The core of Dungeons and Dragons is role-playing. To step into the shoes of a character you created and have them live out adventures in a world that doesn’t actually exist. In a tabletop game centered on group dynamics and interactions between yourself and your family or friends, it can be a daunting task. Shyness or nerves can play a factor in getting into character. Interacting in this manner with others is perhaps unchartered territory, and you are no professional actor trained in improv. So how do you improve your role-playing? How do you sharpen your skills to bring fresh life into your character and make more interesting in-game moments? And, just as importantly, how do you be a good role player to those around you so that they can feel secure and step up as well? Here are some key tips from a Dungeons and Dragons player, occasional DM, and fantasy author.
1. Yes, And
A sure sign of someone new to role-playing at a D&D table, or someone who has trouble giving up a sense of control, is a player who stops others’ actions. The kind that immediately responds with, “No, I don’t let them do that!” when another describes an action. There is no point to this. The game hasn’t progressed at all. Instead, try having a “Yes, and” mindset. You agree with whatever situation another player brings to the table, and you build on top of it. This gives everyone at the table respect and allows for more interesting scenarios.
2. Character Development
It’s easy to get caught up in certain flaws and beliefs of a character. That is what you initially bring to the table. But don’t let your character become set in stone. There are so many obstacles and challenges in a Dungeons and Dragons session. Look for opportunities for growth and development. So your character steals all the time? Embrace chances that put this morality into question. It’s much more fun to have a character who has gone through large changes once you reach the end of your campaign, as opposed to one who is the exact same as when they started.
3. Fears and Vulnerabilities
It’s easy to play funny. It’s easy to play a badass. It’s easy to be confident and suave and uncaring. What is much more difficult is being vulnerable and afraid. Don’t shy away from these important aspects of a character. Allow them to shine. Give them irrational fears. Let them be anxious and hurt and fall to pieces sometimes. It will make a much more believable character and one that has a possibility for more interesting dynamics throughout the campaign.
4. There is No I in Team
Be a team player. Not just as a character, but as a player. Don’t dominate all the conversations or declare yourself the group leader. Everyone at the table has set aside their time to play Dungeons and Dragons interactively, not listen to you. When there is a prolonged moment or conversation centered on your character, that is great! But afterward, take a step back and allow everyone else to have their turn to chat and make decisions. You’ll find that you will have more opportunities to be in the spotlight if others at the table don’t feel they have to wrestle it from you.
5. Stealing Thunder
Everyone who has taken time to create an interesting character backstory looks forward to that moment that they can face it. Whether it be a villainous NPC, a trauma from the past, or a situation your character is trying to prevent. When it is that time for you, put all your emotion into your role-playing. This is your moment! Seize it! But when this moment happens for another character, don’t steal it from them. If they have had a long-running rivalry with an NPC and it comes down to a battle, perhaps it is best if you are not the one to kill this NPC. If that moment comes to you, you can always choose to subdue the villain or knock them unconscious and allow the other player to complete their own story arc.
6. We’re an Adventuring Party
Dungeons and Dragons is centered around teamwork. If your character is not going to stick with the team, then what is the point of playing? An anti-social character can be a lot of fun to role-play, but allow yourself the liberty to not say “my character wouldn’t do that” and instead “what would make my character do this?” If your character is a loner, come up with a creative reason why they would decide to travel with a group. And keep in mind, going off on your own quest is never okay. It’s not fun for the other players, and it is never fun for the Dungeon Master. That doesn’t mean there won’t be times when your character gets separated from others. But allow that to be the DM’s decision or a conversation you two have together. While you may decide to shop on your own or chat with an NPC on your own, breaking off to do your own quest or travel far away from your adventuring group is not a cool move.
7. Ghosts of the Past
It is fun when elements of your character’s backstory are brought into the main plot. All the thought and effort you put into creating this character pays off! But to allow yourself more fun, and give the DM more chances, write an open-ended backstory. Things don’t need to be tucked neatly away and tied up in your past. You don’t need to know all the answers. Try to give your DM as much room as possible to play with your backstory so they can weave it into the campaign. Create unresolved conflicts. Best of all, creative rivalries. This adds tension into the campaign for your character, and the adventuring party that cares about them.
When it comes down to it, Dungeons and Dragons is, first and foremost, about telling a story. Allow yourself to fully step into a character with all their flaws and complications and vulnerabilities. Allow them to grow. And be respectful to everyone else at the table.
Happy dice rolling!
Ashley is the author of the Thread of Souls book series, an avid traveler, and a Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast!