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Helping Players Choose To Roleplay vs. Fighting

Please find below various tips, stories and comments about Issue #51's request for remedies to the "shoot first, ask questions later" player syndrome.

It is important to note that there is no right or wrong gaming style, as long as everyone has fun. If you enjoy GMing hack'n'slash or combat intensive games, that's perfectly OK. If you enjoy quests, traps, puzzles and combats over social intrigue or political campaigns, that's OK too!

The advice below is geared towards GMs who seek more roleplaying vs. combat in their games. It's all just a matter of personal preference. :)


Johnn Four
[email protected]

From: Jan


The first ideas that came to my mind regarding your request was this:

  1. As already mentioned in Issue #51, GMs often reward players unconsciously for combat. In most RPG-Scenarios the group can be successful if they're tough enough. The idea is just that the GM has to create a situation that shows the players something else. He could provide scenarios, villains, whatever, that obviously cannot be overcome by brute force.

  2. Once the players get the idea, it is important to keep them on it. In case they're not very used to (because they always battled their way) being polite or using tricks or nice words (or whatever the helpless GM wants them to do) they might behave clumsy. Doesn't matter. They've got to be rewarded anyway by (see Issue #51 again) positive social reactions, money, items or whatever. By seeing that their efforts are successful they will perhaps be astonished, but in the long run they will change their tactics.

  3. This is why the reward is so important: No matter how clumsy they behave while trying the new way, if they don't succeed they will return to the axe and battle again...

From: Robin P.


The following is what I did to move my players' focus from combat (or action in general) to roleplaying:

The primary reason for combat to be seen as a handy tool for solving problems in RPGs, and thus the plot, is that to kill enemies is the most obvious way to win. To counter that I have begun to construct plots in a way that encourages different solutions. Combat is still possible, and the villains can be defeated and killed - but the players will always find that dead men tell no tales. None of their questions can be answered, as there is no-one left to answer them; and like the hydra evil just grows a new head.

An example: in a current Werewolf: The Apocalypse game of mine, various Wyrm-tainted factions work against the PCs. Some of those factions work together, all have additional plans of their own, some don't know each other - but if one faction is wiped out without the PCs trying to find out as much as possible the others get a clear advantage: while the PCs believe they have won the other factions can continue working in secret until its time to attack again.

Or let's say the forces of evil find their way to the world the PCs inhabit by means of a dimensional rift. The PCs may just kill the invaders to halt the attack this time; but they must be made to see that it all can happen again if they did not try to find out first what caused the rift and what may close it again.

If the players like the roles of completely clueless PCs and do not care about the why and wherefore of their antagonists' plans they should always be met with some kind of justice. The authorities might question their actions and ask for a good explanations - and 'he was such an evil person' just doesn't qualify.

From: Dylan C.


First, let me congratulate you on an excellent newsletter packed with genuinely useful tips. If only I could fit the entire archive on the inside of my DM's screen!

I've recently been putting some thought into the way that combat is presented in many RPGs - as a choreographed, self- contained event which achieves little in terms of long-term atmosphere building and is typically neatly wrapped after the last blow is struck so that the characters can 'get on with the adventure'. Combat, or general contestation, is a useful tool for building suspense and giving characters a sense of accomplishment after emerging victorious. But, to only use it in the manner described above is wasteful. After all, combat can really eat up game time; it makes more sense to get some kind of peripheral benefit out of it than simple plot progression.

The following are some ideas I had for using combat as a strong platform for roleplaying and as a reflective process by which the characters can be exposed to their own attitudes to violence and the attitudes of those around them:
  1. Build the characters' combat confidence. If every NPC the heroes fight comes at them with a lethal implement or spell, your players will become used to reacting with similar levels of force, 'just to be on the safe side'. However, if it's obvious that (a) their opponent isn't intending to kill them, and (b) the PCs have a good chance against them without resorting to lethal force, then the chances that they will respond at a similar level are higher.

    To illustrate: 'normal' people who are provoked into a street brawl don't attack like berserkers until knocked unconscious. A few sloppy blows are exchanged, some threats and insults are yelled, and a few more punches are thrown. At some point the fighters will decide that this isn't worth it any more and will withdraw. In 'hit point' terms, the fight has never been in danger of becoming lethal; and yet, a confrontation has occurred, and the 'winner' can go on their way satisfied that, in as much as such terms are appropriate, they have 'triumphed' or 'been victorious'. Such tactics will only be employed by players who trust you not to change the rules halfway into a fight; if they're slapping, ripping clothes, and cussing when their opponent suddenly changes tack and pulls a gun, you can bet they will never do it again. So, the trick is to show the players your cards, by allowing them to get a feel of the different levels of danger posed by various common sources of violence in your campaign world. This gives them a better sense of their surroundings and what is considered an acceptable response to different sorts of insult or injury.

  2. Modify the types of violence appearing in your game. Not every fight should require the characters to use the maximum level of force of which they are capable; put another way, even gunslingers should get into fistfights. Don't just do this by removing your party from their weapons and resources, because that doesn't have the same impact; instead, try to set up situations which prompt them to resort to other tactics of their own free will. Depending on the flavor of your game, this might have several payoffs; the most obvious is that fights can be concluded without removing a character or NPC from the rest of the adventure or campaign. Additionally, this technique gives you an excuse to prolong and intensify climactic combats: your fireballs are all used up, your defences are gone, and it's down to you and your arch-enemy wrestling in the mud trying to drown each other. The number of times this trick is used in movies is a testament to its ability to get you on the edge of your seat - most notably in Hong Kong action movies, where the protagonists seem to spend most of the final fight using up their heavy weaponry before finally settling the matter with pistols and even bare fists.

  3. Stop matching random encounters to your party. This goes against the natural GM reflex, but it's a great tool. So often, GMs weigh encounters up so carefully that every single fight leaves the players feeling the exact same 'That was tough, but we made it' feeling - which can get pretty old after a few months. What happened to the 'Aargh! We were totally outmatched' and 'Boy, we cleaned the floor with those schmucks' feelings? Sometimes, a puny NPC will take on a powerful PC without realising the world of pain he or she is letting themselves in for; by the same token, occasionally a very dangerous opponent will show up, and characters who wade in with a 'Well, I -must- be able to beat this thing, or it wouldn't be in the module' attitude are going to be crying pretty soon. That's life - there's no such thing as 'module balance' in the real world, after all. Using this trick once or twice will encourage your players to evaluate fights before they happen, which ties into the previous techniques and will allow you to get more 'oomph' out of your fight scenes.

