Help me get into the head of my halfling bard.
September 3, 2016 11:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm about a year into my first-ever D&D campaign (first-ever tabletop RPG, in fact). I get together with four of my friends about once a month and we have a wonderful time. But I'm new to this, a little stiff and awkward, and I need help getting into character.

My four friends are all vastly experienced in D&D; they all grew up with it (one of them since he was very small; his family played together) and have all been DMs at one time or another. If roleplaying is a language, they are all fluent, and I'm constantly reaching for my phrasebook. Thankfully, my friends are all wonderful, accommodating people and always make sure I feel welcome.

I'm not too concerned about getting up to speed on the mechanics of gameplay; our group focuses more on story development and character interactions than gaining XP and acquiring cool weapons. Basically, there are two things that I feel are holding me back a little, and here's where I need advice:
  1. I don't feel like I know my character all that well. I play as a halfling bard named Finian Hambone. Our DM assigned a little bit of character development work early on, which helped, but it's hard for me, when playing, to act & react as "Finian" rather than "duffell," when I don't have a strong sense of who my character is. What can I do that will help me define who my character is?
  2. I have a hard time switching gears and getting into "Finian mode" once we start playing. This is a related, but separate problem. Are there any mental exercises that will help me change my point of view once we start playing?
It might be helpful to think of #1 as more of a "writing" challenge and #2 as an "acting" challenge. I'd appreciate any advice, particularly in the form of specific things I can do (either during gameplay or between sessions), and especially from those of you with RPG experience!
posted by duffell to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
For inspiration you might want to look at the kender race in The Dragonlance world. They are basically halflings but instead of all acting like fuddy English hearth and home types, they are super jokey, mischievous, lithe, long hair in a top knot, pockets filled with bits of string and frog bones and pebbles and bits and bobs that they accumulate and curate in their pockets. They aren't dimwitted, but they are largely unconcerned with how elves, humans, dwarves take everything so damn seriously. They are jovial and prankstery but never mean.

Maybe looking at the kender will help you break out of that somewhat limiting mold that we are used to for halflings types.
posted by ian1977 at 11:34 AM on September 3, 2016

Here's the Wikipedia link.
posted by ian1977 at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2016

So, I don't have lifelong D&D experience, but have somehow found myself a sometimes-player at a very story-heavy, now fairly popular through an actual-play podcast, campaign in my first go at doing an RPG. Character is very much emphasized at the table and I think we got like 15 or so sessions in before there was an actual fight. I also play a bard. Quasi-bona fides established, here are what folks at our table have done/do:

1. At the start of the campaign, the DM did a one on one session with each player to help them get an immersive feel for their character. That way, the session focuses on you to get a sense of voice, etc. A sort of hey how you doing for you, your character, and the DM. You've started your campaign, but maybe worth seeing if you could do a side adventure one on one, schedules-dependent.

2. Change your voice somehow. Tone, accent, pitch. Different voice can put you in mindset of your character rather than you. It can also be more immersive for the overall role playing. Doesn't have to be extreme, just something to demarcate.

3. Lots of people feel awkward. Just about everyone at our table at one time or another has felt like they weren't doing a great job, but we constantly get fans talking about what amazing roleplayers we are. I don't see it in myself, but we are always* our own harshest critics. Go with it. Realize that people you are gaming with aren't judging you and throw yourself into it. You already know they aren't judging you, so play around until it feels right.

4. Sometimes before a session I'll think about where things were left in the last one and spend a minute or two thinking about how my character would have reacted or might react if there was a cliffhanger. But of preplanning. A couple of our players even spend the time writing songs or scraps of dialogue that they can use.

5. Think about some person or character who you can base elements of your character off of as a starting point. It might evolve, but thinking "I'm like Blanche from the Golden Girls!"** or something can give you parameters to start playing around in.

