GMC Body Language
Phil Nicholls blogs at Tales of a GM, where he writes about narrative gaming, faster prep and more story. He is currently running a HeroQuest Glorantha campaign in a home-brew setting. Phil has written for Johnn Four’s Roleplaying Tips newsletter and produced a selection of self-published pdfs.
This essay is taken from the archives at Tales of a GM.
My weakest area as a GM is my portrayal of GMCs. Thus, the most relevant part of the comprehensive Guidance chapter of the Sparks RPG by Jason Pitre was the GMC advice. This essay expands upon Jason’s suggestions.
Spark was designed by Jason Pitre, and published by Genesis of Legend Publishing in 2013. This storytelling RPG spotlights building worlds and challenging the characters’ beliefs within those worlds. The introduction describes the game as follows:
The Spark RPG is about imagining, building, and exploring fictional worlds. It gives you all of the tools and guidance you need to create an evocative and engaging Setting. It shows you how to find inspiration and collaboratively build a world with your friends. Most importantly, it teaches you how to create a place that each of you find compelling.
The game is purpose-built to foster creating dynamic, custom Settings. You can work together to create a world that interests all of you, one that gives you a context for rich stories.
Body Language in RPGs
One section of the Guidance Chapter in Spark highlights ways in which the GM can make use of body language to portray GMCs. Jason suggests three ways to utilize body language:
Describe a GMC’s stance
The first option is to describe the body language of the GMC. Consider the personality, or role, of the GMC, then describe the character embodying this trait through their body language. For example, a greedy GMC will always be eating, while a dangerous warrior could be found cleaning her nails with a dagger.
Use this body language description as a shortcut to allow the observer, and thus the Players, to make a prediction of the personality of the GMC. This table gives you a few stances to illustrate the concept.
d12 GMC stance
1 Chewing food
2 Cleaning fingernails with dagger
3 Clenched fists
4 Flexing muscles
5 Hand resting on sword pommel
6 Plays with coin purse
10 Sucks teeth
12 Wild Gestures
The next application of body language in an RPG is through the portrayal of the GMC. The GM uses their own body language to enhance the presentation of the character. Once again, link these actions to the character of the GMC, to create memorable interactions. So, the nervous guard is portrayed biting his lips. Alternatively, the aggressive barmaid is shown with clenched fists.
These are basic actions, but simple enough to present at the table and enhance the portrayal of a GMC. The table below gives you some starting techniques.
d12 GMC Portrayal Technique
1 Bite lips
2 Clench fists
4 Furrow brow
6 Hunch shoulders
7 Lower eyelids
8 Point finger
9 Smile broadly
10 Stand tall
11 Tilt chin forward
12 Touch face repeatedly
The final use of body language is as a physical marker of the GMC. These are not actions the GMC is performing, rather they are physical traits which help the Players recall an individual. So often Players seem to skip over the names of GMCs, but a distinctive physical trait will stick in the memory. For example, you could make the shopkeeper’s blackened teeth a central part of their personality. Their breath might stink, or they may endlessly chew on the sweet leaves which rotted away their teeth in the first place.
The traits on this table are the defining characteristics of the GMC, so feel free to improvise associated behaviour and personality traits. Overemphasize these physical features to make them memorable for the Players.
d12 GMC Defining Trait
1 Blackened teeth
2 Broad shoulders
3 Bulging muscles
4 Facial scar
5 Hollow cheeks
6 Long fingers
7 Missing ear
8 Pale hands
9 Pox scars
10 Bushy eyebrows
11 Thick nose
12 Thin lips
During your Game
The mechanical values and personality of GMCs receive plenty of attention in RPGs. As Jason suggests, there is plenty of scope to bring body language to your game too. To implement these ideas, it is best to choose just one area per GMC. Do not overwhelm your Players with too much detail. Use these tables as a starting point to bring alive the physicality of the GMCs you portray.
The body language of a GMC can be described by the GM, acted out, or used as the defining characteristic of a character. Where possible, use a trait which represents something important about the personality or role of the GMC. The tables in this article are really only a starting point: enough to help you with your game tonight, and as a springboard for brainstorming your own traits.
What traits would you add to the list? Do you use actions when roleplaying your GMCs? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
For more essays from Phil, and updates about his latest campaign, visit Tales of a GM.