A couple weeks ago I began to notice that one of my groups was doing very little role playing (RP). They would role play with non-player characters (NPCs) a little bit, usually haphazardly and switching between first and third person. The real problem, however, was that the player characters (PCs) never interacted with each other. No one even knew anyone else’s name. I’m not one to force people to RP but it was really impacting the game and making it less exciting for them and me. One player would lightly engage while the other three would sit back and watch, slowly becoming bored.
That’s when I asked myself, “what can I do to get my players to role play more with each other?” I googled the topic and the answers I received were anything but useful. Things like, you can’t force them to RP, just tell them they have to RP, and you have to just dump the group and get another, were the types of advice I received. So I decided to figure it out for myself and come up with a full guide on not just how to get characters to interact with each other, but on role playing in general.
RP can be many things: a type of improvisational acting, speaking and behaving in character, describing character actions, taking on character traits. For the purposes of this guide, I am going to say that RP is anything that makes people feel like they are more in the game. Not RPing is anything that reminds people they are not in the game. By this definition, a player describing what their character does can count as RPing. Some players don’t RP because they don’t know how and others don’t RP because it scares them. When doing any of the following techniques make sure you are not ever forcing your players into something they don’t want to do and making them uncomfortable.
The first and main reason is that it makes the game more exciting. RP keeps you more engaged on other people’s turns and forces people to commit to a specific course of action… which may have consequences. When you just roll an intimidate check, you can weasel your way out of if it fails. If you RP and say “I’ll slit your damn throat if you don’t tell me exactly what I need to know”, that guy isn’t going to like you much and if he gets the chance he is either running or fighting back.
RP also creates connection and emotions for the characters. If a character dies in the first session, it’s never that epic because you don’t know him yet. RP allows us to experience and practice empathy and build up our love for characters and NPCs so that we don’t just count them as stat blocks on the table. PC to PC interactions are my favorite because they really help to build up not only individual party members but the party as a whole.
RPing also allows us to practice skills such as improvisation. It forces us to become better at thinking quickly and empathetically. It also gives you the opportunity to solve problems in different ways. If you play a barbarian, you will probably solve a trapped chest differently than a rogue or a wizard. This challenges the flexibility of your thinking and makes the game more engaging. I’m sure there are many other reasons to RP but this guide can’t go on forever.
Before we talk about how to get players to RP more, we have to look at some of the things that prevent RP. One thing to note about most RPGs is that the DM is the only person who can directly affect the world without asking. A DM can say “the demon swings two great swords at you with all his might. Both connect, chopping one of your arms off in a spray of blood and leaving you unconscious.” A player cannot impact the game in this way.
Player: I take careful aim with my arrow and fire at the demon’s head. (rolls 18) the arrow flies true, striking the demon’s….
DM: Actually the arrow hits an invisible wall and clatters to the ground.
The world of an RPG exists in the DM’s head so the players can never know how they are going to affect the world. They have to ask you how they can affect it. This makes certain types of RPing difficult.
Since the entire game exists in the DM’s head, it also means they need a certain amount of information to be given before they can do any RPing at all. A DM who doesn’t give enough information can squash legitimate attempts to role play.
Another common problem I see is the discouraging of the RPing that the DM wants. If the players decide to try to talk their way through a situation and you instantly turn it into a fight, they will be less likely to try talking again next time and may just fight their way through everything. I’m of course not saying to let everything succeed, but make sure when you are with a new group of players that some of their first attempts are successful or have clear, logical clues as to when and why situations turn sour.
Some players just aren’t comfortable role playing. It could be their own insecurities or lack of experience or just a lack of comfort with a new group. Either way, players must be made to feel comfortable and slowly worked into RPing until it feels natural for them. As long as they get to a point where they are not pulling everyone out of the world, that is enough.
Many people don’t understand what RP means. They think that they have to project themselves into another character and do and say things that they normally never would and that makes them uncomfortable. Simply learning there is another way to RP that is just as engaging but does not require you to change your behavior at all can get them to join in more often.
