Rory’s Pocket Guide to D&D 4E: Roleplaying your Character

August 11th, 2010 by Rory

So you built a badass character using my previous advice in Character Creation. Good job! But now you've got to actually play the game. What should you do? How should you roleplay your character?
Roleplaying

  1. Be Selfish: In D&D, your primary goal as a player is to bath in your own glory and generally show off how awesome, interesting, or tragically heroic you are. At least that's what I think. If you see an opportunity for your character to shine, take it! If you're a good thief, be on the lookout for chances to scout ahead of the party and provide information, steal the king's crown, and bluff the hell out of every Angel of Truth you come across. It's a simple rule, but one that should always be in the forefront of your mind: how can I turn this situation to make my character appear more awesome and interesting?
  2. You're the player, damn it, not your character: I get so annoyed when I see players say things like "Wilhelm would never go for this crazy scheme. He'll stay behind in the inn while you guys seek out the Dragon of Death and then descend into the Sewers of Time to rescue the lost Prince of Sorrow." Dude! You just wrote yourself out of several sessions! Not only have you made the game less fun for yourself, but you've made everyone else feel guilty for not including you.
  3. Follow the DM's lead (most of the time): It is an unfortunate truth that D&D requires prep time. A DM usually can't just prepare a perfectly balanced and awesome encounter in the ten seconds you give them right after declaring that instead of searching for the missing villagers in The Forest of Darkest Nights, you think you'd rather topple the local thieves guild that was mentioned in passing. Your job as a player is to find reasons your character wants to do the things the DM throws at you. A good DM will have a fun adventure planned and will usually present plenty of opportunities to follow your own path and make exciting game altering decisions, but if you won't budge one inch in the interest of playing an awesome preprepared adventure, then you, your DM, and everyone else is going to have a worse time because of it.
  4. Be Active and Push Boundaries: On the other hand, the player who sits around waiting for the DM to drive the adventure forward isn't really contributing much! You've already got the best of it since all you had to do to prepare for the session was spend 15 minutes selfishly dreaming up ways to make your character more awesome, while your DM slaved away for several hours carefully crafting things for you to thoughtlessly kill. The least you can do is be proactive at the gaming table. If you aren't feeling particularly creative, eagerly grab at every lead the DM offers you and role-play your character to the hilt. If you're feeling adventurous think about ways you can push the game in interesting directions! This could be as simple as thinking of creative skills for a skill challenge or a more daring idea like dreaming up a cool new side quest or a risky ambush! The key to these creative approaches is to build or launch off of content your DM has already planned, not to try to dismiss it entirely. As a DM, I'm much more responsive and excited about a plan the player has to try to gain an edge in an upcoming combat (perhaps by recruiting some villagers as minions to aid in the fight) than I am about a scheme to avoid a battle entirely! One makes my encounter even more fun; the other kills 1-2 hours of my hours of my hard work.
  5. Be a Team Player: While rule number 1 rules, it doesn't hurt to think about the other players in a game too. If all the other players have agreed that they would like to sneak into the cave and ambush the orcs, don't run ahead screaming and give everyone away. If a player wants to make the diplomacy check to convince the king and you've had the spotlight recently, an aid another would probably be advised over trying to outdo them with your own check. Go with the flow basically, and look for opportunities to help other players shine. For example, if you have an ability that gives a player a bonus to a skill check or let's them reroll it, you'll look like awesome AND they'll look awesome. Presumably they'll do the same for you if they aren't jerks!
  6. Take Notes: The more formal the better, but even scrawls on your character sheet will go a long way towards making the game run smoothly. If the DM doesn't have to remind you for the FOURTH time what the king's name is, you'll save them a lot of grief! If you can come to the DM's aid by looking up the name of some obscure elf you came across on the road, then they'll really appreciate it! Furthermore, taking notes reminds the DM and the other players that you're paying attention and care what's going on. The DM wants to feel like their plot points are being remembered and taking notes is a great way to do that. Also, it will help you keep track of your character's own personal stuff, like that they heard a rumor about a powerful artifact or that their sister is sick. Personal plot points are really a true moment to shine, so keeping track of them and following up on them will give you more moments of awesomeness (rule number 1).
  7. Go the Extra Mile: As a player I'm always on the lookout to add something really neat to the game, even if it means spending some extra time working on something outside a normal session. A great example of this is a player history or a character portrait. Both of these help DMs and players get a better idea of what your character is like, which makes roleplaying more fun and enriches the game world. Other things require some more creativity but can still be really awesome. In previous roleplaying games (D&D and others), I've written impassioned letters in character to NPCs in the world and given them to the DM (or GM) at the beginning of a session. Once in a Wheel of Time roleplaying game I was in I cut out an ice pepper "valentine" and wrote a short love poem on it, then handed it to another PC my character was in love with. One of my players in my current campaign made an awesome MS Paint drawing of a battle we had run that captured the absurdity and epic nature of killing almost 50 ogre minions in one battle! These things both make the game a lot more immersive/enjoyable but they can also be worth awesome QUEST XP that gets you and your group closer to those coveted level ups!
  8. ROLEPLAY: When all is said and done, D&D is a roleplaying game! You should be constantly talking in character, acting like them, reflecting on their motivations, and trying to further your character's goals. Method acting, the bane of the theatrical world, is totally great and awesome when it comes to an rpg! I'm sometimes surprised at how often someone passes on a chance to talk or act in character. For example, if the DM addresses you in character as an NPC don't mumble some vague response ("I guess I make a diplomacy check or something") and reach for the dice! Answer in character and with twice the enthusiasm! You'll often earn bonuses to rolls or negate them altogether. After all, if the DM can't think of why an NPC would ever consider denying your request (because it was so well reasoned in character), then chances are you won't need to make that diplomacy check. On the flip side, you might have some amusing surprises when you do make rolls. Acting in character has a funny way of making rolls seem more natural so everything doesn't boil down to the use of your 1 or 2 best skills, which is probably good for the game even if the results aren't immediately pleasant for your character. I had a wizard who often took charge in diplomatic situations but wasn't trained in diplomacy, which sometimes led to disastrous results! But it was fun because it shed light on the fact that I probably should train in diplomacy (thus more fully realizing my character concept mechanically) and because it taught me that what I am good at (being loud and making fairly persuasive arguments) isn't necessarily what my character is good at (maybe he sounds pretentious when he uses all those big words to make his point!).

3 Responses to “Rory’s Pocket Guide to D&D 4E: Roleplaying your Character”

  1. DeadGod says:

    Nicely done, sir. I was a little leery when I first read #1, but #5 smoothed it out for me.

    If I were to use this list, I might remove the word ‘selfish’ from the title of point #1 and replace it with ‘awesome’ (as in “Be Awesome”.)

  2. Peter says:

    EXCELLENT post

  3. Rory Rory says:

    Thanks! I chose the word selfish partly to be provocative and partly because I do believe that a player needs to be a little selfish when they roleplay. After all, you’re the one in charge of your character; you can’t really depend on someone else to jump in and make your character look awesome, can you?

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