Getting More Comfortable with Role-Playing in Dungeons and Dragons
I remember my very first game of Dungeons and Dragons. I was young, around Middle School. It was at one of those game store sponsored events where official modules were run. It was DnD 3.5e, a much messier affair to learn to begin with (for perspective I almost died in my first fight because I didn’t understand the page long grapple rules properly and the DM was…unforgiving), so I was already on edge.
I was nervous. I already didn’t do well in these group settings, and everyone there was older than me. Then, the other players at the table started introducing their characters. They had different voices, descriptions of how they looked, one fellow even had a somewhat passable scottish-ish accent for his Dwarf.
Oh, bollocks. I didn’t know we were supposed to have voices and all that! I glanced down at my character, Wil the Human Bard. He had…brown hair. And brown eyes. And that’s all I knew about him.
I mostly just kept my head down that session. I was probably the quietest bard to ever walk those halls. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the idea of role-playing my character. I just wasn’t ready for the reality of it. Even though everyone else at the table seemed okay with looking that ridiculous, I couldn’t do it myself.
Embracing the Weirdness
Role-Playing is strange. It’s hard to debate that.
It becomes especially funny in those immersion-breaking moments when a Dungeon Master is forced to talk to themselves while running multiple non-player characters (NPCs) in a scene.
I’ll admit, by the time I had a chance to try my hand at role-playing again, I came at it while also learning improvisational theatre in college. My experience is far from universal. I was ready to dive into the oddness of pretending to be someone else, I already did it all the time by then!
For many people I know in the hobby, that initial dive into a role-play heavy Dungeons and Dragons game is a surreal experience. It’s intimidating seeing how easily everyone else seems to slip into characters. A lot of people don’t come back, they just can’t see themselves doing that.
Something interesting happens, though, in those moments when everybody forgets how weird the whole thing is. The players are listening with rapt attention, the Dungeon Master is describing events with grand gestures, tension is high, players are talking quickly in character, really flowing in the moment.
Everyone is living in that scene. Nobody remembers the table, the papers, the weirdness of the whole affair. They’re in the middle of a fierce rainstorm, facing down an angry Storm Giant who is standing between them and their friend’s mortally wounded character.
In my personal life experience, the only other place I’ve managed to find that feeling is on stage during an improv show. There’s a good reason for that!
Role-playing in Dungeons and Dragons is improvisational theatre. The audience is you and your friends at the table, the stage lives in your imaginations.
That’s what we would say, quickly and quietly, to our scene partner as the lights went down before a scene. “I’ll start”. It meant that we had an initial offer, something to define the coming scene with, and we’d take the lead.
A lot of the time when you say it, though, you really only kind of know what you’re doing.
I’d love to pretend there are all kinds of great tricks I could give you that will cure that initial anxiety and help you take the plunge, but the truth?
You just have to do it. You have to take the terrifying first step and say “I’ll start” even though you don’t really know what to expect.
That said, I promised tips, didn’t I? I do have some advice that might make your introduction to role-playing in Dungeons and Dragons a little smoother:
- Don’t Be Afraid to Look Silly: Everyone else at the table looks ridiculous talking in character too. Getting over the awkwardness and finding a way to get immersed in the scene is key, and you just have to let go of the self-consciousness to do that.
- Play a Character with Motivations: It doesn’t have to be complicated, but your character has to want something. I’ve seen too many new role-players make the mistake of creating a character with no stakes or interest in anything so they can stick in the background and lay low, thinking they’ve done themselves a favor. They haven’t.
- Don’t Do a Voice: Now, I don’t mean never do a character voice. It’s really fun to add some color to your characters if you feel comfortable with it! It’s not a requirement, though – your character might talk much the same way you do, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Before You Act, Ask “What Would My Character Do?”: Remember that your character doesn’t know everything that you know. They may not always make the “optimal” choices in a situation if they’re lacking information. They may also have moral reservations about certain courses of action, or get overwhelmed by emotion and make a poor decision. Before you act, ask yourself if this is something the character you imagined would do (no, the righteous do-gooder Paladin probably shouldn’t be brutally torturing enemies for information).
The more you do it, the easier it gets! Soon enough, acting like somebody else for a few hours every week or so will feel perfectly natural.