So, you’re looking to be a better roleplayer for D&D? We get it. Being a first-time role player in any tabletop setting can be intimidating. There’s a layer of vulnerability and intimacy that most people are not used to showing in a group. Social anxiety aside, there’s also a disconnect between the player and their character.
With this guide, we’re going to close that gap and give you a better roleplaying experience overall. To do that, we’ll be focusing on the following:
- Character Creation – forming that connection to your new character.
- Session Time – general social guidance for the actual game.
- Dos and Don’ts – helpful weapons for your arsenal.
- Practice Away from the Table – a deeper dive into your character.
- How Dungeon Masters Can Help – creating a comfortable environment for everyone.
- Bonus Ideas – a list of other ideas that didn’t fit neatly into the other categories.
There aren’t many wrong ways to roleplay, but there are enough that getting the basics figured out early will make a big difference, not only for you, but for your party as well. You’ll learn how to be a better role player in no time!
Great roleplaying starts when you initially create your character. If you create a difficult character for you to roleplay, you’ll struggle the whole campaign. So how do you create a great character to roleplay? It’s best to start by defining a great personality.
Personality is the most significant part of roleplaying. That makes it the best place for us to start.
There are unlimited options when it comes to boiling down your new personality. Having too many options can make it hard to decide so, so let’s look at some creative ways to make those choices easier.
- Randomize – Pop this resource open, and let the dice decide. Roll a d100 and pick the first 3-5 you land on!
- Match – Have a villain or hero in mind that you’d like to mimic? Write down your favorite 3-5 traits they possess and adapt them to your new PC.
- Polar Opposite – Ever wondered what it’d be like to cut loose and turn your world completely upside down? Write down traits that make you unique and then play the opposite.
- Premade – The Official Wizards of the Coast website has plenty of premade characters to choose from.
Picking a trope from a favorite character is another excellent option. You can be the blundering hero, a bashful glass cannon, or the fierce brute who smashes everything in sight. Write down what makes your favorite tropes so enjoyable and incorporate them into your roleplaying. Whatever you pick, just be aware that taking it to the extreme may hinder your party’s ability to have fun.
Finding the proper role (class and personality) within the party is another great way to look at roleplaying. Does your party have an arrogant overpowered barbarian? Maybe it’d be fun to have two or have something that compliments them. Discuss with your party before session zero to get a better pulse on the dynamics.
Visualize Your Character
Close your eyes and imagine your character in a scene. Capture all of the senses. Get down to what your character smells like! Imagine hearing them talking in a room.
You can even draw a picture of your character in action. Do they have a scar on their cheek? How did it get there? Do they have long braided hair that’s part of their culture? Maybe they’ve got a unique item that was given to them by a mentor.
It doesn’t matter how you imagine them, but the more detail you get, the better your roleplaying will be.
Creating a rich backstory for your character is like having a map before a road trip. Here are some ways to start building one for your character:
- Work with the dungeon master – The dungeon master has an eagle-eye view of the entire campaign. They’ll let you know if it’s going to fit or if it’s going to de-rail the whole setting.
- Research – Faerûn has deep rich history and lore. The more you tie your backstory into the Faerûn setting, the more it will come alive during sessions. There are thousands of online articles and published books in the Faerûn setting for inspiration.
- Use the Adventurer’s Guide – On page 125 in the official Player’s Handbook, there are tons of backgrounds that you can use as starter material. Any one of them can get you started in the right direction!
Once you’ve created your character, now it’s time to become the character during a session. I highly recommend the forms of practice we’re about to cover. The more you know your character and practice being that character, the easier roleplaying will be.
Embrace Roleplay Early
The sooner you start roleplaying in a campaign, the quicker it locks into place. Having a character switch gears partway into a campaign is jarring for everyone and can cause uncomfortable and unnecessary growing pains. Starting with roleplay gives you that much more time to practice. Things might feel awkward or out of place, but that’s ok. Being a little uncomfortable is just an indicator that you’re entering immersion.
Be in the Moment
Playing D&D as another person is a great temporary escape from reality. If you let it, the stress of life can easily creep into sessions and ruin the fun. Practice enjoying what’s happening in the present for what it is.
As best you can, leave your worries at the door and enjoy your time with friends. If you’re worried about everything outside of the game, you’ll have difficulty interacting with other players naturally.
Interact with Others
During a session, some of the best moments come when two (or more) characters create a story together. I’m not saying to force these interactions, as they should come naturally, but they really should occur. Take the time to have a cross conversation. Tell your party about your story. You can even bring them along!
Remember, your character does not exist outside of the things you’ve said about them or the interactions you’ve had with your party! The more you talk and interact in character, the better!