6. Maybe listen to some actual play podcasts to get a feel for how others roleplay. Full confession: I don't actually listen to ours or others and am somewhat bemused by the popularity of the genre, but people really seem to like it and draw inspiration (bardic or otherwise) from it and other actual plays.

7. Don't stress about it so much. It's a game. Have fun.

*Unless you talk about female stereotyping in fantasy in the first five minutes of your intro podcast and then every MRA misogynist absolutely loses their shit.

**You are probably not Blanche from the Golden Girls, but it was the first thing that popped in my head.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 11:49 AM on September 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Or Sophia! She's practically a halfling anyway!
posted by ian1977 at 11:57 AM on September 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

As HonoriaGlossop says above: it's a game. Relax and enjoy it. In my experience, a lot of character development happens around the table and not before. I suspect the more you play the easier getting into character will become. That said, you still want to have some idea of where your character is coming from. Does Finian have much of a backstory? If not, I'd start there. Here's a list of possible questions to start with: 27 Questions to Ask Your New Character. That's just a random example I pulled off google; I'm sure you could find loads more with a bit of searching.

As for your second question, my only suggestion is to maybe pick a couple of adjectives that describe Finian. Naive? Suspicious? Friendly? Sarcastic? That will at least give you a starting point for how to react in-character.

FWIW, I've been playing RPGs for over 30 years (yikes) and I still sometimes don't quite know how to get in-character.
posted by Janta at 12:04 PM on September 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Full disclosure, most of what I know from D&D is from the film Mazes and Monsters.

But if you aren't already doing so, do you dress up a bit like your character when you play? I did drama in high school, and having "a semblance of costume" (aka kinda half-assed) made it SO much easier to get in character and maintain an accent if I had one. Have a prop to hold, too. Have fun, I'm jealous! :)
posted by Drosera at 12:04 PM on September 3, 2016

And Sophia is also a bard! "Picture it: Krynn, 3072."
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

As others have noted, acting like the character in the room really helps. Now, this is going to sound stupid, but here goes: when I play a dwarf or a halfling, I find a lower chair. Yeah, that's right. I sit there with my chin practically at table level and I feel like a dwarf or a halfling (similarly, when I'm a fighter, I stand up and tower over the rest of my party; when I'm a mage, I push back from the table a little because I'll be at the back of the party, etc.).

Do something that makes you feel like Finian Hambone, consistently, there in the room.
posted by Etrigan at 12:13 PM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

What can I do that will help me define who my character is?

Write little short stories (A couple of paragraphs) of what your character did before joining the current campaign. This will flesh out your character in your mind via shared experience.

Write up campaign minutes after each session. Mine document the actions of the whole party but generally I write them with my character's voice and point of view. My current character is pretty amoral and judgy and his minutes reflect that. So if he didn't really agree with an action taken by the party he'll downplay it or make it look bad and he highlights the often minor actions taken by him. I find doing this reinforces what my character thinks even though it is in hindsight and makes it easier to slip into character in the future. Plus it gives anyone who didn't make the game an overview of what happened if somewhat biased.
posted by Mitheral at 12:37 PM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

So getting to know Finian is probably just a matter of taking a bit of time to think about him and ask yourself a few questions. The ones Janta linked to or really any others. If you've already been playing for a while you can even just think back to some of the situations you've already been in, how you reacted to them and how you think you should have reacted to them if that's different.

To help in making future decisions as Finian, take the answers you get to those questions and boil it down to a few key phrases or tags: Fiercely loyal, hot-headed, easily distracted, or whatever. Write them down on a post-it or index card and keep it handy during play. Don't know how Finian would react to something? Check the tags! So maybe another member of the party gets themselves into a sticky social situation and duffell would be like, "well it's your own damn fault, you deal with it." But no! Finian is "fiercely loyal," so, "How dare you impugn the honour of my noble comrade!" Or whatever. You get the idea. It can be hard to think of things in the moment so give yourself some prompts.

