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Background

When I started playing RPGs, I made characters with high intelligence and problem-solving skills. As an engineer, these kinds of characters were similar to myself in real life and suited my natural play style.

As I grew more confident with roleplaying, I started playing characters with high charisma and persuasive skills. I have somewhat of a 'natural-leader' type personality where I like to take the lead on discussion and decision-making. These characters allowed me to explore that.

Eventually, I combined these skills and became the DM where I can flex all my problem-solving, discussion-driving, wannabe-leader skills without dominating the party. This has been great, and I've learned a lot and broadened my roleplaying skills significantly while doing it.

When the opportunity to return to playing came up, I created several characters that have a more 'follower'-type personality - not unintelligent or uncharismatic, but more meek and less likely to take the lead. I did this to try to roleplay outside my comfort zone (also playing my first female PC) and to try to curb my ability to lead the party.

My issue

These new characters don't come naturally to me. I have to actively force myself to 'sit on my hands' and contribute less than I naturally would. It's not that I don't have fun playing them - more that I struggle to actually play them the way I wanted to. Often I find myself deep in a convoluted strategy discussion or manipulating an NPC when I remember that it is totally out of character for the PC I am playing.

Additionally, as a long-time DM I have by far the best rules and system knowledge at the table. Often I can spot flaws and errors in other players' strategies that my character would not. I struggle to go along with the "sub-optimal" strategy even when it is absolutely what my character would do.

This question has some cross-over with this one on creating characters different to myself; however, I don't have a problem creating the character. I also don't really have a problem with playing them as a DM. I am asking for techniques from people who have struggled with similar issues as a player.

How can I better roleplay a meek character when I have a leader-type personality?

Example

One of the characters I am playing is a rogue with a Folk Hero background. I wrote in her backstory that she tried to start a revolution to help her hometown; it ended up with a massacre when the Lord's army arrived. Since then, she has sworn off making serious decisions and likes to attach herself to another character who will stop her from making another terrible mistake.

In one session, we had a serious and complex political situation to deal with. Normally, this would be my area of expertise, and I took to it without thinking; I stormed into a council meeting and strong armed a few NPCs with my force of personality, I even managed to negotiate a truce between a Holy Order of Paladins and the Undead they came to slay. After the session, I realised that was totally out of character and wished I'd played it differently.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For those answering, please remember to back up your answers. We don't do idea generation and subjective answers can still be backed up. Answers without support should be downvoted and may be deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 2 at 14:49
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tl;dr: Outline the key broad behaviors, thought processes, and formative events and impressions that your character should have. Then build hard constraints (always this, never that) which replace any decisions you might make "in the moment". In cases that hard constraints don't touch, start from the key behaviors, thought processes, and formative events of your character and then reason primarily from those to decide on an action.


I've had some similar issues, though my context was different. For me, it's mainly from older video games that aren't complex enough to represent the details I wanted to express, or strongly favor a mathematically optimal approach to play which constantly tempt me to play "well" rather than in-character.

What has worked for me has been to think of behaviors (and in some cases, categories of behavior) which would be necessary for me to be playing my character as I intended. Then I develop these into either hard constraints (I must do X if the opportunity arises), or into "dilemmas" that I have to think through before taking my action. Every decision that I make is filtered through those considerations, and if one doesn't fit, I don't do that thing.

Most importantly, just because your character doesn't act as you would doesn't mean that they don't do anything at all. Some stronger development of how and why your character has the non-leader, non-decisive traits can not only tell you how your character shouldn't behave, but can also suggest how they should.


As an example of the hard constraint case, I like to try to represent famous sci-fi races in games of Master of Orion II. When I was playing as the Formics (from Ender's Game), it was mandatory to immediately go to war with the first other species I encountered. It's obviously not optimal play, but it's "correct" in terms of the roleplaying setup.

It's an action that both describes and is a consequence of how they thought about things, to the extent that they can't really be accurately roleplayed without it (in the context of recreating what is represented in the books, at least).


For the dilemma case (think of the choices available in a branching RPG like Mass Effect), I try to imagine a rationale or thought process that produces a character like the one I'm trying to portray, and then follow that line of reasoning to figure out what to do.

