I know I should "let them have fun" or something, but the game isn't really working. I'm GMing a pathfinder campaign, but this isn't system-dependent. My players aren't roleplaying at all. Ok, they don't metagame (also because I try to keep all the information that the player shouldn't know for me), but they just "play" the game. We sit around the table for 3 hours rolling dice but no one is actually roleplaying. It's fun, but it would be a lot better if they roleplayed correctly. How, as a GM, help them to improve their RPing skills without ruining their fun?

Even if I haven't directly told them the problem yet (I thought It could be unpolite or something) I've tried to add a lot of details to my games, a lot of interesting NPCs, a lot of rp encounters and I always describe the enemies attacks during combat (so I don't just roll, but they won't do it as well). But they always do the minimum roleplay possible. They talk to the NPCs without roleplaying at all.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've searched but I did not find that. Anyway it is no totally the same, they've played for 15 years while we are pretty new. \$\endgroup\$
    – olinarr
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you are interested in rich examples of role playing, you could try listening to some live play podcasts. A question covers this topic: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/1605/…. If you hear one you like, you could use it as an example to your players. My personal favorite is Thursday Knights (thursdayknights.com/#episodes). Listen to episodes 1 & 2 for background and then 3 for an example of excellent character depth, background and role playing. I find these guys to be the best I've heard. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 21:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/6212/… \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 23:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nethacker how new? As the question is written above it's identical, so I'm going to close for a moment - feel free and edit it to elaborate on the differences so that it really is a unique question. Definitely "new" (define new) vs "long term" players will change its flavor... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 2:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ "...if they roleplayed correctly." There is no such thing, roleplaying is highly individual and subjective. Perhaps describe the way in which you would prefer they roleplay, i.e. what is "correct" roleplaying for you. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 22:50

4 Answers 4


So before I start, and before I give any other tip, the number one rule is that if it's not broken, don't fix it. If everyone is having fun, maybe it should be better to leave it this way for now and to come back for it when it's relevant to all (or even most) of the group.

With that said, let's delve into the actual tips that I'm gonna suggest, hoping that at least one of them will help you:

Lead from example

As a GM it is your responsibility to make sure that the players know what they should and shouldn't do in the game. One of the best ways to show them what you are expecting from them is by giving them an example. Put many NPCs in the story and portray and play each one of them to the best of your ability. Male or female, dwarves or elves, you should showcase to them that there are persons behind those stacks of mechanical characteristics.

More than that, though, giving them the example will also show them (hopefully) 2 very important things: Firstly what portraying a character really is. The task often seems intimidating for new players and by showing them what it looks like it becomes more familiar, thus less scary.

Secondly it will show them that there's no reason to be shy, that looking silly or stupid is not a bad thing and that they shouldn't fear any of that. If you're not a pro actor and you're willing to do it, why shouldn't they?

State connections between the characters

Connections are everything. They are the fodder from which those shining moments of roleplaying come. Take a break from the game and spend some times with the players establishing connections between their characters to the others and between their characters to the world. It doesn't have to be complicated; it just has to give a basis for a roleplaying scene. If a character hates another one, for example, this feeling will come into play sooner or later. This leads me to the next point:

Rewarding great roleplaying

It's not enough to just give some examples and then move on. We have to reward them for those moments of roleplaying. At the start, aim for the bigger rewards, bennies or experience points or the like. They'll want those badly and because of that they'll go the extra mile to get those. Then, slowly but surely, they'll learn to see the benefits of roleplaying their characters and they will start to enjoy this acting thing. At this point you start to minimize the rewards (a +1 for an action, for example), making the story and the enjoyment themselves the real benefits. If done right, this will make them act for the acting and not for a bribery of any kind.

Make a Fiasco one-shot

I really think that this game should be a mandatory game to know. It teaches you so many things about how to play a character, how to connect the character with others and when the story should triumph the characters. Let you players taste it, show them what is expected from them.

Another benefit is that this game is both short and GM-less. The length lets you continue to the regular session a short while afterwards, thus implementing the lessons immediately. The GM-less thing helps them to see that not only GMs are supposed to roleplay, but the players too.


My gut reaction would be to say: Let them play the way they like, and if you're after more RPing, start a new group (besides keeping this one, because, as you said, you like this as well.) But I guess you're not after this answer, so

  1. Organize a few one on one sessions with each of the players, during which there's no peer pressure upon them, and fewer reasons to be shy (if that's a possible cause.) Try and focus these sessions on RPing, supported by

  2. Modifiers for RPing. Not severe, because that would feel forced. However, a +1 (or +2) for an in-character interrogation compared to a simple roll of gather info might help.

  3. Design a few scenarios / subquests that can only (or most effectively) be solved through RPing. Examples: There's a madman with a clue in an asylum who won't divulge that crucial piece of info unless spoken to like a pirate (arrr, that should be easy, because it's a cliche.) There's a ball held by a noble where everyone's supposed to take on the role of a noble of the Enemy Court (prepare alternate characters for the PCs with a few quite distinguished traits.)


I'd say your best bet here is to encourage your players to (1) step into the mind of their character and (2) be as descriptive as possible.