  4. Get inside your NPCs' heads. I once played a Twilight: 2000 game in which we were struck dumb when a Yugoslav commando surrendered before we could even draw a bead on him. It wasn't that he was scared of us; he could probably have dropped us with a well-placed grenade or even run away before we could get him. But he was taking the long-term view; we were obviously lost, but had several vehicles and were trying to get out of the war zone, and he wasn't that keen on sticking around either. So after tossing his rifle away and putting his hands up, he explained that he'd guide us out of the zone if we took him with. Hey presto - he'd gone from a bunch of numbers to a 'real' person in one action.

    It really brought home to us that the faceless hordes we'd been gunning down and blowing up for the last five sessions were sometimes as keen to avoid trouble as we were. And that, in turn, got us thinking about our own motivations. The in-character argument that followed really helped define our characters; the SAS guy wanted to blow him away, the Swiss doctor wanted to take him with, and the rest of us were faced with the uncomfortable reality that we didn't really know. No-one had ever 'told' us the 'rules' - and, of course, this is one of the major themes of T:2000. In this way, a single action by a throwaway NPC can be used to highlight a major theme. Surrender or retreat should always be at the back of your NPCs' minds. Even if they're brave or loyal: look at the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who surrendered who were taken prisoner in World War 2. These men didn't surrender because they were cowards; they surrendered because that's what reasonable people do if they think there's even a tiny chance that it'll stop them from being killed or badly wounded.

  5. Think consequences. In too many RPGs, enemies end up cleanly dead or unconscious, leaving the PCs to wander off without a second thought as to the violence they have just perpetrated - except in a personal sense arising from their own wounds. How about assuming that 25% of all casualties are just incapacitated or crippled, but still alive? What are the PCs going to do? 'Put them out of their misery'? If that's the case, make sure to inflict the same type of wounding on the next PC or ally that goes down in combat, and see if they're as quick to suggest euthanasia. Or will they be forced to use their own healing spells, Trauma Team cards, etc., to remedy the damage they have just finished inflicting? Or will they find a middle route? Effective use of this technique allows characters to really stand out from the crowd.

    To illustrate: everyone knows RipperJane is a heartless so- and-so, but when she genuinely proposes killing your wounded bodyguard, it's brought home in an undeniable fashion. Conversely, Sir Hiram is well-known for being law-abiding; when he insists on detouring from the adventure for an afternoon so that the orcs you just mixed it up with can be delivered to a hospice, a court, and the gallows (in that order), he isn't just talking the talk any more - he's really getting a chance to act on his beliefs. You may find that your characters start thinking of ways to avoiding or minimising lethal combat rather than simply wading in, which allows you to make more of the fights they do get into.

  6. Lead, and they will follow. This ties in with the previous techniques. Not everyone who cultivates a grudge hires assassins or fashions a voodoo doll. How about NPCs who seduce characters' spouses, key their new Mercedes, or let their livestock loose late at night? Not only is this often more meaningful to the players (because these are situations we can all appreciate, whereas few of us know just how it feels to come under direct mortal threat), but it will get them responding in kind rather than just breaking out the firepower.

    Two-dimensional violence, of course, is appropriate in some settings and games; Star Wars and Star Trek come to mind. Hence, not all these rules apply in these games, but the general principles are still applicable. Basically, it all comes down to -using- combat to achieve some other goal rather than just as an interval between periods of investigation or interaction, and thereby squeezing more out of your gaming hours.

From: Matt C.

I have had a number of people in my groups who believe that rpg's are the perfect place to mow down innumerable bad guys. They think the biggest guns are always the best. I generally run them separate from my more role oriented play group. Recently I had one player want to switch groups from shoot-um to role oriented. I asked him if he might want to try it first.

This was for his benefit and mine. He needed to get some practice at what he was switching to. And I needed to find a reasonable way to work him into the deep plot of the campaign. Note: What I really hate is the old have everyone meet up at the local bar\tavern:)

I ran a short series of solo adventures which all had titles like a book. I took notes of his actions and the repercussions thereof. Then before the next adventure I would recap our story so far. He began seeing the big picture of a campaign and not just an adventure at a time. Being able to see this continuity he saw his character and his part in the bigger picture. This enabled him to really play his character for the first time. That transition allowed him and his character to move into the role oriented campaign easily. My advice is give your shooters time to come around or have fun with what you've got after all a little hack-n-slash never hurt anybody :P

From: Rob P.

Hi there. First off, I just stumbled upon recently, and I am impressed..

Anyhow, our group is running several games on a rotating basis, and I am GMing a campaign in which one of my players eventually started shooting from the hip, using his character's brute force to beat the bad guy, intimidate the information out of somebody, and so on..

The rest of the party is, as a general rule, happy to back him up when necessary. My solution was this:

After a particularly nasty encounter, a necromancer-type withered one of his limbs, inflicting a physical scar, a useless limb, and some permanent damage (until the arm is restored). The party is now on a quest to find a necromancer powerful enough to restore the limb, and they learned in their first attempt that it's quite easy for an offended mage to say "Look, I'm tired of you threatening me, and I'm not going to heal you. If you kill me, that won't fix your arm either. Find someone else."

He is now somewhat humbled, and the party has learned its lesson, and the limb will be restored in the next session or so.

This worked out rather well because everyone has been having fun, and the quest to heal the powerhouse had been a catalyst for much character development amongst all of the players.

From: Atom P.

I was having the same problem, every encounter would end in a blood bath, especially if the players thought the villain was more powerful then their characters. Fortunately I've been able to turn it around, only one small combat in the last four game sessions.
  1. NPCs talk first.
  2. Don't give ultimatums.
  3. NPCs want to live too.
  4. Fear makes them more cautious.
  1. NPCs talk first.
    This was my fault as a GM, many encounters started with the villain confronting the PCs with sword in hand, ready for a fight. This of course invites combat, an option most PCs won't pass up. If your villain confronts the PCs leaning on a cane, carrying a book, or wearing a smile the PCs are much less likely to react violently. And weapons can always be fast-drawn latter.

