After doing longer campaigns for a while, my group is now getting into a series of one shots to try different settings, systems and overall experiences.

What I realized so far when playing one-off games is that I often have trouble getting "into character" quickly, even if I do like the concept or idea behind it or try to model them after a character I know from a TV show or something. It's like I just need more time to get to know this person in order to feel comfortable playing them. On the other hand, I don't want to end up falling back to character concepts I feel familiar with, as the whole idea of the one shot marathon (for me) is about getting out of our comfort zone.

I'd really like to take this chance to explore different concepts and character ideas, as I usually end up with similar-minded PCs - it feels like in the end, I am falling back to playing "me", especially when the character is new and unfamiliar.

Are there any techniques (maybe from theatre/improv/acting) to get into character more easily? Can playableness already be addressed during character creation, and if so, how? What can I do during a game session to make sure I'm roleplaying a defined character and not falling back to do what "I" would probably do?


3 Answers 3


You should come up with a list of things the character would do and say that you would not do or say (as well as things they would not do that you would), then act as normal, as well as coming up with a couple quirks (rolling on the NPC Traits table might be helpful here) to make them memorable. The different actions help separate the character from yourself and get a better feel for them (whether in the compiling phase or in the roleplaying phase), while the quirks prevent them from being stale.

A simple list might be like this (this is one I made for a one-shot monk character):

  • Will prefer diplomacy to violence.

  • Will not willingly consume alcohol under any circumstances.

  • Disdains all magic and equipment in general, believing that anyone that has to rely on either instead of their training is weak.

  • Due to an injury several years ago, they walk with a limp when they think no one is watching (they also had a fairly low Dex score by monk standards).

  • They refer to other characters using made-up honorifics that they typically refuse to explain, but are easy to figure out if you're paying attention (i.e. they won't tell you what "zhasa" means, but you can piece it together that that means "friend").

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm absolutely using that last bullet on a character. \$\endgroup\$ May 18, 2018 at 18:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, cool advice! I especially like that I can "sneak it in" gradually by coming up with more differences between my default go-to PC and characters created with such a list to accompany them - it also makes me think about my common patterns more to create such a list in advance. \$\endgroup\$
    – nullusaum
    May 19, 2018 at 8:10

In my experience one-shots work best for players and GM if they are focused and intense. Uncomplicated characters work best in this situation.

When I play a one-off character I think about what the character wants, and I try to make it as concrete and personal as possible. For example, in a fantasy one-off, my warrior might be focused on proving he's worthy of knighthood. When danger calls, he'll jump into action. He'll take risks to show his worth. Will he take the credit for everything the party does? Maybe. That'll flow naturally as I start playing him. But the core motivation anchors him.

This can be paired explicitly with physical attributes or behavioral quirks, but for me as a player finding the motivation is more important. It also helps the GM run the adventure because it allows the GM to tailor the situation (ex: knowing my warrior wants to prove himself, the GM might put a powerful fear spell in the hands of a powerful opponent).

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    \$\begingroup\$ For me, I found that having a goal often won't tell me what to do in a given situation. Maybe I need to work a little on picking "good" goal, as in more long-term ... in the last two games, oddly enough, my characters ended up on a train to where they expected to start working on what they wanted to achieve, only to find themselves trapped somewhere in between by unrelated dangers. They were working very actively on overcoming those dangers, but only because they wanted the journey to continue. A deeper, more intrinsic motivation like "prove my worth" might be more suitable, then! \$\endgroup\$
    – nullusaum
    May 23, 2018 at 16:34

Move fast and break things.

If you're trying to break out of your comfort zone, don't worry about being comfortable. There's some pretty good advice in Monsterhearts that's intended for the GM playing side characters, but it's been picked up profitably by all manner of people playing one-shots:

Treat (side/one-shot) characters like stolen cars.

You control them, but you don't get to keep them, so do the things that will help you have the most fun in the moment. Take risks, play along with the GM's setups, and in general

make exciting, messy choices and see what happens next (MH2, p. 89)

And also:

Give (side/one-shot) characters simple, divisive motivations.

Monsterhearts is a bit less Happy Families than most games, so the degree of "divisive" is going to vary based on what you're sitting down to, but a good starting point is

Make your characters straightforward and obvious enough that other players know how to react to them. Give them obvious goals and obvious means to achieve them. (ibid)

Exciting, maybe messy goals and means, remember.

And work out with at least one of your fellow players how you're going to clash, with system-dependent limits on the degree of clashing. If the system expects you to come to blows on occasion, dream up something you want to get violent about - love, greed, revenge, you know, the classics. If the system expects you to pose as a team because things are constantly getting real, "I can kill more orcs than you" worked out pretty well for a certain Messrs. L. and G. of our acquaintance.

Just do be sure and get some buy-in from your fellow players about this. It'd hardly do to declare a blood feud or a rivalry somebody wasn't really committed to.

  • \$\begingroup\$ We are mostly going for a cooperative style, but I'm starting to like the idea of some mutual tension between characters. It could be good fun with most of the group, I guess, and also adds extra "plot" to the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – nullusaum
    May 23, 2018 at 16:40

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