In roleplaying games such as Dungeons and Dragons there is a simple, yet critical, concept that is often overlooked. Your character sheet has all of your stats, equipment, and skills. The dice decide your hits, damage, and saves. The DM provides you monsters and story. However, players actually roleplaying their crafted character is quite often put on the back burner. I have seen many times over the years and have even been guilty myself of essentially “phoning it in” and reducing my play to simple dice rolling with basic actions like “I attack with my longsword” or “I look around.” This lack of commitment to creativity adversely affects the game. Effective roleplaying is essential if one wishes to play the game the way it is meant to be played. This starts from the very beginning, with the basics of character creation.
A character needs to have a background that makes sense within the crafted world. If you start at level 1, then make it realistic. You can be a deckhand on a ship who is looking for some exploration on the land. A footman who has been commanded to carry out a simple task. A druid who is leaving the grove for the first time with the hopes of gaining knowledge abroad. A low level character will not, however, be the lone survivor of a great military campaign against the nearby tyrant. Unless the DM tells you otherwise as part of his overarching story, the likelihood of you being a lost or hidden prince/ss in a massive kingdom that has one absolute ruler is negligible. If you start at a higher level, then having some more epic story will make sense. A level 16 Wizard might be a powerful archmage who leads a College of Magi that saves a great city from an encroaching army of undead led by a Vampire. Simply put, levels and story should go hand-in-hand.
Once you develop an appropriate background, then roleplaying as that character is of the utmost importance. This includes sticking to the values and beliefs that you might have crafted for him or her. For instance, in our Monday night session I play the rogue, Igara. I enjoy being rewarded for my efforts, whether that is by being paid directly as a mercenary or with potential loot. I still know right from wrong. I won’t go kidnapping or killing children because someone pays me to. I also won’t betray the group I’m traveling with, because I’ve noticed that they make me a large sum of money with relative ease. My interactions with the group, besides telling them what I see while scouting, generally revolve around trying to get more gold. That will continue every step in the story until the campaign ends or until my character dies – it’s part of who he is.
Spell, skills, and backgrounds should match the persona of your character. A farmhand character who grew up in the middle of a landlocked country has no reason to have a sailing background. Likewise, being a righteous, lawful paladin, it wouldn’t make sense to specialize in stealth, deception, and intimidation. Most choices like that generally come from Min/Max players, which is fine if that is your playstyle, but doesn’t improve roleplaying whatsoever. If you decide to create a Red Dragon Bloodline Sorcerer, do your immersion a favor and go ahead and grab that Fireball spell over Sleet Storm.
Personality quirks are also important in adding depth to your character experience. The most fun I’ve had with a character was a particular gnome oracle (Pathfinder), named Rhixlic Thamapopple, who was cursed to be frenetic. I was also the charismatic leader of a group that, for the most part, disliked me greatly because I wouldn’t sit still or stop talking. I walked around wherever we went like I owned the joint, and was also extremely interested in every detail present. I spoke quickly to those we met along the way, generally leaving them confused when I became distracted by some new thing that caught my interest. Often, I would get the information I wanted by rapid-firing questions while rolling various checks. It was effective because my roleplaying matched my skills and complemented them. I even walked our party into a heavily-guarded library, where we discovered some research the antagonist’s group was carrying out. With a few deception checks and quick, almost incessant rambling, we were in and out with the research right under their noses with only a “slight” body count. It was the most satisfying play session I’ve had in the many years that we have been playing, and it would not have been that way without my character roleplay.
Roleplaying is also an effective way to immerse yourself in the setting that the DM has crafted for you. If they see you as a character in their story interacting with their NPCs properly and utilizing what they have provided, it will be a very rewarding experience for them. A DM spends a lot of time trying to provide an enjoyable play session for his or her players, and most of the time the reason they enjoy doing it is to see what the players are capable of doing for the story. It might give the DM insight on how to improve the game. At the very least, the DM might take pity on your group and throw you a bone because you are trying very hard to accomplish a goal in character. These games are a partnership between the players and the Dungeon Master, the least you can do is to attempt to roleplay in the roleplaying game (I know, it’s a strange concept right?).
There are a few no-nos while roleplaying, as well. Do not develop and roleplay a character that may be offensive to another player. Yes, this is a world with magic and monsters, but yes, it is still possible to offend other players. Your character’s story might be at odds with another player’s race/sex/religion, so be mindful of that and try to avoid making your fellow players uncomfortable. If you find yourself inadvertently putting them in an uncomfortable situation, it’s best for you to scrap that character and start over, otherwise you might end up losing a player permanently. The other big no-no is metagaming. You as a player might know a bit of information offhand, but think about what your character would know. Why would you suddenly decide to make a check to see if a member of your party is charmed if your character didn’t witness said charm? Don’t try to abuse the system – it makes playing a lot less enjoyable for your fellow party members and the DM who created the entire world.
I hope you gain something from this to make your own sessions better. Some of these may be hard to either put into practice consistently or break depending on your current habits. Just keep them in mind while playing and make the most of your story.