Silent Characters

Sometimes you have characters of few words; you know the type, the ones who will nod or shake their heads or occasionally toss out a few word insults. And then there are the ones who don’t talk. At all. No, not even then. They’re mysterious, and they’re definitely a challenge to write or play; there’s a lot that goes into the characterization of a silent character.

The first thing to consider with a silent character is just how far the communication barrier goes. Sometimes, the character just can’t talk, in which case there might be workarounds—for mundane characters this might be sign language, while high-magic worlds open the door to their own ways of delivering word content anyway (Exalted’s Wayang, for instance, who communicates so eloquently with shadow puppets that most of the time one can just render his speech as it’s intended and vaguely describe what might associate with that particular bit of dialogue). Other characters might just not use words; I have a current project who neither talks nor signs despite being in a perfectly good position to pick up sign language.

The next question is, what do they use to get across the things that can’t be just rendered as dialogue-through-another-medium? The obvious answer, of course, is body language. They gesture, they lean, if expressions are applicable they use them—it’s amazing what one can do with body language alone. (Have you ever watched one of the Wallace and Gromit shorts? Like that.) Magic can provide substitute-dialogue, but it can also provide not-quite-explicit-enough substitutes; perhaps the character shares visions, or creates strains of music, or something.

If you’re going to use a silent character in a game, one thing you’re going to have to keep in mind is the effect on the other players. For someone who really doesn’t talk much or formulate plans much IC, a silent character isn’t too big a handicap—even one who’s totally wordless rather than having some sort of dialogue substitute. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who’s prone to making logical connections and formulating Plans, trying to figure out how to get what you’re thinking across with body language and bizarre powers can be quite a challenge—but it can also be awfully frustrating to your fellow players if your meaning isn’t explicit enough, and the requisite games of charades to try to get across what you’re trying to say both take up time and (in the case of a chat game) might leave you unable to get a gesture in edgewise because by the time you’ve figured out how to render your dialogue the group has moved on to a new part of the conversation.

Despite their inconveniences, when silent characters work, they can be a lot of fun. Have you ever written or played one?

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