6 Ideas To Encourage Roleplaying

From Trevor Dreher

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0190

A Brief Word From Johnn

I’m Back! But My Email Was Down

It took just under 44 hours after I left for vacation for spam to fill my email account to the brim. Grrr. So, if you sent me an email after 7pm Sunday the 16th, then it would have bounced. Sorry–please re-send it.

This Week’s Article About Roleplaying

In Trevor’s article this week I hope you find useful some new twists on old pieces of advice and a couple of new tips that haven’t appeared in the ezine before. I’m always keen on presenting tips to help those who wish to roleplay better, so thanks for the article submission Trevor.

More roleplaying tips are always welcome singly or in multiples.


Johnn Four,
[email protected]

6 Ideas To Encourage Roleplaying

It can be frustrating when you have spent time preparing a complex and interesting NPC who is then slain by your group of rollplayers and hack & slashers before he even has a chance to get a word out. Roleplaying becomes much more enjoyable when the players are involved in the plots and intrigues of the campaign and when they have interesting characters. I have some suggestions on how to improve roleplaying, and I believe the overall enjoyment level, in your campaign.

Take Stock Of Your Group And Current GMing Style

What type of players do you have? Are they min/maxers, roll- players, actors? A great article on player types and their strengths and weaknesses is:

RPT#179 – The Logic Death Guide to Players

What’s your GMing style? Do you have every encounter prepared in detail or do you free form everything? Do you like lots of combat or do you prefer more cerebral conflict? How much roleplaying do you actually want from your players? You also need to consider what style of campaign you enjoy running.

What do you and your players expect from the time you spend roleplaying? The campaign survey article is great:

RPT#184 – Cool Planning Tool: The Campaign Survey [You can choose to put additional emphasis on the roleplaying oriented questions.]

Evaluate the last four combat encounters that your group has had. How many of those encounters had a non-combat option that, had the group taken it, would have resulted in the same or a greater level of success then they obtained through combat? If your group feels they can be rewarded well for negotiating or interaction then they may take that route.

Evaluate how you hand out experience points (karma, possibilities, whatever your game uses). Is it mostly based on the number of monsters slain and amount of treasure looted? What’s the biggest experience reward you’ve given out when your players choose a non-combat option?

Assess your group’s preferences and style. If your players are expecting to blow everything to pieces in a Battletech style setting and you are trying to run a D&D campaign full of political intrigue, the problem is obvious. Good role- playing is about good communication and, to some extent, you need to cater your campaign to your players.

I had run into some frustration with my players in my Shadowrun campaign because I felt they were pretty one- dimensional. Watching the same group of players play Earthdawn under another GM was a real eye opener though, as they roleplayed well. They were into the heavy political intrigue of his campaign. It made me realize that I needed to reassess my GMing and campaign styles and present more opportunities for roleplaying.

Inspire Players Through Better Introductions

You never have a second chance to make a first impression. If you want your players to get into character and utter more than “I’m Jack,” to the NPC king then play on their egos.Have the NPC King reply, “Hello, Jack. I am Lofra Mageslayer, freer of the Princess Aroara, slayer of the Beast of Tiladonya, friend to all halflings, and sworn enemy to all who worship Set.” Do that a few times to your PCs and see if they do not start to elaborate their own introductions.

An additional opportunity is opened when they expand their introductions. When Jack next meets a major NPC and adds a few credits to his name, let your NPC follow the natural course of conversation and ask. “Jack, I could not help but hear that you had slain the dragon Duzma. Tell me, how you were able to accomplish such a feat?” There is nothing players enjoy more than reliving past glories. It allows you to have the players play in character more as well.

Use Common Phrases And Lingo

A great article on this: RPT# 172 – Talking The Talk: NPC Speech Patterns

Have your NPCs use common expressions. “May Hades’ Never Ending Wraith Take You!”. An ugly curse. They add flavor and depth to your campaign. Keep your phrases short and simple at the beginning. When the players have the feeling that they are being upstaged they are bound to start using phrases themselves, maybe even create their own.

If your NPCs feel that the PCs do not use them in context or what they create is silly, then let them laugh at the players. If they use a phrase in context then have them react to the insult or complement accordingly. When the players are visiting other locals in your game world and use a phrase, have the NPCs identify where the characters are from by the phrase. “A believer in Hades?! You must be one of those accursed Greeks!” Or “A Greek! You saved my people in the Illania War. My home is your home!”

