About two month ago I got interested in D&D and I decided to start playing it. I read the rules, found an adventure and got four of my friends to play with me. They always show up to play and we have fun, but I think the game could be a lot better and fun than it currently is.

I think my main problem is that the players don't seem to care that much, mostly about RP. I know you shouldn't force RP, but they never ever speak in character (Instead they choose "I ask him if..." "I try to intimidate him..." and come up with the simplest stuff when I ask them what they're saying exactly). They don't seem to take most of the NPCs, the world, or the challenges seriously, and they don't take initiative at all no matter how I try to make them. I have to ask "What do you do?" every 5 minutes, and most of the time they say they don't know or very vague stuff, like they just wanna get the story going.

It annoys me because I like DMing, but I would also really like to be a player so I could immerse myself in the world and RP. My players, on the other hand, don't seem interested in that, and so the only moments where anything seems to be happening are during fights.

Another problem I have is pacing. We play something like 2-3 hour sessions, and all we can do is a very tiny bit of roleplaying and at most 2 fights, or one fight and one skill challenge.

In the end I'm really frustrated, because the story doesn't move very quickly, the players don't seem to care that much about it anyway, I kinda have to hold their hands if I want something to happen, and while I was excited to roleplay with them and let them discover this awesome world that I created on my own, they don't really do that.

I really like them, they're my best friends, but sometimes it's really unsatisfying to play with them. However, they're the only players I've got.

Oh and one last thing which may be one of the causes of the problem: we play on Roll20, not IRL, so sometimes they just mess up with the drawing tool and sometimes they just don't answer and are kinda lost.


11 Answers 11


Start small — give your players one specific problem to solve

It seems the main issue is:

they don't take initiative AT ALL no matter how I try to make them. I have to ask "What do you do ?" every 5 minutes and most of the time they say they don't know or very vague stuff like they just wanna get the story going

Naturally, when you don't contribute to the story, you have no reasons for role-playing.

In other words, your players lack agency. Perhaps they treat D&D as a computer game, where the story is pre-written, and all you need to do is to make choices (select one from a pre-written list) and participate in combat scenes. So they expect the DM will lead the story, giving them minor choices sometimes.

Instead, let them choose the whole approach. Don't make the adventure too open-ended — for new players it might be paralyzing — but propose a decent task (say, to save hostages from a castle) and let your players decide all the details. How do they do that? Will they choose a sneaky infiltration? Will they try to deceive the guards? Will they make a forceful approach? It is up to them.


I have to ask "What do you do?" every 5 minutes

That doesn't have to be a bad thing. You can use it to increase their player agency. It is one of the primary mechanics in Dungeon World, an RPG focused on action adventures and cooperative story telling.

Ask what do you do more often:

  1. Describe a situation that requires action from the player characters.
  2. Ask "what do you do?"
  3. Resolve the character's action via the rules. This leads to a new situation (hopefully one that requires action), so continue with item 1.

At first, you might want to start with very concrete situations where it very obvious that player action is required:

Three bugbears crash through the underbrush storming towards you, their weapons drawn and raised towards you.

If your group uses miniatures and a battle grid, you depict the situation on the battle grid.

What do you do?

As the players grow (the character gain levels as well, but play growth and character leveling does not have to coincide), you expand the situation and make it more abstract:

The goblin king holds the villagers captive in his mountain fort. He intends to sacrifice them coming full moon, which is three nights from now.

What do you do?

And later perhaps something vague and where the course of action is not apparent:

You hear various rumors about in the west of the kingdom. The rumors are wild and contradict each other: "orcs are raiding the west", "the west suffers from a severe drought", "the archduke is corrupted and helping the invading army", "the arch duke's armies have successfully stopped the dragons terrorizing the country side.", "silk prices are dropping rapidly, because the west is producing it in large quantities". What do you do?

You can ask "what do you do?" to a specific player character. This may help if the players shrug their shoulders any start looking. to each other when you ask "what do you do?". It also helps to involve all players when it is always the same players who take initiative: "what do you do Sir Galdric?". Directing the "what do you do?" question to a character comes natural in encounters when the order of initiative has been defined by rolling dices. But also in more abstract situations you can direct it to a single character:

  • perhaps the one with a class or skills that fit the situation;
  • perhaps the character who doesn't have any affinity with the situation, this might lead to out of the box approaches and it might help to involve that player in a situation that they would otherwise think of as uninteresting; or,
  • perhaps the character of the player who never takes initiative and always tags along.

