Category Archives: Roleplaying

Role-playing 303: Communication Skills

In earlier articles in this series (301 and 302), I briefly mentioned how role-playing games can improve your communication skills in the work place. This week, I’m going to cover that particular subject in more detail.

I’ve already explained how role-playing helps you communicate better and in a sympathetic manner, so today I’m going to talk about how it helps you react to social situations, use written communication methods to convey information clearly and read people in order to make it easier to communicate with them.

If, like me, you are not comfortable in social situations, there is a phrase you should always bear in mind; ‘fake it, until you make it’. I’ve been applying this for years when it comes to appearing confident in front of others, and to some extent it works. I’m never going to be good at small talk, that is simply not a skill I possess, but I can act confident for long enough that I feel it, for a short time at least.

Role-playing has played a large part in this. A few years ago, I decided to break from my usual characters and rolled up the bard I speak frequently about here in an effort to force myself out of my rut and into a more… socially comfortable mind-set. It was, to some extent, effective. Role-playing that kind of character has taught me about the social cues I display and the behaviours I fall back on when under pressure. Knowing these things allows me to monitor my reactions to other people in conversation and tailor them according to the situation. This isn’t a fool-proof plan by any means, but it helps me to react to things in a much calmer, controlled manner.

When I feel the panic and social anxiety starting to kick in, I let myself slip into my bard’s mind-set, rather than my own. This, obviously, is a learned skill and takes a certain amount of self-confidence, or a willingness to push past the discomfort. What I have realised, and what I believe is the big takeaway here, is that if you have a ‘library’, so to speak, of personalities to draw upon, as long as you take only those aspects which are helpful and which you have learned from, you’ll be able to deal far better with situations that throw you off-balance, or make you uncomfortable.

My next point will likely come more naturally to people who run role-playing games for others, as opposed to those who play them, but will hopefully still prove useful to anyone reading this.

Writing adventures (whether one-shot games or longer storylines) teaches you the importance of concise summaries (of the relevant happenings from any given game session), coherent notes (whether world building or in terms of planning) and a consistent style. The purpose of any game, in my opinion, is to draw the players in, make them invested in the world in which their characters exist and to maintain a sense of continuity. In order to achieve these goals, you must maintain a consistent style in your storytelling, as well as be able to refer to your notes on a subject days, weeks etc. after the fact and recall any relevant information. Being able to do this in a professional context is invaluable.

Not only does it allow you to build effective relationships with people you do not ordinarily see face to face, because they are able to quickly understand who you are through your writing style, register and tone, but you will also be able to convey the importance of information by altering your writing style, something that your correspondent won’t be able to pick up on as easily if you don’t have a consistent baseline when contacting them.

The importance of concise summaries is more related to the presentation of information, than it is to the actual way in which you communicate, but remains important here nonetheless. As in the context of the game, being able to accurately produce concise summaries of information allows you to quickly and clearly convey your message, without confusing the matter with an abundance of extraneous information. Naturally, of course, some people prefer to have more facts than fewer, and you will have to tailor this approach accordingly, but being able to do it is an invaluable talent to possess.

My final point is related slightly to something I discussed above; role-playing allows you to familiarise yourself with a wide variety of personalities and character types which gives you the ability to understand people more quickly than you otherwise might. This isn’t a comprehensive psychological process, nor is it fool-proof, but it does help. If you understand a person’s behaviour, you can gain an insight into their motivations, and might even be able to work out what they want, whether out of life or at that current moment, which allow you to communicate effectively with them by tailoring what information you tell them and the manner in which you put it across.

To some extent, being able to read people like this does rely on learned experience and gut instinct (I know I’m only just starting to get a feel for it) but people I have spoken to recently have explained, in great detail, the value of being able to do this.

The main point of this post, I believe, is that role-playing allows you to build a ‘database’ of character types and personalities that you can draw upon to help you in social situations, or to help you read people and alter your communication with them accordingly, and that it helps you to develop your written communication skills. All of these things can make you better at your job, and they are all things that can be taught to other people, but ultimately, they’re skills that are useful in all aspects of one’s life.

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Remnant: Roleplaying in the World of RWBY

In celebration of RWBY volume 5 beginning tomorrow, I’ve decided to throw open the doors of my game design archive and am proud to present the playtest rules for ‘Remnant’. ‘Remnant’ is a tabletop roleplaying game I designed a few years ago but never did anything with.

