Roleplay Hook/Session Kickoff Technique: Provoke the PCs’ Primary Emotions

If a player’s not expressing an emotion you’d expect the PC to be feeling right now, don’t treat the player as if he’s out of touch.  Treat him as if his character is bottling their feelings.  Then craft a scene that will force him to talk about them.

During your prep time, pick a PC (could be a PC who is central to the story at this point, or just a PC whose player doesn’t express much emotion).  Ask yourself what emotion defines them right now (or what emotion you think they’re missing the opportunity to express!).  Then use an NPC to “trigger” that emotion.

  • If a cleric is struggling with his faith, have an NPC come to him for spiritual advice (or to offer temptation).
  • If two PCs are romantically involved but having problems, have your NPC assume they’re together.  “Well, you love him, don’t you?  I just assumed from the way you look at him.”
  • If a PC failed someone else or experienced a loss recently, have another NPC start naively treating him like a hero – or tell him he’s a failure – or innocently ask him what happened.

Keep these quick.  I don’t recommend doing this for every character, every time.  But just that little bit of emotional triggering is all it takes to get your players engaged.

Basically, you’re trying to “trigger” your PCs.  Maybe the player was waiting for an chance to express this part of his character.  Or maybe he hadn’t thought of it at all.  Either way, you’re giving him the opportunity to do something new with his character.

As for a lot of things, a pushy NPC works great for this: whether the NPC loves them, hates them, or is just determined to annoy them, he’s got to stick with the conversation long enough to get a reaction out of the player.

And of course you could do this with a narrated moment, a flashback, or any other kind of scene.  I recommend using an NPC because that gives the PC someone to “open up” to instead of just reflecting on these feelings internally.

Works Great as a Session Kickoff

As the GM, it’s crucial that you start the session strong; players just came from school or work, and it’s been a week or so since you last played, so it can take a while to get imaginations going.  Asking a provocative question guides them right into character-mode.  “Well, what would my character say to that?”

Instead of waiting for them to act, you’re giving them something to react to.

This may not engage the whole group (though chances are you’ll get their attention once they see that “the feels” are going down), but it will give at least that player some emotional energy to start the session with. 

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