Everyone has their own style when it comes to tabletop role-playing games. Some people prefer heavy combat, some prefer using wit and intelligence, and some prefer roleplay.
You can’t expect your group to rival the PCs from Critical Role right off the start, but when you’re GMing a game, you do need everyone to be roughly on the same page and to play in a way that compliments your style.
Here are some easy ways to encourage your players to roleplay without them even noticing.
1. Give Them a Reason
In a 2D world, your players aren’t going to have reason to roleplay. The first step to encouraging roleplaying in your game is having a world that makes roleplaying feel natural.
Your NPCs need to speak with their own mouths, and your world needs to have real consequences for actions.
Develop your world, and make it feel living and breathing. If the characters kill an innocent being, how does the world react? On Earth, these characters would be arrested and tried for murder. How would the people in your world react to this same circumstance?
By enforcing consequences on your players, and thinking about how the people/world may react to a decision, the game will feel more organic (3D if you will) and players will have less trouble being part of that world.
2. Be an Example
The next time you are speaking with someone, try this…adjust your posture as you speak.
You will find that people subconsciously mimic the actions of the people they are focusing on.
Psychology is your best friend when it comes to encouraging players to roleplay. By doing what you want your players to do, you will find they will be a lot more open to roleplaying.
Start with your NPCs. When they (you) interact with a player, act it out. Instead of simply saying “the beggar looks up at you and asks you for a coin,” hold your hands out to your players, forming a cup and say “the beggar looks up at you, their arms outstretched. ‘Please sir, can you spare a piece of silver?’.”
By acting the interactoin out and speaking as your NPCs, you will find that your players should follow. People with open minds to roleplay will immediately start acting their characters out, responding by rummaging through their purse at their side and bringing out a piece of invisible silver. Some people, however, need a bit more of a push.
“I give the beggar a coin” a player may respond. If they do, you can confidently read this as the player being unsure of how to really get into roleplaying. This is OK, not all hope is lost.
Reply with “OK, now what does that look like?” or “Show me how your character does this.” This may seem forward, but when prompted with this pseudo-challenge, your players will learn to interact with your world.
You may be scared that this is too confrontational, but you can simply disguise this as a small crossroad. Your players don’t know that the way they handle these situations may not have consequences.
This method isn’t only excellent for getting your players to roleplay more, but it will also discourage metagaming.
Without the knowledge on where your character came from and who they might be, it can be hard to decide how they would act. Backstories give characters a voice. It gives them motivation, flaws, and morals. Without these, characters are nothing, and a player will have nothing to draw upon.
By helping your players find out more about their characters, you are helping them find their voice. When your players know their characters, they will be able to think as their characters and make decisions based on their values.
I suggest that during the process of designing a character, you as a GM assist in fleshing them out, particularly for new players. Ask where the character comes from, what their goals are, what they sound like. Simple questions can provide a lot of inspiration.
Once a player develops a backstory, you may find that they are suddenly more interested and involved in the game..and more likely to act as their character. Having a history in the world makes them feel more connected to the game.
Rewarding your players for their roleplaying is an excellent way to encourage them to do more.
There are several ways you can do this…
One method is rewarding players with inspiration dice for their acting, though this works best without a bard in the party. Let your table know when you start the game that when someone impresses you with their roleplaying and their ability to act as their character, you will award an inspiration dice.
Another option is asking your players at the end of every game to vote on who they thought best played their character. You can then award that player additional XP or an inspiration die for the next session. This method should be used wisely, as if two players in the group aren’t getting along, this can cause arguments.
6. Set Expectations
Before beginning any new tabletop campaign, I recommend that you set out some ground rules and expectations.
Write your friends an email covering the basic expectations of the game. It doesn’t have to be long or daunting, just let your players know what they’re in for.
Within this message make it clear what kind of game this is…and what kind of GM you are.
In this email, you can easily slip in that you prefer a heavier roleplay game, and that you would like everyone to give it their best shot.
By laying out the expectations, your players won’t be surprised when they get to the table. They may even be prepared.
A Parting Piece of Advice:
“And now, my friend.” The man looks at you with a fire in his eyes, “you have the tools you need to begin your journey. There is only one piece of advice I can pass on to you before you leave the shelter of this tavern… Do not fear the power of your own voice.”