Character Workouts for Roleplayers

Imagination is a muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it becomes. Being in character as much as possible won’t accomplishment if you can’t realistic emulate the role or character you’ve chosen to portray.

In this regard we can borrow inspiration from professional acting techniques. These are a series of exercises that can be done to help you get in touch with and better portray your character.

Character Diary

After sessions, events and significant moments, record them in a diary or journal. Make sure to write your entries as your character and try not to wait too long after the actual event as memories can fade and alter very quickly. The actual diary doesn’t have to be an in-game item but a nice one can be had for few dollars at a bookstore. You’ll find the investment not only helps you crystallize your character’s past but also help to inspire her future. You may already do something like this when you write a game report for your game master. Unlike these, however, your diary is for your own reflection and growth and can go into far more detail than a brief game report.

Character Questionnaire

This is an excellent exercise for coming up with a new concept, solidifying an existing character or as a pre-game warm up. Be sure to ask yourself the question aloud while facing a mirror. Then answer them in character. Try to answer without too much out of character hesitation or contemplation. Observe your expression, tone and inflection too. This can help you fine-tune your persona and develop believable responses. A list of sample questions for a contemporary setting appears below but feel free to modify and make your own personal one. Try running through them right before going to an event or in preparation for a scene. Practice being honest before moving on to lying.

Habits and Mannerisms

We all have these little behavioral nuances and often simple carry them over to our characters without even noticing them. Things like nail biting, twitches, finger rapping, gum chewing, blinking, fidgeting and grooming/primping. Become aware of the habits and mannerisms of yourself and others. By chooses one or two that apply to your character you can add an incredible subtle but impressive angle to your character. Be sure to associate each habit or mannerism with a particular situations (blinking when perplexed or confused, groom when anxious, etc). The biggest mistake people make with habits and mannerism is to over use them so apply them sparingly. I can’t say it enough, learn to notice the mannerism of others!

Speech Patterns

Depending on our origin, experience, travel, education and other factors we each express ourselves verbally in very unique manners. The most common manifestations of this are accent, pronunciation, grammar and diction. Consider what country/region your character comes from, economic level, time period, education, profession, etc. All these can help you develop how she speaks. Sources for this range from very easy (modern day Jersey street punk) to very obscure (Dark Ages Gaelic priest). Try renting movies with similar characters and study them. Don’t think you have to have an overwhelming speech pattern to have good characterization. A relaxed, conversational one can often invoke more characterization than a comically overblown cockney accent (ala Dick van Dike in Mary Poppins). To warm up for a game try reading a couple of verses from a book or carrying on a conversation with your character’s speech pattern. Try to avoid dropping it during the game, the shift can be just as jarring.

Body Language

The way we move and the nuances we perform every moment speak volumes about our general nature, current mood and possible actions. Consider things like stance, stride and gesture. People watching is an excellent way to study this. Malls, parks and sidewalks are great places for a vantage point of innumerable people and their body language. For the shyer sorts, rent a few movies or watch some crowd footage. (Inside tip: Watch animals, like those in nature specials. They can give you some amazing insights on alternative body language) Take these impressions and see how they can apply to you character. Does she have the confident gait, tight posture and powerful gestures of an authoritative person? Maybe he has the relaxed swagger of Casanova with suggestive glances and aggressive. Practice your walk! Put gestures together with phrases and situations. Don’t just choose a selection of body linguistics and dole them out without rhyme or reason.


Pick something (an item, place, situation, time, etc) every week and develop an in character perspective. When your character smells gun smoke does his mind’s eye wander to the corpse trenches of The Great War. Does the ringing of a grandfather clock cause her a shiver as she doubts her immortality? Does the feel of fresh, green grass beneath his feet make him feel relaxed and at peace? Is the shadow of that building like the last sunset you every saw? The list is almost infinite. A friend of mine called this the “Highlander Effect”. For those of you that have seen the movie you may recall the immortal hero’s habit of having “flashbacks” of his long life trigger by nuances of the current world. Treat these items like this can almost be a story in itself. Hint: Let yourself FEEL what you associate with the trigger. If its happiness, actually SMILE. If its fear, breathe quick, short breathes and SHUDDER. It its sadness, try dredging up a painful memory and getting misty eyed.

The What If? Game

Every so often, come up with a theoretical scenario and pretend your character finds themselves in it. Try to think of ones your character would not normally be confronted with. They don’t even have to be feasible, just as long as they are new. Use the nuances (speech, body language, habit & mannerisms, etc) of your character along with her values and rationales to roleplay through the scenario. This pushes your normal boundaries of stimulus/response and helps you learn to react with flexibility and realism even in situations completely alien to your character, rather than falling flat or floundering. The first time you floor people with your ability to “go with the flow” you’ll see the value of this exercise.

