DM Your Way To Better Roleplaying

2009 July 15
by Dante

Yesterday, my lovely wife blogged some great advice to @jaredmcfarland‘s tweet, where he asked for advice on how to foster more roleplaying with a hack ‘n slash group.  Today I will look at the DM’s perspective on how to foster roleplaying.

Here are a few really simple steps you can take to provide your players some incentive to think outside the sheath.

Reward Them!

This one is easy: provide some in-game incentives for them to roleplay more.  I have used both experience rewards and items/gold to tantalize my players out from behind the sword and shield, and I have found it best to inform them up front of this potential reward.  Encouraging your players to write backstory, act in character, or explore non-combat options can be immediately rewarded with an experience boost.  I have heard of this done as lump-sum RP rewards, or a multiplier for the rest of the session that will essentially double or triple earned experience.  I tend to lean toward 100 to 150 xp lump sum awards for in-character blog posts, character portraits or art, or other tie-in items.

You can beef this up as you desire.  Once, Vanir actually created a set of audio tracks inspired by an epic battle that he and our other players participated in.  I gave him around 1000 experience and a cool item to enhance his character, because participation outside the battle aspect of the campaign should be rewarded greatly.  For item rewards, I find it best to provide it to the character through an in-between session narrative in an effort not to bore the rest of the group.

Provide Episodes of Non-Battle Content

By learning to create episodic content you can foster more roleplaying within your campaign.  You can choose to have a bad guy defect in the middle of combat, pleading with your players to help him defeat his ex-buddies or have the players run across a damsel in distress in between fights to lead them into some diplomatic intrigue, you can steer your players toward non-combat interactions.  Again, as before, ensure that you dole out equivalent rewards for non-battle participation to provide incentive for your players to interact this way.

If your group truly loves hack ‘n slash and opts to roleplay, reward them with what they love: a unique hack and slash opportunity.  Whether it is competing in a prestigious gladiatorial competition or destroying an evil creature of specific threat to the local townspeople, this can be an effective way to foster roleplaying.  The characters get to fight and win a special prize as a reward in either case.  If they warm to this idea, you can use those established plot hooks to further the story and provide your players with even more roleplaying opportunities.

If your players electively refuse to roleplay, you can take one of two actions: let them continue hack ‘n slashing, or restrict their ability to fight.  You can throw them in jail and take their items, enter a strange magical field that increases the weight of items by 300%, or whatever… if you do this, you must do it sparingly.  This can be seen as railroading your players if not done with the appropriate soft touch.  I would much prefer that you opt for trying to provide abundant opportunities and let your players warm up to the idea than I would force them into it, but it is a technique that can be used effectively.

More advice from the DM’s perspective will come later on this week, so stay tuned!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. July 16, 2009

    Sweet! I took your advice and offered rewards to players that can develop especially good back stories, and I’ll be implementing a hero point system for creative thinking and roleplaying (not sure if I read about that here or elsewhere).

    Thanks for the response! I’ll give these suggestions a try and see where I get [=

  2. Pingwin permalink
    September 11, 2009

    Best way I’d say would be to have the quest pivot around non-combat decisions that need to be played out. As soon as players notice their non-combat actions have more impact on the game world then their combat powers they will find it very tempting not to fight.

    It helps to make quests les black/white. A village suffering from a lich in a nearby tower begs for a hackfest. A village suffering from a count in a mansion, who is acting within legal limits but obvious exploiting his power, is a situation were hacking makes things worse. If the players kill the count the Baron will punish the village for hiring assasins and hunt down the players too.

    How are players going to solve such a problem with combat? If the answer is ‘not’ then you are effectively forcing them to roleplay.

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