Even when I snap to a decision, the character doesn't, and my conclusion becomes one that the character considers but is heavily biased against. You don't necessarily need to understand it; your character does. If I can't build a persuasive case for the obvious-seeming action from my character's perspective, I won't take that action.

An implementation prop might help, both to remind you of your constraints and to refresh your reasoning for why they exist, and you can look at it every time you take an action or look at your character sheet. For your folk hero character, writing on an index card something like:

I am a failure as a leader. My choices all lead to ruin, and my taking charge consigns all around me to death.

Harsh, but it sounds in-character and reminds you of how your character thinks. She might see flaws and opportunities as readily as you (linksassin) do, but she doesn't trust her judgment. She can even mirror your frustration at not acting optimally, but she is sure that acting optimally isn't something she can actually achieve through her own reasoning. If she immediately discounts the ideas which occur most naturally to her, what would she do instead?

How would you, at the table, change your behavior if you were certain that every d20 roll based on a decision you make would be a 1?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is great advice. Particularly the last section. That prompt is actually fairly similar to the flaw I have on my character sheet. I love the part about still seeing the flaws but not trusting her judgement, that is absolutely the character, \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 3 at 0:26
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Optimise for fun!

I'm also an engineer/solver type. There's no shortgage of us playing D&D. The way I dealt with this is to shift my focus from "solving" the adventure to "solving" the story. My job, as a roleplayer, is to focus on being a character that contributes to the most interesting and fun story for the players, and not on efficiently getting through the adventure. Rather than "leading" the party through the dungeon, think about "leading" the story that your characters are creating in an interesting direction.

I find this gives me plenty of challenge without the need to hold back or sit on my hands to avoid taking over the party.

And, by the way, players taking "sub-optimal" in-character strategies make for good stories. Optimise the fun from doing the "wrong" thing, because it's not wrong if it's fun.

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These new characters don't come naturally to me. I have to actively force myself to 'sit on my hands' and contribute less than I naturally would.

But you also say:

not unintelligent or uncharismatic, but more meek and less likely to take the lead.

This character isn't uninvolved and shouldn't be sitting on any hands. Practice listening. Help support the people in the party who are taking the leadership role. When you have the urge to talk, ask a question rather than giving a suggestion. Listen to the answer and agree or build on it.

In the real world, people in supporting roles are not less capable than those in the leadership spotlight. It's different work, but no less active, engaged, or demanding. Behind every visibly-great leader, I guarantee you there's someone else carrying a lot of weight — probably more than one. From your question, I think you're looking at this as "how can I restrain myself so I'm down at that lower, follower level?" That's the wrong approach. Instead, look for how you can be awesome and better at helping the rest of your party shine.

Since this is a D&D 5E question: perhaps making sure you focus on character options which provide support mechanics will help. Obviously bardic inspiration is one such thing, but that tends to be linked to the maxed-out-charisma character I think you want to avoid here. Consider the Guidance and Resistance cantrips, and make sure you're casting them all the time. Cleric and healing and buff spells is a natural, but you could consider Magic Initiate to add some of these options to any character. I've played a number of characters designed to help others in the party shine, and never felt a lack of ability to contribute.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "listening". Leadership doesn't have to be leading the charge - it can be leading others to become leaders, through responding to them. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben May 2 at 22:10
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Restraint is the key factor here. Basically you appear to simply need triggers that can help you remember your intended role. Some ideas might be:

  • Just as the Character likes to attach themselves to others, perhaps you could do the same with the players. Ask that they "give you permission", or perhaps wait for them to ask for your input.*
  • Suggest using a dice to roll before you attempt any input into these situations. This can work twofold - a low roll might simply restrict how much you contribute, only suggesting one or two points. This can also act as a trigger: the DM asks for a roll, and you can remember, when you physically pick up the dice, of your intended character role.
    • Alternatively, you could instead not deliver these interactions yourself, but instead act as the guy who whispers in the ear of others. "Try suggesting xyz. They appear to be focussing on this."

The other thing that I, personally, finds help me to get into the role, is find a characteristic that I can identify with. A fascination with/dedication to an event/story element/character/etc., a personality type or flaw, or something similar.

For example - Several of my characters were very out of character for me. I'm usually the 2nd from the front. Always following someone else, but still leading others. A lance-corporal, if you will. Some characters that I played were:

  • An evil witch hellbent on capturing one PC. I am not always comfortable playing on the "evil" end of the scale, or as a woman, but the power that this character had was something I did enjoy. The ability to overpower certain situations with ease.
  • A charismatic, people-rallying soldier. I'm an ok writer, but the decision to lead the tactics, and come up with speeches to rally and inspire are not my forte. However, this character cared greatly about protecting those he cared about. Friends and family, and making them proud.
  • A slobbish, forgetful, alcoholic and absent minded cyborg. Again, in this situation I dedicated my services to ensuring the safety of another character, that rebuilt them from scrap after they nearly met death.

Falling into those familiar ruts helped other characteristics to play out more smoothly. This did take a little bit of time to settle in, but ultimately made for some pretty interesting characters.


* I'm not too sure about this, because it implies giving control of "who speaks and when" to another player

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Your example somehow reminded me of the character of Amos Burton from the Expanse novels and TV show. Burton kind of settled into a groove as a "henchman" because he had grave doubts about his own abilities to lead and make moral decisions, so he essentially outsourced the conscience he wasn't sure he really had.

  • Starting from that as inspiration, pick another character and try to ask their permission or opinion on what to do before launching into what seems obvious to you as a player. You may be confident in the best course of action, but let the character need to get reassurance or confirmation on an idea you have most of the time.

  • If the leader the character appoints likes your idea better than their own, don't fuss if they adopt it as their own idea. If you do that a few times or consistently, you are doing what is sometimes called "steering an officer" and many a newly minted lieutenant has been glad to be steered for a while by a seasoned sergeant. Creating a variant of this dynamic is rich in RP opportunities.

Having created that general "rule" for playing the character, carve out an exception or two:

  • If the character's main schtick is being a safecracker, they may listen patiently to discussions of when and where to steal, but if told how to steal they may regard any orders as optional at best and backseat driving at worst. Figure out what would cause them to reply "Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs." That's where their confidence shines, let them have a couple topics like that.

  • Also, have a line you won't tolerate others crossing. If someone in the party kills a child or the last of an endangered species, your character may turn on them or leave the party. Distrusting yourself means you have trouble with gray areas, not that you don't know black when you see it.

Decide why your character mistrusts their judgement. Burton was a "mechanic" who repaired engines that were basically nuclear reactors so he was far from stupid, but he'd been horrifically abused as a child and could shoot down a dozen people attacking him and his friends and then sleep like a baby. He was pretty emotionally numb to killing, and knew that made him a sociopath to a degree. Sounds like you have a good handle on why your character chooses to step back, but remember that same pivotal backstory event leaves room for them to abandon their own "code of conduct" from time to time in dire emergency.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Distrusting yourself means you have trouble with gray areas, not that you don't know black when you see it." - if you hadn't already earned my +1 you would have just for that line. This is really good advice. Thanks for answering. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 3 at 5:46
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I frequently find myself in the situation that I am much more familiar with the rules (and sometimes the setting) than the other players and also the GM, and that I think the GM does things needlessly ineffective.

My approach in these situations is to get comfortable with being in a game that is different from what I think how a game should be run and played and make it my goal to support the other players in having the most fun with this game we are playing.

I don't regard myself in a position in which I am trying to "win the game". I won't push or nudge the other players into any direction, and when they make choices and plans that I consider poor, I go along with that. As a player, I am along for the right. I don't see it as my task to get the party to succeed.

It's not a thrilling experience, but I get more than enough opportunities to run the show and have things go my way when I am the GM. When I am a player, I sit back and let others have the thunder.

As a supporting party member, it is not your job to actively try to solve the adventure and win battles.

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Further Build the Limitations Into Your Character

You've done a good job of building historical/conceptual limitations into your character for why they wouldn't do certain actions, but sometimes it's difficult to remember them in the heat of the moment. I would suggest adding a physical reason for your characters lack of confidence, so next time you visualise you character saying something it becomes impossible.

For example, the Kenku race is a perfect introduction to removing yourself from the standard leader role, they have been cursed so they can't learn words or be creative, forcing you to roleplay a character who can only put together sentences from phrases they've heard.

If you want to keep your character at the moment, I would suggest either having a physical defect which makes talking difficult or embarrassing for her, reminding you when you visualise her that she wouldn't be able to do certain things in certain situations. Maybe the lord scarred her face thus she wears a piece of clothing that covers her mouth making making communication harder or the lord removed her tongue after the failed revolution and now she needs her party members to translate from sign language.