Alignment is tricky, and we have to be careful how we operate within alignments. Alignment describes broad terms about how players and NPCs interact within morality and ethical choices. Here are the alignments according to the Player’s Handbook:
|Lawful Good (LG)
These Creatures can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society. Gold dragons, paladins, and most dwarves are lawful good.
|Neutral Good (NG)
These are the folk who do the best they can to help others according to their needs. Many celestials, some cloud giants, and most gnomes are neutral good.
|Chaotic Good (CG)
These creatures act as their conscience directs, with little regard for what others expect. Copper dragons, many elves, and unicorns are chaotic good.
|Lawful Neutral (LN)
These individuals act per the law, tradition, or personal codes. Many monks and some wizards are lawful neutral.
This is the alignment of those who prefer to steer clear of moral questions and don’t take sides, doing what seems best at the time. Lizardfolk, most druids, and many humans are neutral.
|Chaotic Neutral (CN)
These creatures follow their whims, holding their freedom above all else. Many barbarians and rogues, and some bards, are chaotic neutral.
|Lawful Evil (LE)
These creatures methodically take what they want, within the limits of a code of tradition, loyalty, or order. Devils, blue dragons, and hobgoblins are lawful evil.
|Neutral Evil (NE)
This is the alignment of those who do whatever they can get away with, without compassion or qualms. Many Drow, some cloud giants, and goblins are neutral evil.
|Chaotic Evil (CE)
These creatures act with arbitrary violence, spurred by their greed, hatred, or bloodlust. Demons, red dragons, and orcs are chaotic evil.
Once you’ve picked an alignment, understand the following:
- Alignment is Dynamic – You do not have to stick with your initial alignment. Character growth should happen throughout a campaign. Maybe you have a revelation partway through a mission and turn a new leaf.
- Relationship, Not Rules – The more you focus on your character’s relationships, the richer your experience will be. The alignment rules are meant to be broken because your character isn’t a robot (unless they’re a Warforged), and even if they are a Warforged, they can still grow and change based on experiences.
Act on Character Bonds, Flaws, and Ideals
Once you have these things settled, keep them visible and read them often. Players often forget who they’re supposed to be and end up playing as themselves, rather than the character. Before acting, ask, “what would my character do?”
Bonds are the less flexible part of your character. The hills you will always die on. “I hate to see people suffer” would have you act against suffering. Make sure your bonds mesh with everything else. You wouldn’t want to “have a staunch sense of justice” then murder a town guard to steal his money.
Flaws are one of the most entertaining aspects of roleplay. They can be used to create hilarious or wholesome situations during play. I once had a character that collected teeth. Every time we killed something, I would ask, “…so…how many teeth are available for me to loot.” The dungeon master eventually made a merchant who traded with me for teeth. Interactions like this help fill the world out and bring a little color to your play.
Ideals get to be the broader picture of your character. They shouldn’t be as focused as the Bonds but more things like, “I’m a person of faith.” Then you act out of faith in others, belief in whichever deity you serve, etc.
Table manners need reminder and practice. Allow room for the other players to roleplay as well. Maybe someone’s story piques your interest, and you come up with a way to intertwine them. That’s great! You’ve just added more depth to two people, but don’t bulldoze the other players with the story you want to tell. An easy rule to apply is giving everyone a chance to speak for every action at the table.
Stay in Character
Yes, the dungeon master is aware of how smart you are for realizing that he ripped something from pop culture somewhere. Making real-life references every moment of the session ruins the immersion. You’re supposed to be in Faerûn, not Earth. A good question to ask yourself before speaking, “Does this break character?” If the answer is yes and it’s not an appropriate time, you might just keep that hilarious joke to yourself.
Dos and Don’ts of Better Roleplaying
Everyone has pet peeves at the table. It drives me crazy when players constantly make real-world references to things going on during the session. Another irritant is players on their phones the entire time. Here’s a quick list of Dos and Don’ts that should cover the most common annoyances players and DMs have with each other.
- Do remember that you’re playing with others. Their experience is important too.
- Do have a basic knowledge of the game’s mechanics.
- Do think about your turn ahead of time.
- Do pay attention to story details and take notes.
- Choose a central character goal that relates to the larger story.
- Let your character decide what they would do, even if you (as the player) know it’s not the best idea.
- Play a character with flaws – perfect heroes are super boring!
- Be willing to adjust your original character idea after you play a few sessions. Playing with others may shift your original vision and make it even better.
- Don’t be afraid to embrace your character.
- Don’t hog the spotlight and keep the focus on your character.
- Don’t stress about character voices unless you’re comfortable with them. They can be fun, but they aren’t the only way to play.
- Don’t use “It’s what my character would do” as an excuse to be a jerk.
- Don’t be on your phone.
- Don’t worry about the rules (that’s the Dungeon Master’s job).
Practice Away from the Table
Maybe you’re already a pretty good roleplayer and are looking to up your game even further. For those looking to go the extra mile in mastering roleplay, we have some suggestions you can try when you’re not at the table actively involved in a session.
Converse with your Character in your Head
This one sounds a little crazy, but I promise it yields results. Talking to your character in your head allows you to play around with the theatre of the mind aspect of D&D. Imagine how you would emote while speaking and practice vocal and bodily inflection. Consider the following:
- Accent – When you’re first starting, it’s a good idea to sound like yourself, but as you grow as a player, mixing in a consistent accent will add depth to your character. It takes practice. Check out some tutorials on YouTube!
