Role Playing Drama vs. Mechanics
The above guidelines give us some key things to shoot for when creating a dramatic character, but of course the real question is how to play one. Many of us act dramatically in our games accidentally, but few of us plan for it or do it on purpose. If one is encouraged to take improv classes (as some do to learn how to respond to assorted challenges in gaming), we shouldn’t ignore dramatics. Most of us have some ideas about what drama is, but these ideas are often limited to the exaggerated, black-vs-white tropes of melodrama. We need to learn about other dramatic approaches to bring more realistic forms of drama into the game.
I used this website: https://literarydevices.net/drama/ to guide me in my thoughts. In the ancient Western world drama was divided into two categories: Tragedy and Comedy. Tragedy centers around dark themes of disaster, pain and death; stories in which the heroes possess tragic flaws that cause them problems or bring them to their downfall. Comedy, on the other hand, deals with lighter themes and generally comes to a happy ending. These two dramatic forms dominated theater for thousands of years. By the Victorian era playwrights began to explore other forms, including the Farce (which is made up of nonsensical, over-acting and slapstick), and Melodrama which is a sensational form of exaggerated conflict between “good people” and “bad people,” using these as stereotypes to draw the audience in. I think most of you will agree that when drama is brought into our games it's mostly in the forum of Farce or Melodrama. I would like to encourage everyone to try their hands at the subtler forms.
Regardless of the way you bring drama into your game, it is important to realize that drama is about revealing the emotions and inner thoughts of a character. If we're going to try our hands at a subtler dramatic character, we need to decide which of these dramatic forms we are going to follow. It might help to look at a few examples.
We've talked before about tragic characters like the antihero. But anyone can be tragic by creating a dark background and playing into it. For instance, Critical Role’s Pearcy is a prime example, and The Departed is a great tragedy to watch.
A comic character, on the other hand, is a more lighthearted character whose nature keeps them from getting deeply intertwined in tragic world events. Staying with Critical Role, I often see Grog as a good comic character. I often see Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries as a good TV comedy. Fisher’s privileged lifestyle keeps her isolated from the tragic 1920s world, making her lighthearted even as she solves murder mysteries. Characters in a farce are out to get a laugh, basically. Their actions are proactive and usually quite funny. Critical Role's Scanlan is a great example of a slapstick farce. Of course, any Monty Python movie would have to be counted as a farce, so watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail for tips on how this is done. Lastly, melodramatic characters are often drama queens, seeking attention, and their view of the world is very black and white. I will simply say that Vex, of Critical Role (in all his goth glory) is a great melodramatic character. Note that we don’t have to focus on fantasy to find melodrama: Star Trek and Star Wars are both great examples of melodrama in science fiction.
As you can see, there are many ways to be dramatic, requiring you to give some consideration as to when you should be dramatic. Most games focusing on adventure lean toward melodrama and farce, since complex behavior isn’t as important as heroic deeds or fun adventures. Therefore as you make up your character in Session 0, you should listen to your GM to get a handle on what would be the best dramatic approach for the game. The Victorian forms are best for simpler scenes with less setup. The Greek approaches allow for a deeper look at character development.
Dramatic action is a great way to showcase your character’s actions. Make fitting and meaningful choices for your character within the setting your GM has set up; this is super-important when it comes to creating the right dramatic character, scene and story for the game.