The last reason people don’t RP is because they get pulled out of character. Sometimes a really slow game or what seems to be a strange/illogical ruling by the DM can cause them to stop thinking about their character and wonder what’s going on. Too much out of character talk, number crunching, or just a really long battle or drawn out situation can pull you out of the moment and make it very clear you aren’t actually having an epic dragon fight; you are sitting in an uncomfortable chair watching the wizard take twenty minutes to take his turn.
I believe that the amount of RPing that takes place at a table is nearly always directly tied to the DM. It is the DM’s responsibility to look at his own RPing abilities and to continuously practice and improve them. Study acting, learn improv, google how to tell stories, read The Angry GM’s articles, read this guide, watch Critical Role and you will become a better DM who can set up scenarios that your players will want to RP through.
The best way to get your players to RP is to make sure your NPCs are doing quality RP as well. If you are not acting out your characters in first person, if you don’t know their goals, if you don’t make each one feel unique, how will the characters know how to interact with them? Make sure your NPCs are interacting with the PCs in first person as much as possible and add in the extra social cues that really bring them to life. If you want your PCs to interact with each other too, why not lead by example? Your NPCs often only interact with the PCs. Have your NPCs interact with each other. Have them interact with the world. Have them share their opinions about each other, the world around them, and the PCs. This will help lead your players into a more comfortable RPing situation where they can learn from you and interact with the RPing scenarios you have set up.
Nothing pulls a player out of a RPing moment more than an argument or an illogical ruling by the DM. In order to build up the players trust, you have to adjudicate and narrate their actions swiftly and fairly. Unfair rulings, or rulings that screw the party over or make one player feel under powered or useless will pull them out of their character and make them feel emotions as a player.
DM: you see a chest in the corner of the room.
Player: I will walk up to it and inspect it.
DM: you walk up to inspect and when you touch it, it explodes.
Player: I didn’t touch it! I just looked at it!
Situations like this will cause players to stop role playing and start thinking about the rules of the game. Make sure you are paying close attention and error on the side of the players. Don’t be afraid to get clarification on your players actions or correct your mistakes if you make one.
On a similar note, your world needs to make some logical sense or the players won’t be able to figure out how it works. If they don’t know how it works, then it becomes much harder to role play. Extreme examples of this can pull them out of the world just based on disbelief. I went to a few D&D games at a nearby game store recently because I had just moved and didn’t have a group. In the first session, the group obtained a sword that could “cut anything in half”. The group started using it to cut fences and then buildings in half… then they needed to travel 100 miles away so they just cut the distance in half several times so they could take one step and arrive. Then they decided they wanted to travel into the future so they cut time in half. I didn’t play with that group again… I know there is magic in the world but there needs to be some internal logic that I can hold on to.
In another recent game I played, the DM had to look at his papers every time we asked an NPC a question. This immediately showed to all of us that no matter how logical or smart our plans were, the DM would not be able to adjudicate appropriately because he didn’t understand the NPC’s most basic goals. It’s hard to RP in a world that doesn’t make sense.
In a third group I played with, the DM took us through a dungeon, into a portal, that shot us out in a 2015 earth office with computers and cubicles. I cannot RP when the story prevents me from believing it. I’m not saying that nothing like this can ever take place, but as a DM you need to know your audience and make sure it makes logical sense within your world.
It should be hard to put your audience in disbelief when they are willing to accept that magic exists…
Providing good quality narrative is an important aspect for setting up a positive RPing environment. Giving descriptions of a living world can provide RPing hooks that give your players easy opportunities to start. One example of how to use this to great effect is to create puzzles and mystery through your narrative that really gets players feeling like they are in the game. There are two steps to doing this:
The first is to add mood details to your world. Sound, ambiance, lighting and overall feel. These can be done through description or by actually turning down the lights, playing music, and making sound effects. (be careful with actually doing these, make sure they are enhancing the feel of the game and not distracting from it)
Another way to provide examples of RP is to add clues that help describe the world without talking about mechanics. For example, when a monster has a spell I look at the spell components. For casting spike growth instead of saying, “he casts spike growth”, I say “you see him reach into a pouch at his belt and pull out something that is either invisible or too small for you to see. He whispers to it and throws it into the room before running around the corner.” Now I turned the simple casting of a spell into a puzzle. I will let them make an arcana check if they are trained to attempt to identify the spell that was cast. The wizard may pull out his own spell book and attempt too look through his own spells if there is time. In time the players will start to learn the descriptions of spells they have seen cast many times before. Everyone in my campaign knows that “he takes out a tiny ball of dried brown matter and sprinkles a yellow dust over it before hurling it directly at you” means they are about the get lit up by one of the most loved spells in D&D… Fireball. This also makes using counterspell much more exciting. I make them decide to use it before I tell them what the spell does. Of course I would let them do some skill checks to give them more clues and I have to make sure I am consistent, erring heavily on the side of the players. Adding these details makes the players think and makes them feel just a little more in the world I’m trying to create.