Addressing the characters instead of the players helps the roleplaying. The players become more immersed in the story. Hopefully the players learn to cooperate. The player to whom the "what do you do?" was directed doesn't have to decide the whole strategy for a broad situation alone. Hopefully he asks his comrades for help, hopefully in character.

As said before, Dungeon World] is focused on action and less on roleplaying and building deep characters, hence this advise of often asking "what do you do?" is also focused on action. However, you might be able to adapt it to encourage roleplaying. When you describe a situation you can ask more softer questions to one or more player characters:

The girl you met in the tavern last night is among the captives taken. How do you feel about that Sir Galdric?.

Or give a character a tough choice:

What do you think Sir Galdric? Cut many trees to fortify the village and anger the druids or preserve the trees and try to defend the village somehow without a palisade What options are there, Rogwin?

After speaking about feelings and motivations you can move back to the action via "what do you do?". You can ask the latter question to a different character than the one who detailed their emotions; does the character follow the other character's feelings or does he go his own way? And how does the first character react?

Introduce this asking for depth only when the characters become familiar with the asking for action.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm fairly sure asking "what do you do?" frequently (such as after each block of narration) is also in the standard advice of D&D. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 14:14

Remember: Roleplaying and Acting aren't (necessarily) the same

It appears that while your players are expressing intent for their characters, you want them to act out that intent more. You need to impress on them that this is what you want in other words than 'roleplaying', as in many situations 'roleplaying' simply means making choices for a character - not being them.

Instead, give them a hook to act off of. Your question does not make clear whether you yourself speak in the voice of the NPCs you are roleplaying as or describing their actions from a narrator-perspective. If you want your players to do the former, you should be taking the lead.

Do not be alarmed if it turns out your players are not into the whole improv-acting thing some groups get up to. You don't have to do that to play the game and have fun. All you need at this point is a good conversation on what roleplaying means to each of you; the answers may surprise you.


You have the option of rewarding Inspiration for acting their flaws, bonds, etc. (p. 240-241, DMG).

There are some things you can do that aren't system dependent, including:

  1. Lead by example.
    When they talk to NPC's, speak in character. You can watch a few videos of experienced GM's running an encounter.
  2. Have people describe their actions beyond "I roll to do ...yay it worked".
    A check isn't just a random success or failure, its designed to model something in the game world.

If you are persuading somebody, you have to talk - have them act it out, just like you (since you're setting an example) what they say.

  • Example:

    Oh no! The factory manager is about to jump into an industrial mincer! You arrive just as he has climbed the gantry above the mincer.

    You(in character): "Don't come any closer, I'll do it!"

Have the players act out any check they make that involves speaking. (persuasion, perception, intimidation)

Do they try to break the machine? If the check succeeds, have them describe what they do. This lets them show how their character thinks and does stuff, even if its just the barbarian and he is hitting the machine with a mallet.


This sounds to me like it could be one of three problems.

Do your players get the same kind of engagement as you do from role-playing? Some people like a rich story and detailed interactions, some people like problem-solving, and some people like build optimizing and strategic combat. Most people, of course, like some combination thereof, but you need to be sure that you all want the same kind of experience. Check out the Same Page Tool for a document that might help you communicate this, although be aware that the Same Page Tool is easy to misuse if you try to use it as anything other than a communication mechanism. It's an easy problem to fall into, because D&D can be many things to many people. I've had one player who wanted a PvP backstabfest among a group that was very cooperative and constructive, and really, the only solutions after that problem has been identified was to either help him find the joy in playing a different way, to separate him from the group, or to strongarm him, IG or OOG, into playing in a way that was fun for everyone. And I've been an RP-heavy player in a game that was just numbers and tactical strategy, and

Do your players want to engage like you want them to engage, but just lack the skills to do so? I've played games when in this state before - where I wanted to engage with this world, to solve the puzzles, to talk to the people, but I didn't know what to say to make that happen, I had no idea where to go or what to do to achieve my goals, and all that I could manage was to express my intent to the DM and hope that he could guide me. If this is the case, then there's not a lot that you can do other than play with them more - they just need to gain some Out-Of-Game experience. Drop hints, or offer options, to guide them along the path. Have NPCs ask a bunch of leading questions from which a certain behavior emerges naturally, and then if the PCs either comply with the pattern or - even better - buck it with their own ideas over time, celebrate! And realize that some people will have great difficulty learning some of the skills for RP. If I want to play a silver-tongued diplomat but I myself am incredibly socially awkward and have a persistent stammer, "I talk the guard into abandoning his post" might be the most immersive approach that the player has available to them.

