Hey there. You may be wondering why this entry of the blog is a little out of synch with the canon timeline. Well, between a busy work schedule leading up to the holidays along with time spent with the family, I was thrown off my game. Followed up by a work day where a couple of my back muscles decided to tie themselves into a knot for funsies. And at that point I figured I’d give myself a little time off as a gift. But that time has passed and it’s well past due for me to get my mindset back on the grindset.
Hello and welcome to Eldritch Excursion, the blog that explores flavor through expression of the soul but forwards this information through the expression of an expertly served knuckle sandwich. And while I’m on the topic of intense physical pain, let’s discuss how to say everything you need to say by punching someone in the face.
There are countless ways for you to express your character at the table, but I’m going to wager that one of the first things that come to mind is the art of straightforward conversation. And this is fine, of course. Have your stoic fighter tell the tale of how slavers came to her village to burn down the houses and kidnap the workers and steal their dog’s credit card information and all that. It paints a clear enough picture to get a general idea going. Maybe spend a lot of time at the bar while going into intimate detail telling your backstory as you assault your liver with gnomish ale and hit on every adult under 4 and a half feet tall because that’s just how you do. But I’m going to tell you how you can portray a lot about your character within the confines of an initiative roll.
Louder Than Words
It was during a vod from one Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw that I heard an interesting opinion about fighting games. It’s been a while and I don’t remember it word for word, but he commented that fighting games characters tend to have very expressive designs that combine with their move sets to communicate who that person is to the player. This is because fighting games don’t have a big emphasis on story, and you can’t expect your average player to read through two dozen wiki pages’ worth of lore to decide who they want to pick for their first time in training mode. They’re just going to pick the one that looks cool or matches their vibe and go from there.
This may not seem like it matters for your average tabletop roleplaying game, especially since reading up on lore is a core part of the experience, but the lesson to learn is about delivering information elegantly. Let’s go back to our example fighter. She goes for decisive blows against crime lords and bandit leaders, but holds back and deals nonlethal damage to the minions because she knows they may have been pressed into service. When the party cleric is lit up by an alchemist’s fire, she reveals that the wizard dedication she took a few levels back was just so she could learn water type spells that can extinguish fires. Despite her paltry training in diplomacy, she always tries to talk down the dwarven leader of their rival adventuring party.
All of these are actions that can take place in the game, often during combat, but still say a little bit about the character. Her desire to rescue people from bad situations. Her dedicated focus on fire safety. Her ideal relationship dynamic playing out like Shadow of the Collosus. These are actions that speak louder than words. And more importantly, they do so in a way that flows more naturally with the character than going down a bullet point list or recording a Top Ten Reasons for Vengeance (Number Four Will Surprise You!) video.
But it isn’t just about the actions. It can be about your character build and what that says about you. If you want to get into your own character’s head, look at the class you picked. It’s also the class they picked. Look at the feats, spells, and items you picked. Those are, retroactively, the things that your character picked. Ask yourself what this says about your character. Do they end fights as quickly as possible, or do they enjoy drawing it out? Are they open to new ideas, or are they more likely to embrace old traditions? Are they the kind of person who will set expectations and then subvert them entirely?
You’re free to build what you want. I am neither your boss, nor your father. But asking yourself “what does this say about my character?” with every major ability is a great way to figure our who they are and give everyone else a pretty solid idea as well.
But Wait Words Are Pretty Good Too
But before you go, we can’t forget words. Specifically, the words your character might say in the middle of a fight. Let’s play a little game. I’m going to link you a collection of quotes from one of my favorite characters without much context and you can listen to however much you’d like. Go ahead, give it a listen.
Now that you’re done, what can you tell me about the character? I don’t expect you to know all of his lore, and I don’t think you can sus out his abilities from just his quotes, but I bet you can get a general mood. A direction. Inspiration, even. While you don’t have to borrow a whole script line for line, hearing some quality voice acting can really help to flesh out your own character’s general feel. And just as importantly, it can inspire how you communicate these details to the party in ways they’ll never forget.
And before I go, let me leave you with some parting words. And by that, I mean words that you the player might say to describe your character right after they take down an opponent.
- After the monster falls, her head snaps to the next opponent. There’s a hunger in her eyes.
- Her hand trembles, barely able to hold her blade, and she whispers “I’m sorry” under her breath.
- Her gaze lingers on her fallen opponent’s valuable gear, but she thinks better of it. For now.
And there we have it, a way to speak entire paragraphs with just four knuckles and a bit of fighting soul. If you’re looking for more sources of inspiration, I suggest trying your hand at fighting games. It might be more fun than you think. Come back next time and I’ll find another ancestry to get irrationally angry at over the internet.