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How to increase roleplay in D&D

Ok, so you've been binge watching Critical Role or Dimension 20 and are wondering 'how do I get my players to roleplay like that?!' Ok, before we go any further, let's set some realistic expectations here: you shouldn't compare yourself and your players to professional actors and improv artists. If you go and play football down at the park you're not going to compare yourself and your friends to multi-millionaire professional footballers who you'd go and pay a fortune to watch live - so why do it here? Just try and have fun.

Remember also that people have different play-styles, and want different things from their DnD experience. Some will be very comfortable roleplaying and enjoy the escapism of inhabiting a different character for a few hours, whereas others might be shy and can't think of anything worse than being forced to roleplay in front of others. This is ok - and it's your job as DM to create an enjoyable experience for everyone - not to force others to comply with your definitions of what makes 'good DnD'.

That said, if you do want to try to encourage (but not force) more roleplay, then there are a few tips and tricks that you can encorporate to try and give your players a nudge in that direction:

Roleplay yourself

Take this to heart: however much roleplay you want your players to be doing, you've gotta be doing at least twice as much. As DM, you set the tone for what is acceptable and encouraged around your table - and if this means in-character conversations, then you've got to take the lead here. If you're nervous or not embracing your NPCs' characters, then it's very difficult for your players to do so with theirs. But once you set the tone and start addressing people in character, you give them license to do likewise. It may not happen immediately - but persist and continue to address them in character as much as you can. Hopeful within a couple of sessions, they'll feel comfortable doing the same.

Make compelling characters

As far as possible, your characters should be memorable. Funny mannerisms, distinct turns of phrase, or a unique voice all help to make an NPC more distinctive - and the more they seem like an individual character, separate from you as the DM, the more willing your players will be to meet you half way when talking to them, and embrace their own characters as well. This doesn't need to be an Oscar worthy performance, by the way - even just going as far as to give an old-man NPC a slow and raspy voice is often enough to get buy-in from your players and give them license to chat to that NPC in character.

Give them a reason to roleplay

Here we are again - if all else fails: bribery! When trying to encourage roleplay, reward the efforts of your players. When they make the effort to talk in-person to your characters, be generous with divulging plot points, world lore, or the whereabouts of fun items they can acquire. Or if you've not got anything easy to give them, you can just reward them with inspiration instead.

One thing to keep in mind is trying to make your NPCs as chatty as possible. Sure, it may not be 100% realistic for some random inn-keeper to divulge all the plans on the wicked town council that they overheard a few weeks back, with a bunch of strangers that they're effectively only meeting for the first time - but there's nothing quite so disheartening for players as repeatedly meeting with cantankerous NPCs who respond to every request for information with a scowl and 'now why should I tell you that?!'. While not entirely realistic, we're inhabitting a make-believe world when we play DnD - so rewarding your players with fun encounters and useful information when they do roleplay will not only drive your story along, but also implicitly show your players that there are positive outcomes when they do pluck up the courage to engage in roleplay.

Nudge the players who need a little encouragement

Some people are more inclined to roleplay and take to it a lot easier - that's great. For some though, it comes a lot less easily, and these people may need a little encouragement. Think of ways that NPCs could interact specifically with that player. In my first ever campaign I had a few players who took a bit of time coming out of their shells. With one, I was overjoyed when she chose the speak with animals spell - because the first opportunity I got, I had a big conversation with her as the party's canine companion. This was excellent, as when you're impersonating a dog, you have free reign to make the conversation as silly as you like and take it in all sorts of weird directions. I found that with her, this ridiculousness was exactly what she needed to get her more engaged in roleplaying the conversation. And from that session forwards, she was always way more inclined to roleplay in other social encounters. Again, each player is different, and if some really aren't comfortable with in-character conversations, then don't push it - but sometimes directly engaging with a more reticent player and making the roleplay light and silly is all that it takes to get them on board.

Again, don't expect wholesale changes overnight, and remember that heavy roleplay isn't for everyone - but give these tips a go, and see if you can get your players to engage in just a little more roleplay here and there. In my experience, it's in those moments where the real magic of DnD comes alive. Good luck!


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