’s Vale

Marcher’s Vale is a large, flat grassland. Claimed hundred years ago by the family of a long forgotten Lord, it takes its name from its use as a regular staging post for military forces during the long years of the Emerald War.

Situated on the borders of the Gravewyld Forest and the human kingdom of Ravanosk, Marcher’s Vale is roughly fifty square miles of arable pasture land. Situated within its borders are many farms, hamlets and villages, comprised mostly of human and elven settlers from the surrounding countryside.

Unlike other areas of the land, there are almost no racial tensions among the people of the Vale. This is due, in part, to the necessities of life here. With almost no resources other than fresh water and arable land, everyone must tend to their own craft in order to survive. As a result, the inhabitants of the Vale depend upon each other for survival and there is a remarkably low crime rate.

What crime there is, is dealt with the by Reeve. Appointed by the monarch in the far away city of Rusthold, the Reeve holds office from a fortified mansion in the largest settlement of the Vale, the city of Marcher’s Keep.

An ancient motte and bailey castle, Marcher’s Keep remained the only permanent structure in the Vale for centuries. Situated atop the lone hill, known to all as Giant’s Seat, Marcher’s Keep was built to guard the Vale during the Emerald War and was converted into a market town after the end of that conflict. Now, it functions as the trading centre of the Vale, as well as housing the few officials deemed necessary to keep the Vale a functioning region of Ravanosk.

Home to the Reeve, the Tithe-counter and the High Confessor, Marcher’s Keep is a thriving urban centre and plays host to a regular calendar of festivals, feast days and celebrations. During one of the many events, anyone is entitled to join the official parades and many use the occasion to catch up with old friends and learn new stories.

For their part, the three representatives of the King’s court tolerate the local’s predilection for partying with amused condescension. They view it as an easy way of keeping the peace and use every opportunity they can to seed the crowds with their agents to ensure they remain in touch with popular thought and opinion.

Outside of Marcher’s Keep, the towns of Springsough and High Pasture are the largest centres of civilisation.

Springsough is sited at the north tip of the Vale, a large town built in the foothills that rise to meet the White Peaks. With its intimidating walls, twisting streets and well-trained militia, the old city has guarded the source of the life-giving Iallen river for as long as the Vale has been inhabited. Traditionally used to guard the entrances of the Vale against the tribes that call the White Peaks home, Springsough has recently seen an influx of refugees from the nearby Gravewyld.

High Pasture, roughly halfway along the eastern border of the Vale, is almost the opposite of Springsough. The town itself began as a permanent livestock market some two hundred years ago and grew rapidly. Originally a cluster of small stone buildings, High Pasture now counts some fifteen hundred people as its residents with an ever increasing transient population. Situated well away from any traditional threats, High Pasture is a market town without equal in Ravanosk.

Plot Hooks

An unknown illness is sweeping through the stock of High Pasture. No mundane treatments have any effect.

The sounds of conflict can be heard echoing through the tunnels that honeycomb the hills around Springsough, but no bodies have been found.

The Gravewyld burns in the light of the full moon, and dread noises fill the air. Something is happening among those twisted trunks.

Marcher’s Keep has long stood for civilisation and the royalty, but recently there have been whispers of dissent. Parties unknown seem to be attempting to overthrow the royal presence.

Armies of the past have begun appearing as spectral images roving the grasslands around the tiny hamlet of Rulfstead. No official authority has deemed the matter worthy of investigation.

Role-playing 109 – Character Improvement

After a few sessions of gameplay, you should be in a position to be thinking about character improvement through gaining new skills and abilities. Depending on the system/ruleset this can take many different forms, so this article will be vague (in keeping with the theme of most of these articles) but should be mostly relevant, no matter which system you’re using.

Full disclosure, I play to explore the narrative and different mental states, so that will be where most of the article focuses. I know, however, that this isn’t the only reason people role-play, so I’ll try to do my best to offer advice on a few other ways of determining character improvement.

Without further ado, let us begin.

My first step when thinking about character improvement is to consider my character’s backstory. This is especially true with the first chance to ‘level up’. Because it is the closest to your character’s history, this ‘level up’ should probably represent the culmination of why your character has become involved in the game in the first place.

For fantasy systems with spellcasting, the choice of your first few spells can really help determine your character’s relationship to the game. For other systems, perhaps their initial foray into the game allows them to improve a skill or two that they want to develop.

