Improving Conversations in Character

Hi all!

As a fairly new gamer (and someone whose experience in the past hasn’t been in games with a lot of narrative focus or improvising), one of the things I find hardest is being able to come up with conversations on the spot that I feel like fit very well with how I imagine my character to be. The first few sentences of back and forth are usually fine, but then I run out of improv gas and I feel like I end up grasping for reactions. It’s easier for me to describe how my character is acting physically (like “they cross their arms and shrug”) then to come up with words that feel like something they’d say…

So I’m wondering, how do you approach having conversations in character and what are tips or resources you might have?

(in real life, I like to plan conversations ahead and/or resort to written communication… so… this might be a me thing… :slight_smile:)


There’s nothing wrong with that! Roleplaying isn’t just verbal communication, it’s all the aspects of your character. Don’t feel pressured to have a chime-in for every conversation. Not every character present is required to speak, be it ttrpgs, movies, books, etc.

this might also be a limiter. If you are used to rehearsing your communication it’s going to require extra effort to improv a character that isn’t even you. A few suggestions IMO

  • Don’t feel like you have to provide the full roleplay experience, there’s no pressure to use a different voice, inflection, or accent.
  • Like you mentioned how you default to going for physical reactions, try expanding that into verbal reactions without worrying about dialog IE "my character agrees with the plan, my character lets out a war cry, etc.
  • try to consciously remind yourself that there’s no penalty for roleplaying “wrong”, you’re there to have fun, so if doing something isn’t fun, don’t feel obligated to do it.
  • it’s overstated, but practice. No one is gonna know their character inside and out after the first, second, or even third session. The more you roleplay as them, the better you’ll be at roleplaying them
  • If all else fails, ask your GM or most trusted co-player for feedback on your roleplay. Chances are they’re just as stressed as you over rolepaying. Try to realize that you’re all there to achieve the same goal, it’s ok to be silly, or serious, or whatever, as long as everyone is enjoying the story that unfolds. nobody is gonna be mad if you don’t roleplay well (if anyone is doing that, don’t play with them)

One thing I had to work hard at when I was younger was learning how to listen to what others were saying instead of becoming distracted in my head by thinking ahead to what I was going to say next (in life as well as in gaming). It took some effort and practice, but the rewards were great: I found it was much easier and far less anxiety-provoking to come up with a response “on the spot” if I was truly listening to what others were saying because there was a framework to build on - a true conversation.


Another thing that can really help is to just have a goal for what you want out of the scene and drive towards that: ‘Get Galya to tell me it’s OK I hate the new pilot’, for example, and if you keep that in mind, you have something to work for. And you don’t need to like, go straight for the jugular on it, but if you have it as a fall-back, you have somewhere to go, and a good reason to close the convo if you get what you want (or get stonewalled). It doesn’t need to be be a big or important plot point, just a direction to go.

And, hey, if you like pre-planning conversations, then consider jotting down some prompts in advance, a few go-to phrases you can work in that will keep things moving along. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and GMs will go around telling everyone how amazing it is that you do prep for their games as a player!


me = so much this. Thanks for pointing that out.


One of the most important things I took from “Play Unsafe” (which is a really good book on bringing improv techniques into games) is that you don’t have to be interesting :slight_smile: By which I mean, sometimes the obvious answer is fine. “Why do you want to go up this mountain” could spawn a five minute response about your father the mountain climber who tried four times, leaving you at home with your disabled mother before he died on his last attempt and now you want to redeem his legacy. Or it could just be “I want to get rich and famous.” And both answers are perfectly fine. Because both give people space to work.

Another thing to remember is that it will get easier the more you do it. On the Slack I mentioned that I went back recently and listened to the run of Tolstoy-themed Good Society I did in February. I played with some excellent people…and I have no idea how we managed to pull so much good story out of the air, down to writing imaginary letters with full sentences in a formal, 19th Centuryized diction. And I was there! Doing it with them!

So don’t sweat it too much, when in doubt say the obvious thing, and in time this will get easier :slight_smile:


One thing that’s helpful is to remember that we’re finding out what a character is like through play, so we don’t have to already have a clear picture of how they are before-hand.

What this means is that you don’t have to try to force your character dialogue (or silence, or actions) to necessarily be totally consistent. There is room for your group to be be surprised by your character’s actions, and they may even surprise you. This takes some of the pressure off trying to be sure your acting is 100% consistent with an imagined backstory and psychology for your character.

For myself I find that it’s hard to get started roleplaying a new character, but once I get a feel for the kinds of things they like to say and do (or the kind of things I like making them say and do) it becomes a lot easier and more fun. I’d second the other suggestions on this thread as well, but I think that sometimes what makes this hard is a kind of “decision paralysis” which can often be avoided.

EDIT: I should have explicitly said this above, but one advantage to this approach is that people are often good at thinking up stories that might “explain” conflicting facts. So if your character does behave inconsistently, it actually creates an opportunity to author new backstory, facts, or traits that explain it (and also makes the character feel more complex or three-dimensional in the process).


I talked about my approach on Twitter here:

If there’s some flavor I really want my character to have (e.g. noir detective, patriotic WWII-era teen, etc.) I search up a set of phrases or words beforehand so I’ve always got a flavor-appropriate reaction close to hand. Of course, I’ll often improv something else based on the specifics of a scene, but I find having something to fall back on helps give me more security and confidence as a player and keeps me away from defaulting to a snarky, contemporary tone.


I struggle with dialogue too.

Frequently I resort to “I explain to the guard that…” as opposed to actually coming up with the words that are coming out of my character’s mouth. It hasn’t caused any problems in my games.