  2. Don't give ultimatums.
    One encounter will always live in infamy. The PCs were trekking through the hills looking for a bandit they had to talk to in order to uncover a plot point; the bandit, as bandits are apt to do, ambushed the party and demanded that the characters hand over all their goods. Even though the Bandit was unarmed and the characters knew they were badly outnumbered they fought back, most of them died. Players don't like to be forced, and given the choice of accepting the inevitable or acting suicidal they often choose the later path.

  3. NPCs want to live too.
    Most combats in most games feature stupid creatures that fight to the death. This is almost never the case in real life and should not be the case in pretend life either. Even the ugliest bug has a survival instinct, and given the chance it will probably run away if it's life is threatened. NPCs are not an exception, especially since it's no fun for the Barbarian to have to chase every kill; pretty soon he'll wise up and either start talking or find a way to back them into a corner before he starts swinging.

  4. Fear makes them more cautious.
    How often do your characters get time to rest and recuperate between encounters? What if something nasty was following them, ready to pounce as soon as it saw a weakness? How often do the characters fight in the streets and walk away scott-free? What if the guards were right on top of them as soon as the fight was over? The characters will be a lot less likely to start a start a fight if they are afraid something bigger and meaner is out there ready to clean them up after they have been softened up by something else. Demons, Beholders, Mindflayers, Bandits, all are just smart enough and just greedy enough to follow a party around waiting for just the right moment.

From: Kate M.

How do you encourage roleplaying over combat? Good question! Of course, sometimes the game system itself encourages roleplaying over combat, as is the case of the World of Darkness system.

Remember, though, that as the moderator, you can establish your own guidelines for how a player gains experience. In my own Chronicle, for example, I offer experience points for entertaining roleplaying as well as completing the 'homework' I email them. So conceivably, you could offer a 'bonus' amount for good roleplaying. But if you'd rather not give out a lot of experience points, then offer the players some scenarios that discourage combat. For example, say there's a law in your world against killing talking green flugelhorns. Have your players encounter one that is blocking their path and won't let them pass without answering a series of questions designed to be answered in character. If they kill it, they're breaking the law and should be punished accordingly. If they answer the questions correctly, then they should be rewarded.

Another suggested is a little more sneaky: have a few of your NPCs have some pertinent clues to the player's current adventure. If they kill or ignore the NPC's, they lose out on this information. If they roleplay, however, then they might possibly be able to avoid a nasty trap or save some valuable time looking for an item.

Good luck!

From: David "Yogi" U.

Hey John! First off, thanks for all the work you do on this project. The newsletter is wonderful and I keep hard copy of it usually around my AD&D Planescape campaign. It works wonderfully for spurring ideas, both for me and my players.

Now, on the subject of encouraging roleplaying, I find one thing that most people don't use that works very well. I use magic items to develop characters. Stealing an idea from Earthdawn, players get connected to their most favorite items, and sometime find additional powers. The identify spell doesn't do much in my game, as items must be tested to be figured out (great fun with potions). I find that the items, especially multi-use items that evolve with the character help mold the character, and yet help the player think about the character evolving. Most of my players grab onto this, and run with it to levels far beyond expectations, and discovering their item works with them, or sometime, opposite of them, makes great opportunities for roleplaying.

From: Patrick R.

I usually encourage my players into role-playing their characters by giving them special attributes, skills and items. For an example, if your player is role-playing an average ranger, he might get bored, BUT, try to give that ranger something special, like the ability to speak with specific animals, a magical sword which belonged to someone close to him (i.e. dead father, old friend etc.) and which therefore has special sentimental value to the character.

You should also encourage your players into role-playing by rewarding good role-plaers with experience points. For an example, if your player can really act like his/her character would, give his/her character some exp. and he/she will probably continue doing it, and he/she might encourage other players into good role-playing, as the easy exps. are somewhat tempting :)

From: James

To respond to your question about how to get players to roleplay I have a couple of suggestions:
  1. I have a friend who always sets 15 minutes aside to do some sort of instantaneous roleplaying, i.e., improv to get his players in the habit of roleplaying. If you have ever seen Who's Line is it Anyhow? with Drew Carrey, you'll know what I mean.

  2. Also, I've seen players roleplay more if they see others do it, so I always remind my players that there is a 10% XP bonus for roleplaying well. Along that line, it is helpful to talk to your players one at a time before your game begins to ask them to roleplay and work with you.

  3. Along the lines of the first one, try sample encounters that might popup in the upcoming game such as: "A friend you know well just advised the master of your guild to put a bounty on your head for a crime you haven't committed, how does your character handle the situation?"

From: Maxim K.

You requested some tips about converting tactical-combat- loving-berserkers into good roleplayers :-)
  1. Rewards...covered in the Roleplaying Tips newsletter (#50 & #51). Do give rewards for talking (most RPG Systems only give EPs for fighting...).

  2. Let the players face a situation where fighting is obviously no solution, if your players are so fanatic that they would fight even then, make it obvious that the kind of death their chars will face is not worthy of a hero (i.e. being eaten by gigantic ants or such).

  3. Make fights look and feel deadly, modify the rules if needed.

  4. Do NOT use tabletop equipment/miniatures!!! They distract players from thinking of combat as something chaotic + dangerous, but rather as a kind of tactical game they can plan. Unfortunately, in a game with miniatures the players do not visualize their actions any more. I can remember all the fights I had until we started to use miniatures...cause they all had some special kind of action you imagined in your mind...I remember even our first session, just because I can remember the fun we had imagining a giant elk jumping out of the bushes, everyone dodging, and our brave dwarf saying: I´┐Żll block his path... He went flying hahaha, he was not injured a lot, but his pride was so down, he hated all elks ever since >:-)

  5. Do NOT give players powerful magic weapons...if you let them know they are soo powerful they won't bother talking, they just do not need it. We have been playing for 3 years in the world of DSA (the BEST german system, and the system with the most consistent world worldwide...) There ARE almost no magic artifacts in DSA, only the most powerful NPCs may have a wimpy "sword +1" or such... Also, there are no permanent magic items, they all have only some 1 to 10 charges, then they are slay a big dragon in that world, you would need an army, so there IS simply no way other than talking. Just make the players clear that they will die trying to fight this fight.

