Roleplaying Tip #3: Taking Initiative

In light of the December 2013 Blog Carnival, I’m going to say some words on taking charge. I apologize in advance if I end up soap-boxing, because this is a topic I’m pretty passionate about. The principle value of a table-top RPG is the joint story telling it offers, this cannot happen if the players do not speak up.

In a table-top rpg we’re usually playing daring adventurers. These are people who have chosen the most ambitious and dangerous of careers. They will be, almost to a man, the most decisive and action-oriented people you have ever met. They are not the sort of people who stop at a fork in a labyrinth and need the spirit of the impatient GM to tell them which random way to pick.

There are several ways characters can be decisive and make things happen in the game. The most obvious is leadership, but I will also discuss how subservience, courage, and cowardice can cause a character to drive the story.


A character doesn’t actually have to be a leader or even lead the party to show leadership. Even a solitary character can be a leader as long as he leads himself. Leadership is motivation of self and others. It is decisiveness and decision-making. Even the least charismatic and quietest character can lead when he wanders down a corridor. If this acts succeeds in moving the others, then so be it. If not, then at least he has led himself.

Any time a player is showing leadership through his character, he is taking charge and advancing the story. Here are some examples of demonstrations of leadership that can help transform and drive a story:

  • Developing plans and giving orders
  • Taking action in the face of uncertainty
  • Setting personal character goals and pursuing them
  • Driving conversation with questions and assertions
  • Acting independently or against the interests of others in the party

Leadership in a character is about taking responsibility for the outcome. This means that a character who drives the story through leadership makes decisions and takes action in an effort to make the outcome the best possible. He doesn’t rely on someone else to do it.


Subservience is common in people to varying degrees, even self-starting, ambitious adventurers.  It can come from loyalty, duty, or obedience, among others. A leader of a group can be highly subservient to members in the group, or a character with leadership qualities in one company can be totally subservient in the company of his “betters.”

A subservient character can drive the story without having to make his own decisions or take responsibility. Here are some examples:

  • Pursuing assignments blindly
  • Supporting plans of other leaders
  • Obeying a deity’s tenets or commands without question
  • Abandoning missions if in need of further instructions
  • Asking others for their opinions
  • Praying often for guidance

A subservient character depends on others to take the responsibility and provide direction. This can guide the story in either a positive or negative direction, depending on to whom the character is subservient. Two subservient characters serving different masters can bring conflict and other interesting aspects to the story.


It’s not much of a stretch to call most adventurers courageous. They’ve chosen a dangerous line of work and without a really good motivation, none of them would be there if they couldn’t overcome their fears. Courage boils down to the ability to act in spite of apprehension rather than in response to them.

These apprehensions can come from uncertainty, fear, danger, or worry, among other things. Whether wild and reckless, charging into any situation or prudently bold, pressing on in spite of perceived danger. Ways courage can drive the story include:

  • Pressing on in spite of uncertainty about the outcome
  • Charge into situations where victory is not assured
  • Challenging the status quo despite the powers that be
  • Ignoring other dangers to complete his quest

Courageous characters deny apprehensions and act or do not act based on inputs other than fear and doubt. They can bring the story to a glorious adventure or a tragic conclusion with their heroic deeds and thoughtless blundering.


On occasion, a character will become an adventurer despite cowardice due to some overwhelming motivation. Cowardly characters give in to their apprehensions readily.

They flee from uncertainty, fear, and danger. These unwelcome emotions govern them, and so can drive the game. Examples of cowardly behavior include:

  • Fleeing from battle or the threat of battle
  • Investigating until sure of safety
  • Panicking when faced with danger
  • Giving up on quests that are difficult

Cowardly characters are ruled by apprehensions and they will often dictate their actions. Their cowardly actions can jeopardize the party or help them avoid danger. Either way, their cowardice can drive the story for better or for worse.

Whether a cowardly leader, a brave warrior loyal to a king, or a sniveling henchman, characters that are played with their personality driving the stories can take charge of the game and make it better for everyone. An interesting personality and active application to the quest can make the whole thing more memorable for everyone involved.

For other character personality ideas, check out our anger and gratitude role-playing tips.

Was this helpful? Let us know in the comments below.  Can you think of other personality traits that can drive the story?  How do they help the player take charge?  Please share them below!

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1 Response to Roleplaying Tip #3: Taking Initiative

  1. Runeslinger says:

    Nice take on taking charge, with an actionable framework for the reader to use~

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