As for getting in character: Years ago when I was a performer one exercise I was taught to figure out a character was to just walk around and try leading with different parts of your body. Lead with your forehead. How does that feel? What kind of character does that suggest? What kind of person walks around like this? Okay great, now lead with your nose, your hips, your knees, your chest, etc. Now, you're playing a tabletop RPG not LARPing so you're probably not doing a whole lot of walking around. Okay, so fine. Suppose Finian has to sit down for a long period of time. How does Finian sit? Is he fidgety? Would he rather be standing? Does he just kind of lounge there, or is he hyper alert? Alright, so once the game is about to start and everybody's sitting down: Sit like Finian. This is similar to HonoriaGlossop's point 2 above. It's a minor thing but it can help to put you in a particular state of mind where you're Finian instead of duffell.

And, to re-iterate again what others have said: Don't sweat it, it's just a game. Any/all of the above is only useful if it matters to you. You're playing with friends and you're already a year in so I'd wager no one's too worried about it. If you want to be more in character that's great but it shouldn't, like, eat at your soul or take up huge amounts of your life. You're doing fine, just relax!
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 12:46 PM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've played about as much as you. Some things that helped me:

The character's backstory and motivation don't have to be Oscar-worthy stuff, but having a few personality traits and catchphrases in mind for likely occurrences helps. When you go to an inn, what does your character choose? When you go underground, is your character excited or terrified? If you're building up to meeting a dragon, is your character likely to get greedy in the face of treasure?

The last character I played I based largely on Dr. Ruth. She was a tiny ancient elf midwife who had the unerring ability to make the cleric uncomfortable with her advice for loosening up during battle. I wrote down a few things she might do at an inn (care for children, run into an explorer she'd spent the night with 200 years before), and some things she might say/do during healing (recommend Kegels). Having a few defaults if I was feeling unsure helped a lot.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:31 PM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't start with a huge complex bask story, in fact too in depth a back story can make it hard to fit in a campaign. Think huge broad strokes & a funny catchphrase or quirk you can bring up or something your character always wants to do be it sell meatball franchises to every barkeep he meets or to be on the run from the fantasy version of the mob, or a warlock that hates magic, but loves machinery but sucks at being a mechanic so uses magic to make the machines he builds works, all ideas from my current game.

It's funny how interacting with other players & the world your in will build on that bare framework, consider the game a way to discover your characters personality you don't have to have it perfect from the get go.

When stuck for ideas go here

While the site name is a little silly it is also strangely brilliant at triggering ideas to build on.

Also if you have trouble thinking as Finian remember you can always talk in the third person, sometimes it's a little less scary to say Finian does or says x instead of I do x. And it's a perfectly valid form of RP.

I always have to find the perfect miniature figure for my characters & spend hours looking for them online (I love to paint them) figuring out just how the character looks really helps me getting into their head. What are they wearing & why sort of thing.
posted by wwax at 3:03 PM on September 3, 2016

In my highschool acting class we would have lists of questions about our characters favourite things and attitudes, and wed have to imagine answers...
Favourite drink/ food
Favourite TV show
Pass times
Books they would read
Attitude toward various issues.
posted by chapps at 5:33 PM on September 3, 2016

If I were playing a halfling bard, my inspiration would be Olive Ruskettle who:

[...] always aspired to a life of entertaining people and the easy living that profession could bring.

Her true name was unknown. She won the name and reputation of Olav Ruskettle, a true and famous bard, in a dice game. Since then Olive did her best to maintain her image as a bard of great talent. Over the years she has been cornered by well-traveled folks who claim to have seen the 'real' Olav Ruskettle perform, each time she managed to lie her way out of the confrontation.
posted by Pryde at 10:45 PM on September 3, 2016

So an important thing for halflings is home and hearth. Do you have siblings? Are they alive or dead? What is your relationship with them now? What is it that makes home for you?

But you're a bard. So your whole existence is laying out these types of problems to other people. What is it in your (character's) life that has meaning to you? Tell everyone about it! Find something that you know, but others don't. Your job is to instruct them of their inadequacies!

