I'm playing a character in a DnD setting who decided to become an adventurer because it sounded like fun, not seriously considering how dangerous it would be. Our DM has us running a campaign with a wonderfully antagonistic storyline where our party has unwittingly tangled itself in a battle with elder gods that are vastly more powerful than the party is. The result of this for my character is that he is deeply in over his head and is absolutely, constantly terrified. Eventually, I want to roleplay my character overcoming his fears and becoming confident in the face of danger, but he's currently at the point of coming to terms with what he's gotten himself into.

I'm not sure how to roleplay this effectively. If interacting with the other players wasn't a concern, I would have probably had him run away from the adventure by the point the campaign is currently at, but that would be an egregious case of my-guy syndrome. Sticking with the party, I've frequently had my character become paralyzed with fear or overreact to other characters' decisions that he believes put him in more danger. I'm nervous that this could quickly become annoying for the people I'm playing with. In other situations, my character simply handles combat well, but I don't think this is an accurate reflection of his emotional state.

How can I roleplay a character who is feeling deeply afraid of what's going on around them without disrupting the game for the other players in my group?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you talked to the other members of your group to see what they think about your in-game behavior? \$\endgroup\$
    – Zhuge
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 5:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for a good question, and a spiritual +1 for putting in the forethought of trying to avoid disrupting other players and the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Randomorph
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 14:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure if duplicate, but seems very, very similar: rpg.stackexchange.com/q/37103/1992 \$\endgroup\$
    – corsiKa
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 4:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure how much this comment will help since you've already accepted an answer, but your question lacks one crucial piece of information: why exactly is your character still in this party? Why is he still participating in these adventures when he's so totally afraid? What is it, precisely, that stops him from running away and leaving everything behind? Loyalty? Love? Is he convinced these bad-ass adventurers are actually his best chance at getting out alive, despite the risks? The answer to this should be a massive indicator of how you can RP your character and stay with the group. \$\endgroup\$
    – Falc
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Falc I think you're right. That's the takeaway I got from the answer I accepted, in fact! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 15:34

7 Answers 7


You seem to indicate that his fear is so overwhelming, that it is drowning everything else out at the moment. But that is solely your decision. Just as his actions, his emotions are also in your hands. So this situation will end by you deciding to end it.

This does not mean that he will have to stop being afraid. Some would say that bravery is not the lack of fear, but that you keep going in spite of fear. How do you do that? You take out "overwhelming" from "overwhelming fear". Find something that is more important to him than saving his skin. The classic examples being "saving the world" and "protecting my loved ones", but you can invent your own.

You can still display your fear. You will most likely be the one to encourage planning and preparing a lot, being acutely aware of the dangers. If you can go fight something or reserch a ritual to banish it, you will vote to go to the library.

Later on you could even decide that he has overcome his fears, but then it will be character developement and can lead to emotional moments, instead of feeling like "he is finally doing what everyone else is". Imagine the scaredy-cat who has never willingly entered melee and has woken up sweating from nightmares on multiple occasions kneeling down beside the unconscious fighter and taking up the only magical sword that can stop the darkness from outer space, screaming and charging defiantly at it: "You. Will. Leave. Them. ALONE!".

  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like the idea of figuring out what my character's underlying motivation is, then using that to give them something that's important enough to them that they'll willingly choose to go into situations they would otherwise run away from. Thanks for the advice! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Seriously wish I could give more than +1 for that last sentence. \$\endgroup\$
    – Taegost
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 20:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ The thing I don't like about this is that it makes overcoming the fear seem cheap, from a storytelling perspective. In what you describe, that's already what the character has been doing the whole time. There are no stakes to the fear; there are no consequences. So it doesn't make sense that you would get a Moment of Awesome (WARNING: TV Tropes) out of overcoming them. That's just what the character you describe normally does. \$\endgroup\$
    – jpmc26
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 4:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did not describe it (just) from a story perspective. From the player's point of view, this is not a challange, but a decision. He could agree with the GM on some condition to overcome the fear, but that would still be on his terms. It would just impede him if he later changes his mind, or some other significant thing happens. He chose to make the character afraid, so it is his role to play him as such. If he does so, consequences will arise. \$\endgroup\$
    – Szega
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 9:33


What some tables may find disrupting other tables won't even flinch. There are tables where you can role play a useless, comedic-relief type of character, while other tables ask for every member to be useful (in combat or otherwise). There are tables where you can literally be the most useless, antagonistic, and straightly obnoxious character that you can be, and they will be fine.

The best you can do is to talk with your teammates and GM. Remember, the key to solve team problems is communication. No matter if is a game or a relationship, communication is the foundation for a good experience. Talk to your fellow companions about your character and what you want to play.


