Conversation as a D&D Sidequest
  • Conversation as a D&D Sidequest


    Last weekend, I spent some time hanging out with a friend from my D&D group. We had other things on the agenda, but we also realized that it was a perfect opportunity to have an in-character conversation we had been trying to have in-game for nearly two months. Our sessions have been eventful, and there wasnít a good time to pause for it. We thought it might be a longish discussion, and wouldn't include the other characters, so we kept putting it off.


    I have done some geeky things in my day -- opening a comic and game shop, visiting filming locations for favorite movies and TV shows, writing a column about D&D -- but I think I just leveled up. We started sharing some big backstory secrets while sitting at the kitchen table, then continued as we walked down the wine aisle at the grocery store. We werenít in costume, but maybe it still counts as my first LARP experience. Regardless, thatís some next-level geekery, and it was delightful. Donít worry, moms from 1982, I still know the difference between the game and reality.

    This wasnít the first time I shared some information with only one or two other characters in a larger party or had someone else do the same. I know my experience is not necessarily universal, but I imagine itís common to share a few backstory details with one or two people as necessary. Still, I never had a first-person, in-character experience of that kind before. This was an hour or more of free-flowing conversation, although admittedly, we slipped into third person on occasion.

    Our DM knew about most of what we discussed and was fine with this approach. (Though now that I think of it, a thing or two came up that I probably should tell him about. If you do this, donít forget to circle back with new info!) It works well for this particular style of play. It doesnít feel like weíre leaving other characters out of the good stuff, because itís all going to come out eventually. In an RP-heavy game like this, it makes sense to allow some secrets and surprises build. It fits well because almost everyone started with a mysterious backstory -- except our barbarian, who is very well-adjusted, has a great relationship with his family, and doesnít rage so much as he beats monsters to death with the force of his cheery enthusiasm. If it turns out he has dark secrets, that would be the greatest surprise of all.

    While having this conversation in person was fun, itís also possible to do it in text form. Iíve used both email and instant messaging to accomplish the same basic thing, though we didnít technically do it in first person. Among the benefits: putting things in writing makes it easier to bring your DM into the loop on everything that was discussed. We discuss character information privately with our DM over email, so it works as an extension of that.

    I realize this might be a controversial approach. I would use it sparingly, and I wouldnít recommend it for everybodyís game. But Iím wondering how this has worked for other peopleís games. Have your campaigns included private, in-character side conversations? Or does everything stay strictly at the table?

    contributed by Annie Bulloch
    Comments 16 Comments
    1. Arilyn's Avatar
      Arilyn -
      Very common and accepted at our table. A lot of times players head for hone, still in character. It's great if two characters have a conversation other players are not privy to, or don't care about.
      I'm sure some "muggles" have overheard some very odd conversations.
    1. Sunseeker's Avatar
      Sunseeker -
      I may live in a small town, but I really don't hang out with my gaming friends outside of well..gaming. Different circles ya know.
    1. Henry's Avatar
      Henry -
      Much as I would love to do something like this, the opportunity has just never come up. Our gaming time is pretty rare, such that the only time free for something like it is the biweekly block we set. Sounds like a fantastic opportunity, though! Also one that is super-cool when info from that meeting comes up naturally in-game with the full group.
    1. Cringer_luvr -
      Yep, have done this and have even had a one on one session with players/DM to play out a character event/story that needed to be fleshed out. Infact one of the players in my Current Forgotten Realms game had about a 3 hour session with just me and him, and it opened up a can of worms that expanded into the normal night game, and was simply AWESOME! He gave me ideas with simple things he was wanting to do privately and silently.
    1. Zansy's Avatar
      Zansy -
      I've done more than my fair share of this and see no shame in it. I even had such private sessions between my character and the DM. Sometimes it's nice but it's important to know when to do it. As much as we want everyone to know all about all these amazing details we came up with, there are some conversations between two characters that are not meant for others ears. No, not even OOC. Not yet, anyway.

      Sometimes this sort of private out of session, in character dialog is a fun way to get those crucial details out where only a single person needs to know. I believe it can also be used to get a player who's not as active in the session to get more engaged.
    1. Irda Ranger's Avatar
      Irda Ranger -
      I've set up a group on Ryver (a Slack clone) specifically for this. We have in-character and out-of-character forums. A little private EN World just for our group. It's great.
    1. Venley's Avatar
      Venley -
      Very common with my main group. Between 2 or more players or between a player and GM. Also by email or over the phone. In fact, I just received an email this morning from one of my L5R players that's an in-character letter to her daimyo. And some write fiction for backstories or afterstories.

      Having recently moved and started playing with other groups too, I am somewhat horrified to find this is not common. In fact with one group I really struggle to have IC conversations with them even at the table.
    1. Blue's Avatar
      Blue -
      Yeah, common.