Do your players have difficulty becoming immersed in your game? If they lack the skills to engage with the world, this will certainly also be a problem. But even skilled players can have trouble getting into their characters' heads some of the time. This is especially hard to account for in an online game, since you likely won't even be able to observe the interfering factors, much less discourage them. If someone's multitasking heavily, it can be a lot harder to stay in character or follow the needed process. If someone's suffering a lot of downtime - which can include long 'cutscenes' - then they can mentally check out. If they don't understand the world and their character, then it can be hard to visualize what's going on. Your best bet here is to ask them if any of this is the case, and respond to these items one-by-one. Are people multitasking? Why? If they need to do so, can they be encouraged to find ways to multitask that don't break their focus as much? Are people having trouble understanding the world or their character? How can you help?

I've also seen some tricks online to help immerse a player into their character at the beginning of a gameplay session. Have them do something inconsequential, maybe even take a non-canonical action, that requires them to think like their character.

  • "The last time your characters were in a tavern, what did they do? Did they have fun?"
  • "Team-building time! The last time your characters were on the road, they played the game where you build a story with each person saying one word, adding to the story build by the words before them. Remember, this is your characters, not yourself."
  • "Tell me about the dream your characters had the last time they slept."
  • "Hey, if the topic of (insert NPC here) came up around the campfire, what did your characters think about him? Remember, (interesting fact about NPC intended to spur conversation)!"
  • "This totally didn't happen, but if all of your characters had fifteen minutes to compete for the same love interest, what would they do?"
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer with many details - maybe add a short TL;DR at the beginning to get your point across ? - I think especially your first point is quite likely. Since no player has complained it is likely players enjoy the current way of gaming \$\endgroup\$
    – Falco
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 7:55

I see a few things in your question, which are effectively at odds with each other:

We play something like 2-3 hour sessions, and all we can do is a very tiny bit of roleplaying and at most 2 fights, or one fight and one skill challenge.

In the end I'm really frustrated, because the story doesn't move very quickly...

I cannot speak for yourself, but I will tell you that a good roleplay scene can easily consume a solid hour. Whether it's spent on arguing with a shopkeeper or the noble giving a quest is up to the discretion of the table. Given the duration of your sessions, entire sessions can be consumed by roleplay and ending just prior to a combat encounter.

I think it's important to keep expectations in line with what's practical, though. With that in mind, consider the following solutions:

Session 0

I'm assuming a Session 0 did not occur wherein you discuss what sort of game you want to play. It is almost never too late for this. Consider everything below in your Session 0 as it is all part of playing DnD.

Set Expectations Appropriately

Personally, I think 2 combat encounters, a skill challenge, and a little bit of roleplay is pretty good for a 2-3 hour session. This is pretty much on par with what I see in Adventurer's League games, which also don't really permit much roleplay by their nature. Combat can be very time consuming depending on how proficient and ready your players are for it.

Overall, if you want more roleplay, I think you have to expect that it'll have a commensurate reduction in other encounters that occur. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Consider a Distraction Jar that Doesn't Count

My table is a bit notorious for getting ourselves off track. In the middle of our table is an imaginary distraction jar that we fake throwing a dollar into whenever we bring up a conversation topic away from the actual game at hand. However, we are all adults in our late 20's and early 30's and enjoy the social get together as much as we enjoy the game itself.

Your scenario may be different, but I suspect your players enjoy socializing with each other. Given that you play on Roll20, I assume you all don't necessarily get to see each other often in meat space. As a result, the DnD table is a social engagement as much as it is a game. Personally, I don't think you should significantly impede that, but after a few minutes say, "Distraction jar," and try to bring things back.

