Monday, July 17, 2017

Helping Players Roleplay: The Campfire Chat

I have had a pretty wide-range of players sit at my tables, all with different motivations for playing a game like D&D. Some players are really interested in their character and have written 20+ pages of backstory. Some really like mastering the mechanics of the game and learning how to maximize their effectiveness in combat. Some are just there to socialize and have a good time, and have little to no interest in learning the rules. There is no right or wrong reason to play tabletop games, what matters is having fun.

Roleplaying games often bring people out of their comfort zone. Its grownup make-believe, and it can feel a bit silly at first to be saying out loud that you are a halfling bard named Stumbleduck who is searching for the flute that the Great and Mighty Skidoosh crafted from the toenail of a fire giant. The game master (GM) should do everything they can to try to make these folks feel at ease, and provide opportunities for them to feel confident playing their character. When it comes to roleplaying, they might have some ideas of who their character is but are having a tough time figuring out how to bring those details to life. Many players are shy and are not going to have an easy time engaging unless invited. Its why icebreakers, love 'em or hate 'em, are necessary in real life; being prompted for an invite into the fun is sometimes all it takes to get someone to speak.

One of the tactics I have used in the past is presenting the party with a question they are discussing while they make camp for the night. While the fire is winding down for the night and the party is drawing straws for who will take the first watch, the party begins to open up a little and share their thoughts surrounding a prompt provided by the GM. If you are concerned that your players will feel put on the spot and not know what to say, this question could even be provided prior to the start of the session so they have time to think about it.

Typically, I like to ask questions that are meant to bring about character development. Good questions to ask are those that are dealing with values or morality, or a hypothetical on how the character might respond to a particular scenario. Here are a few examples:

  • Talk about the most important person in your life
  • What is your greatest fear? How did this fear develop?
  • Does your character have any biases or prejudices?
  • What is the most evil thing that exists in the world?

You may find questions like these are a little tough for a first-time player. In that case, it might be best to keep the questions simple. Providing questions that have a few options or choices built into how they would respond or more surface level questions may be less threatening for someone who isn't quite comfortable yet or hasn't given a lot of thought to their character:

  • What is your character's favorite drink? What would they order at the tavern?
  • What are three words to describe your character's personality?
  • From what kind of social class does your character come from? Lower class? Middle class? Wealthy? Nobility?
  • Is your character a team player or more of a loner?

What I have found can happen is a very organic experience where the players themselves (in character) begin to bounce conversation off of one another. They will ask follow-up questions and try to elicit more details. Together they will collaboratively begin designing the details and contributing to the story by bringing these characters to life. Sometimes the ideas that come from these questions will become prominent tropes that will help the players know how their character will respond to future scenarios. I once had a character who apparently had this strange sense of smell that had him pick up the scents of various creatures which his nose registered as various foods (for example, orcs smelled like roast beef). In future sessions, I could use this detail to clue him in on the lurking orc warband stalking the party.

Here is a list of questions I have started. Please feel free to share or submit additions! I'd love to expand this list.

Rewarding Roleplaying

Many of your players with not require an extrinsic reward for providing details of their characters, but it can be a nice perk to give the more mechanically minded players an incentive to play along with the campfire questions. In 5e this could be a point of inspiration, in DCC it could be a free luck point to burn, etc. Whatever you find that will motivate your players to help you to flesh out their characters is a worthwhile thing to include in your game.

Final Thoughts

Another thing that is important to remind players is that they do not need to talk in a funny voice. I'm probably not the best person to being pushing this piece of advice, as I often give my characters goofy speech patterns, but it remains true that one need only describe and talk about what it is their character is doing. They can summarize the content of what their character is saying, giving some notes as to their demeanor and any innuendo that they might be trying to encode into their speech. Invite the players to talk in the third-person. With practice and encouragement they will become more comfortable and confident in their abilities and will feel more freedom to enjoy the game.

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