Character Backgrounds, The Continuing Saga

Wherever you are in your campaign encourage your players to continue to create and evolve their characters in writing.”There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.” — Mark TwainIf that statement reflects everyday individuals then it must be doubly true of the characters who are the heroes/villains of their world.

Encourage the characters to leave their backgrounds with a few possible plot hooks so that you can use them to interact with. If they do leave a few hooks then you need to do your best to utilize them.At the start of a campaign a page should be sufficient for character background; but after playing for a few years the character’s background–and history–should have expanded.

Have the NPCs in your campaign plan a big birthday celebration for the character every year of game time. Does the character’s new age mean new responsibility? In my old D&D campaign, my half-ogre player was thrilled to finally meet his ogre father after many years of looking. He became very depressed when he discovered that his father planned to march his army on the character’s adopted city.

The character evolved his goal, which had been to meet his father. Now his goal was to stop him. It made for a great series of adventures. Players are always more interested if the adventure has personal relevance to their character.

Chronicles, A Wonderful Tool

Does your group remember every adventure that they have undertaken? How can they recall the powerful NPCs they have met or the details of their tales in the local pub? A great way to encourage roleplaying is to elect an official chronicler for each session or adventure. It will be this person’s job to write the events of the characters in- character. This can take the form of a tale, a news report, or an accounting to a superior, but it is not simply taking notes.The chronicles accomplish many things.

If someone misses a session a quick reading brings him up to date. If important information needs to be recalled it can be found. It gives the characters a sense of history as well.In our Earthdawn campaign we rotate the role of chronicler. It is very interesting as everyone writes from his or her characters perspective. We want the chance to chronicle so that our character can be in the limelight.

Keep It Going–Recognize, Reward, And Reinforce

Alright, you have your group starting to roleplay. They actually interact with NPCs and each other in character, they’re using common phrases, have evolving backgrounds, and everyone wants to chronicle. Now, how do you keep it going? You need to continually encourage them.


If your player uses a common phrase or chooses reason where they may have previously relied on brute strength, you need to tell them “Well done.” “Wow, your character may have survived that encounter with the giants but I don’t think Joan’s would have. That was a great bit of giant ‘logic’.” A sincere pat on the back, in front of the group, will give credit and serve to reinforce that behavior in the future.


Try to make your biggest reward to the players based on roleplaying. Your chronicler has just sent you a well- written 20 page story of the group’s last 8 sessions. You need to give him something for that extra effort. It could be extra experience points, but try to get into the feel of the game. Maybe a local king, impressed with his tales, brings him into the royal household where he can learn a previously unheard of spell.


Listening can sometimes be difficult as a GM. We have so many things to worry about. When your players are in character though, really perk up. Try your best to stay in character. Try to get a flow going and keep the group in it.

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Remember that your players will usually follow your lead. So, take the initiative via your NPCs. Realize that you can influence how your group plays and that the players will pay heed to your example. I am sure you will find that once you have begun to get your players more into character your sessions will become even more enjoyable for all.

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Watch Children’s TV Shows For Inspiration

From Paul Bliss

I’ve been reading your ezine since issue #134 and I’ve learned something new in every letter. Keep up the fantastic work.

Story/Items/Creature Ideas

I’m constantly looking for unique items, creatures, and situations to place within my campaigns. One of the best sources that I’ve found is children’s television.

Prime Example

There’s a show on Nick Jr that has a Spanish girl who explores. In one episode, she had to rescue a Prince from a tower after going thru a forest and an encounter with a witch. From this simple 22 minute program I was able to run a 6 month campaign in which the players had to discover where the Prince was taken to and who had taken him. And once they got to the tower, it took them three sessions to complete. All of this was inspired from a simple children’s show.

Another unique creature derived from the same show was a creature called a “Wizzle”. I took this creature and made it the essence of a living wish. So, if a player chose to use a wish, it would kill the creature. This was a great position of compromise since the “Wizzle” was a living being, could talk, and of course would state that it wanted to live. Luckily, for this particular Wizzle, it was rescued by a Paladin, otherwise, the thief of the group may have ended its existence rather quickly.

