Getting Your Players To Roleplay More — Improving GM GIT Part V
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1005
We conclude the five-part series on how to improve your GM Interaction Time (GIT) with the final bucket that traps screen-time: Roleplaying.
I mentioned in the first article that a GM in a game I was in took it upon themselves to do all the descriptions. We players could only sit back and listen, making the session feel more like a Choose Your Own Adventure game with limited engagement.
Here are a few ways to give more screen-time time back to your players via roleplaying so they’re more participants than audience.
First Person Play
Encourage players to roleplay their characters in first person.
This gives them a lot more spotlight time because it’s like a play versus an essay.
In an essay you just summarize what’s happening in just a few words.
However, in a play, the actors on stage must recite several lines and interact with stage props and each other to show the audience what’s happening.
Likewise, having players describe what their characters say and do is slower than having them simply state, “You evil beast! We will return you to the mud unless you tell us where the prisoners are. Now speak!”
There’s more play in the role-play.
This approach makes your games a whole lot richer, as well.
The easiest way to make this happen is to talk in first person yourself when playing NPCs.
For example, you say: “The orc snarls at you and says, ‘Why are you here tasty human? You are far way from your stinking village full of juicy morsels!’”
Most players will respond in kind, in first person. Few will reject your roleplay and return with a statement, “I try to intimidate the orc. Can I make a charisma check?”
Give Players Hooks
Describe interesting features of NPCs in quick detail. Callouts are all that’s needed.
These give your players hooks to improv with so they aren’t stuck trying to imagine and roleplay with mashed potatoes.
“The orc has just one ear. A scar runs sideways across its throat. And its breath is foul.”
Now players can incorporate these details in their parley.
Note that you didn’t need to put a big amount of thought or effort into adjectives. You didn’t have to say what the orc’s breath smells like, or what the scar looks like.
You leave those details out as invitations to players to create, roleplay with, or ask about.
Use Your Body
Mimicking an NPC’s body language or actions is faster and more engaging than describing them.
Stand up and imitate the NPC’s lurching walk. Hunch your shoulders and shrink within to portray the dejected victim. Get those t-rex arms flailing!
As you physically portray what’s happening in the game, some players will likewise use body language to roleplay their characters.
Ask Players To Describe Actions & Results
Put it on your players to demonstrate or describe the What and How.
GM: “Bob, tell me how Roghan tries to disappear in plain site. What does he do?”
After all the dice clatter and you know the result, don’t do the whole description yourself. Ask players to describe things from their character’s point of view.
GM: “Bob, you succeed! Good job. Tell us what happens.”
Ask Players To Roleplay With Each Other
Here is your best case scenario. While you are GMing one player, everyone else is moving the game forward — in character.
I used to have a rule that only first-person, in-character talk could happen at the table unless you needed a GM ruling. You could try that.
You could also try a Best Roleplayer award at the end of each game with a trophy to display next session to remind everyone about roleplaying.
And you can also set up adventures so party discussion and strategy is required. Give players and their characters a need to interact with each other.
Keep GM Interaction Time to Under 50%
Each GM and player lies on a preference spectrum of how much interaction they want in the game.
Some love to provide occasional input and watch what unfolds as others do more of the talking.
If you are on the other end where you want lots of player interaction, then consider offering more player screen-time by:
- Less Rambling: Cut your descriptions back to the essential and let players explore more with questions and actions
- Less Ruminating: Think faster on your feet and focus more on outcomes
- Smarter Rolling: Master the rules and keep the pace up
- More Roleplaying: Encourage players to roleplay more and describe the results of their actions