Ask: Roleplaying Advice (Character Empathy Exercise)

Artist: Nick Russell, ©2014 Lost Spheres Publishing

Cyclops Battle

Many stresses during an extended campaign can come from putting your own character before the characters of others. As a hobby built of elements of escapism and exploration of aspects of the self (and killing orcs), it is pretty easy for us as players to get wrapped up in expressions of role-playing verging on narcissism. This can be even harder to combat in Convention (Con) or LGS Pick-Up (casual) games.

Building “Character Empathy” is an excellent way to counter the inherent selfish aspect that will come up in the normal course of gaming. Below we provide a simple side-play exercise in building Character Empathy that can be used at Cons, Pick-Ups or even your weekly table games.

Side-Play: Character Empathy

When engaging in this exercise first and foremost try to do as much of it in character as possible and skewing meta-game conversation. This can be challenging but has the initial effect of building verisimilitude and immersion for both or all characters involved in the exchange. Secondly, do not try to conduct this exercise as an interview. Rather use it as a checklist of dialogues to try to get through in a single session. Notes are a good idea but not always necessary–this is about having more fun, not more work. Consider the following Role-playing questions and in-character discussions:

  • Learn a new biographical fact about another party member: Age. Family status and structure (siblings). Don’t be discouraged if this initially is awkward or (more likely) results in a  deluge of information. The conversations will take on a more natural rhythm in time. After we lost my father to the Orcs it was just me, my mother and my sister.
  • Learn how another character started to train in their class (or classes): Again, this can be an immersive building exercise. Focus on the story of the training, awakening, genetic memory… whatever. My magic came with the falling snow of my fifteenth winter. My father was terrified and sent me to a distant cousin who had had some experience with our lines “Gifts.”
  • Learn about party member’s possessions: Significant items, favored weapons, and personal or magic items of significance. Talking about the +1 sword and where it came from helps make it matter more, distinguishing it from others. When we were in ashes of Alcethon I found this blade, it has never dulled. I call it “Memory” to always hold what happened there in my mind.
  • Learn how another player’s mechanics work: This can be tricky to avoid the metagame but can be insanely rewarding. If a character can do something they should be able to speak about it in character. This will make characters more alive to one another AND provide avenues to discuss frustrations or misunderstandings. When you get up close like that, I can hardly tell you from them and I might as well toss my bow away and run up beside you with my camp fork!
  • Learn what sustains and supports a character: What God or religion (if any) does the character practice? What events in the past made her who she is? My days in prison guided me to find Olsivos and I know now that I am forgiven. But the people of Alcethon have not my God’s mercy.
  • Learn another characters goals or motives: Discussing the future between party members is a great way to make sure their is one. Discovering goals helps find common ground and bring a party closer together. After I can prove my magic is my own and safe, I intend to return home. After I avenge Alcethon, I will return and help them rebuild. I will earn the good faith of the people of Alcethon once more. My mother needs a place to feel safe so she can raise my sister.

Parties that practice Character Empathy will last longer, be more cohesive and perform better (in combat and non-combat situations). Not every group needs these kinds of side-play encounters  and if yours doesn’t be thankful and role-on! But nearly any group can find enrichment with a little more in-Character Empathy.

If you are looking for new and interesting options to broaden your character experience you can check out our rules expansions at: d20pfsrd.com, drivethruRPG, paizo and RPGNow.

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