[RPG] How to roleplay a follower-type character when I as a player have a leader-type personality



When I started playing RPGs, I made characters with high intelligence and problem-solving skills. As an engineer, these kinds of characters were similar to myself in real life and suited my natural play style.

As I grew more confident with roleplaying, I started playing characters with high charisma and persuasive skills. I have somewhat of a 'natural-leader' type personality where I like to take the lead on discussion and decision-making. These characters allowed me to explore that.

Eventually, I combined these skills and became the DM where I can flex all my problem-solving, discussion-driving, wannabe-leader skills without dominating the party. This has been great, and I've learned a lot and broadened my roleplaying skills significantly while doing it.

When the opportunity to return to playing came up, I created several characters that have a more 'follower'-type personality – not unintelligent or uncharismatic, but more meek and less likely to take the lead. I did this to try to roleplay outside my comfort zone (also playing my first female PC) and to try to curb my ability to lead the party.

My issue

These new characters don't come naturally to me. I have to actively force myself to 'sit on my hands' and contribute less than I naturally would. It's not that I don't have fun playing them – more that I struggle to actually play them the way I wanted to. Often I find myself deep in a convoluted strategy discussion or manipulating an NPC when I remember that it is totally out of character for the PC I am playing.

Additionally, as a long-time DM I have by far the best rules and system knowledge at the table. Often I can spot flaws and errors in other players' strategies that my character would not. I struggle to go along with the "sub-optimal" strategy even when it is absolutely what my character would do.

This question has some cross-over with this one on creating characters different to myself; however, I don't have a problem creating the character. I also don't really have a problem with playing them as a DM. I am asking for techniques from people who have struggled with similar issues as a player.

How can I better roleplay a meek character when I have a leader-type personality?


One of the characters I am playing is a rogue with a Folk Hero background. I wrote in her backstory that she tried to start a revolution to help her hometown; it ended up with a massacre when the Lord's army arrived. Since then, she has sworn off making serious decisions and likes to attach herself to another character who will stop her from making another terrible mistake.

In one session, we had a serious and complex political situation to deal with. Normally, this would be my area of expertise, and I took to it without thinking; I stormed into a council meeting and strong armed a few NPCs with my force of personality, I even managed to negotiate a truce between a Holy Order of Paladins and the Undead they came to slay. After the session, I realised that was totally out of character and wished I'd played it differently.

Best Answer

tl;dr: Outline the key broad behaviors, thought processes, and formative events and impressions that your character should have. Then build hard constraints (always this, never that) which replace any decisions you might make "in the moment". In cases that hard constraints don't touch, start from the key behaviors, thought processes, and formative events of your character and then reason primarily from those to decide on an action.

I've had some similar issues, though my context was different. For me, it's mainly from older video games that aren't complex enough to represent the details I wanted to express, or strongly favor a mathematically optimal approach to play which constantly tempt me to play "well" rather than in-character.

What has worked for me has been to think of behaviors (and in some cases, categories of behavior) which would be necessary for me to be playing my character as I intended. Then I develop these into either hard constraints (I must do X if the opportunity arises), or into "dilemmas" that I have to think through before taking my action. Every decision that I make is filtered through those considerations, and if one doesn't fit, I don't do that thing.

Most importantly, just because your character doesn't act as you would doesn't mean that they don't do anything at all. Some stronger development of how and why your character has the non-leader, non-decisive traits can not only tell you how your character shouldn't behave, but can also suggest how they should.

As an example of the hard constraint case, I like to try to represent famous sci-fi races in games of Master of Orion II. When I was playing as the Formics (from Ender's Game), it was mandatory to immediately go to war with the first other species I encountered. It's obviously not optimal play, but it's "correct" in terms of the roleplaying setup.

It's an action that both describes and is a consequence of how they thought about things, to the extent that they can't really be accurately roleplayed without it (in the context of recreating what is represented in the books, at least).

For the dilemma case (think of the choices available in a branching RPG like Mass Effect), I try to imagine a rationale or thought process that produces a character like the one I'm trying to portray, and then follow that line of reasoning to figure out what to do.

Even when I snap to a decision, the character doesn't, and my conclusion becomes one that the character considers but is heavily biased against. You don't necessarily need to understand it; your character does. If I can't build a persuasive case for the obvious-seeming action from my character's perspective, I won't take that action.

An implementation prop might help, both to remind you of your constraints and to refresh your reasoning for why they exist, and you can look at it every time you take an action or look at your character sheet. For your folk hero character, writing on an index card something like:

I am a failure as a leader. My choices all lead to ruin, and my taking charge consigns all around me to death.

Harsh, but it sounds in-character and reminds you of how your character thinks. She might see flaws and opportunities as readily as you (linksassin) do, but she doesn't trust her judgment. She can even mirror your frustration at not acting optimally, but she is sure that acting optimally isn't something she can actually achieve through her own reasoning. If she immediately discounts the ideas which occur most naturally to her, what would she do instead?

How would you, at the table, change your behavior if you were certain that every d20 roll based on a decision you make would be a 1?