Speak Softly, and carry a Big Schtick

It’s crunch time. Your players went off the rails again, opting to crash the Mayor’s Christmas Ball instead of executing a bank heist that you meticulously planned. Now you need to come up with a guest list, STAT! Of course, you’ve got a name generator bookmarked, and a giant list of Mannerisms to choose from, but there still seems to be a big part of their personality that seems flat. They’re like a cardboard cutout of a real person, one-dimensional, and boring. Time to throw them up into the Gimmick Tree (patient pending) and have them hit every schtick on the way down! Well, maybe not every one, but one or two for sure.

A Schtick is a Gimmick, a particular thing that is attributed to a character to make it unique. Schticks can be all-encompassing, and be the general theme of a character, or they can be one quirk or trait that especially stands out. Creating schticks should be something that can be done quickly, even immediately, and sometimes, by accident! The important thing is to stick (or schtick) to your gimmick. Once a solid idea is in your mind, finding a voice for the character will become easy.

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Don’t believe me? Think I’m crazy? Well, Schticks and stones may break my bones, but I will prove my point! Characters have been using Schticks for years. From the Marx Brothers, to Penn & Teller, to Bubba from Forrest Gump. Having a solid schtick can make a simple character into a memorable one. Heck, two out of the three cases I used above made their careers based on schticks.

A solid schtick will easily create a mindset, a personality, mannerisms, a mantra, and make a character unique, whether it’s for one session or a 10-year campaign. Once the right schtick comes along, everything else just falls into place! Let’s take a character I played for a low-fantasy campaign a while ago: Alfred Bernard Clark. Now, Al used to be a gangster in his town. No, not that kind of gangster. Think The Godfather, or Al Capone, yeah, that kind of gangster. Enforcing the rules, extorting some cash, running some booze.


This alone is enough of a schtick to go off of! From here you can determine key aspects of Alfred’s character that is all directly based:

  • “The Family” always comes first.
  • Give him a 1920’s hollywood movie star voice, see? He might be dying for a gasper whenever he’s drinking giggle water. Now you’re on the trolly! (You can parse this out here.)
  • Disrespect is always met with violence. Let’s make him a bit of a hot-head then.

There! By now, you might be able to hear his voice? Perhaps you already have a vision in your mind for how he looks, or how he would react in certain situations. This can all be based on his schtick 1920’s gangster. Within a split second, his entire personality comes into view. Within a few minutes of playing a character like this, you’ll have more aspects and insights to Alfred than you can shake a stick at.

That’s the beauty of Schticks, memorable characters without spending any time on backstory, finding quirks, personality traits, or doing the work. Perhaps not because you don’t want to do it, but because creating a gimmick does it for you! It’s a character building technique that creates fresh and unique individuals that will be remembered for years.