Characters with character are what makes the engine run.
Smacks Rockatansky: “Wot do ye suppose is inside of those three barrels in the cellar?”
Goose Bronze: “They seem heavy, Smacks. Might need oxen to hoist ’em out.”
Smacks Rockatansky: “About three days ago, I saw an ox-and-cart that’ll hoist those barrels. So if ye wanna get those barrels outta there, ye talk to me.”
Goose Bronze: “That’s wot I’m doing, aren’t I? Now now…don’t get mad, Smacks. Oughtn’t we be knowing wot’s inside of those barrels then, before we go hoisting ’em? They don’t even belong to us.”
Smacks Rockatansky: “Relax, Goose. Listen to those barrels. Shh… Do ye hear it? They’re saying ‘When do we go for a ride?’ Here, tie this rope to that lantern, an’ lower it down into the cellar, all nice-an’-easy like. This warrants further inspection, yes?”
Is enough roleplay happening in your tabletop RPG sessions? If your answer was YES, that’s all well and good. Bravo, then! And yet, what might be enough tabletop roleplay for some groups’ tastes isn’t enough roleplay for another group’s tastes (and, could also be far too much roleplay for other groups’ tastes). That being said, what’s a referee to do? When it comes to achieving a healthy balance of roleplay and “roll” play, veteran referees will know what to do. They can toggle it when they sense that the adventure would benefit from one or the other. Beginner referees will catch on quick too.
Are both the players AND the referee having fun? Your answer to that question had better be YES (otherwise you may soon see the adventure coming to a screeching halt before you can say “Illusionist”.) It helps to know who your players are. Know what makes them laugh, and know what keeps them off-balance. Go ahead and push their buttons. It’s okay to do that. And, when a referee can ignite mood swings, it makes for spectacular roleplay fun.
Are those new players in your tabletop RPG group who are joining your group for the first time? Are those players people who you’ve never met before? Here at the FLGS, this situation arises often, because our table takes on all comers; it get rather lively at times (and rather inviting.) New players help keep things fresh. When the referee makes an extra effort to help new players to feel welcome at the table, everyone wins.
When it comes to roleplay, it is the referee who sets the tone. Once the NPC has been described to the players, the referee can slip right into NPC voice, sans hesitation. Veteran referees can do it mid-sentence, and the true masters can do it mid-breath. Encouraging new players to go ahead and really get into the spirit of their own PCs might not happen overnight, but keep at it, and overtly give rewards to the players for excellence in roleplay.
Players who also LARP are far more likely to be roleplay-oriented, as opposed to being “roll”play-oriented. If you happen to have some LARPers in your group, remember to shine enough of a spotlight in their direction, so that they can showcase their above-average roleplay abilities. LARPers can lead by example, much like the referee does, and they’re usually quite willing to help shoulder the load.
Smacks Rockatansky: “Those barrels sure look heavy. They might be too heavy for us to lift, Goose.”
Goose Bronze: “Right. Wot’s that though? Have a look over here, Smacks. It appears as if something spilled out of the side of one barrel.”
Smacks Rockatansky: “I see wot ye mean. It looks like firebeads. They glow like hot coals, an’ they feel warm to the touch. An’ when ye throw ’em, they go BOOM!”
Goose Bronze: “Oh, firebeads, aye?”
Smacks Rockatansky: “Lower me down. Whilst I’m down there, we’ll have a look-see inside those strange barrels.”
One effective way to encourage more role-play among the players is to put them on the spot. Halt play whenever there’s a lull. Hold up an index card from behind your screen. Upon this index card you will have written the words Role Play, and you will let the players know to begin speaking in character, starting with a player strategically chosen by the referee (or chosen at random by die roll.) This helps to move the story along, and it inspires the referee to add new elements to the story.
Another effective way to encourage more role-play, is to award achievement cards to the players, for excellence in role-play. A deck of fifty different achievement cards was created for our groups here on Long Island, with nothing more than blank index cards and imagination. When a player’s role-play efforts are deemed exceptional, the player “unlocks an achievement,” and receives a random achievement card, taken from the facedown deck of achievement cards. Players may then keep the achievement card for as long as they like. They may redeem the card at any time during a game session. Players have a tendency to hoard achievement cards too, so it’s important for the referee to occasionally ask the players if they would like to redeem any achievement cards, thereby activating whatever special boon appears on the card. When a card is redeemed (given back to the referee), the card gets put back into the deck, face down, on the bottom. The deck is never shuffled, and there is only ever one type of each card in the deck, helping to preserve the variety of cards that can appear during gameplay.
Examples of achievement cards are as follows:
A NOSE FOR LOOT
One ally gains the following minor boon. PC can smell treasure in a 30-foot radius for the next 1d4 days.
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN
The skies open up, and one opponent is immediately showered with thousands of copper pieces. Opponent cannot attack for one round, and suffers 1d4 points of shame damage.
One ally gains the following minor boon. PC can breathe underwater for 1d12 turns.
One ally gains the following minor boon. PC voice suddenly becomes ten times louder than it would normally be. This effect will last for 1d6 turns.
One ally gains the following major boon. PC gains +1 to their Dexterity attribute. This effect is permanent.
You’ll notice that these achievement cards are geared towards helping other players. This approach helps to foster a sense of community and teamwork among the players.
Smacks Rockatansky: “Well, bless me beard! One barrel’s filled with firebeads, whilst another is filled with frostbeads, an’ a third is filled with rainbeads!”
Goose Bronze: “Rainbeads?! I’ve not seen rainbeads since our last expedition, through the Djoosi Jungle, towards the Barrier Peaks.”
Smacks Rockatansky: “Oh I remember. It was yon rainbeads wot saved us when we encountered the shaman of Big Bobonki.”
Goose Bronze: “Wot a turkey that shaman was, Smacksy.”
Smacks Rockatansky: “The real turkey is whoever left all these beads here; just waiting for us to line our pockets with ’em. Let’s take wot we can carry, and then let’s be on our way!”
Good roleplay sets the tone for everything. Great roleplay keeps your players coming back for more. It also makes for strong bookends, and by that I mean it is healthy to begin a session with roleplaying, and to also end the same session with roleplaying. Even when the characters are simply returning home to roost, or to camp, or to wherever they go at the end of a long day of spelunking, there is room for roleplay. Let the good times role.