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© 1998-2001 Dru Pagliassotti
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Challenge Yourself

Humans like habits. From the child who needs the stability of routine and order to the adult who seeks the structure of tradition and law, humans look for and create routines, finding comfort in the familiar and predictable.
This is often seen in roleplaying games. GMs run the same plots again and again ... players run the same player characters again and again. After you game with somebody for a few years you learn their habits and quirks of RPGing, the character personality types that keep recurring even though the character's name may change from game to game.
Ironically, this occurs even though roleplaying is one of the safest venues within which to challenge oneself, to experiment with something different. Most people can't reinvent themselves in real life—those who know them well keep dragging them back with references to past behavior or expectations based on past experience. But in RPGs, there's nothing to stop players from "reinventing" themselves. In fact, it's encouraged. Roleplaying isn't about playing yourself thrust into a fantasy or science-fiction or thriller campaign setting, after all. It's about escapism and experimentation.
But still people eventually fall into player-character ruts.
How can we break out of the rut and challenge ourselves again?

Play a character of a different sex, gender, or sexuality. Do you always play men? Women? Heteros? Gays? Dare to play a different type of character. If you always play hetero men, try playing a hetero woman. Or a gay man. Or a lesbian woman. Thrust yourself into the new character type; try to see the world from the other's point of view. If you can, avoid stereotypes and cliches. If not, take heart: chances are, after playing the character for a few games, those stereotypes and cliches will begin to fall away, anyway, as your character's personality emerges and grows.

Play a character of a different ethnicity or race. Are all your characters white? Try playing a character who is black, or Asian, or Latino/a, or Native American. Are all of your characters Anglo-European? Try playing a character from Jamaica, or Egypt, or Iran, or an Australian aborigine, or so forth. Yes, you might have to some research into the character's country and customs, but the GM and your fellow players will appreciate your character all the more for the extra time and effort you expended. (For students taking a class about another country, this is a great way to combine research and gaming!)

Play a character who is differently abled. Are all of your characters models of human perfection? Try playing a character who differs from the so-called ideal. Blind, deaf, mute, unable to walk, missing an arm or leg ... literature, superhero comics, and movies are filled with heroes who are just that much stronger for overcoming a personal difference as well as the bad guys.

Play a character of a different age. Are all of your characters in that ideal American age range of eighteen to twenty-five? Stretch yourself. Play a kid. Play a younger teenager. Play a character in the 50s. 60s. 70s. 80s. And remember what problems people of different ages face. Children are protected from themselves, forbidden entry into some areas, forbidden access to some skills, more vulnerable to colds and diseases. The older a character gets, the more likely s/he is to be dismissed as being "out of it" or even "senile," the less likely s/he is to be in top physical shape, the more vulnerable s/he is to colds and diseases, and so forth. Playing a character in a different age group can be an interesting way to relate to your kids or to your parents and to be more aware of ageism in society.

Play a character of a different socioeconomic class. Are all of your characters middle-class? Play someone raised in rural poverty. Or urban wealth. Rural wealth. Urban poverty. What happens when the character gains money ... or loses it?

Play a character with a problem. Assuming most characters are fairly trouble-free, try playing a character who is being hounded by debtors. Has an addiction—gambling, drinking, drugs, whatever. Has a warrant on his or her head. Is being hit up for alimony payments, either deserved or undeserved. Has a juvenile delinquent history. Has family members with issues who keep coming to him or her. Is suffering from a serious disease, like cancer. Is failing school.

Play a character without a problem. If you're one of those players who likes broody, angsty characters, however, try playing somebody well-adjusted for a change. An adventurer without a tragedy in his or her past. Someone capable of differentiating between right and wrong, necessary steps and overkill. A calm voice in the midst of chaos. A supportive, cheerful, likeable soul. Not an airhead, but somebody who is just, simply ... sane.

Mix'n'Match. Choose a few of these categories and do some mixing and matching. Remember that ultimately your character must be playable, but do take the opportunity to stretch your roleplaying skills by breaking out of your rut next time you create a character!


originally written January 12, 2001


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