Players: Roleplaying to maximise your fun vs DMs: When not to roleplay
I’ve played with a few groups over the years, sometimes just dipping in for one session when I’ve been in the right place at the right time, sometimes with the same group but switching campaigns as our DM had the D&D version of attention deficit disorder (which was actually quite fun). So, I’ve seen a lot of different roleplaying styles. My own is kind of a mid-ground approach. I will do what my character would do, but I don’t enjoy putting on a new voice, for example. That, I save for my NPCs when I DM. Suffice to say I’ve learnt a bit about roleplaying effectively, which isn’t the same as roleplaying well.
Players: Roleplaying to maximise your fun
What’s your approach? Do you go all-out? Do you sit in your cloak, drinking nothing but water and mead, and eating nothing but bread and apples because that’s what your age-old RPGs have taught you will give you back your HP? (I actually knew a guy who did the bread and apple thing, no word of a lie).
Are you Dave Accountant playing Torin the Dwarf Barbarian? Or are you Torin the Dwarf Barbarian who, when he falls asleep, dreams of being something called an accountant?
For some folks, the idea of roleplaying a fully immersed character is a piece of cake. I have friends who can be someone else at the drop of a Hat of Disguise (we’re all Larpers, it comes with the territory). However, I’ve come across players who roleplay too well. It’s all well and good making sure your character acts within their alignment, and another entirely to derail every session because your character is an arse and you don’t know when to let it slide. An example:
I was watching a D&D game online recently (Critical Role being the cream of the crop, but that’s not the game I’m talking about in this instance) where one of the Players was playing a Half-Orc douchebag. The Player himself seemed like a decent guy, funny and smart. He obviously wanted to play with his group and have a good time. However, he roleplayed too much. At every opportunity he took the whole group on a wild goose chase, or threw them into danger because the character was impatient and expected the rest of the group to bail him out. Not cool, that guy.
If you want to play a character of less than saintly alignment, that’s fine, but make sure that you are using that character’s evil tendencies to add plot and intrigue rather than to drag other people away from the game they enjoy. The Half-Orc, for instance, regularly stopped other players who preferred the talking/thinking game into playing his gung-ho style (This is not to be confused with Gangnam style).
No, no, no. Your team is your team because everyone has their own approach, their own skills. You have to let your friends play their part. Make sure that your rigid roleplaying isn’t sacrificing the fun of your group. What to do? Tone it down. To roleplay or not to roleplay, that is the question.
I have a Chaotic Neutral Tiefling character that I love to play. For context, he’s a bit of a douche, very self-serving and has a penchant for pranks. Here are a few examples of ways in which I’ve played that character without derailing the group.
- Think of reasons to do it, rather than reasons not to – On several occasions the group has done things that Malkyr wouldn’t be very interested in. For example, saving some kidnapped children. Why would he care? Instead of derailing the group by refusing to help, I came up with the idea that Malkyr actually liked kids. They’re insane, chaotic. He likes that. Off on the adventure we go!
- Show your character in small ways. Carefully – One example was the group standing around a circle of dead grass in the middle of a forest. We knew something was wrong and were testing theories. I knew what the circle was but my character didn’t, so I didn’t say anything, obviously (that’s metagaming, folks). But I used my metagaming for good. Knowing in my own head that my friend’s character would be perfectly safe, I had Malkyr get bored and just shove him into the circle. Nothing happened, as I knew it would. The other guy didn’t know that, though, and so Malkyr showed his alignment without any actual harm.
- Say nothing – If your group are discussing a plan of attack, or how to spring a trap without dying, and your character isn’t into that stuff, then just stay quiet. Consider your character as taking a break for a moment while your friends have fun with their part of the game. Just sit back. You don’t have to be actively roleplaying all the time. Take the opportunity to grab a beer or a loo-break.
- Frenemies – Sometimes characters will outright hate each other. The previously mentioned game I was watching, the Half-Orc hated the cowardly Halfling in the team. How do you play that? Think frenemies. Don’t actively try to kill each other (unless the DM encourages it) but think of snarky ways you can have at it. In the Half-Orc’s case, he threw constant insults at the Halfling, while the Halfling considered them to be steadfast companions and had no clue he was hated. It was actually genius to watch.
There you have it. Quite a long section there, guys. Sorry about that. But the examples were necessary. Now how about the…
DMs: When not to roleplay
Sometimes the game slows to a crawl. This can be seen in battles, particularly. But that’s the nature of it. In a game where travelling for days or a week of rest between adventures can pass in a second, it has been proven that brevity is sometimes a good thing.
One of the examples of where I like to employ brevity is with shopping trips. Unless the Player really wants to negotiate with the shopkeeper over prices, I stick to a consider-it-bought scenario. One of my players wanted a grappling hook and extra rope, so I sent her to the mercantile in seconds and told her to scratch off the gold from her sheet. Another Player wanted to have barding made for his Giant Weasel companion (named Teddy), so I roleplayed that as it would require explanation and skill to negotiate a price. Plus, having an elven leatherworker see a Giant Weasel walk into her shop was a giggle for the group.
Also, drawn-out question and answer sessions can lead to boredom for certain members of your group (and you, am I right?). In a game I play in, we heard screams and ran outside the tavern to find the corpse of a girl with her eyes missing, laid in the street. Oh crap, right? Well, from a few checks, it was obvious that there was nothing on the body apart from a sigil carved into her forearm. From the crowd, however, we quickly got some information about the girl and some people had seen a shadow descend on her then disappear. Creepy, right? Anyway, while three quarters of the group were ready to go in chase of this thing, one of the Players repeatedly asked questions of the same NPC, basically demanding that they tell her what the monster was. The NPC didn’t know, of course. This led to a circuitous interrogation that I could see the DM getting bored of. Here’s the tip: You have the power, DM, to drop character and say “They don’t know anything else” or “There’s nothing here to find”. It’s totally ok to do that. Most of your group will thank you for it because they actually don’t want the NPCs to give them all the answers, they want to puzzle it out themselves. They also don’t want to waste good adventure time!
Plus, roleplaying a random street person is very little fun or you, I suspect. So save your juicy roleplay energy for when they come across the Hag in the woods who has a lisp, of the smarmy BBEG who flirts with everyone.
Thanks for reading, gamers.
See you next time when we’ll be talking about Equal Rights for NPCs vs Making your Players give a crap about NPCs.
Craig Hallam is an uber-geek and author of Speculative Fiction from Yorkshire, UK
Find him at www.facebook.com/craighallamauthor or on twitter @craighallam84