This has all been so helpful and I’m definitely going to be thinking about things and trying things out! It’s one thing to know theoretically that there’s no penalty for roleplaying wrong and a whole other thing to play like that’s true, but all these comments help cement that mindset :slight_smile:


What a lovely thread! So much good advice.

I’ll add some other ideas, though most of what I might have written has already been said better by others:

  • Everyone has a “limiter”, I think, in this sense, and it’s OK for yours to be different than other peoples’. For instance, I have trouble improvising dialogue between two people (like two NPCs talking to each other), but I’ve seen some (rare) cases of people who can do that quite effortlessly! It’s impressive, but it wasn’t a learned skill - it just comes naturally to them.

  • Using narration instead of dialogue is totally OK in most cases (except when specific details or wording matters): “I sputter uselessly for a few minutes, and then finally let out a single word: ‘Vincent’. The hatred in my voice as I say that makes it very clearly that this name can belong to none other than the killer.” Thinking like a writer instead of like an actor can be a great tool!

(And when specific wording or detail matters, you can include it in the narration: “I talk about my mother’s strange habits for some time, but I keep using the word ‘salacious’, which makes it clear how I feel about her newfound obsession with gossip.”)

  • When in doubt, you can refer to things on your character sheet for inspiration (skills, backgrounds, Aspects, whatever - “oh, I’m Proud, so I’d probably consider that an insult!”), or other players (“what do you think my character would say here?”), or even a randomizer (“I don’t know yet if my character would react to that… I’ll roll a die”).

  • It can help if you think of another person you know well - a family member, a friend, your boss, a character in a movie or book, or a celebrity - as a “model” for your character. Speak as they would speak or act as they would act, to start. (“What would Princess Leia say if someone was insulting her like this?”) Over time, your characters will develop beyond that starting point, and no one will ever know (unless you are amazing at impressions, of course!).


This is a really good point!

In my case I’m bad at accents (I get self-conscious and worry that I’m going to end up sounding like a lazy stereotype). So I’ve accepted that when speaking in character I’m only going to use my normal voice (possibly with minor adjustments for pitch and word choice). Many people I game with are great at accents but they are just not for me.


I do this all the time! And sometimes I flow back and forth between the two: I’ll take some time and talk about the subtext of what my character’s saying, and then I’ll go into a line of actual dialogue, and then zoom back out to talking about the dynamic in the scene. I think it works pretty well.


I often use descriptive narrative in place of dialogue. Oftentimes I’ve found that as a GM it’s more important to leave the players with an impression of what was said instead of specific words that were said. For example:

“The baron delivers an impassioned address to you and the council members about duty, honor, and sacrifice. Her conviction and devotion to the people is evident in everything she says. By the time she finishes the council members are nodding in agreement and several members of the crowd are obviously flush with pride or moved to tears.”


“The baron drones on for what feels like an hour. Her monotone, nasally voice is clearly boring the council and a handful of the public seem to be nodding off. By the time she finally finishes you’re not really sure of what point, if any, she was making, you’re just glad it’s over.”

I’ve found that my players seem to get more from that that sort of thing then trying to come up with specific dialogue on the fly.


I have to say that whenever a GM has to read something straight from a module for dialogue, the dialogue better be great or they generally get a hell of a ribbing or eye rolling. The descriptive narrative approach generally works much better for these times… and any time players want to get on to the next action.


For me, the most effective dramatic dialogue is about the character trying to achieve something: status, information, seduction, control of the agenda, motivating a team, winning an argument. The characters that I enjoy roleplaying the most are the characters who want the most; as long as something they want is in play, the dialogue flows (more) naturally.

Especially for long-running games which don’t have character development built in, I like to prepare at home by thinking about what my character’s driving desires are. For example, I once had a D&D character who was a rogue prince on the run from an arranged marriage. He wanted a) to stay undetected and b) to be as high status as possible. (He was a pretty awful person.) Because those two goals were mutually exclusive, he always had some sort of conflict with everyone he met - it provided an endless source of dialogue which was fun to play out.

I find that when I reach a moment like this, it can be a sign that a conversation has run its natural course and it’s time to move on to the next thing. I think there’s a lot to be said for knowing when to stop talking!


I used to create prompt cards using index type cards. I might write a bit of dialogue, perhaps a quote from the NPC and then build on it from there. Prompts are a handy way to remember something important to say even if you don’t write down the full dialogue some keywords might help to speed up prep time. You might also have a few notes of objectives on each index card or one per scene.

These days I tend to think about personality of NPC’s more and their key objectives in my down time moments like falling asleep at night and driving the car (I should really focus on the road not my NPC’s!). So I work through a character before a game perhaps thinking she is bold, strong willed and capable in a fight. Then an objective might be : “The Vampire Lord wants me for his bride and I don’t want to be his bride and yet I am intrigued and will go along with the party of players”. I don’t write these down and just flow with the interaction as the players react to events and people. Then as the sessions continue I adapt to their thinking as I play and don’t often revisit the original invention of them.

My issue (which I am not even sure is an issue but feels odd to me) is that I have a terrible fall back state for my dialogue that typically ends up being the NPC / antagonist saying something dramatic during or just before a fight like “I am going to tear open your chest and slice out your liver!” or one of about many possible angry statements about what bad stuff the antagonist is going to do to the player(s). It might sound OK to the players but I feel that I want to add something more fun and interesting in that heated battle moment by perhaps saying something more specific but when my angry NPC mode kicks in I get fired up and shout anatomical death moves (ADM) at them.

Another option for you might be to write an intro dialogue for an NPC which could be a paragraph or two of you reading out aloud with both a narrative description of them, then “They say the following: insert quote here”. Keep practising with that approach and after a few sessions you might feel more confident.