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ROLE PLAYING FOR BEGINNERS


A Guide to Playing Pretend with Your Friends.

What is role-playing?

Role-playing is, quite simply, assuming the role of a character in a scenario. In tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, most players take on the role of a single character, whilst another player (often called the Game master or GM) runs the game and plays the role of every non-player character (NPC) the other characters meet, as well as the adversaries they encounter. We have a fantastic guide for Game Masters on the subject of running your first campaign here from Attic Arcana Dice.


Chances are you have been roleplaying since you were a child - you just called it something else like ‘playing house’ or ‘cops and robbers’. As children, we find it easy to pretend, using our imagination to tell amazing stories with our friends and family as we run around the garden with sticks for swords, storming playground ‘castles’, and scaling the sheer, rocky ‘cliff’ of a local climbing frame. As we get older, we might feel uncomfortable connecting to that again, perhaps worrying that we’ll be laughed at, or judged for doing something ‘wrong’. However, you needn’t worry, most people (the ones I’d recommend you play with anyway) are just there to have fun, succeed, and engage with the game even if you can’t pull off an authentic Scottish accent for your dashing halfling rogue. This leads me to my next point…


Pencil and dice image by Marcel Ste from Pixabay

You don’t have to be an actor!

Role-playing and acting are not the same, though they appear so at first glance. Roleplaying is behaving in a way authentic to your character, whilst acting is the art of portraying your character: a subtle but important distinction. For example, if your character abhors necromancy then it would be excellent role playing if they threw caution to the wind when zombies threaten your party, attacking the undead with reckless fervour at the cost of their own safety. There’s no need for you to stand up at the table and start shouting litanies of your character’s faith though! Your character has acted in a way that fits their personality, lived experience, and values. That’s great roleplaying. 


First person or third person? 

Both are equally valid approaches to roleplay! First person roleplay is akin to traditional acting. You embody the character, adopting their mannerisms, posture, beliefs, and speech to bring them to life at the table. Third person roleplay relies on the player describing the actions of their character within the game’s fiction. Here’s an example: Embodying their character, Sam says “Innkeeper, a pot of tea and some breakfast please! I’ve worked up quite an appetite after ten days on the road”. If Sam used the third-person method they might say something like “My character sits down, greeting the innkeeper orders breakfast with a pot of tea, telling them he’s worked up quite an appetite on the road”. In both scenarios the other players understand what Sam’s character is doing within the fiction of the game. The most important thing is that you roleplay the way that you find most comfortable and fun, however there are some rules!


Breakfast table image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

“It’s what my character would do”: The social contract of tabletop games.

You may or may not be familiar with the phrase above, but it crops up a lot in tales of bad behaviour at gaming tables around the world. A minority of players use roleplaying as an excuse to act in a way others find uncomfortable, distasteful, or offensive using the rationale that their character would behave in such a manner, and it is therefore authentic roleplaying. Whilst this may be true, we all get to create our own characters, and we have a duty to the other players to uphold the social contract of the gaming table: We’re all there to have fun in a safe and inclusive way. If your roleplaying relies on making others uncomfortable to be authentic then that character might not be a good fit for that table.


Ready to roleplay?

I hope my article has helped you feel more confident about getting into roleplaying and demystified some of the intricacies between roleplaying and acting. In my opinion, roleplaying is vital to our development as people. It allows us a safe space to explore parts of ourselves we may not be familiar with, and to share that experience with trusted friends around a table playing a game we all love. 


On a personal note, I feel that we always put a little bit of ourselves into every character we create for roleplaying games, and I have had some of the most rewarding and engaging experiences of my life around the gaming table. I wish you all the best on your roleplaying journey and hope you can find some of that magic in your own games. If you ever get stuck, just ask yourself this question: What would my character do?


If you need help getting to know your character and transforming them from a bunch of stats on a page to someone who feels like a real person, then I highly recommend these TTC Hub articles from Misty Moon Illustrations on that very topic! You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.


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