Another example of good quality narrative and creating things for your players to solve is with social interactions. If a character is scared, I try to have him speak quickly, stutter, over explain everything, and backtrack and repeat himself all while having the body language of a cornered chiwawa. If a character is lying, I will intentionally shift my eye gaze more often, and use micro expressions to convey this to any closely watching player (I will do this much less if an NPC is a good liar or has their lie made up ahead of time). Most of the time, my players don’t even use insight checks. They just watch me and yell out “I don’t believe him, lets tie him up!” When this happens, I know I’ve succeeded in pulling my players into the world.
One other way to create an RP environment is to make sure all players feel comfortable with RPing. One of the biggest misunderstandings is that people think role playing means they have to do and say things as their character would and that makes them uncomfortable. While this is one way to RP, you can also RP by projecting yourself into that character and just simply asking, “what would I do in that situation”. This way your character is more of an extension of yourself. Many new RPers will feel more comfortable starting off this way and I would suggest you inform them of this distinction so that they can get into the RPing much earlier.
First, lets talk about “yes”. Saying yes accomplishes a lot more than saying no. Every time you say no to another person’s ideas, you block all forward progress.
“Yes and” is a concept from improvisation that says it is better to go along with another persons ideas and add to them. This is a very important piece of wisdom for DMs who want their players to RP more. You want to encourage your players to use “yes and” with each other as much as possible and to use it yourself. There are three ways you can encourage this as a DM.
First is through your NPCs interactions with the PCs. One of the best pieces of advice I was given about NPCs is that their default state should always be “yes and”. Not just “yes”, but “yes and”. Your NPCs should add ideas and have thoughts and beliefs of their own. If the party is planning something, the NPC can add his own knowledge to the plan or give his own opinion. This not only helps the party and moves the story forward, but it makes the NPC seem way more human… or elfin, or dwarven. NPCs are all too often unhelpful. Make it your default state that they want to add ideas to the world instead of standing there idly or blocking everything that is brought up. Of course sometimes NPCs have to say “no”. Which is where “no because” comes in.
Another way you can use “yes and” to encourage RP is through your adjudications as a DM. This not only helps RP to develop but adds a lot of fun in general to the game. Whenever possible, you should be saying yes to your players ideas, even when they are a bit crazy. Often players will try to do things that make them cool, like run up a wall and do a back flip onto a rope. Let them do it whenever you can as long as it isn’t blocking another player. Sometimes when a player asks to do something, my first reaction is, “no”. Two questions helped me to say yes more often.
2. “What would be the consequences of that?” Sometimes the players want to do something or get something that might make them overpowered. For example, the high level item they were supposed to bring back to the king for a quest they instead decide to keep and use for themselves. Initially your response might be, “no”, but if you just ask what the consequences are, you can create ideas that will counteract that imbalance. In this case, the king found out that the party had kept his item and sent ten of his personal body guards after them to retrieve it along with putting out a warrant for their capture. The party got to use the cool item for a while before they started noticing people avoiding them. Finally they were given away and the body guards caught up to them, took the item, beat them bloody, and threw them in jail. That doesn’t seem like an overpowered trade off at all does it? If anything they got less powerful in this case and were able to RP how they wanted.
Besides making your NPCs use “yes and” and making your adjudications allow for more player freedom in RPing, you can use the concept of “yes and” to keep your players from blocking each other’s RPing and move the story forward. Here is an example:
In the king’s court the party reports the success of their last mission. The king offers them dinner and jovially chats with the party. Of course… the rogue gets the idea to pick the king’s pocket or sneak away some coin during the meal.