Beyond that though, are the basic building blocks of personality that arose during their backstory and that you might have been exploring during play. When in doubt, use these to determine how your character improves. As a rule of thumb, choices made during ‘level up’ should reflect how your character feels about themselves, their place in the player party and their place in the world.

A few examples of this would be Muse, my D&D character, who usually selects spells related to obfuscation and word-play because she thinks of herself as a spy/social infiltrator. This is why she multi-classed as a Rogue when she began to practice her training again. Another example would be Christine, a much loved (and much damaged) Call of Cthulhu character who never thought of herself as more than a researcher and never learned any way to defend herself beyond basic unarmed self-defence. The dice may have a played a part in Christine’s development, due to the way CoC levelling works, but as it suited her character, it worked out well in the end.

Beyond making choices that reflect how your character feels about themselves, it is worth considering the needs of the player party. If there is an aspect of your character that could be improved to cover an area of the party’s skills that is lacking, it may be worth considering. This option also has the benefit of driving your character development in a manner which you haven’t planned and will make things fresh again.

Sticking with Muse as an example, our party doesn’t have a dedicated healer so at the last level up, I replaced her one damaging spell with a healing one. I decided that she had realised that, even though her goals didn’t align exactly with the rest of the party, she needed them alive to be able to get what she wants. She may not like relying on others, but she recognises the value of teamwork. Originally, she was going to be so consumed with vengeance that she would have happily left most of the party by the wayside.

The third choice in this method is just pick what seems cool. Role-playing games are, at their core, fantasy. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where there hasn’t been a skill or ability in the rules that didn’t exactly fit with the character but didn’t seem cool enough to warrant going the extra mile for. In my experience, you can usually find a way to rationalise learning new things that your character wouldn’t necessarily learn in the normal course of things.

This is why Christine chose to learn how to dance, I rationalised it as a way to blend in with the high society cult leaders we encountered.


Other approaches to role-playing and character improvement include making characters as efficient as possible. There are plenty of guides and things online to help with this, but this method of character improvement highlights making your character as good as they possibly can be at the one thing (or few things) that they do.
This typically works best when everyone is on the same page about what you want to achieve with your character but usually involves choosing one a prescribed number of options depending on the role you want to fulfill.

You may also make a choice based entirely on what other people recommend, or on what the party needs at that moment in time. This requires a lot of communication, but can produce a well-rounded party and great synergy.
A party that is built to solve any problem will likely have little trouble with any one thing for long, so this approach is usually favoured by groups that know one another well and happily adapt their characters in response to the changing situation of the game and the party’s needs.

The last one that I can think of right now is character improvement to alter the story. This is a method of determining your character’s improvements that requires a lot of communication with the GM.
This could come into play where your character is working at cross-purposes to the rest of the party, has wildly differing goals, or where something your GM would like to happen relies upon a member of the party being able to do a certain thing.
This approach requires you to surrender some control of your character in order to have them more entwined with the story as a whole. As such, it should not be undertaken lightly but can have a great payoff if done well.


Has this article been useful? Which methods do you favour? Let me know in the comments section.

Role-playing 105a – How I Write the Story

This time around, I’m going to go into more detail about how to design your story. As previously mentioned, because I’m trying to be as system neutral as possible, I will use broad strokes to describe my typical process.

This article will take you through the brief step-by-step method that I usually use when designing campaigns. Feel free to use any and all of it for your own purposes. If you feel like anything is missing or could be improved, let me know in the comments. Each step will be illuminated with an example, using the D&D 5th Edition campaign that I am drawing the Actual Play posts from. Those posts are still taken from the Starter Set but will eventually reach the material discussed here.

The first thing to consider is what you want to play. You aren’t going to enjoy writing, and playing through, a campaign that you personally aren’t invested in.

When writing my campaign, I really wanted to have something grand in scope with a huge, world ending threat at the end of it. I know it’s not very original, but it’s something I’ve wanted to run for a while, and it’s not too difficult for first time role-players to deal with.

The second thing is you NEED to write something your players will enjoy. This can be done through discussing things with them, just by picking up on what they enjoy in the first few sessions of play, or through their characters.

One of my players is a Ranger with ‘undead’ selected as her favoured enemy so that was pretty obvious. All of my players also enjoyed their interaction with the Nothic so I decided to play off of that and have scope for more Nothics later in the game. Nothics being wizards from Netheril, the empire that used to rule the Sword Coast, suggested to me that Netheril could play a large part in what’s to come. I know that my players like history so I felt fine adding Netheril in.

