Role-playing has featured prominently in several 4e blogs over the past few weeks. The topics and approaches to the subject have varied widely, from how to speed up combat to allow for more time to role-play to introducing new mechanics to encourage role-playing. Our own post on the 4th action is one of the later articles. The subject of role-playing in 4e has been of great debate since its release with many debating how much role-playing the edition allows.
Some have argued that skill challenges are the mechanic in 4e that facilitates role-playing. While skill challenges can certainly accomplish this task, to state that they are the only way to role-play in 4e is rather naive. I strongly believe that if your gaming group wants to role-play it will. I also believe that some players are more willing to embrace role-playing than others.
Role-playing can be an uncomfortable experience for some players. It requires taking on an alternate personality and sharing that with the rest of the game table. Included below are five tips that a DM can use to foster role-playing at the table.
- Encourage players to describe their actions
- Give your players time to play their characters
- Don’t give your players too much information
- Encourage your players to write a back-story for their character and then reward them for doing so
- Actively provide experience for role-playing
Whether in combat or skill challenges. Don’t accept simple cut and paste actions from your players. A statement of “I roll Streetwise to learn about our foe” isn’t creative or interesting. Any character can make this check, but a Rogue and a Paladin are going to use Streetwise differently to learn the same information. By encouraging players to describe their actions it raises the level of immersion at the table.
Combat in 4e is demanding and can chew up a lot of time. So it can often be tough to allot time to events that don’t have a large impact on the game. However, by allowing players these opportunities they are able to explore motivations that belong to their character and not just explore the plot points.
This is a fine line to tread as players can easily grow frustrated by a perceived lack of direction. They should know the purpose of a skill challenge, but you don’t need to spell out the course of the encounter for them. An example of this happened at my home game the other night. The party was about to begin a skill challenge, the challenge would begin when they met with a NPC. The party spent an hour researching the NPC and how to find him. They believed the challenge had already begun. This is where the fine line comes in, as the DM I could or should have provided more information to let the party know the challenge had not yet begun. However, by allowing the party to continue they pursued their objective in character. I allowed the party to continue as most of the players are now playing new characters and I wanted to provide them with the opportunity to develop the personality of their characters.
This is the first step towards encouraging role-playing at the table. As the DM you need to find large and small ways to incorporate the character back-story into the game. Doing this draws the player into the game and forces them to react to their back-story. If your players require extra incentive provide some bonus experience.
This is my least favourite option as it has the possibility of alienating some players. You may also find that every player has a different definition for role-playing. Some will think they are doing a great job or may even get annoyed by a player who is going over the top. If you decide to go this route, make sure to monitor how well it goes over with your player base.
What tactics have you used to encourage role-playing at your game table? Have your methods been successful or have they backfired on you?