    The better you describe your actions, the easier they will become, so roleplay is greatly encouraged. EVEN in combat. Try it that way: if a player describes beautifully how he TRIES to attack, give him a bonus on the hit dice or on the damage, or make the enemies' block more difficult.

  6. Do NOT always stick to the rules, the people who make the rules are no superhumans, they are no demigods who exactly can tell you what would be wrong or right. Adapt the rules to your style, not your style to the rules. As long as a rule is the same for all (PCs and NPCs), it is fair. And even if NOT, it is your right as GM to tweak the game so everyone has max do it (you do not need to tell the players if they do not like such things). Like this you can discourage players who always seem to know the monsters Attacks, Blocks, Hitpoints....better than you do. Be chaotic, but be fair. If your player has a character he really cares for, a character with history, friends, family, tweaks, fears, hopes, NOT let him die.

    BUT if a character always goes out of his role, like a paladin always killing the enemies the most cruel way possibly, talk to the player...ask him about the char, ask him to write a story, to make a kind of blueprint of his chars personality. If he is not able to do it, if he regards his character only as a bunch of optimized numbers on a piece of paper...KILL HIM. It is cruel, but it is the only way to stop combat-addicted groups. Let them be killed or be heavily injured in combat. Let them have a trauma, a shock. Force them to develop fear of dying. No sane hero would fight till he dies (except the nice guys in AD&D with St 18/99 and Wis 6 Int 5 hahaha)

  7. To make them fear death (combat with only dice rolling) make it worth living (roleplay). Let them fall in love, or get a province they have to care for, let them have pets like small dogs (pets who cannot FIGHT, so Basilisks or Dragons don't count ;-) ) When I played a Mage he always had a small monkey with him, who did tricks for children and the guys in Bars. He had found him in the jungle, with his mother dead, so he started to care for her like a mother. Imagine a powerful mage with a small monkey always asking for milk in medieval bars hahaha :-) If the mage would die, who would be left to care for the poor monkey?!

    Let the players spend hours on thinking how their character is going to go on living...make plans, give opportunities. It's all called incentives...incentives to go on living. We were playing DSA for 3 years and no one ever died, cause it just would have been a tragedy. We were spending hours, days and weeks thinking about what our char was going to do next. I even knew how many buttons my coat had :-) When combat got hot it was not unusual for us to run away for a while to regroup/to rethink the action. We were REALLY afraid for our chars, cause they consisted of much much more than some simple numbers on a piece of paper.

  8. Get a good system...YES, you have heard right :-) In my opinion it is very difficult, especially for beginners to do good roleplaying in AD&D, cause it encourages fighting. Get something like Vampires, and let the atmosphere thrill you.

From: Riina
  1. Design general descriptions and encounters before the game.

    Usually when GMs prepare for a game they work out the main plot encounters and so forth which are going to happen, with a general notion of when they'll happen. This is definitely a useful thing to do! However, I've also found it very useful to design some bits of description and minor encounters which can be inserted anywhere in the game. They can be used whenever you need time to think, when you need something to do right now, or just to enhance the imagery of your game world.

    Examples -

    • Work out some generic descriptions of the weather. Make them as detailed and evocative as possible, and use them to enhance or contrast the mood of the game. eg. "The rain pours down onto the darkened cobblestones and drips from the eaves of the small wooden houses. You see no one but a few huddled beggars as you make your way to xyz." Try to describe light sources, smells, sensations and noises, appeal to all the senses. Insert these whenever you want to make the gameworld seem more vivid, or to evoke a mood.

    • Work out some generic descriptions of the location of the game world. Devise and note down in point form some basic imagery for your game world - eg. descriptions of the city the game is set in, or the mountain range they are passing through. Include people and animals and minor, mundane mishaps (broken cart wheels, fallen trees on the road etc.). Insert these whenever the PCs are moving around in the world frame. Have them reflect the state of affairs (has there just been a war? Is there famine? Is the market bursting with goods? Are their a lot of soldiers around? etc.)

    • Devise generic NPCs. Invent a series of normal people of different ages, genders and social classes. Give them names, physical descriptions and a couple personality traits. Wheel them out when the PCs talk to someone you didn't expect them to, or put them around the place to demonstrate the reality of the PCs actions (eg. the inhabitants of the house they break into). Again, have their situations and concerns reflect the mood/theme/events of the game world. Or for something different have it contrast.

    • Devise minor encounters. For example, the PCs could be robbed by a common thief, or come across a "domestic dispute", or a lost child. These events can be inserted to illustrate all sorts of points about the nature of the world, or to take up some time when you need to think, or to break up the more important events of the story. They can be used to add interest to the unexpected actions of the PCs. Make sure they are simple and mundane, otherwise you defeat their purpose of giving you time to think, or of reflecting the normal events of the game world.

      All of these things can be devised without the exact context in mind, and then inserted in wherever you like. Their advantage over just making things up on the spot is that they will fit better with your game world, they will be more complex and you can use them as a subtle way of controlling the mood of the game. They will also look pre-planned, which helps to keep the players from trying to pin point the "real plot" and then pursuing it to the exclusion of all else.

  2. The interest in character traits is in the breach.

    In most stories the heroes make mistakes, they have fatal flaws, and they must overcome difficulties. Part of the interest in stories comes from the development of the main characters, and their movement from one point to another - which is usually the result of the characters changing and learning from mistakes.In gaming many PCs become quite static, the PCs resist change and the characters start to seem two dimensional. This is frustrating for both the player and the GM.

    As a GM it can be important to remember that the PCs are clinging to their concepts for a reason. When players create concepts they usually have in mind a series of events which will challenge and highlight their character traits, in my experience they will cling to these traits until they have been sufficiently highlighted, and then they will move on.

    As far as I can see, one of the best ways to highlight character traits is to give the PCs the opportunity to be "forced" to break them. (I use the quotation marks because they don't necessarily want to be forced into a corner as players, but they may like to roleplay their characters out of corners created by the character's personality.)

    For example if one of the PCs is always polite, the player is probably thinking about how freaky they would be when they finally snap and get angry. They don't want them to be angry all the time, but they probably would be grateful for an excuse to have that character's self control waver briefly - try giving them something to get really pissed at. Or, perhaps one of the characters is very callous and cold. The player might be interested in seeing what would happen if they were presented with something they cared about (eg. the assassin rescuing the small child).

