Dungeons & Dragons & Stanislavski

So, for the longest time I wanted to be an actor. Like, a legit actor. I auditioned for shows, I took movement classes, I even spent a summer at CMU’s Drama School.

In recent years I’ve kind of moved away from acting, having realized it was never what I was actually interested in, and I’ve made the transition to directing and writing. But I still have all that training leftover from my acting days, including his lordship Konstantin Stanislavski. The Stanislavski method was one I actually did alright in, even if it wasn’t fun, because honestly it’s never been too difficult for me to embrace a different character, and it felt like a good way of getting to that point. But when you’re no longer interested in acting in that manner, you come to the conclusion that that training was kind of a waste of money.

At least until you play Dungeons & Dragons.

Coincidentally, one of the actors from a production I did last quarter, Emily, started a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in our house, which I saw as the perfect opportunity to not only fulfill the RPG requirement but also give this game a try, having seen it in TV shows like Stranger Things and on that Twitch show Critical Role. Emily, who served as our DM, helped me form my character.

“So, what kind of character do you want to be?”

“…I kind of want to be an assassin like character, someone really good with stealth, and he wears like all-black clothing.”

“Alright. What species?”

I looked through the book. “Uh…dark elf?”

“Cool. So what’s his name?”

“….Kenjeren Leon.”

“Alright.”

So this character had been established. As Emily was writing down the information on my character sheet, something occurred to me. “Oh, uh…he’s an assassin with a heart of gold, like if he thinks the assassination people want him to do is somehow immoral, he rejects it, which of course doesn’t translate well in earnings.”

As Emily was writing that down, I thought to myself, “Where the heck did that come from?”

Then it came time for the actual game session. We were introducing ourselves, a new band of misfits hired to go on an adventure. Then it was my turn.

“My name is Kenjeren Leon, I’m a dark elf,” I blurted out in a Scottish accent.

In my head I thought, “Where the heck did that come from?”

Looking at my experience with this game session, two things stand out to me: acting method and improvisation. Stanislavski deals a lot in the concept of finding inner motives for your character in order to really portray them well. I dealt with that especially in the forming of the character sheet, figuring out my character’s strengths and intelligence (my stats), knowing my motivations and what my emotions could be. Sure, it’s less physical than what Stanislavski’s method actually calls for, but I was still getting the particular quirks for my character I could apply in the session, be it in the lines I delivered or in the actions I had my character do.

What also came into play with my character creation and of course during the actual season. For that I thank my experience taking improv classes at Upright Citizens’ Brigade, which teaches a form of improv based in what Frost and Yarrow called the New York style, with some sources in the Chicago style. At UCB you’re taught to eventually reach the point where you’re funny, but there’s also an emphasis on building characters and the situation first before that: really establishing some basic info about your character before you get to the good stuff. Of course, there’s an immediacy to improv, so you need to make the big decisions quickly. It’s still amazing to me how that came into play when I was making the character sheet, and when I decided on a Scottish accent during the session, or in the middle of a feast in the session when I asked our hosts for tupperware.

I still don’t consider myself an actor. I gave up on studying improv around the time I started moving towards directing. But honestly? That D&D session may have been the closest I got to acting since then.

One thought on “Dungeons & Dragons & Stanislavski

  1. The notion of finding an inner motive to play a character is very interesting. Because of the consideration of the different motives and different likes and wants of a player, games would always allow the creation of different charcters that supports different kinds of gameplay (for example, the tank, the warrior, the healer, the magician, the berserker, etc). This notion of diversity is the key to satisfying different players and their motivaitons to play a game. And this is what one allows to establish the inner motive within the characer. For players, one reason for playing the game is the feeling of affinity of the player and the character. In essen, the player is creating a double of themselves in the game. Thus they would rely very much on how the character suits their ideals. This is why some games even allow the player to modify bodily features of the character, to suit how the player want them to look like. In my opinion, the notion of finding inner motive inside a character ultimately leads to the notion of the expression of the self in the context of a character in a game. And I think that is why it is so pivital for games to give a certain amount of freedom, not only pertaining to character selection, but also to how real the character and even the story is to the player. The convergence to 3D in many games, and even in card games where the cards have 3D portraits, is an example of how the game should work in service of individual expression of the player.

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