From the same show sprung some unique ideas. For example, the group now has a talking map that always knows the beginning, the middle, and the end routes needed to get somewhere. This doesn’t mean that there are only three steps to find the destination. Usually, the most important details are left for the players to discover.

DM Helping The Players

Sometimes players get stuck. They think they’ve tried all their options (Augury, Wish, searched EVERYWHERE, etc.) and they start to look at you with blank faces. At this point, I have a little magical “Butterfly” come into existence and either tell them what to do or land on the object needed to complete the puzzle. The Butterfly is used very rarely, and if a player calls for the butterfly, they know they will lose precious experience points if it appears.

I always try to leave a hint in an NPC conversation or something that they find along the way and hope that they can piece the puzzle together on their own. I find this brings a great sense of accomplishment to the players who solve the puzzle. This also helps when setting up a scenario or conflict as the players come to learn that the clue can be dropped anywhere from anyone or anything in the campaign. This ensures that all the gamers will listen to you with full attention.

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Plexi-Glass Battle Maps

From Mat W.

A great idea that my gaming group has used for years: put sheets of paper printed with one inch squares under a sheet of plexi-glass. It helps us to draw (with dry erase markers) the area of the battle so we can position our minis and get an idea of what we are facing. When we are done, a damp cloth plus a couple of minutes and a throne room becomes the crypt of Blankety-blank the Evil.

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A Dash of Realism into the Unrealistic

From Richard C.

A while back I decided to take a basically standard D&D world (gods, magic, monsters) and put a dash of realism into it. Some of the ways I did this include:

Population Size

The biggest contributor to population growth was refrigeration. When any first level wizard can cast a ray of frost, any druid can enhance rainfall and plant growth, and any cleric can cleanse a water supply, the growth of population is going to be nearly that of industrial America.

The Boss Isn’t Always The Biggest

I had a campaign a while back where the characters finally got to the evil King and killed him in about two seconds. Why? Well, the man was a king because of his political connections. Why didn’t someone kill him and take over? Because that starts a whole chain of killings where they get killed, too. Obviously, any schmuck with a pistol and one eye could have killed Hitler, and a few almost did, but the largest reason he never got whacked by, say,

Himmler, is because then someone would have killed Himmler, in the name of revenging Hitler, and then got themselves killed. What the King had, in this case, was a lot of money and some guards and wizards, but once they were gone he was a 5’8? dude with a mustache and a longsword. 2nd level noble. Easy pickings.

Commoners Don’t Have An Inherent Distrust of Wizardry

In a low-magic world this might be understandable, but commoners mistrusting sorcery in the D&D world is like me distrusting science. It makes microwaves, it makes nukes, but I don’t cringe from any piece of technology I come across. The peasants are used to it, it’s part of their daily lives. Fireballs scare them and healing spells are cool.

No Balance

There is no balance in this world. Why would there be? Criminals get away unless they make wizards mad or do something stupid and get caught. Evil kings rule for a long time, sometimes evil regimes last for hundreds of years, and no one does jack about it. This is the way the world works on Earth and, regardless of whether or not magic exists, this is how it would work in most places.

Evil Is Not Insane

Evil characters are just antisocial and totally self- serving. Not lunatics. They don’t randomly sacrifice people or do evil just to do evil, unless they are clerics of some lunatic god or lunatics themselves. Most evil people are almost indistinguishable from good folks, except that the stupid ones are thugs. The smart ones, while often criminal and deceitful, are clever enough that they look like upstanding citizens. They don’t go around stealing virgins because doing so would put them in a great deal of risk.

Heroes are Entrepreneurs

My heroes usually aren’t motivated by some higher morality or great quest. Paladins and clerics aside, they are usually just outgoing people who don’t mind sleeping in the woods and have the guts to charge an orc encampment to get money. Sure, sometimes they do it for the good of the townspeople, but you bet there would be a lot less cops if they didn’t get paid.

No Magically Learning Stuff

This is just a skill and multiclassing restriction I put on. If a character states and roleplays that he’s investigating some religion or magical lore, practicing swordplay or climbing, then he can pick a new class or skill up, no problem. But that *poof* thing is just absurd.

I’m not criticizing anyone else’s worlds or anything, unrealistic worlds can be fun, too, but I think that some realism occasionally would be nice.

