The Gassy Gnoll: Rekindling the Improvisational Spirit (Seeking Input)

The Gassy Gnoll has had an on-again, off-again relationship with gaming over the last 12 years. Yes, that’s probably a bit too much like a confession, but I have a point I’ll get to after a bit of history…

Before 2000 I gamed regularly and GMed frequently, but for the next 6 years I was more than a bit of a lost man in a lost world with little contact with gamers in Phoenix. I occasionally tried to start a campaign with my family or find a group to play with in the area, but nothing stuck. Either we couldn’t get folks together regularly or I just didn’t jive with the groups I found.

When I moved back to Colorado with my family in 2006, I reconnected with a gamer I worked with (thanks Mike!) and started playing in a campaign in a fantasy version of Ancient Rome using the HERO System. That eventually shifted over to D&D 3.5e and we gamed for several years together.

More recently I began playing with a couple of groups playing 4e in Colorado Springs (thank you Justin and Jason!) and am now regularly gaming (every two or three weeks) and having a great time.

So here’s the problem… When I was GMing and playing regularly (at least once a week, sometimes more) I could improvise at the drop of a hat, whether playing a character myself or dropping in and out of NPCs. It was fluid and easy to bounce around all the various skills a player and GM would need. Regardless of whether the character was complex or simple, I could step into those shoes and roleplay without much thought.

When I played with Mike, my initial character was high concept – Didius Cato (or DC for short) was an escaped slave and thief who sought to abolish slavery in the empire in which he lived. He was intrinsically random in some ways and between the background, a bit of setting information, and the inspiration of the first session, he simply came together. I was spoiled playing DC for a few years.

In subsequent campaigns with Mike, I tried to use the same combination of setting, concept, and inspiration but never hit upon that “lightning in a bottle” I had with DC. And though the group eventually dissolved mostly due to scheduling issues, roleplaying those other characters became too much like work.

With Justin’s group, I was new to 4e and simply happy to be playing again. I never really came up with a background for my 4e character and our Spirit of the Century campaign died on the vine after a couple of sessions. I always had a good time playing, but never really felt connected to those characters in any meaningful way.

Now with Jason’s group, I stepped into the role of a pre-built warlock that was played by someone else earlier in the campaign and it has been similar to how things worked in Justin’s group. I love playing, but don’t really have a good enough concept for the character beyond the combat elements and witty banter with the other players.

Even in the other campaign we’re playing (in the Zeitgeist setting for 4e), my fighter Tieg McMann is little more than a cardboard cutout. I know a bit about his background (war veteran with survivor’s guilt seeking to continue his service to his country until he joins his fallen comrades at arms), but the personality aspects still elude me during sessions.

So after all that, I have more questions than anything else…

  • Is it simply that as I’ve grown older my mind is becoming less flexible and creative, meaning that I simply can’t make the imaginative leaps I used to?
  • Is it that I’m out of practice?
  • Is it that I’m simply playing the wrong characters or not putting enough effort into their creation?

I’m not actually roleplaying in any meaningful way these days, though I’m enjoying the creativity of combat and the witty banter around the game table. So I feel like I’m not contributing to the greater story as I should be, regardless of the GM, setting, players, or rules system.

That said, here’s the part where you come in…

  • What techniques do you apply to your roleplaying to keep the creativity high? Are there any improvisation exercises you employ when creating a new character or seeking to renew your interest in an existing character?
  • If you’ve taken time off from gaming in the past, how have you worked your way back into it and reconnected with the spark of youth that fueled your past adventures?

I want to be more active in the roleplaying side of things and not simply using each session as an excuse to roll dice, bash monsters, and hope that my characters (and my fellow players’ characters) survive the night. But I’m at a bit of a loss on how to do that.

Any ideas? Leave me some comments, drop me an e-mail, ping me on Google+ or Facebook… I’d love to converse on this and try some things!

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