Writing last weeks article, I started thinking more about the idea of an NPC’s “voice” and the limitations on that when trying to characterize a warjack in your game. Making NPCs memorable and instantly distinguishable from others is a challenge at the best of times, but with ‘jacks, you’re going to rely on very simple sounds, and a lot of body language.
My IK game is going to have a lot of warjacks in it, and at least 3 in and around the players at all time. And ideally, I would like players to come away with a sense of their “voice”, even if I don’t use “warjack speech” much (more on that below). I want to try and use a lot of body language, standing up whenever I’m playing a ‘jack (all the better to loom at you) and using gesture.
One good thing about all of that is that your players are wired to pick up on subtleties in body language anyway. A lot of human communication is done with posture and vocal intonation (Or, perhaps more accurately, a lot of information is conveyed about the speaker that way). If you take the time to think about ‘jack body language, you’ll players will notice, and respond. And isn’t that what all GMs want? (That, and free con entry, and pints. And power. The delicious power).
So what are the basics that you can use?
On an animal level, we communicate confidence to others by making ourselves vulnerable – shoulders back, chest out, head held high. Exposing the chest and neck and having your hands held loosely at your side or clasped behind your back projects that no-one around you is a threat. The inverse of this is also true, in that closed body language, with arm(s) across the chest and slumped shoulders communicate fear and lack of confidence. In my head, warjacks always walk around with as much swagger as their shoulder joints allow. Labourjacks look like they’re built to be more hunched and closed, so their very posture will communicate subservience.
You also communicate a lot (relatedly to the above) with the amount of tension in your body. An increase in muscle tension is incredibly communicative of a readiness for action. That can communicate either fear or imminent aggression, and the situations in which you tense up say a lot about your personality. If you are slack and inward when faced with aggression, that indicates submissiveness and acceptance of that. Tension indicates fight or flight, which suggests non-acceptance and action towards a solution.
Next up, personal space. Most people have a personal space bubble about the length of their arm. My thought is that warjack’s don’t like people inside that bubble unless it’s their warcaster or a “friend” (Their brother in arms in the jack wall, for instance).
When thinking about steamjack body language, I think that the above few points are the most important to focus on – these are the ways we physically communicate our perception of situations/others as threats, friends, irrelevant, or scary. That covers most of a warjack’s range of relationships – we don’t really need to go into the body language involved in interpersonal attraction or group behaviour.
Instead of meandering on and on with multiple examples, I’m going to suggest that you pay more attention to your own posture and body language. Focus on what you do with your arms and legs – that’s what warjacks have to “talk” with. Take the time to notice how your body, your emotions, and people around you all fit together. Notice when you notice other peoples’ personalities in their body language. Then try to replicate those ways of standing and moving. You may notice a feedback effect on your mood when you do so.
Playing an NPC well makes for memorable games. Playing a warjack well hinges on communicating without speaking, and the best way to do that is through body language. The best way to get better at body language is to pay attention to your own body and how you physically react and communicate yourself. This can be adapted to steamjacks easily enough when you combine it with some of the ideas in my “Embodied Cogs” article a couple of weeks ago.