Table talk (discussing what to do as players) is great, but too much of it can squash a good campaign. It’s easy to slip into using player knowledge about the mechanics or content of the material to deduce the best solution for the situation knowing things their characters would never know. Unfortunately, it cheapens the game, both for the players and the GM. It’s something I sometimes do as a player as well, so I wanted to share some methods that both players and GMs can do to help make role playing more integrated into the game itself.Recently, a friend asked me if I had any ideas to help encourage or reward role-playing, so I wanted to share it with everyone.
Players Can Only Open Source Books After a Character Starts an Action
If a player wants to use an ability, cast the spell, start raging, etc, and there are people waiting on them (such as in initiative), do it. Do whatever it is you think will work. Only after a character activates, casts, or starts an ability can the player look it up in the book to make sure it does what they think- or hope- it does.
For example: if a player says their character will cast Bear’s Endurance on a barbarian to give him/her extra constitution (thinking it will give her/him extra rounds of rage), they have to cast it before the player can confirm what it does. The caster cannot check to see how long the spell lasts, how much bonus constitution it gives the target, or anything else about the spell. Likewise, the barbarian cannot check to see if such a spell will give her/him extra rounds of rage (which it doesn’t).
This method makes the knowledge of a spell or ability more valuable and that lack of knowledge can lead to comical or detrimental outcomes for members of the party. When you use this rule, not only does it keep the pacing faster because players don’t stop role playing to constantly check rules in a book, it also gives an advantage to those who actually learn the rules and penalizes those who just passively gloss over text and think they know everything. Players- and by extension, characters- who think they know it all are proven wrong with a result that could cause problems for their characters. This can add to the drama, teach players to pay more attention, keep the pacing up, result in unexpected situations, and most importantly, emphasize role playing by dealing with the results of a decision.
This does not stop players from perusing through the books or reading up on abilities and spells in moments lacking of quick action. They are able to read source books when other players or the GM are not waiting on them. I am very guilty of looking up abilities and spells right before I use them, and I find this to be a positive way to stop it.
Rolls Always Come After Descriptions
While some days I’m too lax on this, as both a player and a GM, I try to consistently do it.
If a player wants to pick a lock, perform a dance, threaten someone, deliver a rousing speech, or use any other skill or action that requires a roll, the character must do the action first. Then the player rolls and sees what the result is.
For example, a character attempting to persuade an NPC into giving up valuable information cannot simply roll the appropriate check and see how it went. The character must give a speech, threaten, or otherwise persuade the NPC. The content of their methods can influence the GM to give a bonus for a good job or a slight penalty for a bad one, but the main purpose is to encourage role playing.
After this, the player rolls the dice to see how well they fared. Their action before the roll influences how the situation is resolved. For example: if the player threatened the NPC and then failed the roll, the GM can use the NPCs negative reaction to threats to shape how she/he responds.
Complications can make this more interesting. If the character gave a horrible speech but succeeded the roll by a great amount, the GM or other players can do a number of things to add to the likelihood of that outcome. For example, the GM could have an NPC take the finer points of the character’s speech and turn it into a convincing argument. Another player could interject and help their point.
This allows for more role playing and tailors an outcome around the role playing, even if the result isn’t what the player initially wanted. Rather than a player rolling and having the GM say it was a success or a failure, this stresses the importance of character interaction and role playing.
You can use this for other actions as well. You don’t have to just “swing your axe” to attack. You could choose how or what part of them you are attacking, even if it doesn’t give you a mechanical advantage. Dress up your actions with some flair, and it will provide more role playing opportunities.
Use a Physical Indicator When Players Are Out of Character
I’ve read a few variations on this one online, but the basic concept is the same.
Too much table talk can kill the pacing of a game and create an unfriendly atmosphere for the players that do want to role play. It can easily devolve into spending an hour talking about how to best solve a problem using game mechanics, or getting sidetracked talking about other things outside of the story.
One solution is having each player remain in character. Everything a player says is what their character says or what their character does. The only time a player can do something out of character is when they performs some sort of physical action agreed upon by the group.
- Holding their hand up until they are back in character.
- Holding a set item, like a wand or source book or empty paper towel roll.
- Putting a party hat or crown on.
- If the party is consistently good at constantly using voices for their characters that are noticeably different than their normal voices, then speaking normally could work as well. (I am, unfortunately, not always one of those players)
Tying a physical action to breaking character helps everyone make being in the mindset of their characters the norm. Role playing becomes the constant. The GM needs to reinforce this, not allowing players to slip out of it and get away with it, and the players can help by reminding each other when one forgets.
“How Would Your Character Say/Do That?”
Sometimes, table talk can easily turn into players asking question rather than characters making decisions. When this starts, rather than directly answering their question, I ask “How would your character say/do that?” This allows the player to backtrack a bit and rethink the situation so they can approach it as their character would. This helps players slip back into a role play mentality and approach the situation as their characters would.
I’ve had to use this a lot more during moments of intense discussions on how to progress. When players are faced with branching paths in the story or choosing to deal with one of many different threats, the conversation can easily shift to player knowledge about monster power levels, future class abilities that could be more helpful for certain choices, and other knowledge that deals with the rules the players use rather than the world the characters know.
This is a fairly easy way to try and get players back into the spirit of role playing by shifting their perspective on the situation and how to deal with it.
I would love to hear what methods other people use- both as players and GMs- to encourage role playing, staying in character, and avoiding using player knowledge. If you have used or know of any, leave a comment and let me know.