The Psychology of a Likable RPG Character Part 2: Trust

Keep Your Campaign on Track: Sidestepping Your D&D Adventure
D&D Adventure: Pillars of the DM Craft, Part 2

Quick disclaimer really fast; these four points aren’t something I came up with. I learned this from a YouTube video and at the time of me putting my butt in a chair and writing these articles I have no idea where that channel is or where the video is because I look at as much porn as you do and had to clear my browser history. So, if you happen to have an idea of the video I’m talking about, I would super appreciate it if you’d drop me a link so I can credit the original dude for these ideas. (Edit: Our wonderful Nerditor Doug found it for me! He’s over here, the guy is Charisma on Command, he makes a lot of Game of Thrones references and is absolutely worth checking out if you haven’t already.)

Anyway, last time we talked about how you have to make the other players (or reader) have fun before anything else. This time, we’re going to talk about phase two.

RPG character trust
Trust is essential whether your character is dungeon delving or experimenting with magical essences. [Art by Aaron Lee]

You have to make them trust you

I suppose it also vaguely applies to having their character trust yours (and for that my advice is wait a little bit to let that happen), but actually, for the most part, this is on a player-player level. And I can hear a lot of my play-by-posters going ‘that’s meta, Megan,’ but it’s also real! Hear me out.

Do not get up and start doing trust falls with your gaming group – that’s not gonna help you. Well, it might, but it won’t help you with this thing in particular. What I mean when I say “trust” is they have to trust you to play a consistent and authentic character.

They have to be able to trust that…

…you have done your research

This is especially important if you are writing or playing in a ‘mostly real world’ setting! If your character is Jewish you had better do a lot of research on Judaism so you aren’t portraying a stereotype. If your character fixes cars, you had better know a little bit about how to fix them yourself. If you’re playing a Native American character and using a traditional name it had better come from the right tribe.

At the very least, do a Google search, because if you don’t, at best, it’s going to look like you just saw something sparkly and decided you wanted to play it without doing any of the work. At worst it’s going to look like you’re being culturally insensitive and that just doesn’t look good on anyone.

Note, some gaming groups won’t care as much about this. You know the people you play with. A good rule of thumb (I did my research, I know where that phrase came from, that isn’t how we use it anymore and language is justified by its usage, fight me) is to look at the other players and if they are doing a lot of research they’re probably going to notice if you don’t. If you’re a writer, always worry about this. Eventually someone is going to read your work who knows better and you’ll lose them if they can’t trust you to know your stuff.

One more note for the gamers in the audience before I move on; I’ve found that players around a tabletop are less likely to get stuck on this than play-by-posters are, so your mileage may vary.

…your character isn’t going to just suddenly change their behavior because something your character did was unappealing to them

Basically what I’m saying is, don’t backtrack. I know you thought what your character just did was going to be okay and you didn’t expect it to cause a fight, but the fight is happening now and pretending your character was possessed (even if you make it so they explicitly actually were) doesn’t make it not your fault and it’s just robbing the other players of their chance to be angry at something that actually made them angry.

So the cleric didn’t want to kill a bunch of kobolds that were just chilling in their cave and your character went back and did it anyway. You go well out of your way to cover your tracks so they don’t find out about it. That’s fine, that’s in character for you, but expect the truth to come out eventually and expect to fight about it. You can’t get off scott free every time your character does something kind of naughty.

Maybe it’s realistic to be able to hide something long term, but that’s not going to make the other players very happy and you can’t really blame them if they find other reasons for their character not to want to hang out with yours if it stretches on too long.

Think about it in terms of character agency. Just because the character doesn’t know about it doesn’t mean the player suddenly forgets and they might still be upset. Letting the fight happen is cathartic. Letting it be your character’s fault makes them more likely to forgive you in the long run.

…you aren’t mind reading their posts

This one is a problem almost exclusively likely to happen in play by post games. When you start typing your character instead of speaking them, sometimes you write what their thoughts are. You the player can’t unread those thoughts, but your character still shouldn’t know about them.

Writers, I know you don’t think this applies to you, and for the most part it doesn’t, but watch your protagonist. If they’re deducing something it should be fair. The audience should have had the opportunity to realize it too before the character says it, otherwise it’s cheating and the reader will feel cheated.

That said, play-by-posters, if another character posts that they’re feeling annoyed by your character but didn’t say it, and if they didn’t explicitly state they’re making a face, don’t assume they’re making a face just so your character can stop doing the thing that’s annoying them. This is the RPG version of knowing a monster has AC 15 because you’ve read the Monster Manual already and informing the rest of the table, except it’s worse because at least telling the rest of the table what the monster’s AC is only annoys the Dungeon Master and makes everybody else happy.

Mind reading is metagaming and people don’t like it.

…you aren’t going to make things personal on a player-player level

It’s just a game. You have to treat it like a game. If you’re upset, of course it’s prudent to talk to your RPG partners about it. But getting mad at someone else over something their character did isn’t okay. Separate in character from out of character, and leave those disputes at the gate.

People know when what you’re doing is actually about something that happened in the RPG, guys. Even if you think you’re being subtle, even if they don’t say it, they know. So let it go. No one owes you a friendship between your characters, no one owes you a relationship between your characters, breakups happen, and how you behave out of character when this stuff goes down totally colors how the other players are going to see you in later games. Be trustworthy enough that this isn’t an issue.

I know that doesn’t sound fair, you did it, not your character, but it matters.


…use modify memory or other spells like that to make characters forget that yours was an a-hole

If your DM is letting people do this you might want to speak up. It goes back to that whole agency thing. Even if the other character forgets, the player still remembers, and it’s not worth driving a wedge between you and another real person over.

…mind read people

Play by posters, if you’re not sure your character is supposed to know something, ask before you assume the answer is yes.

…make it personal or react to in character drama with out of character responses

If it feels that personal for you, you should probably step away for a moment.


All right, that’s trust. Next time we’re going to be talking about respect.

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Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Megan R. Miller lives in southern Ohio where she keeps mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. She has a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and she is happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Her fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.
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