Game Mastery

Why Won’t They Roleplay – Part 1

by on Aug.25, 2008, under player management

This is hopefully the start of a longer series wherein I discuss how to get your players more involved in the roleplay aspects of the game. Many GMs get frustrated by players who don’t bother getting into character and I see a lot of forum posts about the topic. I feel that one of my biggest strengths as a GM is in drawing players out of their shells, and I’d like to share my methods.

Before I begin I need to make clear that you can’t force players to roleplay. RP isn’t fun for everyone. Many have tried it and decided that it’s just not for them. Some of these players show up for a beer ‘n pretzels style hack and slash fest. Others like building and optimizing characters. Some people just show up to game because it’s where all their friends are.

In one game I was in we had a player who was clearly bored with combat. We figured he was the roleplaying type, except that he kept his mouth shut during any sort of PC or NPC interaction. And he didn’t know any of us previous to the game. As far as we could tell, he  showed up so his dice could get exercise.

Other players were dissatisfied so we had group therapy. We went around and talked about what everyone got out of the game. When it got to this player he said that what he enjoyed was the story. We were confused. He didn’t bother roleplaying but he was showing up for the story in the game? It turned out he just liked the storytelling aspect of the game. He showed up to listen to the GM’s plot and probably would have been just as happy spectating as playing.

What I’m getting at is that some players don’t want to roleplay. They come to game for other reasons. If you try and force them to roleplay they’re going to be miserable and you’re going to be frustrated. Where possible give these players what they want and offer the roleplay to other players. In the case of the story gamer, he’d be just as happy watching someone else’s plot, so focus the plot elsewhere and you’ll make two players happy.

D&D is the name of the game, but it applies to so many different games. My games are collaborative storytelling. Others are math homework. There needs to be consistency between the game the GM is offering and what the players are expecting. Sometimes you have to accept that somebody is just a warm body at your table. Other times you may be better off finding different players. Be aware of what game you offer and what your players are after.

Next time we’ll discuss encouraging roleplay.

(Continue on to Part 2)

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