In my opinion there are a lot of people who mistake roleplaying games for miniature combat games. But what makes RPGs so much fun is the roleplaying part. When you do your job (as player or GM) right, the character you play truely comes to life. There are some simple tips that can help you improve your roleplaying skills.
- Give your character some background
You can of course roll up your character, write “Bob the Barbarian” at the top of your character sheet and be done with it. But to make things more interesting, think about your character’s background. Where did he come from? Who were his parents? What are his motivations? Give your character some quirks, think about the way he talks and what he loves, hates and fears. And while you’re at it, think about a proper name!
- Use direct speech
Sometimes using indirect speech can speed things up. But it should not be the preferred method in my opinion. Although indirect speech has its uses in roleplaying, I prefer direct speech. “Greetings, friend. May I ask thee where I can find the inn in this nice city?” is much better than just “I ask for directions to the inn”. Think about what your character would say something and even how he would say it. If you have any talent for dialects or accents, you can use this to spice up things. Some players really love to act their characters out and make heavy use of gestures while playing their character. And trust me, everything is better for your roleplaying than “My character says to your character…”
- Avoid clichés
Ok, roleplaying games are full of clichés. In most fantasy settings dwarves like beer, use axes, have long beards, et cetera. In one D&D campaign I decided to go against the cliché with a dwarven ranger that always had a close cropped beard, fought with a rapier and his means of transportation was a cart drawn by his trusty mule. I was probably violating every cliché imaginable but it was one of the more memorable characters I played.
Also, don’t let clichés control your characters actions. Remember that player characters are usually heroes, people that vary from the norm and that do exceptional things. Even when the race description tells you that Dwarves hate gobinoids you don’t have to attack every greenskin on sight. Just think about what your character would do.
- Make your weakness your strength
No character is be perfect in everything he or she does. But that’s actually a plus in my book. Playing a perfect character would be pretty boring. Most often the weaknesses define a character more than his strengths. When you check out superhero comics you’ll notice that every hero has his weakness. What’s your character’s Kryptonite?
This weakness can also be tied to your attributes. Imagine a wizard with an exceptional intelligence but low dexterity who tends to drop things, bump into other people. If you want to bring some fun to the table this clumsy mage is more interesting than any Elminster wannabe.
- Let your character evolve
Let me tell you the story of Bob the Barbarian. He starts off as a farmer’s son, defeats the evil lich Morg in his teens, travels the seven seas before his 30th year and in his last years he rules the kingdom of Akilon until his death. And you probably will agree that it would be very strange if Bob the King would still feel, think and act as he still was Bob the Farmboy. But that’s what happens often enough in roleplaying.
So let your character’s character evolve with his skills and abilities. Think about how the events he or she experienced changed his or her outlook on life. Perhaps the struggles and losses left some emotional scars or even made the character stronger. Take all this in consideration when you play your character and your 20th level fighter will be much more than just a character sheet with some numbers on it.
I hope these tips will help you to improve your roleplaying. Of course a lot depends on the style of play you prefer. Some groups are perfectly happy with Bob the Barbarian, Terry the Thief and Mick the Mage slaying monsters all day without even uttering a word (aside from the occasional “Booyah!”). But if you want more out of your roleplaying experience, these tips will probably help.
And please, give your characters proper names and avoild names like “Bob the Barbarian”! Thanks!
Amen to all that. A fun challenge (if you've the right player-mix to pull it off) is to run a completely combatless session where the emphasis is on interaction and role-playing. This works well if there's a definite objective in mind (such as, from one of our recent sessions) securing a map to the King's True Tomb through the use of investigation, tact, diplomacy and threats. No combat though. It makes a refreshing change, and gives the players room to broaden their characters – and you get through a load of gameplay in 3 hours when combat isn't taking up 2 hours of it:D
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I can remember a lot of sessions where we didn't have a single combat (not even a brawl in the local bar). And often those sessions are much more memorable than the sessions where we stumbled from fight to fight.
For my time and effort, I would rather play a roleplaying game that actively encourages and rewards my character's background, relationships and dramatic development when I'm in the mood for those things.
To me, a D&D session without any combat is boring.
Funny thing about direct speech. It seems that it's easier for some people to do it in a virtual game table environment. I remember doing a few game via GRIP and I found it much easier for people to get into direct speech. I wonder if that's because by not having people looking at us, we are less self conscious. Still this is great list to have people strive for.
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Strangely enough I never had this problem, even when I was playing with complete strangers. I do even remember doing some motivational speeches with my paladin where I even rose from the chair for greater effect. In my first Werewolf session many years ago, our GM even yelled at us for great effect (he played some very nasty NPCs). Some people are probably more comfortable with the roleplaying enviroment than others.