In a roleplaying campaign, the bard's role is not usually one that is going to win the day. That is something you have to accept when you choose to play a bard. Yours is to make the "hero"'s existence as morally complicated as you can. This can be really fun, you just have to accept your role. Make his or hers decisions as complicated as possible. Make simple things like killing a bad guy an emotional event. Take supposedly straightforward events and make everyone understand their nuances.

A difficult thing to do in a roleplaying game is to make the other (real life) people you are playing with uncomfortable. To have a successful campaign, it is going to happen from time to time. Be sure and do it every so often, but not all the time. Enjoy yourself, and make sure everyone else is having a good time as well.
posted by Quonab at 2:33 AM on September 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is the list of "Character Development" prompts I have on the character sheet I give to players. They can respond with short phrases or several sentences, as they choose. As DM, I don't even "police" the sheets to make sure ALL of these are answered by Session One (and there is often a bit of overlap with some), but I do encourage that there be SOMEthing in most of them.

Significant Moments in Character's Life:
Relations with Family/Close Friends:
Opinions Toward Other Races/Species:
General Philosophy/Outlook on Life:
Personal Code:
Religious/Spiritual Beliefs:
Job/Work History:
Proudest Accomplishment(s):
Shames and/or Secrets:
Under What Circumstances Would You Kill Another Intelligent Being?
Things that Give Character Positive Feelings (and What Kind):
Things that Give Character Negative Feelings (and What Kind):
Things that Character Does/Doesn't Care About that Most People Don't/Do (If Any):

Write up campaign minutes after each session. Mine document the actions of the whole party but generally I write them with my character's voice and point of view.

I would 100% do this if I were playing a bard. In fact, I think I have (though I've barely done any playing for years, on account of always DMing!).

In a roleplaying campaign, the bard's role is not usually one that is going to win the day. That is something you have to accept when you choose to play a bard. Yours is to make the "hero"'s existence as morally complicated as you can. This can be really fun, you just have to accept your role. Make his or hers decisions as complicated as possible. Make simple things like killing a bad guy an emotional event. Take supposedly straightforward events and make everyone understand their nuances.

Alternatively, you can play a bard like how I often have: sort of the party mascot, making the occasional wry comment and composing the occasional song. In terms of personality, bard is a wide-open class IMO, but pretty much all of them should be extroverted…which, by the way, could go against the stereotype of halflings. Which in turn could explain why your character is an adventurer, rather than a typical non-adventuring halfling (assuming the campaign setting abides by these tropes/stereotypes).

P.S. -- great character name.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:59 AM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've got a lot of practiced gamers as well as new fans in the campaigns I'm running, and have found that little personality 'hooks' are a great way to start building off of things, as well as real-world celebrity inspirations. "Gresca 'Troubletown' Sixfingerton - picture a young Steve Buscemi, but as a lady gnome about 3'7" tall. She's got a love of wine and a deep-seated but self-conscious fandom for Elven culture, and can't leave a box closed without knowing what's inside. She talks a brave game, but inside she's terrified of being left behind when things go badly (and they always do). She plays the meanest game of darts anyone in the Seven Hills has ever seen."

If you're playing 5th Edition D&D, the 'background' section has some great options for personality traits, background hooks, inner inspirations, and dark secrets that you can pick from (or roll randomly for) to give some interesting flavor to your personal history, and give a better idea of what makes your character tick. If you have access to Pathfinder's "Ultimate Campaign", there's a phenomenally large section that you can use to generate a character's entire background from childhood up - everything from the size of your family and living relations, to dirt you got into as a youth, to your dreams and callings and what drives you forward in the day-to-day.

And it goes without saying - if you want your character to feel or be a certain way that has weight in the game world, talk to your DM about it. A good DM will love to weave your personal story into the campaign, giving you as a player even more of an investment in seeing how things resolve as time rolls on.
posted by FatherDagon at 6:25 AM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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