As an aside, our table has been playing about weekly for a few months. Pretty sure our distraction jar would have at least $100 in it by now if we actually counted.


A few humble suggestions:

Give XP to encourage things you like: Everyone likes XP, so give it out like candy for good roleplaying. Tell them at the start of the session you'll be rewarding "in-character" decision making with experience points. Whenever they incorporate a trait or flaw of their character into their interactions with NPCs, or choose a course of action because "that's what my character would do", reward them.

You don't need to give out much at any one time- it's probably better to keep the amount small and give it out more often.

Make sure they have their own goals Related to the point above, make sure each character chooses a goal for his or her character, beyond the plot of the current adventure- then remind them that you'll reward decisions their character make that move them towards that goal with XP. This should get them thinking about what motivates their characters and finding ways to tie it in with the action taking place at the moment.

Reward Specifics I'm echoing what JDM7 and gburton said earlier, because it's so essential- when a player says "I'm going to intimidate the guard", ask them what exactly they're going to say. Then. if they come up with something reasonably compelling, reward them with a +2 on the roll, or advantage, or just say "Y'know what- you don't even need to roll, your description of what you're planning to do with the guard's tongue has him completely terrified.". Do that a couple of times, and your players will start thinking of encounters in terms of "what can I say that will give my character an advantage?".

A Quiz This is a great trick a friend of mine uses at his table, and it's amazing how effective it is: at the end of each session, ask the players 10 questions from the night's session- and award a couple of XP for every right answer. Mix in some questions that highlight player's actions ("What did Granthor say to the Innkeeper to make him mad?") as well as some specific ones ("Who struck the killing blow against the Cult Leader?") and some trivia ("What town did the Elf Ranger say she came from?"). You'll be surprised how engaged they'll get by the second session, jotting down notes from every conversation and encounter. Moreover, the reward of having the clever thing your character did turn up in the quiz is a great incentive for your players.

Pick the Right Stakes This works for me as a player, and you may get some mileage out of it. In plot terms, when the party's goal is too abstract ("gather the three light-stones of Agramoor and return them to the Crypt of Fontwozzle") my eyes glaze over. If the stakes are something I can get my head around ("Rescue the Orphans from the serpent cult before the Ceremony of Stabbiness takes place") I find it a lot easier to get emotionally hooked, which opens the door to more engagement in the role my character is playing.

Hope these help!


I'm one of those players that doesn't RP much. It's been described that I play the system as a system rather than an immersive world.

The DM who runs the sessions I'm part of incorporates me in one of two ways.

Doesn't force RP. Encourage RP and reward.

As mentioned in other answers, forcing RP isn't a good idea. Players can react negatively resulting the session being less fun for everyone else. My DM engages the other natural role players of the group and uses that to show the different avenues it opens. For example a shopkeeper gives better rates on a successful persuasion check with a bit of RP. Other answers have stated alternative rewards such as those mentioned in the PHB. A repetitive reward will reinforce the behaviour.

Open choice

One-shots are a good place to start for new DMs and players. The laid out structure and set encounters make things easier. As stated in other answers, you can modify NPC encounters to be more open ended. Provide more ways to reach the same goal.

For example, you talk to a groundskeeper about disturbances in the local graveyard. Part way through discussions you could reveal that the PCs hear/see a keychain rattling. DMs would usually put this behind a Perception check or something similar, but you can reveal it to demonstrate other avenues of action. You don't have to do it all the time just the first instance of common encounters.

I'm aware that I've rambled a little, but this is my experience as a player that does not RP much/at all.


I find it very helpful to ask the players what their characters are thinking. This helps because it’s a recurring reminder to the players that:

  • the characters are explicity separate from the players,
  • thoughts are the predicate to actions, so knowing what a character is thinking can help determine what the character would do,
  • it’s a way of getting players invested in their characters without using the term “role playing” which is broad and can cause some players to tune out if they feel they’re not good enough at it,
  • even when you’re not in the spotlight, figuring out how your character interprets what’s going on can be engaging and fun.

This works whether players speak in character or not, and I’ve found it helpful for players who are nervous about their ability to convey their character concept in the first person. It’s easier to talk about your character in the third person because you don’t have to be as precise in your language, and you don’t have to maintain a consistent voice.