    Remember, the same goes for NPCs. They will seem much more interesting if they occasionally break established character traits. For example, Darth Vader was so cool because he eventually decided that he wasn't evil, and saved Luke. Additionally, endless action movies have been based on the idea of the good, kind normal guy who goes nuts and takes horrible bloody revenge on the people who've pissed him off (usually by killing his family or something). Both of these concepts are interesting because they break the pre established character traits.

    Ultimately, some players will reject or fail to see these chances to express their characters (the polite PC might never snap, the assassin might kill the child) but many will jump wholeheartedly on the chance to express that element of their concept. Some players will make these opportunities all on their own (wouldn't we all like more of them!) but most will need these opportunities to be presented, and once they have expressed this element of their character to their satisfaction the character will probably become much more dynamic.

  3. Set up events before they occur.

    This tip sort of relates to the last one. Many stories rely on a breach of the normal state of affairs - this only works well when you set up what the normal situation is in the first place. For example, we see Conan's village before it is raided by Fulsa Doom (or however you spell it!), all peaceful and happy. This gives us something to prepare the coming carnage to. To breach something, you must demonstrate what it's normally like first.

    You also need to set things up to create tension. Give hints as to coming events so that there is some kind of build up. I always used to get really annoyed when no one found the terrible war/sudden death of ruler/other large event shocking. They just bounced along happily. For something to have impact you need to build up to it. Use prophesies, hints, and small clues to allude to the coming large event. Have NPCs fear it for a while. Wait until the PCs fear it before having it happen. The Shadow War in Babylon 5 would have been far less interesting if the story had started with it, and without all the hints and dire predictions.

    Finally, you need to set up the normal way of doing things, and why it is so incredibly dangerous to do it some other way. That way when the PCs invariably chose to do it the dangerous way it will seem cool and challenging. Try showing what happens to an NPC who does it the dangerous way (something bad!), or have NPCs talk about what they think would happen. Try to make it so that the players really think their characters could get seriously fried doing something the wrong way. That way when they choose to do it, it will be more intense and rewarding.

From: Delos

To solve this problem, I chose to not award experience for (say) killing monsters/npcs and allow their loot/death to be its own reward. But I do award xp for these kinds of actions:
  1. Came up with own consequences (Ex: Remembered to limp after being wounded in the foot.)

  2. Played a Disadvantage (Ex: I didn't have to remind Tom that he's colorblind at any point in the session.) [I don't award xp for taking disadvantages, just playing them.]

  3. Player contributed a Goal at the end of the game. (Ex: The next game, Tom decides that he'd like to meet his evil twin.)

  4. An extra Sign is added. (I use Signs like Over the Edge does.)

  5. Played an NPC well. In those times when the party is divided, I have an NPC prepared (pregame) for a player to play. I record the relevant stats and skills just for the purpose of the encounter, along with a few Signs and other mannerisms. I usually have to tell the npc-player how difficult or easy to be and they take it from there.

  6. Opened subplot for another player. (Ex: Tom shoots his mouth off about how Rex can shoot even better than William Tell, and so the local Baron demands that Rex compete in the upcoming competition against his champion Sir Tell.)

  7. Opened subplot for Self. (As above, but lesser xp award.)

  8. Unselfish bonus. (To reward the Good Guys who either stick to their character's character in spite of evil reward or who try to stay honorable in spite of the other characters.)

    I also penalize xp for reusing the same ability over and over or trying to milk an ability for all it's worth.

From: John B.

With regard to Encouraging Roleplaying over combat I think one good way to encourage players not to shoot first, ask later is to allow them to go into a combat situation, slay the bad guy and then present an unexpected outcome from the combat.

For example, one of the "villains" just killed could have been an undercover agent for the king and the players actions instead of being heroic have just put the kingdom on the brink of war. For this to work properly you do have to provide the players with some way to figure it out before they enter combat through roleplaying. If they rush into combat without thinking they face the consequences of their actions...

From: Tony

I've found that the most effective way to encourage roleplaying is to ask each player to write a detailed history for their character before the campaign begins. Some players will be able to write detailed histories without any trouble at all. For those that have difficulty, spend some time outside of your normal gaming sessions talking to them about the game world and asking them questions about their character. Throwing around ideas for an interesting character background can be a lot of fun.

Player: "Maybe he used to be a soldier in some army." GM: "Yeah good idea, the Kingdom of Arthania is at war with the Gors at the moment, your character might be a Knight of Arthania, or a hired mercenary?" Player: "A mercenary yeah cool! He'd be a hard old guy like Clint Eastwood except with a soft heart..." etc.

It's a lot of fun and really primes the player, even a new player, to start roleplaying from day one. Character histories are great for the GM too, as they usually supply a whole bunch of NPCs and story ideas ready to work into the campaign.

From: Toran

Now, let's see what I've got for this one...

First In-game possibility: Combat Experience 'wears off'. Of course, in most systems, there's an experience value given for slaying a certain kind of monster - but it wouldn't be too realistic to award this amount of points each time the PC slays one of them as soon as it becomes routine work... if the brave hero slays his 20th Ancient Giant Multi-Headed Red Dragon, it's surely not an experience as impressive as his _first_ one, so I would also only award about 1/20 of the Dragon's XP value. This forces the players who want to advance to come along with new ways of surviving such encounters - the first Ancient Giant Multi-Headed Red Dragon being _talked_ into submission would be worth as much XP as the first one - maybe even more, depending on how brilliantly it was done.

Second In-game possibility: Involve PCs in Non-combat action. Maybe the Player's favor towards combat comes from the simple fact that they haven't encountered any other things that really are fun to them... WHAT exactly you should do to get your players out of their roleplaying lethargy depends heavily on players and GM. Maybe you could get one of the PCs involved in a love affair? Maybe a few puzzles would do them good? Maybe you could come up with an enemy the players cannot possibly defeat in combat, but only through roleplaying? Depending on the solution, it could even be helpful to confront them with an _extremely_ boring combat situation short before you come up with The Other Possibility. Sometimes contrast does a lot.

Last Hope: Talk it out. This is somewhat of an emergency exit just before you quit the stage. If your players aren't listening to you, or are plainly ignoring your in-game attempts to get them roleplaying, tell them. After all, you're GMing for fun - and if you're not having fun, something should change. And if you've done all you can to change the situation without success, it's the player's turn. Tell them that you don't want to GM anymore if they don't start roleplaying. Now _they_ should act -either they help you in creating a good story, or they'll have to find another GM...

