What is roleplaying in Dungeons and Dragons about?
Roleplaying is how you interact with other characters and parts of the world. You roleplay when you talk to your party members about how to approach a dangerous situation, you roleplay when you try to get lodging for the night, and you roleplay to figure out how your character is going to handle what’s being thrown at them. Roleplaying is the most important part of table interaction, as it dictates how things will work out between the players and the party. You can’t just say “my character trusts yours” you have to demonstrate through your character’s actions and words that they will work together with the rest of the party when ideas are presented and plans made.
Tips and Tricks for non actors
It can be daunting approaching a table for the first time. Roleplay is all about improv and acting, but a lot of D&D players aren’t actors and have no experience with it. The important thing to remember is your character is a person, same as you. They have emotions, thoughts, and opinions just like anyone else would. Treat conversations at the table like a conversation with your friends, making sure to keep your character’s motivations in mind as you do so.
A useful thing to do is to take notes from your character’s perspective. Make sure to take notes about the important things–place names, people you meet, events that happen–but also record how your character feels about these things. Is your character frightened? Are they disinclined to cooperate with the party moving forward with their plan because it scares them? Are they more volatile and more likely to do something reckless out of frustration? If you’re recording how your character feels as you move forward, it becomes easier to roleplay their actions and feelings more realistically.
Voices: More than accents!
There has been a recent development in D&D that led to a minor controversy (well, sometimes minor, sometimes major). A few years ago, a group of voice actors with a weekly D&D group were approached by Geek and Sundry about potentially streaming their game. They agreed, and now we have the massive success that is Critical Role. The first campaign of Critical Role began about halfway when the characters were already level 10. The sessions are on the shorter side of average, usually only reaching the 4 hour mark when there’s a lot to cover, and the talent of the actors is clear in their roleplaying and myriad of accents. While the most accent work comes from Matthew Mercer, as the Dungeon Master who is required to roleplay all the NPCs, you still see a decent amount of work from the players and their rotating guests, as you hear them speak out of character and in the case of the main cast get to see them take on the roles of at least two characters (they’re on their second campaign now).
I got into Critical Role at the same time I did D&D, as many people do. And I was a little intimidated by their acting skills, but soon discovered through playing that the average DM and players don’t expect that level of acting from you. That’s not to say all tables are alike in that regard. I’ve seen posts online from DMs who wanted to figure out a polite way to force their players to start using accents, and my own husband as a DM heavily encourages accents to the point that he was disappointed when I refused to put one on at a table full of strangers. From my stand point, I don’t do accents. I’ll try to change my manner of speaking to emphasize different aspects of a character as a DM so that NPCs are separated, but that’s about it. One of my players very much likes doing accents and she gets very into character that way, as well, but I don’t require accents from my players.
You do not need to be able to do fancy accents. That’s the bottom line here. It’s the biggest worry for a lot of us as players and DMs that accents are expected, but as long as you’re able to create an immersive experience with clearly separate NPCs and are able to convey your in character speech as separate from your out of character speech, then you really don’t need to worry yourself about accents.
Asking questions of your own character
A great way to get into your character’s head and make for better roleplay is to ask questions of your character. There are a lot of different templates online, from short quizzes that cover the basics to really in depth ones that get into the nitty gritty of their entire childhood. Depending on how in touch with your character you want to be, you can judge for yourself which questions actually need asking. It’s not a bad idea to have some kind of notebook or online list where you can put together an idea of your character’s personality and motivations. Ideally, you’ll be able to update this as time goes on and stay in touch with what drives your character.
I did this most recently using a Trello board for my character Annamaria. I listed out her goals, questions she had about the world around her, and how her relationships with other PCs and NPCs were developing. On her goals list I laid out her beginning motivations, and whenever something new came up I’d add that to the list. I color coded the goals to indicate which ones were major goals in her life–such as figuring out why she could see spirits–and which ones were minor–learning to play the bagpipes. Additionally, I kept track of her progress on various items, making notes when new developments came up. I had a list for PCs, NPCs, and locations where I could put a basic list of descriptors, memorable details, and color coded how she felt about places and people. I also kept track of questions that came up for her, and if they got answered. This allowed me to keep track of what her motivations were so that when new information came out, or interesting scenarios played out at the table, I could appropriately assess how she would react.
Of course, you don’t have to be nearly as in depth as that. Sometimes, your motivations are simple to start with and as your character grows you’re able to easily manage the roleplay aspects of that growth. It all depends on what your playing style is like. Personally, I like lists and being able to track things. It was fun being able to see what Annamaria had accomplished and figured out, and how she had changed in her relationships with others. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out what affects your character as roleplay moves forward because it can be stat changing. My alignment when we started our campaign was Chaotic Neutral, and after a few good deeds my DM made me change it to Chaotic Good. This was a pretty permanent reminder that my character had changed and I needed to roleplay her as a better person than when we’d started out.