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I'm a new player to D&D 4e. I've been participating in D&D Encounters since Season 1 and have even run a couple of sessions in Season 3 when the regular DM couldn't attend. I don't play in any home groups as my schedule can only accomodate the one weekly Encounters night. My group doesn't do much role playing. Most of the time, the players push the minis around the map and declare which power they are using against what target.

I've been having a good time but I feel like I'm missing out on role playing opportunities. I tried to get the players more engaged in role playing with some character conversations or by adding descriptive elements to my actions when it's my turn. However, I can't seem to get other folks to get into the role playing part with me.

I asked the organizer if this was how the game was played and he basically told me that the format for Encounters is geared for new players and not set up to support much role play.

I'm trying to figure out if this is the prevailing opinion in the community. How can I encourage my group to do more role playing within the structure of a 90 minute D&D Encounters session?

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7 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

To encourage more role-playing, ask questions. This is easiest when you're the DM - "OK, you kill the orc! Please describe how you do it" - but you can also do it as a player - "Hey, what did my character see yours do when you rolled that critical hit?"

In my experience it's best to ask for these moments of player narration after specific, infrequent game events whose outcome is already established in the rules. To address each part of this:

  • Specific is because you want the whole group to get in the habit of expecting to describe certain cool events. If you can make it a "rule" - like 'the player who lands the killing blow gets to describe the kill shot' - then it's easier for everyone to learn the rule and follow it automatically.

  • Infrequent is because, as others have said, people come to play for many reasons; you want to use player descriptions of what they do as a spice and a teaching tool, not something that has to happen every time a player wants their character to do something (which some will experience as an onerous burden). It's best if the events you're describing are significant moments, which are also infrequent.

  • Tied to game events is because people who aren't familiar with role-playing games are still familiar with other kinds of games. In a scene where character conversations are taking place without obvious stakes riding on them, some players won't get into it because they don't see where the game is here. By putting the game part first - "cool I rolled the dice and succeeded or failed" - you can then introduce the role-playing part - "oh yeah, I see how it's even cooler when I can imagine and share exactly how my awesome guy was awesome, and watch that get picked up by other players and become part of the collective imagination of the scene."

  • Outcome already established is because people feel ripped off (and turned off of narrating their character's actions) when they come up with a cool description of what their character is going to do, and then the dice say 'no, actually you fall on your ass.' Good moments when the dice have already spoken but leave room for narration are death scenes and becoming bloodied (your character or your foe), critical hits, and critical failures. I think this last one is especially important because failure can make a player fall out of love with their character. As DM I like to say "OK, so your character is a legendary hero, normally able to do mighty feats, but something went wrong here; what was it?"

Although what I'm talking about here might not seem like the thing you're thinking of when you want more role-playing, I think they're related if not the same. You want players to say what their characters are doing, thinking, and experiencing, not just what mechanics they're using; getting them to describe their actions is an important first step in that direction.

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In my experience, these kinds of blunt questions can sometimes intimidate players, and push them away from having fun while roleplaying. I found it useful to sometimes ask leading kinds of questions - "You crit - was that an awesome hit or what?", as well as allow for leeway with some of the rules - the outcome may be fixed (the Orc leader dies), but the last move(s) may be changed to be more like fatalities (ie, the last cut decapitates him, the fireball incinerates the inside of his head, etc...) –  blueberryfields Dec 8 '10 at 22:37
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I liked this answer because it does give some options and suggestions. Even if Encounters isn't designed for heavy role play, I think we do ourselves and new players a disservice to dismiss it altogether and not even try to sprinkle a little bit in here and there. –  ChrisP Dec 9 '10 at 11:50
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I hate to sound snide, but... in this case, it's unavoidable.

I asked the organizer if this was how the game was played and he basically told me that the format for Encounters is geared for new players and not set up to support much role play.

He's right.

If you are looking for actual role-playing, encounters isn't your venue.

It might be a good spot to spin off a few players from into a real RP oriented group, but its a venue aimed at character scale miniatures game play.

Some tables do get into RP mode, but that's not the mode it is written for. And many of the Encounters players I've met like it better that way. It's filling a niche shared by GW's Inquisitor, Metagaming's Melee and Wizard, and SJG's Man-To-Man.

It's not that 4E isn't capable of supporting RP, either. It's a specific issue of the Encounters venue for play, which is focused on the Combat scenes.

