Never fear overacting! Don't worry if one or two plots end up "taking over" the game. I'm certainly hoping that the game will include at least one all-out screaming match, a few shocking revelations, and mabye even a few tears. There's a fine line between high drama and melodrama, but you can only achieve the former by walking the edge of the latter, so take the risk!
Staying in Character
Ideally everyone will have their character sheets memorized, but there's nothing wrong with carrying a copy around and glancing at it now and then. If anyone asks, explain that you're "consulting your scribe's notes from the last Senate meeting".
Of course, there's always a part of you that has to remain focused on the staging of the event. If you've got any acting experience, then you're probably used to the double-think of remaining emotionally in character while simultaneously remembering your cues and marks. If not, then I simply encourage you to concentrate on the character side of things and go for the drama!
Improvising New Material
During the course of the game, feel free to invent any appropriate background material that you like. Reminisce with your friends about that embarrassing childhood incident at the Colliseum. Confidently spout statistics about the latest grain shipments from Egypt. Do humorous impersonations of the funny accent of an otherwise undescribed NPC. Of course, to prevent such fabrications from turning into a game of Calvinball, there are a few rules to such improvisation:
Don't contradict something already established, either in the written background or by another character's improvisation. If your sister Agripinna complains about the way you teased her when she was 12, don't respond "But I was in Crete at the time!"
Keep any improvised info reasonable. Don't ask a character about his activities at last week's temple orgy unless his presence at such an activity would be in keeping with his character.
Never use background improv as a plot weapon. It exists as a tool to provide plot and character depth, not to sway events to your character's advantage. In other words, only improvise relatively unimportant background events or details. For instance, don't manufacture evidence of past crimes by a rival. If your character is the one manufacturing the evidence, you need to make sure this gets into your written character background so that any character with accurate knowledge about the indicent (such as the accused!) will have that information. Basically, as a rule of thumb, don't make up any information that could directly affect the resolution of a dramatic plot or mislead another player.
While some players will relish the challenge of responding to a sudden need to improvise, if another player is uncomfortable with this then back off. Not everyone can switch gears and make up an entire background story on the fly if you walk up and demand to know why they opposed your (previously unmentioned) Senate proposal. If the target of such a conversational gambit is obviously flustered, back off and change the subject to something else.
Page updated 7/21/99, Scott Martin