Also, speak to your DM! Remind him that your character wouldn't act that way, and ask him to remind you if he thinks you're stepping out of line.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you back this up with experience? That'd improve this answer. Please also take our tour to learn more about our stack. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 2 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center when you get a chance. I think this is one of the few answers that really understood the question. It's not about overshadowing the party but staying in character. You get +1 from me but I'm probably not going to use physical deformity suggestion as it would be very limiting and may cause issue as the table. Getting the DM to stop me is a good idea though. Thankyou for participating and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 3 at 0:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Sure! I wasn't sure if anecdotal and personal experiences where appropriate, but I guess that's all you have for Roleplaying games, except The Word of God. In fact my Kenku example comes from personal experience, I will update my answer when I have time to reflect my experiences. \$\endgroup\$ – MerlinsBeard May 3 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not just appropriate, it's pretty much what should be done when presenting a subjective answer. And if your reference to the Word is to Jeremy Crawford...then that word is no longer official. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 3 at 19:45
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Remind yourself who you are roleplaying, and set out some guidelines for what you want each conversation with this character to be like.

You can make short flashcards for key characters to refresh your memory of what this character is like, and should be doing/saying.

For example:


Name: Uck (the goblin).

Role: Guide

Accent/Inflection: Speak raspy, and try to sound unintelligent. For example never use the words 'is', 'the', 'and', in any sentences spoken in character where possible. For example, 'you and me should go to the mountain' --> you me go mountain.

Defining moment: Rescued by a human from a pack of wolves. So now blindly trusting of humans and gullible (never questions if something is true or not, always assumes something is true).

Key Interactions:

(1) Obsequious - overly servile.

(2) Uses a lot of flattery.

Try to work flattery or being overly servile into each conversation, one time.


If you have guidelines of what you want out of this character in most interactions, you can make sure that character is true to your vision. Even if your own personality starts to creep in, since you have hit certain key points of your character, you can be sure that your character is mostly accurate.

Accents can also help you get in the zone, and keep reminding you who you are playing. But it is not for everyone.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you done this yourself? If so, can you talk about how it worked? Right now, this reads more like idea generation and needs to be backed up by experience. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 2 at 19:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems like advice for DMs (and I've seen similar elsewhere), but doesn't necessarily mesh with the player desire to play a different type of character. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm May 2 at 20:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agree with @mattdm This certainly seems like DM advice and it is something I do when I DM. My issue is maintaining these characters through a campaign as a player and not breaking character. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 3 at 0:23
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Limit yourself through mechanics

Without constantly trying to hold yourself back, and force yourself into being something you aren't, you will naturally fall into certain patterns; your natural personality seems to consistently be someone who takes the reigns of the party's direction.

There are certain options within 5e that are naturally fit for supporting others and lack options to dominate the spotlight.

By choosing these options, you'll not have to limit your ability to overshadow others, and encourage them to take risks in your stead. This means that both you and the rest of the party will share the spotlight, as opposed to it being monopolized by a single "MVP".

Some specific examples:

  • Order Cleric

  • Life Cleric

  • Grave Cleric

  • Mastermind Rogue

  • Monster Slayer Ranger

  • Dreams Druid

  • Glamour Bard

  • Ancestral Guardian Barbarian

Forcing yourself to being something unnatural will be less fun and dynamic for everyone at the table. Eventually, you may find that you either fall into the same patterns as before (because they're more fun and natural), or you'll end up not enjoying the persona that is against your instincts.

So I suggest doing what comes naturally for you, in terms of a personality perspective, but then using mechanics intelligently to counteract the negatives that come it.


From personal experience, I can say that personality matters. I tried playing a simple Barbarian while being a very tactical, careful person, and I did not enjoy it. I either felt like less of a Barbarian or less of a player.

Once I changed into an option that allowed me to be the personality that came naturally to me (as a Rogue), I started enjoying the game intensely more, and my party even commented on how good of a change it did for them, too.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ monopolized by a single "MVP" isn't really the issue. It's more about staying in character. None of the other players have a problem with the way I play and I don't hog the spotlight. Its more about trying to stay in character. They rest of your advise is pretty good though. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 3 at 0:21

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