It is my hope that it proves at least moderately enjoyable for the fandom, and I’m happy to receive any thoughts, comments or criticisms on this website or at the contact e-mail provide on the About page.

Disclaimer: Remnant is not endorsed by Rooster Teeth in any way.  Views, opinions, thoughts are all my own.  Rooster Teeth and RWBY are trade names or registered trademarks of Rooster Teeth Productions, LLC.  © Rooster Teeth Productions, LLC.

Anyway, now that’s all over with, Remnant can be found here.

Enjoy!

Plot Hooks 4

I’ve broken from my usual formula this week, instead of grouping hooks by genre, I’ve grouped them by a person/societal group of interest. As ever, of course, these plot hooks can be used as writing prompts (there is a good deal of crossover between role-playing and writing), one-shots or as a seed for a whole campaign.

Enjoy!


Person of Authority (PoA)

Something has been stolen from a local PoA, but when the player characters find it, it isn’t what they expect.

The local PoA has been missing for a few days; they were last seen on the outskirts of town during a charitable parade.

The local PoA has sent bounty hunters after the player characters for a crime they do not remember committing.

A recent power struggle has left the player characters in the enviable position of choosing the next PoA.

A family member of one of the player characters has recently been courted by a local PoA, but said PoA seems too good to be true.

 

Those Shunned By Society

A local beggar has asked the player characters to help them find a friend the player characters found on a recent adventure. When they visit, the friend has disappeared leaving behind a single white feather.

An orphan claims to know a secret that could destroy one of the player characters.

A local street gang has been making hostile advances towards someone the player characters like; at first glance they appear to have been paid off.

A disease is spreading through the local homeless population and affecting no-one else.

When a known thief is found inside the house one of the player characters, they claim to have no memory of how they got there.

 

A Passing Stranger

One of the player characters finds a body which disappears when it is reported.

Someone has been following the player characters and tidying up their loose ends.

The player characters run into someone who knows them all, but who they have no memory of.

An ex-lover of one of the player characters is being threatened by persons unknown. The threats are intensely personal and seem to be escalating.

When the player characters find someone on their adventures, they don’t realise how much trouble their new associate is in.

Hiatus + Plot Hooks 3

Hi everyone,

I’m going to take a few weeks off of regular updates to try and get onto a more even keel. I’m not afraid or ashamed to talk about mental health on here, so it should come as no surprise to some of you that every now and then, a bad spot occurs in my own mental health.

I’ve been struggling with content recently and I’m hoping this time off will help. All being well, I should return with an update on the 19th of August.

In the meantime, I hope you fare well and enjoy these plot hooks!

-Bubbles


Fantasy Plot Hooks

After the sky burned last month, no-one has heard from the nearby village of Pyre’s Well.

Is it orcs pillaging merchant caravans crossing the Redwyne Ford, or something else?

The local tavern is full of rumours about a mysterious song carried on the wind from the ruins of Elm Hall.

All the children in the school have been dreaming of a sunken house, burning eternally with an emerald fire.

Passenger ferries have been reporting sightings of some large, unknown creature as they cross the Mirror Lake.

Horror Plot Hooks

Something has been sighted on Main Street every night for the past two weeks, leaving only evaporating footprints behind.

Three members of the school football team reported dizziness and migraines shortly before disappearing entirely.

The local alt-fashion shop has been forced to close permanently after a parent blamed it for her son’s suicide. The owners maintain he left their shop alive, but was followed by a cloaked figure.

All the members of last night’s combat patrol have started mutating after encountering a shepherd.

A bizarre epidemic has swamped the local hospital. Whatever it is, is asymptomatic and presents as vivid hallucinations and nightmares followed by death.

Steampunk Plot Hooks

The remnants of the Crooked Fleet have been driven to ground in the ruins of Versailles. There are whispers they are building something there.

A new alloy has been discovered in the Americas, one that could revolutionise boiler production. There are sure to be many interested parties.

The legendary Captain Raul is hiring new crew members, he is sure to put new recruits through gruelling tests.

Venusian gas-hounds recently escaped from Lord Hawthorn’s manor and are causing havoc.

Brassen’s Finest Imports are looking for a courier willing to make a run into the jungles of Brazil. Such a journey would be dangerous, but profitable.

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.