- Timbre – What is the color of your voice? Is it bubbly? Gravelly? Write down what makes up the color of your voice and practice.
- Vocabulary – What are some unique phrases or words your character is known for saying? Are they a result of their culture or a personal experience they had?
- Vocal Ticks – Does your character smoke a pipe all the time? Maybe they cough a lot as a result. Or perhaps your character isn’t very confident and has a bit of a stutter. Consider the implications of your character on how they speak and lean into whatever you come up with!
Act Out Scenarios
Time to get into character. You may want to try this with nobody around the first few times as it can feel embarrassing if you’re not used to it. Walk yourself through how an upcoming scenario might go.
Have a broomstick or sword-shaped object around? Fence with invisible minions nearby. Have a boss encounter coming up? Imagine how you’d put an end to it (the dungeon master asks anyway). No matter what you decide, just be sure to have fun with it.
Check out some D&D Podcasts
Need inspiration for your character or just some good examples of great roleplaying? Check out a D&D podcast! Below are some great ones that should help you improve your roleplaying.
- Adventure They Wrote is a noir mystery adventure following the Waterdeep Detective Agency’s exploits and the messes they find themselves in. The nice thing about this podcast is the episodes are concise and packed with action. The production value is also really high (think old-school radio drama).
- BomBARDed is a session play podcast run by a real-life band. As you may have guessed from the name, the fun part is they’re all playing bards. Each episode is about an hour-long complete with sound effects and music. Once per episode, they all roll chord dice together to create a random group song that goes along with whatever is happening in the story. They even release the original soundtracks of the score written by a member of the party.
- Encounter Party is a group of actors and improv artists playing in a world that’s a mix of D&D and Magic: The Gathering. This highly produced and high-energy podcast is story-focused, and each episode is about an hour. This podcast is excellent for seeing how great roleplayers interact with each other in a way that moves the story forward.
- Critical Role is probably one of the best-known D&D podcasts. Made up of a group of voice actors, this one should give you some terrific roleplaying ideas! They have a few campaigns and several one-shots, so you can ease yourself in without committing to the whole story. If you’ve got your eyes free, you can also find their episodes on YouTube and Twitch.
How to Encourage Roleplay as a Dungeon Master
Creating a comfortable environment for your players to have the liberty to roleplay is one of the most important aspects of being a dungeon master. As a dungeon master, running a campaign successfully can largely depend on your players’ roleplay involvement. We’re planning to write a full post on this soon, but in the meantime, here are three quick suggestions.
- Reward Roleplay – Dungeons and Dragons has a built inspiration system to use at your discretion. Use it. Have a murder hobo that finishes off an enemy in a wild way? Drop an inspiration point. Make sure to point it out and make a big deal of it.
- Weave the party into the world – You can do this easily by incorporating your character’s backstory into the campaign narrative. Force an encounter with their past tormentor, or give them a chance to right a wrong and find redemption. There are tons of ways to do this, and it always encourages players to lean into their characters more.
- Provide Resources – Figure out how much you can pull back the veil without giving everything away. Give the players what they need to create a better backstory and character. Don’t be so wrapped up in your own story that you forget about your players.
Still looking for more? We’ve got you covered. Below is a list of bonus ideas that were too good not to include, but they just didn’t fit neatly into the other categories. Hopefully, this inspires you to try other stuff that’s a little out of the box!
- Play a character with crazy stats. Maybe it’d be fun to have 3 dexterity. You could be a massive minotaur that’s chocked full of charisma.
- Get a soundtrack set up for your character. If they were a WWE wrestler, what would be their entrance song? When you’re battling, what’s the music make you feel?
- Ask your dungeon master to role play with you a bit, either in person or via text. They should have a good pulse on how the campaign will go and give you insight into the setting.
- Take an acting or improv class. Method acting can be an effective way to get into character.
- Have a custom set of dice for your character. For me, this makes the rolls a lot more personal.
- Bring and use props. Can’t grow a beard? Bring one. Swing a sword, toss back a flagon full of (whatever you’re drinking that night). Personalize your swag.
- Skim the list of magical items and pick one (or create your own) with no combat utility to be your signature item. Be creative in how this item can provide some flavor to your roleplay. Maybe you have a cloak of billowing that gives you a dramatic entrance every time you walk into a room or a pipe of smoke monsters that you use to illustrate stories to the party around the campfire each night.
Wrapping Things Up
In summary, whether you’re a beginner or a veteran roleplayer, there’s always room for improvement. The better you are at roleplaying, and the more intimate you are with your character, the better your sessions will be not only for you but the table.
Ultimately, it’s about having fun and exploring another world with others. If you’re not having fun, likely, someone else isn’t either. Try the methods from this post before throwing in the towel. You will get better, and your next adventure will be your best one yet!