From: Jones T.

I believe that your points in [Issue #51] speak to the very heart of a truly enjoyable and exciting campaign.

With regard to your first Point, wherein you speak of 'spending time on each character', I have a method which has proven to get all players excited about their PC's.

Whenever a player wishes to join one of my campaigns, they roll up their stats and then are required to provide me with a background. The background must come first.

From each background, I go over it in fine detail, taking notes, giving NPCs names and adding bits and pieces to fill it out. I then provide the player with his "Player Information". This sheet of paper gives him the names of the NPCs as well as a few other bits of seemingly trivial information (of course, my PCs are catching on that these tidbits are not trivial.)

From here, I develop small, long term campaigns with each Player's background. My games generally take the form of several long term campaigns, each one taking the characters through many levels and, sometimes, many years. In the backdrop, I provide what I refer to as "mini-campaigns" and "one-shotters." The "mini-campaign" is a series of 2 to 4 adventures, the 'one-shotters' being one adventure. The players never know what kind of adventure they are participating in at any moment.

From the Player's backgrounds, I create long-term 'mini- campaigns." Perhaps an adventure with the initial hints at 1st level, another one at 4th level, then an adventure that leads directly into one that relates solely to the PC's background and so on.

I have rarely seen a player not become very excited about his player with this method.

For an example, I have a Fighter from Neverwinter in one of my FR campaigns. At the start, he provided as a reason for his military skills the fact that he spent much time with a retired captain in the militia of Neverwinter. I expanded this background to say that this man actually found the Fighter as a babe in the Nether Mountains, halfway across the continent. This Captain was given the babe by a powerful figure who told him to watch over the babe carefully, for reasons not mentioned. He brought him back to the family that he believes to be his own and watched him throughout his upbringing. I have been playing off this (with more detail then I can give here) for nearly a year's worth of real-time gaming and the player is very excited about every bit of info that happens to drop his way. There have been times when he missed tips, since he doesn't always think of the NPCs in his background. This only creates more enjoyment when he realizes this later on, when it is too late to explore it.

From: Chris C.

In response to the question posted in the latest issue of "Roleplaying Tips Weekly" about discouraging or at least minimizing "shoot first" roleplaying, I have a couple ideas that have worked for me with my groups (most of my experience has been with Shadowrun, but these tricks should work in most any game):

Make it painful to do so: This is not my preferred method, since if you overdo it you end up simply punishing a player for their playing style. However, it can sometimes be useful: making the consequences of shoot-first gaming obviously unpleasant (being arrested for terrorism, ticking off the mob, etc.) and apparent to the gamers might get them to ease back. A slight modification of this method would be to let the players see the results of the violence- -assuming the players are adults, be graphic. The aftermath of a gun battle should be pretty horrific.

Make it difficult to do so: give them a bunch of obstacles or complications that would dissuade them from kicking in the door and holding down the trigger. For instance, if the characters have to kidnap somebody, put a bunch of innocent civilians in the way. Or, if they need to "liberate" some artifact, make it extremely delicate.

Sometimes, I've found that it helps to encourage a bit of conflict between characters so that they end up keeping each other in check. Often you can end up with a team leader who the other characters follow pretty much without question-- especially if the team leader is a shooter and the others are less combat-oriented characters. It might be useful, however, to get them to ask why the plan is just to kick down the door. It also might let them show off some of their unique abilities.

As a last resort, you might straight-out ask the player why they're doing what they're doing, although it's a big step out of character. It may reveal that the player is having a problem, such as not knowing what else to do or being frustrated with the game.

From: Orren

This is not my tip, but one that a DM used in a game I was playing in. He gave a percentage of experience bonus for good roleplaying. The percentage ranged from 0-10%. This also was a percentage of the total experience points of the character, not just for that game session. So if you have a bunch of good roleplaying, then that bonus could easily exceed the experience for the combat.
From: Dan W.

To answer your call for ideas on how to steer a group away from hack-n-slash toward RPing: The obvious one is to penalize the shoot-first-ask-questions-later behavior.

Make the dead NPCs have vital information memorized, they obviously won't be able to be questioned after being killed. Maybe the obvious enemy squad leader is not the one with the passcode into the enemy base because the rebels have a tendency to shoot the obvious leaders (a la Patriot).

Maybe the NPCs were not the enemy and the PCs just killed their only potential allies.

Make the enemies are too dangerous to attack and don't hesitate to grease one or two players or even the entire party. But never make it seem like you are simply out to get them. Life is not nicely arranged into dungeons of various levels (all level 1 monsters to the top!).

Lastly, make the PCs the bad guys for fighting: The king decides that any fighting within 10 miles of any town is punishable by 5 years in the salt mines. In modern and Sci- fi games this is even easier. The police tend not to care who was at fault when there is gunplay. Everyone gets thrown in jail and the courts settle it a couple of months/years down the road, assuming you have an honest justice system. In jail you are a sitting target for your enemies.

The hard part is keeping the players from thinking you are out to get them.

From: Stephanie P.


I've been GM'ing for over 17 years, and I've often been faced with those people who were comfortable in a combat frame of mind. Before I bring out my tips to lure them into a role-playing space, I will preface this by saying that if someone *really* doesn't want to role-play they won't, but it can be encouraged. So, here are my tips:
  1. Start with Combat. If the players like combat, this is where to begin adding roleplaying. This could be as simple as putting the combats in dramatic situations--like on top of a moving train or on a rickety bridge. This will probably have your players come up with more interesting options that--"I hit the guy."

    But, by far, the best way to deal with combat is to do something that the American media is really bad at--realism and consequence. This means that perhaps the police will come after them, or the victim's mother will. People will be afraid of them. It will be in the news. People will randomly (actually for revenge) try to kill the PC's. They will sometimes fight people who are very weak (i.e. average human) and kill them easily, and then have to deal with the consequences. There will be lots of innocent bystanders. Make the combats full of repercussions and people will be a bit less willing to jump into combat so easily.