The obvious thing to do is to have a Lich, or similar, from old Netheril be the main antagonist. So I ran with that. I came up with a name of vaguely Latin origin and decided that Netheril was a pseudo-Roman civilisation.

This gave me a history to things (an Empire brought down from within, ruins and remnants all around the area they are exploring, customs and traditions that are accepted as fact but that no one can explain) and gave me an idea for my grand scope. Graeco-Roman gods were frequently extremely human in their behaviours, to the extent that political leaders were often identified as divine themselves and nothing was seen to be wrong with that.

My thought process then ran to ‘what if?’. In this case, it was what if the emperor was actually a god? What if Netheril was ruled by an immortal, divine being? What happened to it?

These questions lead me to the third step; throw a spanner in the works.

An antagonist, to some extent, should do this already, but more than that, this means do something unpredictable.

In this case, I decided time travel was the way forwards.

Netheril, the God, was ripped from his time (leading to the collapse of the Empire) by the Lich (themselves the last scion of a noble family wishing to resurrect the glory of Netheril) and brought forwards into the timeline of the game.

The fourth thing is to decide on rough tiers of experience. Each section of the game should feel appropriate to the player character’s abilities.

In D&D, PCs get stronger and stronger, becoming powerful heroes. As such, things should scale with them. There are rough guidelines given in one of the core books and I ran with those. Levels 1-5 are covered by the Starter Set and represent the PCs coming into their own. Levels 6-10 are designed to cover the heroes realising the threat of the Lich and racing to stop him, reaching a crescendo with the Lich performing the ritual to summon Netheril. Levels 11-15 will, hopefully, see the heroes flung backwards in time and working to take down Netheril (the empire) from inside, contending with mythical heroes and divine beings. Levels 16-20 will (assuming we make it that far) have the heroes facing off against Netheril, gaining allies and bringing order back to a world in thrall of a god.

Into this framework, I inserted a variety of combat, social and exploration based encounters designed to hit the main plot points and narrative milestones of each chapter. Around these encounters, I will insert more sandbox based things that arise during play, to give the players a sense of agency. Something important to note is that whilst the non-sandbox encounters are, by their very nature, less flexible, I’ve designed them in such a way that they can occur in a variety of situations so that the players don’t feel funnelled into one particular course of action.

So that is my rough approach to campaign design. Obviously, it’ll change from game to game, but these are the points I try to hit every time and can be applied to one-shot games, as well as campaigns.

I hope you find the above helpful.

Chapter Five: Speaking with the Dead

Last session saw the party return from Cragmaw Castle and start making their way through the list of side quests they have accumulated.


Cast

  1. – N’idera – Half-elf Ranger (Beast Master)
  2. – Ara’tak – Aarakocra Druid (Moon)
  3. – Sirath – Dragonborn Paladin (Vengeance)

DM – Torvak – Goliath Cleric (Life)


The party, with Vyerith in tow, returned to Phandalin and collected their reward for clearing out Cragmaw Castle. Whilst there, they sold what spare equipment they could and received the Gloves of Revelation from Gundren Rockseeker in return for escorting him to his base of operations.

[DM’s Note: The Gloves of Revelation are a magical item that allows the wearer to cast Identify once a day. The version of the spell that is cast allows only for obvious magical effects to be discovered. I gave this ability to my players because they have no party member capable of casting that spell and my plans for the campaign don’t really include reliable access to someone who can cast it.]

Sildar, relieved at the return of his friend, promised future rewards when his belongings finally arrive. Gundren, for his part, offered to accompany them to Wave Echo cave when they decide to go there.

N’idera, curious about her bow, used the Gloves to reveal its magical properties whilst the party decided, on the flip of a coin, to travel to Coneyberry and converse with Agatha.

By the time they reached Coneyberry, the Gloves had recharged and Sirath gave her the dagger from the hunting lodge to examine. The moment she touched it, vines erupted from the earth and wrapped around her, supporting N’idera’s body as she fell unconscious.

The Ranger appeared on the edge of a cliff and was asked a series of questions by two figures she realised were Malar and Gwaerom. She told them that she protects the wilds whilst Sasha hunts those who would harm them. The two gods were satisfied with this answer and she awoke, to see a blue glow around Sasha’s neck. Investigation revealed a small chain collar apparently growing there.

