Our first post laid the groundwork. I’m going to slow this down a bit and discuss each point thoroughly. This post is about Habit #3: Talk About Your Thinking.
3. Talk About Your Thinking
There is this taboo about discussing the contents of your character’s head. I disagree with it but I get where it comes from. The taboo is clearly a measure taken against the dreaded monster of metagaming.
Metagaming and my thoughts on it need another post, but in short: I don’t think metagaming is as big a deal as it’s been made out to be. I don’t care if you the player use something your character doesn’t know to steer play, as long as the resultant play is interesting. If you are using the information to make the game more constrained and less interesting, it’s not the metagaming that’s the problem, it’s your use of it.
Again, this is a full post on it’s own, but I need to be upfront that this habit will strike some people as very metagame-y. On the other hand, I feel that anyone who already does this is probably nodding her head right now. For people in the middle, let me break it down a bit more.
Discussing at points what your character is thinking creates more opportunities for better roleplaying. Being in-character as much as possible rocks, but what I’ve found that having to stay in character doesn’t always create the best roleplaying moments. I’m trying to be my character, but let’s face it: it is going to be difficult for me to get inside the head of a half human, half dragon creature, or to occupy the mind of a dwarf who has lived for hundreds of years. Part of the fun is the trying, but the trying bears more fruit if I step outside the process and attempt to figure out what the character thinks in this moment. I create a clearer connection between myself and my character before stepping backing in his skin.
Going one step further, sharing or explaining that thinking about your character’s thinking improves the level of roleplaying at the table.
You an keep your thoughts to yourself and just act based on those thoughts. Sharing ups the ante because when you know how my character thinks, you can react in a way that complements or opposes your own character. When you share your thoughts and I respond, we’ve implicitly framed a short scene based on our characters’ reaction to an event and each other, with not a single change to any rule anywhere. We didn’t have to develop a language or incur cognitive overhead with rules for establishing a scene (nothing wrong with such). We flowed naturally into it because you know as a player something about my character and you moved your character towards or away from it.
Need I say it? You can’t overdo this. But once or twice a a session in response to worthwhile events this can be powerful. Thinking about what your character thinks and telling the table about it is for me a part of great gaming.
As a GM, the easiest way to move players towards this is to ask them what their characters think about different aspects of the setting or session. The power of the technique is inverse to the abstraction of the question asked. Ask “What should be done to evildoers?” and you are almost guaranteed something cookie cutter. Ask “would your character prefer to travel by horse or mule, and why?” and you might be surprised at how far you can follow the thought. Specificity wins; ask specific questions about a character’s thoughts for the best answers.
Another note: thought must always translate into action. After you share your character’s thoughts, you should always explain what your character might be doing that indicates that, or what action he’s about to take because of it.
Don’t try to make your characters mind-readers. Sometimes you want to share your character’s thoughts but not put them “on the table” for reaction. You might discuss what your character thinks, but also note that he keeps silent about it. In that case, you just acknowledge as a player what you know, but maybe later you suggest a follow up scene to discuss it. Maybe it doesn’t go anywhere and you simply learn more about someone else’s character, which is also great.