Rogue: I want to pickpocket the king!
Cleric: No I want to stop him.
DM: You walk by to steal the coin purse but the cleric walks by and tries to stop you… roll opposing dexterity checks.
Usually at this point they roll a skill check against each other and someone wins. However, if the cleric wins, then nothing happens. All that rolling and all that time was spent blocking what the other player wanted to do with no interaction or affect on the king or anything else in the world. As a DM, you have the power to keep the results similar, but without blocking the players.
Rogue: I want to pickpocket the king!
Cleric: No I want to stop him.
DM: You try to pickpocket the king, roll your slight of hand check and cleric, roll your perception.
DM: You see your rogue walk by the king’s chair and bump a little too close into the back of it, you’ve seen him do this many times before and suspect he took something. What would you like to do?
In this second interaction something has happened. As the DM I didn’t let the cleric block the rogue right away. Now something of substance has happened and they have to resolve it with more consequences on the line. In addition, the rogue got to RP the rogue, and the cleric gets to RP the cleric as they fight silently behind the king about giving his pouch back.
So we’ve covered “yes and”. Lets look at “no because”. As DMs we sometimes need to say no. This is completely ok as long as you follow one rule: tell the party why you are saying no. If a player wants to do something and you just say no, you have blocked their idea and given them nothing else to work with. However if you tell them they can’t do something and then explain why that action was impossible or why you wont allow it as a DM, then the player can choose a new action or adjust to the situation. You should use “no because” under a few circumstances.
If an action is impossible, tell the player why. Often it comes down to a misunderstanding of your description of the world. When a player tries to jump a 60 foot pit with no magic, cast a spell while unable to speak under water, or move when their foot is held by a tentacle, just let them know why this action is impossible and they will likely decide not to try it and come up with a new idea.
If a player is trying to do something that blocks another player then you have a good opportunity to say “no because”. This can be used when one player is trying to gain an ability that other PCs have sacrificed and specialized for or when one player is blocking another player’s fun.
If the players try to do something that is overpowered you can tell them no as long as you explain why it would be game breaking. Most overpowered things that boost the party can be allowed by asking yourself what “consequences will that have”. However when something will make one player feel way more powerful than the others, this cannot be allowed very often; hopefully your player will understand.
My last note on “no because” is for your NPCs. I said before that NPCs should have a default state of “yes and”, or at least “yes”. Of course in every world there are plenty of NPC who say no to lots of things. As a DM, your job is to know why they are saying no. It should always be a “no because” even if you don’t tell the players why. A guard who doesn’t let the players in can say no because he was paid 300 gp to watch the tower, because his boss will beat him if he lets anyone in, because he is magically under the control of someone else, or because the party was mean to him last time and he wants to screw with them. Each of these reasons gives your guard a very different feel and allows you to hint at the solution for the players. A dispel magic might work on the charmed guard while paying 400 gp or more will work on another. You must understand your NPC’s reasons for saying no to the party or you will not be able to RP them effectively.
RPGs are games and many game mechanics are the adversary of RPing. Mechanics take us out of the moment and remind us we are not our characters. However we play RPGs because we like the game aspects and the random chance that gets introduced into our stories. So lets look at how we can convert these game mechanics into RP and narration that makes everyone feel like they are still in the game.
The vast majority of the rules for D&D are combat related, so this is an area you must focus on. Making the dice rolls make sense in the world is extremely helpful for RPing. Sometimes it’s not the story but the dice that make the world seem illogical. It’s your job as the DM either not have them roll for things that are impossible to fail or succeed on, or to explain them. How did the rogue mess up that lock pick? “An arrow hits the wall inches from your head causing you to jump and break the pick in the lock.” Why did that crit happen? “You hear your halfling friend scream out as the snake wraps around him and begins to squeeze, that momentary distraction allows the snake in front of you to sink its fangs directly into your upper thigh.” How did the barbarian miss the point blank shot while the guy was laying on the floor in front of him? “The last shot you landed had so much power it knocked the halfling clean off his feet. Now you swing your great ax overhead ready to deliver the finishing blow with all your might. Just before your ax connects, the nimble halfling kicks against your legs and slides out of the way.”