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While this may sound like a non-answer, I agree completely. My current large group (14-17) started as several D&D Encounters group and it got to a point where neither the players nor myself could stomach the constant crunch and the completely irrational setting construction (my favorite is the key that opens doors in succession only after the party has had each sequential combat...). I love the idea of Encounters, but the actual offerings aren't conducive to developing a narrative with the players. –  rjstreet Dec 8 '10 at 12:18
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-1 -- "Your system sucks for that" as an answer on its own feels like bad form. I'd rather see something like this as a comment on an answer, or attached to an answer that addresses the question. –  AceCalhoon Dec 8 '10 at 15:43
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@AceCalhoon "Your event sucks for roleplay" isn't the same as "Your system sucks for roleplay". Encounters is organised to get people playing the tactical game, not the roleplaying part—ninety minutes is not long enough for people to invest in roleplay from a cold start with no experience and an ever-changing group. Few Encounters groups will sustain RP in the face of constant incoming players with expectations that are more in-line with the event's organisation. –  SevenSidedDie Dec 8 '10 at 16:57
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@AceCalhoon: shrug Whether it's a good answer to the question or not is what voting is for. We have a well-established tradition already of answering "How can I use this screwdriver as a hammer better?" questions with "Consider using a hammer instead," answers. –  SevenSidedDie Dec 8 '10 at 18:15
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On a pragmatic note, you can form a dedicated encounters group between like minded individuals. Outside of game time, communicate with the coordinator, and ask for a longer session designed to allow for more role-playing activities, descriptive combat, and other narrative elements of your choice, and ask that person if there are any others interested in the slot.

Explain why you're interested and how you're willing to help administrate the extra work. If you can form a small sub-group of encounters players interested in RPing more than the norm, and you can find a GM willing to run with it, then it's a great start. From there, you can then start working into a local group that suits your interests.

On a different note, while it's not quite as satisfying, there are online games (like my low-key game in the Back Room here that provide for significantly more RPing (under different constraints) than an encounters game.) Look at various online games to see if they suit your requirements, and if they don't, start one yourself. I'm happy to provide tips in a different answer.

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I have approached the store to see if they would allow me to start an 'unofficial' Encounters type group and the owner was supportive. I now need to find enough folks commit to it. It's a challenge to get folks to come out on a week night. Most of the players I've approached prefer playing on the weekend. I'll definitely check out the Back Room to see how that works. –  ChrisP Dec 9 '10 at 2:52
    
Cool. And I'm happy to chat with you about specific strategies that may be useful for your encounters game. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Dec 9 '10 at 3:30
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I find that complex rules, and their strict enforcement, tends to lead to a drier game - with fewer, and lower quality, role playing chances.

One successful method I've had for encouraging more roleplaying has been to allow (minor) infractions to rules as a result of a particularly good role-played encounter. For example, if a player will go to great lengths to describe what his character is doing to avoid being detected when sneaking behind a boss, he might increase his chances of success (say, adding a bonus to his roll, or a penalty to the boss roll, when he might become detected).

Or, alternatively, it might decrease them - depending on the specific details - a Rogue which makes a large sweeping, windy motion every time he tries to do a backstab, may find himself failing more often than usual.

I try to make these infractions be obviously related to the role play. For example, if the Rogue throws a pebble against a wall before moving, the opponent might move to look at the pebble, or turn his head just as the rogue is passing by.

As a guiding principle, when trying to aim for a good roleplaying session, I imagine what the session would look like if there was no dice-throwing involved (that is, if everyone just role-plays through an encounter without having to enforce or rely on any rules), and see how I can get closer to that ideal.

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Direct Engagement. And the current season of Encounters you have (at least until yesterday you had) some excellent opportunities because of the NPCs of Benwick and his assistants (Gordi and Sal). So what I mean by direct engagement is not really 'describing' stuff. Instead, turn to the player and do your best Benwick voice and engage them directly. "I need you guys to get something for me.." and stop, and wait until someone engages you back. And 9 times out of 10, they should give you a bit of engagement in character. Once you get started, you just keep the interaction going. The D&D cops will not stop you. And interactions even between pcs) will generate a bit of natural flow from there once you get the ball rolling.

The other trick is: Don't read what the boxed text says, play Benwick..as if he were your NPC. because he is. That boxed text stuff is in there for the amateurs, but if you already know how to do this stuff.. then just do it.

Also: It's ok to introduce complications, at least as long as you can keep the adventure on track.