  2. Background Check. So now that you've given a different spin to combat, how do you bring in role-playing? It starts at character creation. I have a character bio sheet that I give all my players (mine is actually 4 pages long!). I tell them that by the second or third adventure, I want the bio filled in. The bio is full of all sorts of questions that leads the players to think a bit more in depth about their character. The bio includes things like: name, address, birthday, etc, but also things like-where did you grow up? How was your relationship to your parents? Talk about your relatives, your childhood. Where did you go to school? What are you afraid of? Who is the last person you'd like to run into and why? How do you feel about your career? Etc. After people spend an amount of time working on their bio, they tend to want to incorporate it. Reinforce this by bringing up things from each character's past every now and again.

  3. Plot. Give them plots where they have to keep someone alive--someone they have to role-play with. Give a succession of situations where if they just kill people they don't the info they need to complete the mission. Have the plots deal with a variety of combat and non-combat issues.

  4. Supporting Cast. Make interesting NPCs that the players will want to interact with. I find it most effective to make them random people. I don't know why, but the PCs I've encountered will role-play with the plain-looking secretary who is shy and flirty or the drunk 7-11 guy with a mohawk for a half hour. Populate the world with interesting people, who seem to have a story, the players will follow.

From: Flatvurm

As far as the "Shoot first, ask questions later" attitude goes, I feel that it's usually a pretty simple matter to trick the players into having their characters attack someone they shouldn't. The consequences of this can be hard to enforce, though, depending on the (possibly already flagging) level of character development. If the players are into their characters, there could be personal consequences to the hasty action; the victim could have been a needed ally, a good friend, or either of the above to an ally or close friend of the characters. An NPC's NPC. :)

If the players are less motivated by character consequences, then story or system consequences are a more appropriate penalty; the victim could have been key to the success of the adventure, or the GM might want to withhold experience or other system reward points.

From: Leonel

Hi there, Johnn. Once again, congrats on your e-zine.

This time, I wanted to share with everybody some ideas about the problem of players that always favor combat instead of roleplaying. As we all know, this is a rather common thing, so here goes what I found to be of help when a GM is confronted with this situation.
  • First, you should find out WHY the players do this. If this is their style of play and they just don't seem at all interested in changing, maybe you should leave them be. For some people, roleplaying is just plain boring, they'd much rather roll dice. As we all know, forcing your players towards a direction they don't want to go is asking for trouble. If that's the case, just maybe is time to find another group.

  • If such is not the case, then maybe the players feel rewarded only for combat. In AD&D 2e this sometimes can be a problem: XP for character development is by far fewer than XP for killing monsters. As the recent editions of the e-zine have discussed masterfully about rewards, I'll just leave the warning : watch it, maybe you are the one moving your game towards hack'n'slash and you don't even realize it.

  • Another problem I've seen is the players just don't know what else to do. They attack just because they don't have a clue of what else would move the plot forward.Once, this happened to me. The players were confronted with a demonic horde led by a female general gone mad. They were unable to stop the horde, but they knew that there was a dragon that was the only creature in the world that the general would obey. For me, this clue was pretty obvious, but the players wouldn't realize that the dragon was their only hope (the horde was destroying a city and killing hundreds of innocent people so it wasn't just the PC's lives at stake). When I mentioned the dragon, a player immediately said: "That's it! The dragon! Let's kill the dragon! She loves this dragon, let's extract revenge on her by slaying this beast!". This surprised me, as the poor dragon wasn't even involved in the whole mess and by killing him they would ruin their chances of saving the innocent people that were at risk.

    So I acted as the players' "Common sense". I said to one of the wisest PCs' player: "You don't see much point in slaying the dragon. In fact, it seems a rather foolish thing to do". By acting as their common sense, I was able to show the players that this wasn't time to do combat, this was time to ask for help against a n apparently unbeatable foe. So they did ask the dragon for help and everything was solved.

    So what I am trying to say in this rather long example is: when the players attack because they are clueless, [you should] act as their clue!In general there are always brilliant characters in the group (the mage, the cleric, etc) and you can't expect the players to be so brilliant. So act as the common sense or consciousness of the PCs and see if they don't begin roleplaying when they realize it is the most efficient thing to do.

From: Scott P-M.


Here's what I do to encourage roleplaying among combat- focussed characters(/players): every once in a while, put them in situations where they are not the badasses. The reason players will feel no compunctions about charging immediately into the fray is because they don't feel like they are in danger when they raid the goblin caves or whatnot. Put them in a situation where they are made well aware that combat is going to result in an untidy demise. This will frustrate players if used excessively, but it will encourage players to communicate with their enemies, giving the GM more room to develop interesting, worthy opponents, rather than one-off cannon-fodder.

Another option would be to furnish them with a mission where combat must be done in the right way to gain success. Infiltrating a band of rebels to gain knowledge of their plan would be an excellent roleplaying opportunity as well as potentially providing ample opportunity to brawl.

The whole idea behind running a game for characters/players who like the rough stuff is to make scrapping interesting, complicated and character-oriented. Don't just try to eliminate it by running politician missions or what have you.

Hope this helps.

From: Logan H.

In answer to your question, there are a couple things that come to mind:
  1. Combat itself can be more than dice rolling. If the GM sets up an interesting area with its own consequences for actions then this will give roleplaying opportunities. If one character, for example, starts to fall down the snow slide (toward something nasty) does another character spend their round reaching out a hand to attempt to save that character or let them continue to fall?

  2. In real life, people who kill people (and perhaps monsters, etc in a fantasy game) get a different "aura". They start to look like more of a 'hardened' killer. This is something that an 'empathy' type skill can pick up on. How friendly are you to the big scarred guy with the 'thousand yard stare'? Many times, people will become nervous (subtly or obviously) in the presence of hard core killers.

  3. Give the players interesting assignments that involve killing. Rather than "Go kill that guy" how about "Go kill that guy and make it look like an accident" or "Go kill that guy and make it look like this other guy did it". Roleplaying will come into effect when the players sit down and begin to plan out the execution. If they need 'specialists' (NPCs who possess special skills to allow them to do the execution that the group doesn't have) then they are roleplaying with NPCs. By the same merit, where do they get all of those guns and body armor from? More opportunities for roleplay as they deal with merchants. What if one of their vendors gets a swat team breaking in on them while they are sitting and haggling with the PCs over some firearms? If the PCs don't save this guy, they will have to look for a new source - if they do save him then he will be grateful and perhaps give them a discount, etc.