[DM’s Note: The dream vision was designed to allow N’idera’s player to choose the effects of her weapons by choosing a focus on hunting, or guarding. The answer she gave wasn’t one I predicted, but resulted in some cool character development and a flexible ‘loadout’ of magical weapons.]

Sirath realised the dagger would be better with N’idera and the party found Agatha’s lair. There they conversed politely with the banshee and obtained the information Sister Giraele required.

With that taken care of, the party decided to head towards Old Owl Well.

They approached it from behind and accidentally alerted the zombies working in the tower. Curious, but not hostile, Kostus emerged from his tent to investigate and was forced to shrug off the effects of Sirath’s Abjure Enemy. The party was hard-pressed to fend of the zombies but they succeeded, eventually, and were forced to incapacitate Kostus as he fled.

N’idera took him down, shooting him in the leg, and that was the point at which we ran out of time.

[DM’s Note: I use a rule that a ranged, non-magical attack can incapacitate an NPC but giving the players a round to stabilise said NPC, providing the attack is not a critical hit.]

Lady Kima of Vord and Cassandra de Rolo – A Grave Conversation

Here is the last entry for Critical Role Relationship Week and as promised, I have compiled a PDF of all the vignettes I wrote.

Enjoy!


The blade on my shoulder felt cool where it pressed against the skin of my neck. The tombstones lying all around were disquieting at this time of day.

With the sun barely risen, and the clouds in the sky, the scene looked like something I would have stumbled across back in the Dusk Meadow District. A mausoleum nearby caught my eye and, for a second, a tall, hooded figure stood in front of it. I blinked and the figure disappeared.

I felt my fingers tightening unconsciously around the sword hilt and forced myself to breathe. My breath plumed in the air visibly and I frowned. Something was wrong.

I stopped and looked around.

Ahead of me, I could see Lady Cassandra and her guards in front of an ornate crypt. Behind me, Jarett was sauntering out of sight. I could see nothing else in the graveyard and yet, I was certain that something else was here with us.

“Come out where I can kill you.” I whispered under my breath. The silence answered me and the feeling passed as abruptly as it had arrived. I shivered and glanced again at the mausoleum that had attracted my attention. A lone bird was perched upon it.

As I saw it, it gave a loud caw and flew off.

“Bloody bird.” I muttered and started walking again.

My plate clanked quietly as I moved and it broke the ominous silence. Birdsong filtered through the air and the guards with Lady Cassandra flinched, as if jerking themselves to wakefulness. One of them turned and leaned towards her slightly. She nodded and made a dismissive gesture. The two figures saluted and began walking towards me.

“The Lady bids you welcome.” One of them said, his voice deep in the full face helm. “We will be nearby if anything happens.”

I nodded and grinned.

“I’ll let you know if it’s something I can’t handle.”

The other guard laughed quietly and they continued past me.

“Lady Kima.” Lady Cassandra’s voice was strained, dark rings lined her eyes and her smile was a tired one. “Thank you for coming.”

“Lady de Rolo.” I inclined my head hurriedly, barely remembering the etiquette lessons I’d suffered through in the Platinum Sanctuary.

“Cassandra, please.” She flicked her fingers in a dismissive gesture. “I endure enough of the proper formalities in the castle.” She met my eyes, looking down into them with a pleading expression on her face.

“Cassandra.” I smiled. “Why am I here?” I looked around again. “Graveyards aren’t really my thing, you know.”

She laughed.

“I know. You’re here because I wished to pay my respects to the memory of my parents and because I wanted somewhere we couldn’t be overheard.” I nodded. “I worry about a lot of things. I worry about my brother. I worry about redemption. I worry about my people.” She fell silent and looked up at the empty sky. “But most of all, I worry about what we’re going to do if the worst happens. I am not a warrior like you or Percival. All of this is new to me. Lady Kima, would you teach me to fight?” She looked down at me again.

“I’m always happy to fight, Lad- Cassandra. But Jarett…” She shook her head, cutting me off.

“Jarett is competent and experienced. But he will never think of himself as more than an employee. I need someone who isn’t afraid of shouting at me when I need it. I need someone who will show me how to get the job done. Someone who doesn’t care about social standing, or the niceties. In short, Lady Kima, I need you. Will you do this for me? Will you teach me to fight so that I may better defend my people?”

