D&D Tips 'n' Tricks, volume 4: Playing a Role
D&D is a role playing game (RPG). So while in D&D there are elements of fighting, puzzle solving, strategic decision making, etc., the underlying element that ties it all together is that you are playing the role of a character in a story. Sometimes roleplaying can be a bit embarassing, especially at first. However, you don't have to act outlandishly or use a silly voice if you don't want to. You just have to decide who your character is, and make choices accordingly. But it is important to decide who your character is ahead of time.
At this point, your character probably has a backstory. For some people, that may be enough. You can mine that for motivation and also make some decisions about how events in your character's past have shaped your personality. But that can all be fairly open ended, and it may help to simplify things a bit. One way to do that is to look at your alignment. Some veteran players think that the alignment system is outmoded, and some (non-D&D) roleplaying games don't use a system like that at all. But i think it works well for the purposes of getting down to your character's personality at a basic level. Are you evil, good, or neither? Are you reserved and strategic, wild and crazy, or somewhere in between?
The next step is to try and distill your character's personality into a few simple words. To start with, you don't necessarily need to create a complex, multi-dimensional character. In real life, humans are too bizarre and dynamic to categorize. In real life, no one fits neatly into an "alignment." But in fiction, most characters are essentially stock characters. Is your character the "strong, silent type", the "tough but loveable sergeant", the "bookworm", etc. Think of some of your favorite characters from books, movies, comics, or tv, and model your character on one of them. It doesn't have to be a fantasy based character, either: you could model yourself on Cliff Clavin from Cheers, for example: the annoying know-it-all who actually knows very little. The fact that you're also a CG half-orc thief is just dressing.
Now: since D&D is an RPG, part of your "score" (measured in Experience Points) is based on how well you role play. This is the most subjective part of the scoring. You may think you're doing a great job because you're being a meek, reserved character, and the DM may think you're not role playing at all because you're not saying anything (or,worse, you may be trying to play an annoying, pushy character, and everyone else thinks you're just being a jackass).
One way to deal with this is to make sure that everyone (especially the DM) knows what type of character you're trying to play. Once you come up with your short description, let the DM know what it is. Even better, if you plan on showing some character development over the course of a few sessions, be sure to tell your DM (but not the other players). Example: "My character is a loner, and they're going to start off acting very aloof and snippy to the other team members, but after a few sessions she'll start to warm up to everyone." Even more important is if you plan on changing alignment. Officially there are strict penalties for changing your alignment in D&D (including the loss of a level of experience). But if you want your character to change their alignment as a part of character development, whether it's a sudden dramatic shift due to a traumatic event ("After being nearly killed by that Beholder, my character has decided that life is too short to be so stuffy, and i'm switching from LG to CG") or a slow change in character development ("Hanging out with Durango the Thief has made my character forget some of the ethics i learned from my parents, and i'm slowly shifting from CG to CN"), as long as the DM knows about it, you won't get a penalty (in fact, you'll probably get a bonus).
It also helps if you pick a personality type that is at least somewhat distinctive from your own. If your character is acting just like you do in real life, the DM isn't going to know that you are role-playing, and even if he knows he won't be very impressed with your performance. However this is one of the hardest things for people to do. If you're a quiet person, it's not easy to take a role where you're a rowdy joke-teller, or vice-versa. One way to handle this is to distill some aspect of your personality and exaggerate it, creating a stock character out of yourself.
Another other way to show that you are role-playing is to stay in character as much as possible. Don't talk in terms of game rules, talk the way your character would talk. For example, instead of "Hey, Bob, i'm down to 4 hit points, can you cast 'cure light wounds'?", say "Father Klaren, my wounds are too great. Can you aid me?" And try to be descriptive in your actions. Instead of just "I attack," try "I charge up and swing my axe."
It will feel a little cheesey at first, but once everyone starts doing it, it can be a lot of fun. And those who make the effort will get the extra XP as their reward.
By fnord12 | August 16, 2006, 5:46 PM | D&D
Ah phooey I wish I read this yesterdaayyy.