How to Teach Dungeons & Dragons: Role-Playing

How to Teach Dungeons & Dragons: Role-Playing

The previous blog gave simple tips on how to introduce new players to table-top RPGs rules. This blog will focus less on teaching the rules, and more on how to get them to understand how to role-play their characters.

Teaching rules becomes easier and easier over time when introducing new players to table-top RPGs. Building the rules up slowly and after a few times playing they will start to become adequate players. Much more difficult is helping new players understand what role-playing is and how to “be” their character in game. What I have found over my years of experience is that some players will immediately get it and be able to jump right in while others will struggle, finding it hard to interact in game as someone else.

The first step is showing these new players how role-playing works. Great ways to due this are to have more experience players play with these new players so that they can see how the role-playing is done. This method is good for new players that are outgoing and able to stand on their own with these more experienced players.

Unfortunately, if your new RPG player is more timid they may be intimidated by the more experienced players. In this case, the best method is show them yourself! Begin their first quest with a particularly flavorful NPC that you as Dungeon Master can role-play. Classic clichés like the sniveling noble, unforgiving king, ruthless criminal, joyous barmaid, or friendly innkeeper are never a bad choice. Try using voices with the NPC and don’t be afraid to exaggerate their personality. Showing them this can help them understand what they might be able to do with their own characters.

An important step for new players is also to have them briefly describe what their character looks like to the other players and what their character is doing before the quest begins. Insists on more details then just the basic eye/hair/skin color and clothing. As they give more details it will help them visualize their character and further develop their ability to embody that character. Already making a choice between their characters drinking in the tavern versus eating in the tavern creates a narrative for their characters personality to stem from. Also have new players give their characters’ epithets or nicknames that display some aspect of their personality and past. No character needs to be fully fleshed out before playing but having just a few words to describe them can give the new players a direction to run with.

One problem that all players, old and new, can have trouble with is being too much themselves with their character. If a player has decided to play the tough idiot but they themselves are a smart individual, it can sometimes be difficult to put your own intelligence aside. A good way to merge these two identities is to always flavor things from the character’s point of view. If the player discovers the answer to some puzzle but is playing the lumbering idiot instead of their characters saying “Here is the answer to this puzzle” the player might flavor it as “Grog the Brain-Dead Half-orc has a miraculous stroke of genius as he finds the key to the puzzle.” This helps stay in character and create a narrative with the characters.

Something I like to do with new and old players is offer rewards for playing your character well. Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition already has this with the inspiration points, but something I often offer is extra experience points to anyone that can stay in character during the entire session (using a hand sign to indicate when they have out of character questions). This makes the players focus on the game and they tend to create more in-game dialogue with each other.

If players are having a hard time role-playing the best thing to do is assign a personality. When the personality is assigned for new players, it can be easier for the players to see how to role-play. My favorite method of doing this is by selecting several green Apples-to-Apples cards (from the children’s board game) and then having all players choose to at random. This can create some interesting combinations of personality attributes that can be a hoot of fun. It also helps break old players form continuing to type-cast themselves into one role (I have a player that consistently plays the rash and anger-prone big guy).

Lastly, if the new players just do not seem to understand the role-playing aspect of RPG, create a small in-game encounter then walk them through how they might role-play through it with characters of different personality and backgrounds. Role-playing in battle helps battles become more interesting and are a time when a player has their own allotted time to role-play (during their turn). Describing how they execute a specific attack or how they miss an attack, or the way they move through difficult terrain, or what they call out to their allies when they are the only one that perceives the orcs sneaking up on them gives the new players a time to comfortably role-play without feeling like they are stepping on other players’ toes.

Once the newbies understand the basic rules and can at least perform the simplest of role-playing feats you are ready to take them on an adventure! New time I will discuss how to build a quest for new players and provide some examples of quests I have previously run with new players.

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