I grinned widely.

“Will I take every opportunity to hand you your ass without regrets? Of course, I will. But,” I stopped smiling. “I will also show you how to improve. A sword is only as good as the intent behind it. Intention, Cassandra, begins here.” I touched her chest with my gauntleted hand. “Do you have the resolve it takes to fight?”

She straightened.

“I am a de Rolo, Lady Kima. Much like Percival, I have the resolve to do anything I set my mind to.”

I laughed and held my hand out to her.

“Good. Then this will be fun.”

Role-playing 301: Role-playing in the Workplace

Today will be a bit of a departure from my usual articles on role-playing. Rather than being aimed at helping people get into the hobby, this article will begin to explore how role-playing can be used in a professional context.

It will not delve into every facet of this, and I plan on returning to this topic in a future update, but for now, it will serve as a basic introduction to the value role-playing games can have in the world of work. Before delving into this subject matter, however, I should remind the reader that my viewpoint is necessarily limited by my own experiences and so some of the material found below may not be applicable to every situation.

The main focus of this article will be upon team-work and the benefits that role-playing games can have upon a team’s ability to work together.

Most role-playing games depend upon a high degree of team-work to be successful. Many games involve puzzles of varying difficulties, investigations that require careful attention to detail and organisation, and enemy combatants that have weaknesses or attack patterns that can be exploited by a party of characters working together.

Team-work, in this context, depends upon several things: communication, organisation and a willingness to listen to the advice of others. These three skills are the three main things that a person will have to master in order to work well as part of the party in-game, as well as in their employment outside of it.

Let’s break down each skill and look at how it relates to both the game and the world of work.

Communication is perhaps the most obvious. It is the ability to convey your ideas in a manner which others can understand.

In-game, how your character communicates will be flavoured by their character’s peculiarities and experiences, as well as their relationships with other characters.  Regardless of that though, you should always be aiming to convey the information you have that your party needs in an accessible manner, or interacting with other characters to in a way that achieves your goal for that interaction.

Out of game, communication fulfils much the same role. You’ll need to relay relevant information in a manner that people can understand and in a way that you get the answers and results you require from any given situation (compromising where necessary).

But more than that, role-playing games can foster inter-departmental communication. In my experience, different departments of organisations are usually fairly insular. They’ll talk to each other but the information flow between two departments can sometimes be lacking. Playing in a group composed of members of different departments can help break down these barriers.

By spending time with other members of the organisation, you will grow to understand how they communicate best and a level of familiarity will exist that might not otherwise happen. This will have a knock-on effect in that you will know how to phrase questions and tailor your conversations with that team member, in order to get what you need to do your job.

Organisation is pretty much the same in-game and in the office (so to speak). This is more about keeping track of information, being able to have relevant resources to hand and generally having an easy to follow method of gathering and storing useful material.

The benefit here for the work-place is that the other members of your group will quickly pick up on your organisation methods (and you, theirs) which means that if you are asked to track down information only they have and they aren’t available, you’ll have a good idea of where to look or who to ask.

It also has the added benefit that players will share good organisational practices with each other, meaning everyone becomes more efficient at organising things that they are responsible for.

Finally, the ability to listen to others is an undervalued skill that role-playing games promote. Beyond merely paying attention to others, this is actively internalising what they say.

This is tied in somewhat with the familiarity that spending time with others breeds, but it is also a mind-set that some people lack or ignore. The puzzles presented in role-playing games often require a mixed skill-set that it is rare to find in one person, so listening to the advice of others is important.

In the wider world of work, being able to do this means that you will be able to learn from those more experienced than you. Team-members will be able to share skills and knowledge between each other when completing projects and the project as a whole will benefit from it. The practice gained in-game should translate to an ability to internalise and build upon the advice of others, as well as allowing team-mates to listen to each other fairly and not ignore less vocal participants.

By freely sharing information, knowledge and experience, as well as by listening to everyone equally, team morale should improve and projects should be completed smoothly and efficiently.

Efficiency and a greater degree of familiarity with each other are the two main outcomes of role-playing together in a team-work sense, but they are by no means the only benefits that role-playing can offer in a work-place setting.

I will expand upon other benefits in future updates, but for now, if you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments. If you feel like role-playing is something you would like to try in your workplace, share this article with the relevant people so they can see some of its benefits.

Until next time!