I've found that it can be really helpful at the beginning of a game (or even each session) to ask the players to think a bit on what their character's motivations are, what their mannerisms, habits, etc are. This should get people into the mindset of their character and also make the character seem a little more real/vivid and human (even if they're another race). You can approach this as sort of a team enterprise as well; work closely with the player in thinking about what their character is about, or even discuss each character as an entire group so everybody has a chance to contribute. Of course the player (and you, the storyteller) should be the ultimate arbiter here, but it can be really helpful to get other people's perspectives when fleshing out a character. I also personally think it's important to encourage at least somewhat serious characters. If a player insists on building a completely absurd/ridiculous character, this might be funny, but it's not a great way to foster good roleplaying. It helps to have a character with just enough realism that the player can really invest in them. The more absurd or unfitting a character is, the more difficult it can be to step into that character's perspective. I guess the moral of the story here is, the more effort you put into a fleshing out a character, making them seem real and fit into your campaign's world, the more likely a player will be to act as that character would.

As for being descriptive, I think this just helps players develop a sort of cinematic understanding of what's happening. Rolling dice is not the entire point--the die rolls exist in service of the story, the plot, the cinematics. So have your characters roll their attacks, their damage, but ask them to then vividly describe what that die roll represents. What's important here is that by describing the cinematics the die rolls capture, they can learn to flavor these descriptions according to their particular character. So even though two players may roll the same exact attack rolls against the same creature, the descriptions/cinematics should be wildly different; e.g., one character is desperate and cruel, grinning wildly while they slash at the enemy mercilessly with their blade, while the other character is stolid and methodical, purposefully hammering through their adversary's defenses. These kinds of cinematic descriptions can take just a bunch of die rolls and really turn them into something truly vivid and epic, and importantly can provide a nice window into the characters themselves.

Hope that helps!


Check out the Numenera and 13th Age systems. Both have some interesting mechanics to promote role-playing, that you could easily adapt to Pathfinder. (Or 13th Age is similar enough, you might just want to convert.) Here are a few examples I've adapted on-the-fly,

  • Simplify Combat.

    • Eliminate all the fancy maneuvers and their modifiers. Have the play describe how they attack, and give +2 to +4 for an advantages that they describe rather than rules that they name.
    • Escalate combat - Make the monsters a little tougher overall, e.g., +1 AC, but give the players +1 attack for each round of combat after the first. This will make combat go faster.
    • Lose the grid, maybe even the miniatures. Just keep track of which characters are in melee range, which are in close range, and which are out-of-range to affect combat.
  • Use Background instead of Skills.

    • This will lead players to think about where their characters come form, and how it shapes them.
    • Throw away the official skill list and all their rules. Instead, have the players write down 3 or 4 short descriptions about what their character did before going off adventuring. (E.g., Lion tamer, City Guard, Pick-pocket).
    • Any time they would make a skill check, ask them what advantages they might have in their background that would make them more successful at the task. Give +3 to the skill check if they incorporate a background element, or +6 if they refer to two different background elements. Then grant additional bonus for any equipment, assistance, or other advantages they have.
    • Grant additional backgrounds every other level or so, based on things the character has accomplished during the campaign.
    • In addition, have each player describe one significant thing that is unqiue about their character. This is not intended to be something that grants an ability or any advantages, but illuminates the world and the character's place in it. For example, "The only beardless dwarf," or "The first female graduate of the Wizard's University," or "Winner of the Village Pie Eating Contest." Incorporate ties to these in your adventures.
  • Use connections to powerful NPCs

    • Describe several powerful off-screen NPCs for the players, both potential allies or adversaries. E.g., "The Mountain King", "The Goblin Wizard," "The Sea Oracle" ... whatever suits your campaign. Try to come up with 6-10 options.
    • Have each player assign 3 "points" among their choice of these NPCs, indicating a "useful" relationship with that character. have them describe the nature of it. It could be a rivalry ("The Goblin Wizard killed my family.") or special relationship, ("I'm secretly the bastard son of the Mountain King, but don't know it.") These relationships should not provide direct utility, but...
    • At the beginning of each session, or at key dramatic moments, have the players roll 1d6 for each related NPC. On a 6, give them some small, free benefit due to the relationship. On a 5, give them the benefit, with strings attached... Obviously, these can be handy adventure hooks.
  • Roll fewer dice

    • Pick a few roll that can be done away with. E.g.,
    • You could replace all damage roles with flat, average damage instead. Add bonus damage when the attack role hits 17, 18, or 19. Crit as usual. At a minimum, players should be rolling attach and damage at the same time, so that if they hit, they can immediately report the damage.
    • Use flat initiative instead of rolling for every encounter.
    • Grant average results on healing checks, instead of rolling.
    • Have skill checks automatically succeed if the modifier + 10 is greater than the DC. You don't even have to tell the players about the check you 'skipped.'
  • Reward what you want to happen

    • Don't give XP for killing monsters. Give it for making discoveries, making allies, and of course, good role playing.
    • Or stop tracking XP entirely. Just let the players pick one new feature form their next level after each session (e.g., a feature, a spell/power, a stat boost, etc), or grant them a particular class power early as a result of relevant role-playing. ("The Baron was so impressed with your negotiation/clever tactics/tragic tale that he invites you to meet with his personal guard/healer/apothecary for training. You can choose your next feat/spell/skill/background now). After 3 or 4 sessions, just "finish" leveling up. (I've been doing this with D&D 3.5, since years ago; it works great.)

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