These type of descriptions not only keep players more engaged and involved on other people’s turns, they help demonstrate that your world does run logically. Perfecting this skill will have the players trusting that your world has internal logic and when something strange happens, they will try to solve it instead of assuming you just threw it in out of the blue.
You also must remember that role playing during combat is almost entirely your responsibility as the DM; players don’t have all the information to RP this. They don’t know if they hit or not until after you tell them. They don’t know if the arrow causes a bruise worth of damage, a puncture worth of damage, or if it goes directly into their eye and out the back of their head. You have to take responsibility to RP these things, not your players.
You can go a step farther and add in killing blows and other combat descriptions for your players. Some DMs will inform their players when the boss fight is over and their hit delivers the finishing blow, allowing them to describe exactly how they finish the creature off. Play to your audience and if they like the blood, give it to them.
If you find yourself running low on different ways to swing a sword, and find yourself saying “umm, you swing at it again”, I suggest you watch Critical Role, a group of professional voice actors that play D&D with an absolutely incredible DM. In one episode he describes a mind flayer sucking the brain from a dwarf and it is absolutely wicked! He give such detail that I just sat in shock for a moment after hearing the hollow pop sound made by the dwarfs brain slurping through the hole in his forehead.
Imagine you get loaded into the loading area from the Matrix. It is a solid room with nothing but whiteness. In it stands another person looking at you. Now have a conversation with them. Do you think it will be a good quality conversation or an awkward one? Alternatively imagine a guy and a girl who have never met sitting next to each other on a train. How does that conversation go? Usually awkward and uncomfortable to even watch.
This is how your campaign starts. You drop your players into the matrix. There are white walls and nothing else. Then you start to add the details. At the beginning of the game the characters lack references, goals, personalities, experiences, bonds and everything else that a person needs to have a good conversation. So when they start to RP, it is as awkward and uncomfortable as a first date.
Session 1: “We umm were sent here to stop you so we are here, die!”
Session 5: “Alright buddy, we have tracked down and killed all your lackeys and every one of them betrayed you and told us where you were. You have no allies and no friends. Surrender or my bloodthirsty barbarian friend here will bring to the necrotic temple and make you a meal for the zombies!”
Everything underlined in the second example is information that the players could not possibly have known at the start of their first session. My point here is that RP needs a bit of time to get going. The longer it goes on for, the easier it becomes to RP. That’s not to say you can’t help speed it along however.
Filling in the white walls in the matrix effectively will help the players start to RP more quickly. Make sure they are getting clear goals, bonds between NPCs or factions, and establishing connections within the world. I would also suggest listening to what the players tell you they want to RP about. Bring their race, class, and backstory into the world as soon as possible to give them a point of reference in the world. This is often the only thing they feel they know and they will be willing to RP with it since they created the connection in the first place.
If all these tools aren’t working quite the way you would like or you’d like ways to nudge your players a little farther, here are a few more tools for you to use. However some of these tools come with warnings.
If your players aren’t role playing, you can step in and do it for them. In many cases, this is what you should be doing anyways. For example describing what happens in combat is often your job as the DM. You can take this a little bit farther but it comes with warnings.
If you are going to take control of a player’s character for a moment, the goal is not to override what the character would do. You should be sensitive to what your player wants and trying to enhance the character and the player’s connection. This is extremely important because what a character thinks and says is the only part of the game a player can completely control. They have to ask the DM to do anything else. Taking control of a character and doing something that is against the players wishes, will anger them quickly and take a lot of power away from their character. If you make that mistake, apologize and backtrack immediately.
Also, do not tell players what their characters are thinking or feeling. This is the only thing that players truly have control over without your adjudication and overriding that can really piss people off. It is very easy to get this wrong and it pulls players out of the game when you take control of their character’s minds. When I say this I don’t mean you can’t tell a character what they physically feel, like something crawling on their leg, I’m referring to DMs who say “you look around the dark cave and wonder just where all of your friends went and if you will ever see them again. It might even make you a bit sad.” This type of stuff destroys RP because the player probably wasn’t thinking that. This will immediately pull him out of the situation and I think it always sounds tacky on the DM’s part because he is trying to force emotion onto the characters.
