Would you like a little more Roleplay at your D&D table?

Art credit to Filipe. S from Heromachine.com

A combination of factors has broadened the demographic of the average RPG gamer, as well as shifting the play expectations of some existing veterans players.

The rise of us Nerds in general, and cultural phenomena such as Stranger Things in particular, have brought new players to the table. Meanwhile, live Twitch streams and the emergence of ‘professional’ players, such as the folks over at Critical Role, has widened awareness of what it can mean to take roleplay to a higher level.

Still, despite their name; Tabletop Roleplaying Games like Dungeons & Dragons, or Pathfinder, can often result in games containing very little in the way of actual Roleplay. Sure, the game is being played, and fun is being had, but the character roleplay element is very muted.

This isn’t to say that rolling dice and crunching your way through the game is wrong. Not for one second. I love me a Natural 20 or Level-Up as much as the next gamer!

My point is that the game handbooks are very explicit on how and where to roll the dice to progress the action. They, however, give nearly no advice on how to include more roleplay, and that’s a shame if exploration of character is something that would enhance your experience.

Hey, but wait a minute…

This is a topic that can elicit strong opinions from long-time gamers. Sometimes, the grey-hairs amongst us are pretty set and happy in our play styles; we are either role-first, or roll-first in how we approach the game.

The definitions below are not exhaustive, but give you a hyperbolic view on the difference between these play styles;

Role-first = whilst you can’t avoid the game mechanics, you can and do ground your character actions in the motivations dictated by their backstories, playing them as close to a rounded, complex personality as you can. This often leads to sub-optimal choices in character generation or combat actions.

Roll-first = generally focusing on how the mechanics work and trying to optimise your characters attributes and resources, paying zero regard to character motivations or backstory. Your archetypal min/maxer.

In reality, no one is entirely in one camp or the other, and there’s infinite shades of grey in between the two hypothetical extremes, but it’s helpful to know the theoretical sides of the argument.

The good news is that you don’t need to be an extreme role-first player to want to roleplay more!

If you would you like to try more roleplay yourself, or if you would like to encourage more of it from others at your gaming table, then it’s worth thinking about the reasons why you/they may have found it difficult so far.

Let me suggest some;

  1. RPG systems such as D&D do not reward roleplay mechanically. It’s simply not required to play the game, so therefore not everybody does it.
  2. It is not always easy to carve out a ‘safe space’ in which to act out your character, and it’s even harder to act out interactions with the characters of others. This is something newer players tend to struggle with more than those with lots of experience.
  3. Each player has a different concept of what roleplay ‘is,’ and what their comfort level is with different aspects of it, thus making it harder to make a ‘safe space that works for everyone, and not just for the loudest person at the table.’
  4. There are no ‘rules’ to roleplaying, making players nervous of overstepping invisible boundaries.
  5. The advice that does exist tends to focus almost entirely on character backstory, and pays no mind on how to get that backstory out into the game in a meaningfully roleplayed way.

More more more?

My experience is that every gamer I have played D&D with has been interested in weaving more roleplay into their game.

The right amount ‘more’ will mean different things from group to group and player to player. For one player this could mean something as small as getting comfortable with narrating how their character attacks, and not just announcing what their modified attack roll comes to. For another it could mean rather more… Both, and indeed neither, are equally valid modes of playing the game.

Do you agree / disagree with this?

Would you like to roleplay more, but are not sure on how / what to do to make it happen?

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