By gathering info about what the characters are thinking, you can provide less open-ended prompts when characters need to act. “You mentioned that your character is mistrustful of the dwarf. Now that the dwarf has pulled out his crossbow, what do you want to do?” This approach also has the benefit of giving players an incentive to invest a bit more effort into determining their characters’ thoughts, because they players understand that it’s not just an abstract question; character thoughts matter.

This approach does require that players are able to separate player knowledge from character knowledge. In some situations this is not feasible, but if you want to give it a try you can suggest to players that separating player knowledge from character knowledge is a marker of player skill. They may rise to the challenge.

All of this said, talking with players about expectations really is the foundation of good communication, which is necessary for any successful campaign.


Practice Makes Perfect

As someone who started D&Ding with the start of 5e (wow, almost 4 years already!), I have some experience being those players. We've since grown out of it, but it took us awhile. It's really just practice and finding that hook that they really grab on to. Give them something to role-play.

Third Person vs First Person

Third and First person narratives and role-play are both effective tools useful for different purposes. It's natural for players to begin in the third person because it's comfortable and they won't "look stupid", as they've probably said in their own minds. New players almost always have this barrier that needs to be broken down, a barrier stops them from role-playing and improvising. However, third person shouldn't be taken as a negative in and of itself. I still use it to help the players and GM understand what i'm going for when my acting skills won't suffice. It's also much quicker a lot of the time too. It's especially helpful when you're playing a character that has 20 charisma and you yourself have maybe 8. But this still leaves room for first-person role-play with a bit of prodding from you the DM.

Force It.

So I might say something like "I ask the bartender for information, I'm kinda looking for any hints of a red-robed man in the last 2 days" and my DM would say "Well what do you say?".

Or, "I try to intimidate him". "Well what do you say?".

This is an important question. My DM is forcing me to role-play because I'm being lazy, and I need that sometimes. You can use the same tactic on your players if they're dodging the role-play with third-person narration. It's a simple brute force solution, but it works. Even if it's "bad" role-play, it's still a lot of fun. Don't be surprised or upset if your players don't take the role-play seriously, as this is a common way of dealing with awkwardness and it's fun too. Take all of it in stride because there's no reason to assume they're already good at role-playing.

Give Them a Reason to Role-Play

If there's no reason to role-play, players probably won't do it. Give them a mental challenge or a moral quandary to deal with as a party. Turn your encounters from combat encounters to social encounters and reward good efforts. Changing up the style of a session can have a big impact and it will help you narrow down what and why your players like to role-play. Put them in a noble's party. Make the obstacle an interrogation. Give them a mystery to solve. If you give them a reason to role-play, they'll role-play. Granted, a lot of new players tend to argue and discuss things out-of-character, and this is a separate problem. But I think it's an important step for players to begin role-playing. When they discuss and debate amongst themselves, it means they're invested and immersed in the story at hand. So give them a task that isn't combat oriented and they'll get better at doing non-combat things.


Roll20 isn't a very good tool, yeah. That said, have you tried actually talking to them about this? It seems like you and they have different expectations of how the game works. Heck, I bet they'd welcome a discussion of how to make the game more enjoyable, as from what you've said they don't really like it either.

Perhaps try a different, more roleplayey-out-of-the-box one-shot sort of game for a session (with the players' consent of course), and see if they can get into that?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay, so I basically said what Pyrotechnical said about a Session 0 and I accrue downvotes? I'm rather miffed...Can people at least maybe say what they think I'm doing wrong, then? \$\endgroup\$
    – Stackstuck
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 16:27
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure, as I didn't down vote, but I didn't up vote either. I think a few users might find your tone to be a bit hard edged; your first two sentences in particular. As to your last paragraph, do you mean a D&D one shot, or a different game? That's unclear; if you have a different game in mind, I think adding that to your answer would improve how helpful it would be to the OP. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I mean any sort of one-shot. Any system. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stackstuck
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 22:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ OK, I'd recommend adding that clarification into the answer via an edit. If you have a system in mind, go ahead and add that suggestion, or at least specify "try a one shot with any other system" ... FWIW, when you make a suggestion like that, adding a few likely titles that are good for one shots would be helpful. There are nowadays thousands of RPGs... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 23:27

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