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A (very) common GM question is "What is your character doing?"

How do you, as a player, describe effectively what you character is doing?

What techniques do you use to evoke wonder and spark imagination in the other players? What do you do to enhance the story being told? Do you add a voice over? Do you add to the location description? Do you describe scents, textures, or nuanced physical changes? Do you physically act - raise your voice, stand up, gesticulate, use props? Is method acting helpful?

The goal here is to have a set of techniques that do your part, as a player instead of a GM, into fleshing the world into a vast real entity that is believable.

Other questions here, here, and here maybe helpful as well but are from the GM's point of view.

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4 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Good description is vital. A common piece of advice from novelists is, "If you want to become better at writing, read." This applies to roleplaying too!

When you read a novel, the author creates an image in your mind with words alone. Read a lot, then re-read the books to examine how the author created such an image. How does he define characters the reader can't physically see? How does he define places and feelings? Even if these things aren't evident, reading novels will let you absorb some of it by osmosis.

You don't need funny voices, physical acting, etc; although if done well, these can add to the game.

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I find it often helps to develop a "schtick" for your character. A "schtick" is a specific flourish or quote that characterizes your PC. Two of the best examples I can think of: "Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry" from the Hulk and "I pity the fool (add appropriate addendum)" from Mr. T.

My most recent 4th character was a Dwarf Fighter who usually pair off in combat with his Dwarven Runepriest buddy to dish out some major hurt. Our team-up tag-line became, "Fear the beard!"

This seems silly and even a bit campy at first but, for someone who isn't used to adding flourish to their actions, it's a great starting tool. From there it just gets easier.

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The first step that I take with any character is to immerse myself in the character. I find that until I can find the character's 'voice' and they become real to me, I'm not able to visualize the character, and they remain flat on the paper..

First, I make sure that I describe the character as more than just race and height and weight. What affectations to they have? Any birthmarks, scars, or unique physical characteristics?

Second, the character's attitude is important. Characterizing what they would do in situations helps to define the baseline for the character, as does what they find important, or repulsive. Some games have mechanics for this process, but it helps to do it even if the game doesn't force it.

Short stories before the events of the game also make a big difference in helping to refine the character. You get a bit of what this gives playing them in game, but I find that this gives a head start, reducing the amount of time it takes to get the character.

All of this helps to give a weight to the character, and make their actions more than just dice rolls. The next thing is to put it into action. Add little details first, and flesh them out as the situation occurs again and again. As more details are added, try to engage not just the senses, but the character's intent. The first time it might be something as simple as saying "He parries the attack on the leading edge of his blade," as you roll the dice. Next time you might add a sound to it, i.e. "Their weapons ring with the contact as he parries the attack on the leading edge of his blade."

Then start adding intent and flavor based on the character. Is he aggressive?

"Conscious of his next move, he parries the attack on the leading edge of his blade, pressing towards his opponent as their weapons ring with the impact."

Is he more defensive?

"Fending off his opponent, he parries the attack on the leading edge of his blade, trying to move his enemies weapon out of line as their weapons ring with the impact."

To add these details, I find that I have to be immersed, know the character, and picture what he's doing in my mind to be able to add the little flourishes that change the action from an exercise in dice rolling and number crunching to an activity that engages the others around the table. Yes, acting both in word and in action helps. But these little touches help more I've found. And I see the difference when I have done these things versus when I haven't.

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I switch between the third-person omniscient voice when explaining my character's actions, or dealing with possible success or failure, and first-person voice for direct action. I tend to have something unique or different about my character's voice to help distinguish it from mine/the player's. For complex actions, I might pantomime with my hands. I find these techniques help maintain player knowledge separate from character knowledge, yet give the other players (and GM) the information they need to act in/build on the scene.

For example, suppose the scene is an ambush, I might describe my turn:

Vonn (my character) believes the hired guides are treacherous and led us into this trap. I draw my knife and grab the guide in front of me, threatening to slit his throat! If he succeeds in getting the drop on the guide, Vonn speaks quietly in his ear. (Wait for GM response...)

It's also useful for explaining why a character doesn't make the "best" tactical choice, or follow the group:

In the noise of combat, Vonn doesn't hear the others' retreat and follows his training. I draw my sword and charge the treeline, screaming a warcry! AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!

Yes, I probably raise my voice for that.

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