Live a Little

There are huge gulfs of time and experience between your character portrayal and even a spare life. We can’t possibly hope to full emulate the enormous wealth of input even a dull person experiences. We CAN however take little snapshots of every day and use it to help develop our characters. A great way to so this is to occasionally do something “every day” in character. Pick out and go see a movie as your character. Think what he would say about the action scene, the plot or the effects. Go to a bookstore and pick out a book based on your character’s interests. Flip through it or read a few sections. Evaluate the content, pictures and theme from her point of view. Watch some television as your character. Channel surf and see what would catch his attention (PBS, sitcom, cartoons, news, business, shopping?). Write a poem or report in character, even if you never plan to show it to a living soul. Sing in the car, house or shower in character. What songs does your character like to sing along with? Why? Dance in character, whether its at home or at a club (we won’t tell anyone). Take a “purity test” completely in character!

Pre-Game Prep

You get your clothes and paperwork together for a game, why not get your characterization together too? Pick a couple pieces of music that you associate with your character or the game and listen to them before the game. Maybe watch a video tape of a movie you feel your character has a connection to right before heading to the game. Pick a short story or some poems that stir the same theme your character has and read them (aloud) before going into play. Get those creative juices flowing. After all you wouldn’t run a marathon with stretching first would you?

Character Questionnaire

  1. I don’t believe we’ve meet… (Practice introducing yourself. Use gestures and expressions)
  2. Do you like this <insert item>? (Don’t forget to think/say why or why not.)
  3. Do you have any pets? (What sort, why that particular pet, what’s its name?)
  4. Does you have any hobbies? (What sort, are you good at them, why did you choose them?)
  5. Were you ever married? In a relationship? (With whom, what sort, how did it go/end?)
  6. What facial expressions do you most frequently use? (Why?)
  7. Would you consider yourself popular? (Why, among whom?)
  8. Would you consider yourself in good shape?
  9. What’s your least favorite personal feature? (Why, what might you do to change it?)
  10. Have you traveled widely? (Where, when, why, what were your impressions?)
  11. What kind of music, if any, do you like?
  12. What do you do to relax?
  13. Do you believe in God or a higher power? (Which one, why?)
  14. Who do you spend the most time with? (Why, where, doing what?)
  15. What are your views on war?
  16. Do you have any artistic talent? (What sort?)
  17. Do you consider yourself frugal or cheap?
  18. Do you consider yourself extravagant or tasteful?
  19. Favorites and why:
    1. Color
    2. Season
    3. Time period
    4. Song
    5. Movie
    6. Quote
    7. Weather
    8. Vehicle
    9. TV Show
    10. Article of clothing
    11. Beverage
    12. Food
    13. Web site
    14. Childhood toy
    15. Game
  20. Do you celebrate any holidays? (Which ones and how?)
  21. What makes you laugh?
  22. Where do you live?
  23. What sort of magazines do you read? (Names and reasons?)
  24. What kind of furniture do you own?
  25. Do you like animals? (What sorts, why?)
  26. Are you superstitious? (Name some you believe in).
  27. What would you do if you won the lottery?
  28. If you were stranded on a desert island what would you bring to occupy yourself?
  29. What do you do when you go out?
  30. If you were an animal what sort would you be? (Why?)
  31. If you had to loose any one sense, which one? (Why?)
  32. Have you ever had a nickname? (What and why?)
  33. What do you wear to sleep?
  34. What’s your single best feature?
  35. What is your most prized material possession? (Why)
  36. If you could change your name what would you pick?
  37. What is your earliest memory?
  38. Who was the most influential person in your mortal life?
  39. Who was your first date? (How old were you? How’d it go?)
  40. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
  41. Do you have a job? (What? How do you like it? Are you good at it?)
  42. What is the most beautiful thing you’ve every seen?
  43. Have you ever had sex? Have you ever made love?
  44. What was the first time you got drunk like?
  45. What are you the most ashamed of?
  46. What are you most proud of?
  47. What the worse thing that can be done to a person?
  48. What was the last time your cried? (Why?)
  49. If you could interview any historical figure who would it be? (Why? What would you ask?)
  50. What would you use three wishes for?
  51. What do you do when you’re bored?
  52. What the biggest threat to your society? (Why?)
  53. If you could become an ordinary, uncomplicated person, would you? (Why or why not?)
  54. What’s your favorite Traditions (or commandment)?
  55. If you could be another creature, natural or supernatural, what would it be? (Why?)
  56. What’s your lucky number?
  57. What’s the best thing a dollar can buy?
  58. What word or sound is fun to say/make?
  59. If clothing were optional, would you wear any?
  60. What’s the best place in the whole world? (Why?)
  61. What would you rather die than do (or not do)? (Why?)
  62. Chopsticks or fork?
  63. Pens or pencils?
  64. Right or left?
  65. Are you talents/abilities a gift or curse?
  66. Predestination or Freewill?
  67. Half empty or Half full?
  68. Style or Substance?
  69. Raincoat or Umbrella?
  70. What do you wish you had more time to do?
  71. Do you have any children or siblings? (Who and why?)
  72. If you could look like anyone else who would it be? (Why?)
  73. Can you dance? (What sort?)
  74. A homeless person asks you for money, do you give them any? (Why/why not? How much?)
  75. What would your parents say if they saw you now?
  76. If you could kill any one person without any consequences who would it be? (Why?)
  77. If you could watch any event first hand what would it be? (Why?)
  78. What do you look for when considering a residence?
  79. What’s the strangest dream you’ve ever had?
  80. At the end of the day…. are you happy?

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