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The Cure for the Common Kobold

From Jared Lain

The kobold more often than not has been little more than a minor inconvenience to the adventuring party. It is true that the kobold has many things against its favor. They are small, relatively weak, and portrayed as the poor cousins of goblins.

However, these diminutive creatures have several advantages that, if properly used, can give even seasoned adventurers second thoughts about having to deal with those damned kobolds.

Point 1. According the Monstrous Manual (2ed.) the kobold has average intelligence, equal to that of a typical human. This means tactics and strategy are all well within their grasp. On average, a kobold is going to be smarter than a goblin, and is not going to make grievous combat errors. Many of the next points will come back to this primary point.

Point 2. The kobold is nocturnal. They are at their best advantage at night, and being intelligent, they would exploit this. A kobold attack is not going to be a stand and deliver battle. The creatures will attack in the dark, using attempts at stealth, and using surprise to their advantage.

Point 3. The D&D 3E kobold is listed as having a lawful evil alignment. Added to a tribal social structure, kobolds would be organized but still possess an animal-like ferocity. In the African Savannah, lions avoid baboons. The baboon is similar in size to the kobold and is capable of mauling a lion. Now, imagine a community of intelligent baboons who know the lion is a threat to them.

Point 4. Humans, and demihumans are enemies and food to the kobold. Accordingly, the kobold is not going to show mercy of any sort, nor compassion for his enemy.

Now we have a picture of a disturbing creature. Barely three feet tall, the kobold is an intelligent, cunning, hateful creature who sees the adventurer as a threat to his home or community and as a way to feed said community. In tribal societies, successful warriors gain things desirable to them by killing foes, providing food, and protecting the community.

In the campaigns I ran, kobolds were frightening creatures. Raids would come at night with kobolds attacking from all different directions. Arrows were shot, dipped in slowing poison, and knives were used in close combat. More than one adventurer was cut down and drug back to the kobold’s hidden warren.

The fact that some kobolds engaged in slave trading allowed the PC to be ransomed back to safety, shaken by their ordeal among the kobolds. Others remained alive, imprisoned with some of the townsfolk they had come to rescue. In the most practical terms, meat is best preserved by being kept alive.

In the end, the PCs hated the kobolds for being foul and evil creatures, and the players had sort of a love hate relationship with them. Players hate a good villain, but love a great one.

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Using Cardboard Tokens Instead of Miniatures

From Andrew Perkins

Another idea for cheap fig replacements are Cardboard Heroes available from Steve Jackson Games.

Steven Jackson Games

Something else people might want to know about. They are rather inexpensive and work really well for NPCs.

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German Names

From Neil M.


Was checking the net for old German names for my next character in WFRP and found this site. I think would make a good resource.

Medieval German Given Names

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Handling Out Of Character Information

From Geoff B.

re: RPT#168 – Two Guest Articles: Valentines For Your Valentine & Ritual Sacrifice

In the tip “Does Yelling Work?” by Anthony M. he mentions the propensity for his fellow gamers to help each other out in combat, sometimes getting into arguments. The problem is extended arguments in tactics and extended battles that take forever. I believe this problem can be seen in other situations as well, not just combat.

My gaming group has come up with the rule that anything suggested by another player Out of Character cannot be used by the character! This means that if player A, in fierce combat with Trolls, mentions to the Wizard character on player A’s turn that he should use a Fireball spell to destroy the Trolls, the wizard character can no longer use his fireball. It basically boils down to only the player can decide what to do with his character and outside intervention is reacted to with negative effects.

Now the people I play with have been playing for a long time and so each of us make characters we know we can play and the systems we play in are thoroughly known to us. This presents a problem for new players or inexperienced players. We usually relax this constraint for brief periods at the beginning of a new system or for helping new players get acquainted with the way a system works.

A way around this is to specifically speak in character (which sometimes brings its own confusions – “How does the barbarian know about dispel magic?”). Also there are rules that sometimes help out new characters in this fashion. For example, the Merit “Common Sense” in the World of Darkness books is specifically for helping newbie characters getting hints.

Anyway, just an alternate point of view on how to solve this problem with out of character discussion on tactics. It seems a little harsh sometimes, but it really keeps the players in character and limited to what they know or could do.