Here are three exceptions to this warning:
First, if the characters have already said exactly what their character was thinking then you might restate it to reinforce something.
Second, if the characters are making some kind of knowledge check it is okay to tell them what they know. “You remember seeing something about this creature in the textbooks in your library but only have a vague sense of its abilities.” This sentence is fine for a knowledge check or for when a player asks if their character would know something.
Third, you can tell a character how they think and feel if it is via some magical or game mechanics effect. If the character is mind controlled or feared for example, then you can tell them what they do and think during that time.
So lets get into how you can RP for your players. The first way is to narrate combat rolls. This one has already been listed but normally the DM would do most of it and leave some up to his players to RP in certain situations. If you need to help your players along you can just narrate all of combat yourself though.
You can also narrate skill checks and other abilities. This is often an area that players should RP but can be done by the DM whenever they forget. A druid who bends down to administer a medicine check is a perfect opportunity for a player to roleplay. If they don’t, then you take over with “you kneel next to your unconscious friend and pull several leaves and some pitch out of your pack. You chew on the pitch for a moment, spit it into the leaves, and press them against his bloody wounds. Within seconds, the bleeding slows.” Take this opportunity to differentiate character classes as well. A cleric doesn’t heal with leaves.
This one is a little bit more dangerous but has great effects; Re-narrate interactions between players as interactions between characters. Here is an example of what I mean: In my campaign I have a barbarian, cleric, rogue and wizard. The party was investigating a chest they knew was trapped and trying to figure out how to disable the gas trap. At one point, the player of the barbarian, out of character, said, “How about I just grab it and run away as fast as I can?” To which the player of the cleric said “thats a bad idea. I don’t think we can outrun it.” These comments were all out of character but is a likely exchange between characters. So I said something like, “the barbarian still slightly enraged after the last fight moves forward and suggests just grabbing the chest off the trap and running. To which you (the cleric) immediately interject and give him the condescending *pat pat, on the shoulder.”
The interaction that took place here was a perfect conversation for the two characters to have and both players were thinking like their characters. The only problem was they forgot to say it as though it was their character. So I stepped in and re-narrated the exchange and the party loved it. The rogue jumped in and started teasing the barbarian and saying “let me handle the traps big guy.”
The same thing can be done with character quarks or situations that develop in game. Sometimes the players forget to use it as an opportunity to RP. The rogue in my group entered the game after the party was already level 4. She played in two sessions straight without hitting a single monster with her bow. The dice couldn’t have been more against her. Everyone started teasing the player about not being able to hit anything. Near the end of the session, the rogue, tired of missing everything, challenged an NPC to an archery contest for 50 gold and won. The players all started to joke about her only being able to hit when she made a bet first. So I translated this into the game and would narrate comments like, “when you miss, out of the corner of your eye you see one of your companions rolling their eyes.” I would jokingly add before her turn, “would anyone like to throw out a bet on whether she hits or misses?” It made the characters start interacting with each other, it made the rogue have more fun when she missed, and it allowed her to make some side gold off of bets which fit perfectly into her backstory. The situation was there in this case, it just took me noticing it and controlling it a few times to develop this player interaction into RPing.
This requires a warning as well. These techniques should probably only be used after you have been with the group for a while and established rapport. Or it can be used among friends you aren’t worried about driving away. Also remember that descriptions can count as RP. Don’t force the bard to sing if he is uncomfortable singing. Let him describe what he does for that scenario. Becoming a good RPer takes time and comes in stages. First they will probably start to describe mechanics, then add more details to combat and interactions, then third person , then first person conversations, and finally sounds, body language, and character quarks. Give people the time they need to work up to talking and behaving in first person and give them positive feedback for doing so. As a side note, the best way to reward someone for good RP is to continue the RPing. Stopping and calling attention to their good job will break the moment and probably make them less comfortable. Don’t start throwing them inspiration dice or anything until they are already comfortable.