      Often would have a in-character one-on-one in person, over the phone, or via email outside of a session as well as in-session.

      This is the outgrowth of making interesting characters and having real interactions between them.

      Had one session I ran a few years back where the two characters of the first watch wanted to have a private discussion, and so did the two on second watch, and the two on third watch decided to do the same and the session broke up into three one-on-ones that lasted the entire evening. No plot was moved, no combat, but a refreshing change of pace for all the players.

      When you get a party where the characters live instead of just adventure you get these things. Rivalries and romance, drama (character, not player), goals and meaning, friendships and sacrifice.
    1. Koloth's Avatar
      Koloth -
      This approach brings a lot of realism to a game. In real life, you don't spend every second of every day with the same set of people. Even military units go on leave. Perfectly normal for folks to spend time in subset groups of the normal adventuring party or even with a group that has none of the other party members in it.

      The times groups I play in did it, the communications were usually email.

      Not a bad game mechanic to allow one or two Players to game with a 2nd group using characters from the first group's game. The GM would have to consider how to handle possible XP and Loot differences between the ones who play and those that don't. Useful to avoid having to create a 2nd set of characters that might only see a few sessions until the first group resumes a normal play schedule.
    1. Polyhedral Columbia's Avatar
      Polyhedral Columbia -
      fun - thanks to everyone for sharing
    1. Jamie Myers's Avatar
      Jamie Myers -
      I think this isn't a bad approach but you are right that the GM needs to made aware if this could effect how they approach something. Not to mention it means you are engaged in the game.
    1. Jhaelen -
      I try to avoid it if possible. IME, it's usually a sign that there are some deeper issues that haven't come fully out of hiding, yet. Something's afoot and I'd rather bring it on the table ASAP. I tend to make attempts to discuss something about the game with me in private public. We're all grown-ups after all, and I don't think there's anything that cannot be discussed with everyone involved.
      If a PC receives in-game information that other PCs aren't privy to, I expect the players to be able to have their PCs act as if they didn't know.
    1. Venley's Avatar
      Venley -
      I'm not sure that you are talking about the same thing Jhaelen. In-character discussions, eg. whether to support the building project of Lathander or Chauntea, speculations on how to market some of the local products of the PCs' manor... interesting to 2 of the PCs but not to the knight who just expects the food to be on his table not to know how it gets there, how the history of a far-away place that one character has visited may bear on the local situation, how one character feels about the loss of his wife and babies just before the campaign started...that caused him to return home, whether the mysterious complicated metal bits that one PC spied when a box broke as it fell off a dwarven cart could be replicated by his NPC inventor miller friend as clockwork improvements to a toy they were working on together, that sort of thing.

      Positive, creative discussions, nothing negative. Sometimes stuff that only interests part of the party, sometimes the player working something out with the GM that they will bring out in the next session.

      This level of engagement is what I GM for & without it I lose interest.
      https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php...eative-payoffs
    1. Elf_flambe's Avatar
      Elf_flambe -
      In the late '70s to early '80s, my gaming group ran parallel sessions of D&D and a more free-form improvisational RPG. They all happened in the same campaign world, and many of the characters and storylines overlapped constantly. There were certainly folks in the group who were more comfortable with one or the other game style, but many of us enjoyed both. So there were frequent gatherings of whoever was available at someone's house or dorm room, sometimes for D&D, but more often for an improv session.

      Whole adventures might happen, but it could as easily just be in-character discussions, flirting, planning, plotting, and/or politiking. And sometimes, you just got trapped in the study of a certain high-level wizard who loved verbal sparring over cognac. (Actually tea and coffee at the local Village Inn restaurant...)

      One friend worked for a while at a small tobacconist shop. We'd talk in-character between infrequent customers. Though I don't smoke, to this day, there are certain characters I pleasantly associate with the rich aroma of pipe tobacco...
    1. Lord Kakabel -
      I did this at Ren Faire once. My friend and I were sitting at the bar, he dressed as a dark samurai, I a necromancer, and we were weighing the pros and cons of living vs undead minions and the mindlessness of both. It was a great deal of fun, and people at other tables were laughing with us.
    1. Helen R. Robare's Avatar
      Helen R. Robare -
      I'm old school (one of those moms in the 80's who played D&D) and still play 2nd edition. I did a LOT of role playing. My friend and I would roleplay all the time. (Honestly, I think we lived in a fantasy world for years). Our kids turned out just fine and now we're old ladies who still like to role play our characters (when we can remember their names. lol). It got us through a LOT of hard times, let me tell you. Didn't matter where we were, as long as we kept our voices down, the charcters came out to play. We had marriage, break ups, hard times, good times, court balls, etc (in fact I still have all the stories I've written about characters in the world of Carrolon) and have been told I should try and publish them but at my age now, it doesn't seem worth the effort. When dementia sets in, I think I'll move to Carrolon permanently.
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