Last note: In a combat loving party, it is important to slip in some roleplay subtly. Do you think the love interest is going to come up, boom!? Not for a long time.

First work on the people that the PCs normally deal with. Flesh them out. Give them some personalities and the PCs will have to deal with those personalities, perhaps even developing some of their own.

If you don't use subtly when doing this it will NOT work.

From: Rick

I think the most effective way to deal with the problem is to let the PCs deal with the after effects of their actions for the next few sessions. If they immediately attack that neutral orc who was going to tell them where to secret entrance was, fine. Let them try to find it on their own. Make it obvious that 'someone' they've met was going to help. Being a good DM can involve some out of character hints, too. I've found dropping clues during before the game can really spark some interest in what's happening. Do this a few times, and they will probably learn to talk more often.

Ironically, the best I've ever seen this used was while I was sitting on the PC side of the screen, and a friend (we'll call him Goose) was DMing. (BYW, he learned most of his DMing tricks from me, but that's neither here nor there. ;)

Our characters were talking to the mayor of a small town where we had just eradicated the Thieves Guild. I can't remember what he said, but it was something that was open to multiple interpretations and we took it the wrong way. We politely excused ourselves, but as we were leaving, the Cleric took a swing at the mayor with her bow, rolling a 20, followed by a 00 on our homebrewed critical table: Instant Death. After the chorus of cheers and sombrero dances, me and the guy playing the cleric looked at each other, simultaneously coming to the realization that we had just killed an innocent man. So, instead of asking him what he meant by that, or trying to find out more through some other means, our good-aligned characters spent the next 3 or 4 games trying to find a way to resurrect this joker. We eventually succeeded and, due to some quick thinking on our part, he was none the wiser. Even so, we ended up guilted into performing missions for free for a time after that. What makes Goose's reaction to our bloodthirst so brilliant, is that, even though we messed up (badly), we still had a chance to save the campaign, but we did pay dearly for our mistake. This was almost a year ago, and I still remember it. I'm pretty sure everyone else in that group does too.

From: Qalat

Really there are two elements which define the hack&slash vs. roleplaying quotient in a campaign: 1) The cues and motivations provided by the GM, and 2) The preference of the players. With enough practice, any GM can get the first part right, but there is really only so much control one can have over the second. It is entirely possible to have some players you simply cannot ween from combat happiness. Some people would suggest that you find another group when faced with this situation, but I think there are some things you should try first. These tips are here to help you make combat more fun for you. Obviously, if you have a complaint about the level of hack&slash in your campaign, then there's something about the hack&slash you don't like. If you want more roleplaying in your game, then maybe you should try using combat as a vehicle for that by:
  • Having your villains talk trash. Far too many GMs overlook this simple and fun way of spicing up a melee. Best of all, characters (or players) may feel a need to answer your obnoxious antagonist in kind, and before you know it, you're roleplaying! One of my party's favorite encounters was with an orcish highwayman that I had talk to them like a pro wrestler; every round of combat, he delivered a new macho "witticism" that I prepared beforehand. They had a ball, and so did I.

  • Using interesting scenery. What's more interesting? Having a mass melee on a forest path, or having it on a rickety rope bridge overlooking a 100 ft. deep chasm? If nothing else, the latter keeps the players on their toes.

  • Injecting a healthy dose of moral ambiguity. Have the party befriend two NPCs at different times, and then have the two NPCs meet in front of the party as mortal enemies. Make sure to encourage your PCs to choose sides --but don't make them too comfortable with it. If the players become frustrated or emotional, then you've succeeded in immersing them in your game world.

  • Having a "combat", *wink* *wink*, *nudge* *nudge*. Certainly not something you should try on a regular basis, but bring in a character you want to have interact with the party as a combatant (like a sensai, or sympathetic villain), and fudge the rolls so a whole lot of nothing happens. Give the PCs some experience or skill points for the encounter (especially if they roleplay appropriately), but let the NPC get away.

  • Being horribly dramatic. This is what you're going for, anyway. Give the dying villains final words; describe important hits and misses in great detail; create extra consequences for failure; have the antagonist give an impassioned speech before drawing his sword -- whatever floats your boat. Remember, if you think it would be cool, your players will at the very least find it memorable.

In short, don't make vanilla flavored combat -- make roleplaying flavored combat. If you still aren't having much fun, and this isn't helping players see things your way, then maybe it's time you moved on to a new group.

From: Gwaldrop

One way to discourage excessive combat is to tell the players ahead of time to not make combat oriented characters. Often times they'll comply with you if you just ask them to.

However, some players are just going to do whatever they want to do. In this case, if you want a game oriented towards story more than combat just make it that way. Characters who solve their troubles with weapons first should get themselves into more trouble because of it. Also, such characters often slight their social and mental abilities in favor of combat abilities, so gear scenes towards the social. While they sit there and yawn because their character doesn't have the necessary abilities, they get to watch while everyone else gets to develop their skills. Perhaps this will clue them in on what you mean by non-combat oriented games.

One bad side-effect of this is those players who comply all too well. I have had a few games where nobody had any real combat ability at all. I prefer a more story oriented game myself, but I like action as well - sometimes the only way out of a situation is a rock 'em sock 'em fight. Make sure to let your players know that some combat ability is fine if you expect some action in the game, just tell them not to center their character around combat.

From: Phoenyx

Your basic carrot and stick. For the GM that wants to cut down on the combat and encourage role-playing activity, you make the latter rewarding and the former detrimental.

Characters that dive in to the Thieves' lair and fight everything in sight find the McGuffin has been killed, and they can't get the vital information to stop the plot against the Duke. They later find out that had they talked their way in, they could have gotten the information, and up to the point they attacked, the thieves' guild did not know them as foes.

Just one example. In modern games, use the law as a deterrent to fighting. They get done trashing the local "Cobra" base and find that the "Front" has called the cops. They have a SWAT team waiting for them and a lot of questions to answer. Their "special clearance" might get them off the hook, but the time lost was critical. By talking to the local police, they could have isolated the base, rendered it useless, and gotten on with their plans, all with no additional effort to themselves. However shooting up a block will get them "Spanked".

I hope you gained some good information from the experience of these game masters. If you have additional advice, opinions or comments, send them to:
[email protected]