In this week’s article I want to explore the many facets of roleplaying. I'll be tackling combat next but right now it’s all about the interaction which usually leads to action.
In my head, roleplaying can be defined as: Any interaction in which the PCs engage, in character, outside of combat. Granted, that’s a very broad definition and can use some specifics. Roleplaying can include but is not limited to: talking with other PCs, talking to NPCs, speaking/communicating with monsters, investigating, planning, strategics, scheming, haggling, negotiating, asking the DM questions, acting, reading aloud, and just plain trying to make people laugh. For many, it is the primary purpose and the backbone of D&D. It is undoubtedly the core social aspect of the game and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s what sets D&D apart from a mountain of MMOs, console, and miniature games.
Unfortunately, many players have trouble with roleplaying and their reasons are as varied as the stars. Sometimes, the issue is with the DM. For whatever the reason, the PCs are not being presented with good roleplaying opportunities. This can usually be seen in unexperienced DMs who aren't themselves comfortable yet with roleplaying or running it. In other cases, the PCs don’t engage in roleplaying because of their own reservations. New players may be shy, uncomfortable, and taken aback by the idea that they not only have to “play” this character but they may also be responsible to talk like them and think like them in fast-paced interactions, some of which may determine the outcome of the whole adventure. Yikes!
At the same time, many of the people who play D&D, and this is in no way a criticism, can suffer from social deficiencies. Gamers are quite often socially awkward and that’s part of the appeal of playing these games in the first place. They give many people an opportunity to say things and do things they wouldn't normally have the ability or the will to say in public. In many ways, D&D is an escape, a venue to release inner demons, and a kind of therapy, for thousands. However, these changes and breakthroughs neither come quickly nor easily. Roleplaying is a radical concept in the evolution of D&D from a tabletop miniature game (chainmail) to a truly interactive social game. It is also a major factor behind my personal enjoyment of the game. Nothing delights me more as a DM to see a PC have that epiphany moment when they fully become their character, even if just for a few minutes. It is exciting, dynamic, and it heightens the games of everyone around them, myself included. It is made even sweeter by seeing those dungeoneers who are coming out of their psychological and social shells for the first time. It can be very empowering for them and very gratifying as both a DM and as a human being.
So, with all of that being said, how do PCs become better roleplayers? As with so many things, the answer lies in the little things. Just as writers have to get into the heads of their characters, so must players. Ask yourself the small questions constantly: What am I seeing? What I am hearing? What am I smelling? What does this person/thing look like? What do they think? And occasionally ask yourself the big questions: What does my character (not I) want? Who are they? How would they (not I) do this? And after you come up with the answers, don’t be afraid to follow through.
And even more important: Don’t worry about the rules! (they’re more like guidelines anyway) A good DM will ignore the rules for good roleplaying. And, what’s more, good roleplaying will make you the DMs best friend. When a PC roleplays their character properly, it frees up the DM. There is less pressure on the DM to make the adventure interesting because the players are basically entertaining themselves. Instead of prompting and pushing the PCs for action, suddenly the PCs are self encouraging and the DM’s work is cut in half. To throw in a modified cliche: Don’t ask what the adventure can do for you, but what you can do for the adventure!
You don’t need to be top of your drama class to roleplay. You simply need to be sympathetic to the personality, needs, and desires of the character you are playing. If that character is a lot like you are in real life, then so be it. If your character is nothing like you, then run with it. Take chances, get into trouble, push the limits. Good DMs will pick up on your enthusiasm and encourage your organized chaos. Some of the best campaigns I have ever witnessed included several tangents and plot twists created by the players as opposed to the DM. Keep in mind that bringing an adventure to life is not the sole responsibility of the DM. As a player, if you have the attitude that I am going to sit back and see what comes my way, you are missing out on a fundamental part of D&D. Instead, your outlook should be more like: Here I am world, ready or not! Just like the true heroes of history, you have to get out there and make your own statement, make some noise!
Take heart in knowing that if you overstep or go too far the DM will bring you back. And should your character suffer the ultimate fate because of your “reckless” actions, fear not because I’m sure there will be a new character waiting for you right around the corner. What have you really got to lose? Nothing but some time. And what could you gain? Stories to tell, confidence, excitement, friendship, and hours of laughing your ass off! It’s not only what D&D is about, but life itself. Let your credo be those immortal words from Malcolm Reynolds: “I aim to misbehave.”