“I’ll be back.” “D’oh!” “Go ahead, make my day.” A clever catchphrase is an easy way to make a run-of-the-mill character more memorable. As you play more and more characters over time they’ll likely start to blurring together in your memory. Distinguish you next character by giving him a catchphrase.
If you’re playing a public game at your FLGS or at a convention then you often end up at a table with six complete strangers. What better way to distinguish yourself and your character than with a clever catchphrase.
The Wizard that shouts in a funny voice “Heeeeeeeeeere comes my missile” may seem annoying at first, but I guarantee that when you tell your friends about your last D&D game you tell them all about that PC. Meanwhile the other characters all fade into the background.
The key to a good catchphrase is to realize how often you should use it. Think about characters in pop culture that use catchphrases. You may think they use them all the time, but the best ones are used only at specific times. In D&D a character that just keeps repeating his catchphrase is bound to get knifed in the back by the other members of his party just to shut him up. But if a clever catchphrase is used at just the right time and with just the right frequency then it will certainly add something to that PC and to the game.
Types of Catchphrases
The Battle Cry Catchphrase
The most common catchphrases in D&D are the battle cries. Divine characters will often shout out the name of their deity as they charge headlong into melee. Martial character likely just bellow at the top of their lungs, perhaps shouting an insult or two.
A truly clever player can easily come up with something suitable and more memorable than just a growling yell. The Thing from The Fantastic Four always yells out “It’s clobberin’ time!” when he’s about to smash someone to a pulp.
Puns are often criticized as being the lowest form of comedy, but when it comes to a catchphrase they can work really well. A maul-wielding Dwarf who runs into battle screaming “It’s hammer time!” may not seem very imaginative, but he’s certainly going to be memorable.
Not all catchphrases need to be called out in the heat of battle. Before killing someone, Jack Nicholson’s Joker asked “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” and Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules from Pulp Fiction quoted an entire bible verse before killing someone. This certainly makes your character memorable but it will have limited uses in most games. In the case of Jules, his catchphrase probably took almost a minute to complete. That’s 10 rounds. Your character may not have that kind of time.
The Social Catchphrase
Depending on how often your gaming group engages in social role-playing you may find a different kind of catchphrase more appropriate. Something as simple as the way you introduce yourself can work wonders, just think of that famous British secret agent, “Bond, James Bond.”
Sometime the most memorable catchphrases are nothing more than someone mispronouncing a word, saying a name in a funny way or just blazingly announcing their most common attack strategy. The words may not make sense outside of that first initial contextual usage, but as far as the party is concerned that character wouldn’t be the same if he didn’t keep repeating it.
In my experience accidental catchphrases are better and tend to have more staying power. They often come about when a character does something stupid or unexpected at a key moment. The player says something off the wall, inappropriate or over the top. Assuming the character survives the gaff, you know that it’s likely to be repeated the next time a similar situation is presented.
Sometimes the character who coined the phrase never ends up using it again; rather the rest of the party uses it to mock his initial foolishness.
Intentionally creating a catchphrase is risky. Although your desire is to create a memorable and defining battle cry for your character, there is a good chance that the plan will backfire. In many cases catchphrases just come off as contrived and forced. But that’s not to say that they don’t work.
If your objective is simply to have people remember your PC, even a bad catchphrase will do the trick. The problem is that people may opt not to include you in their next game if you insist on playing the guy with the dumb catchphrase.
Catchphrases are certainly not for everyone. A party in which everyone has a catchphrase or two is likely to unravel into chaos really quickly. Choose your moments carefully and make sure that your catchphrase helps define the character you want to play.
If you’ve never thought of using a catchphrase for your character I encourage you to give it a try. Whether you run into battle shouting “It’s clobberin’ time!” or “Leeeeeeeeeeeeeroy Jenkins!” a character catchphrase is sure to leave a lasting impression at your gaming table.
What are some catchphrases you’ve used or heard at your gaming table over the years? Have any catchphrases ever been so bad that you’ve insisted another player stop using it?
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