Garath sits at his stool behind the bar, flipping through one of his journals. As you approach the friendly bartender glances up and, seeing that it’s you, gives a broad smile.
“Digging out my journals for you really has brought back a lot of memories, ah the tales I could tell you – some happening at that very table,” he gestures to a round 8 top behind you. “But that can wait for another time! Do you have a session this evening?”
Nodding you plop yourself down at the bar and start pulling out your notes. “I actually wanted to get your advice on something; my players have their character’s backstories all decided but I want them to get used to their characters a little before I start introducing their pasts. Got any tips?” Garath ponders for a bit, mulling over the question as he helped some other customers.
“I’ve always found that using NPCs is a great way to get your players to practice role-play and expand on their characters. For example, if you have a cleric in your party you can have an NPC peasant as the cleric to bless their child. A wizard can be requested to use their skills to help solve an astrological event, or even suss out what spell was used to wreak havoc on a hamlet. A druid or ranger might help a farmer with a crop or pest issue, or talk down a misunderstood Assassin Vine.
There are a lot of ways you can engage your players through small interactions. It can help them get the little bit of experience they need to get to the next level, but I think what it really does is gives players a chance to feel out their character’s personalities in a low-stakes way. It can be hard to commit to a character, so if they have time to practice in ways that won’t impact their entire quest, which will take pressure off of you and your players.” You start scribbling notes, ideas suddenly flooding your mind with the new perspective.
“To make it easier on yourself,” Garath continued, “I would start with their basic character class, ignore their backstory for a bit and let them establish their attitude and demeanor in-game: have your fighter meet and train with a famous general they admire or have your human character react to being the holy human in an isolated elven town where they’ve rarely seen humans.
Once they get a rhythm going and establish their basic character traits you can start expanding on their backstory; sure, your rogue might say that he has trust issues, but give him an opportunity to prove it. Have an NPC tip him off on some hot job and see if he takes it at face value. Your fighter might say she’s committed to helping anyone, no matter how big or small, but will she help pull the farmer’s cow out of the muck? Things like that can really add some flavor, and depending on how the situation is handled can be used later to help or hinder the party – or at least provide some good laughs!” Garath chuckles a little as if remembering some old shenanigan he pulled on his party as you scramble to write down another idea before it is lost.
A large party walks in as Garath finishes his tale and you thank him profusely as he moves to take their order, he’s given you a lot to think about before your session starts and you begin looking over your notes on the party, looking for ways to bring their characters to life.