One way to force a bit more RP out of your characters is to react/respond to players talking to each other as though the characters were talking to each other.
Player: maybe we can go along with him for a while and then steal the item back.
DM: “what did you say? I’ll have no stealing from me! I don’t trust you guys at all.”
The players will immediately respond with “we didn’t really say that!” and I suggest you just allow them the redo and ask, what do you say then? Just don’t use this technique while the characters are talking to a dragon 10 levels higher than them because killing them for it is a bit harsh.
Not responding to out of character interactions is another way to force them into RPing. If the players ask something to a monster based on mechanics or not in character, you and just give them a blank look or say, “the monster doesn’t know how many hit points he has. Any other questions?” You can do the same with skill checks. An area where lack of RP causes a big problem is with intimidate and persuasion checks. As a DM I rarely accept a player saying “I make an Intimidate check”. I will almost always ask, “how do you intimidate him.” I often turn down insite checks as well. When I RP a character (as long as I know I did it well) I will make them go off of their own gut feelings. They got the same information and gut feelings their characters did.
I also turn down “disable trap” or “slight of hand” checks to completely disable a trap. My traps are complex puzzles that I want my players to solve and my rogues to RP through. See my Building Quality Traps article for how I do this.
The last way to force players into RPing is to add time restraints. Sometimes the game gets so bogged down in peoples turns that everyone forgets about their characters and starts doing something else. If you can speed things along it can increase people’s attention to the game and their willingness to RP. Out of game time pressure; “you have 2 minutes for your turn or we skip it” or in game time pressure; “the spikes are falling and you have just a second to react, what do you do?” can make the game more fun and help the players avoid looking at mechanics and just make a decision.
One of the most common answers I found online when googling “how do I get my players to role play more?” was to tell/ask them to. While I agree with this, I would like to add that saying, “do more role playing” or “hey, I’d like us all to role play more” only works in certain scenarios. If they players are uncomfortable or don’t have the skillset, then asking won’t change either of those things. If you want to ask your players directly to RP more, make sure you are both specific about where they can RP more and give examples of how they can RP in those situations.
An example might look like: “I noticed your cleric heals a lot. This might be a perfect time for you to add in some RP to describe how your character does that.” or “at the end of combat feel free to get more descriptive about how you kill the bad guy so the other people can enjoy it as well.” You may have to suggest and use other tools to help demonstrate and guide your players into becoming better role players.
Besides telling and asking your players to RP, you can come up with a list of questions to help them RP. Asking players to differentiate their characters is a good place to start and gets people into the RP mood. Ask how is ________ (ability) different from another character’s ability in game? A sorcerer, druid, and cleric all cast spells in different ways. The same is true for fighting styles and many other mechanical actions within the game. You can also ask players how their characters feel about something. This can be done out of game by just asking the player what their character would think or feel or in game by having an NPC in game ask the characters directly.
Another question is to pose a hypothetical or bring up a recent situation again to allow the player to attempt to RP better. I like to ask, “what does/did your character do/think during combat.” I ask this to try to get players to be thinking more in character while it is not their turn. They may have quarks where they are always looking for something specific, they may call out inspiration to their allies and insults at their enemies, or they may be cocky and place bets on what attack will hit and miss. I do this one specifically because it increases player participation when battle might otherwise have them sitting there for several minutes without doing anything.
The last way to get player help is to bring an a new player who you know will help you. I used this tactic recently. Someone who had watched Critical Role with me and with whom I had talked about RPing with came to join a group and brought a lot more RP and excitement to the table. The two of us kicked the RP and enthusiasm up a notch and the rest of the players followed suit.
I think that it is absolutely possible to get almost anyone to make their honest attempt at RP. Some may be better than others, some need time to learn, and some will become masters at everything except singing for the bard. It is your job as the DM to make sure you are providing the experience and example necessary for players to RP. Remember that you are in charge of the vast majority of RPing as the creator of the world. If things aren’t going quite the way you want them to, look at yourself first and make sure you are showing examples, guiding players to start RPing on their own, and creating a logical world that the players feel they can make some predictions in. If that fails, feel free to ask them or others for help.