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An excellent tip which I should have remembered from my days as a trainer - ask a question of the students and just wait for a response. People get uncomfortable with silence and will naturally respond. –  ChrisP Dec 10 '10 at 11:19
    
@Chris: there are exceptions, though few in number. An audience not inclined to participate or unsure as to why a question's being asked may simply wait for you to continue. With a group like that, it might not hurt to seed it with someone who can also role-play a bit. If no one else volunteers, this person can speak up in character, and that might encourage others to do the same. –  Dave DuPlantis May 11 '11 at 21:27
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Award experience directly for good role playing, and for incredible ideas make them effect the character in a permanent positive way and benefits could be your nice and speak politely with a powerful mage and he casts a beneficial spell on you for the next battle. Also another way would be to have all your player vote who role played best that session and award based on number of votes. I always award player who keep a sword from the beginning of their character and use it and make it into the story. Award experience the more a pc develops a back story for their character as it will help you dm.

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I can see how this would work within an on-going home game. The challenge in using this approach within the structure of D&D Encounters is the changing nature of the party/players. At my store, every week presents a slightly different mix of party member and PC's. –  ChrisP Jan 4 '11 at 16:37
    
WOTC has already set up a system for earning Renown points and the prizes for hitting certain levels. Same with the XP. A DM could award extra XP but the scenario dictates exactly when a PC can increase in level. –  ChrisP Jan 4 '11 at 16:39
    
DM should always in my opinion encourage extra role-playing, character backgrounds the more you do the the better the game. (give more xp for role playing extra well every session no matter who what when or how long you have played for. It will help, and encourage them to become a better role-player. –  IrqJD Jan 6 '11 at 5:25
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I tend to see game mastering as management. If players behave in a way that prevents fun, there is probably something the game master does that unintentionally feeds the situation. So I think you’re looking at your situation the right way. Here are some thoughts.

The possibility of Defeat, role playing’s best friend. Players tend to willingly role play if it’s necessary to achieve their goals. Often however, game masters defeat themselves by providing simple goals and easily defeated opponents not requiring planning, tactics, or role play – so players simply role dice. It is extremely common, even in store bought adventures, for every monster/s that PC’s might encounter to be 75% as strong as the party. Players merely need to not screw up or suffer terrible luck to prevail. To solve this, provide opponents that are stronger than the party, so strong they can’t be defeated in toe to toe battle. Now players need to THINK of a better way. Here’s an example.

While traveling, 3rd level PC’s encounter a giant raiding a village. The giant is drunk, having broken into a brewery. For now, the giant is content to drink his fill as the villagers stand around wondering what to do. Even in its drunken state, the party can’t hope to defeat the giant in open combat. But if they can organize the villagers with a clever strategy, then victory becomes possible. How? Through role play.

Situations over Combats: The problem with a lot of ‘random encounters’ is that they are actually ‘random combats.’ Once combat begins, conversation is off the table. Particularly if all the monsters want from the players is for the players to die. Combats are like – two men enter, one man leave. What’s to discuss? Situations on the other hand are complicated requiring brain power (either strategy or role playing) to resolve. In encounter form, situations will often appear as stalemates that players most resolve to win. More importantly they must make decisions. Here’s an example.

5th level PC’s encounter a tribe of orcs preparing an attack on another tribe. Which side do they choose? Do they stay loyal to the group they joined? Does that tribe remain loyal to the PC’s? Much of the role playing will grow from the PC’s deciding what they want to do, but also negotiating with the possible allies.

3+ sided combats: Far more interesting than two men enter, one man leaves is – three men enter, one man leaves. Many game masters play for years and devise hundreds of combats, but in every case its group A versus group B. Conflict is a foregone conclusion and the dice decide who wins. But insert a third party opponent and everything becomes more interesting. On some level, for some period of time, an alliance must be formed, hence the role play. In story telling this is standard dramatic structure, like the classic love triangle: two guys, one girl - much more interesting than one guy, one girl.

Flat, Bright, and Empty: Many game worlds, if you think about it, are unnaturally devoid of detail most of the time. When encounters occur, players have almost no information about the world around them to guide their thinking. Combats occur on flat ground, with good visibility, devoid of obstacles – flat, bright, and empty. In the real world, this only occurs inside a boxing ring in order to keep everything fair and balanced between the two opponents. Thus, there’s nothing to do but get to fighting. Battles are the opposite. They occur on uneven ground in difficult situations. Military tacticians seek to use the inequalities of environment to their advantage (control of the high ground, superior cover, etc.) Essentially the idea is to cheat the situation so that your side has more advantages than the other. Thinking up these ways to cheat will drive role playing.

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