Standard disclaimer: I got these points from a YouTube video centered around actual self help and the real life application of these points. I didn’t come up with this myself, I’m just repurposing it for fiction writing and roleplaying. I would love to be able to link that video here, so if you have it, drop a link in the comments please! (Edit: If you’ve been following, you know Nerditor Doug found it and it’s over here. Also Charisma on Command, very good material, makes a lot of Game of Thrones references, if you’re not already watching him you should be.)
That said, last time we talked about building trust with the other players and how that is actually more of an out of character thing than an in character one. Today, we’re going into phase three, which rolls back to in character.
You can try to make them respect your character now
Not, “you have to make them respect your character now” but “it’s kosher to do it at this point.” See, a big problem a lot of people have with their characters is they march them out on screen and either have them recite this litany of good deeds they’ve done or you inform the party or the reader of this litany of good deeds they’ve done.
Look. If the prose is just telling the reader directly it is going to come off as the character bragging. If you’re in the kind of play by post RPG game where the players each have multiple characters in play, and you have one character talking up the other, it’s going to come off as bragging because you are still the one doing it.
There is no substitute for actions. There is no substitute for acting in a respectable fashion. Informed traits aren’t good; your other players and your readers want to see your character doing things worthy of respect and you can’t earn it by walking up to someone and saying, “Hi, I’m a badass.”
Whatever you want people to think about your character, you have to have them behave in a way that professes that.
Ty Johnston’s character, Israel Amadeus, in our Open Legend game last year is a great example of this. He never had to tell us that Israel was bold. He showed it to us by having him take crazy risks and never thinking twice about what might happen to him as a result. And those decisions had some very real consequences, but it never stopped him.
That’s respectable. There’s something deeply admirable about that. He could have died at any point, these were real risks, but it’s also who he is.
You want your character to have a reputation for being intelligent? You have to have them make intelligent choices. You can help it a little by having them speak in a polysyllabic fashion and adjust their glasses occasionally, yes, but show them knowing things. Make knowledge checks. Writers, have them pull facts out and inform the other characters of things.
If the rest of the party never actually sees the evidence of your character being awesome, they aren’t going to think your character is awesome and they aren’t going to respect them. They’ll come off as that guy who just told them all kinds of stuff about how cool he was and they laughed when he left the room.
See, respect is something your character should be building while you are building trust. The entire time they are themselves, they should be doing things that illustrate who they are and what you want people to think of them, and the more organically these things can come up the better.
…walk up and say “hi, I’m a badass”
Imagine if you did that in real life. Imagine if you just walked up to someone and the first thing out of your mouth was “I’ve killed thousands of goblins.” Imagine if someone walked up to you in real life and the first thing out of their mouth was about how they’re a black belt, or they wouldn’t shut up about their job as a firefighter. I bet you’ve been in that situation before.
It is just as obnoxious when your character does it. And if it’s something dark like about how they’re an assassin, no one is going to believe it. There are just some things you don’t bring up on first meeting someone. It’s no replacement for proper character development.
Writers, this goes double for your prose. Please do not inform me that your character is an ultraninja. Show me them being an ultraninja instead.
…no really, please someone show me a character being an ultraninja that sounds fun as hell.
And this is going to be the last one. Because the last point is “Show Genuine Interest” and the problem it seems that most people have is leading with that. I guess if there’s an interest I’ll go back and write that one, but for the time being I’m gonna go ahead and sign off.
Stay Nerdy <3
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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.