One thing that you might want to learn is to know when and for how long your character can act afraid. This is closely related to the previous one, as the input from your companions is essential. Some teams can withstand more than others. Knowing the sweet spot is hard, and you probably would need feedback from time to time.


One thing that TV shows and role play have in common is the audience. What you want to do is not to disrupt the audience, to have a nice evening with your fellow friends and not take the spot light (too much). For that, shows had been working on how to pace this can of situations; main characters and sidekicks in general. There are hundreds of examples in the media for inspiration in how to pace something and handle "fear". Scooby Doo is one; a pair of always cowards that, for X or Y reasons manage to have things done. It also shows how to be a coward in a team. The show is never too heavy in the coward part, but it always makes you remember it.

Dragon quest (Dai no daibouken) is another prime example. The character Pop is a coward but grew up near the end. He run away at key moments, but he returned to help the team. I think this character is more in line to what you want to play, and the show shows how to moderate the fear and cowardice of Pop. With the help of your friends and GM you can pull it off.

The main idea behind those shows is that fear is not 100% in their minds, they are more than that. And they sprinkle things with other things. Pace is the point.


Talk to your GM and fellow party, moderate the "fear times", seek for a bit of inspiration out there, and don't be too afraid.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We actually have a PC with a PTSD trigger. This means that they are momentarily put of action on occasion, and require assistance from the party to "recover". They also have a disadvantage on Fear checks when it comes to certain things. This can help keep things in moderation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 8:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Somewhat related, I just watched the second season of Agent Carter, and Jarvis seemed to go through somewhat similar things - starting with adventure, then discovering it's all to real (well acted and written imho). It might be worth watching shows and films that have similar character evolutions for more ideas, as you never know what situation the DM and other players might provide ;-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Rycochet
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 14:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer doesn't seem to be saying anything the questioner doesn't already know. Do you have any advice for concrete ways a player can roleplay a scared character without disrupting gameplay? Talking about it isn't going to make the gameplay any less disrupted, and what works for TV show characters isn't necessarily engaging gameplay in a tabletop RPG. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2357112 The thing is, what some tables may find disrupting other tables won't. There are tables where you can role play a useless, comedic-relief type of character, other tables ask for every member to be useful. There are tables where you can literally be the most useless, antagonistic, and rightly obnoxious character that you can be, and they will be fine. TVs shows work from one perspective: the audience. He, the OP, does not want to disrupt the "audience", this is, the other players. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I do appreciate your advice to talk to my party, I agree with @user2357112. I believe that the problem I'm facing is one I can solve in large part on my own (although perhaps not completely) by understanding my character better, making some changes to my character, or planning ahead for my next session. I didn't accept your answer because it doesn't give me much advice along those lines. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 19:53

Note: you didn't specify the sex of your character, I'll assume male.

There is a difference between bravery and temerity: fear.

The brave knows fear, but confronts its, and forges on despite it.

It sounds like your character is not brave yet; but it doesn't mean he cannot be brave once in a while.

Let's make a detour.

I have been playing with a party where a character (the Sorcereress) was lazy. She would generally abstain from doing anything, from breakfast to fighting, and the little she did she would do reluctantly.

The only things she was interested in were: grooming herself, singing/playing, and astonishing everyone with potent spells.

And this last bit is the key. While she would avoid involving herself in most fights, when the party was in real danger and the enemy really potent, there she would swoop in and unleash her strongest spells (and then brag about it).

Back to your situation, I think you could devise a loophole.

The idea I have would be that your character is afraid, but does not want to be branded a coward.

Therefore, he'll advise caution and always vie for the safest course of action to avoid putting himself in danger as much as possible. And he'll "panic" and "freeze up" when danger presents itself.

But, when others in the party are watching him (or maybe some in the party, like a romantic interest or the bully fighter), then he'll put on a brave front and "do something".

You've got some latitude in the something:

  • maybe he'll charge, all foolhardy, in a "berserk" mode,
  • maybe he'll fake being useful and mope up the goons because it seems less dangerous to wade in a pack of goons than approach the big Bad,
  • ...

The point is, however, despite his cowardly attitude in general, and despite his fear, he'll help 80% to 100% in actual combat, because anything else would penalize the party.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea of a loophole. This could include being afraid of something specific, like physical injury, so he fights along with the party but uses a spear or halberd to stay as physically far away from his opponents as possible in battle, or investing disproportionately in better armor and shields rather than weapons, on top of arguing to pursue the lowest risk scenario that is possible. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 13:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mike.C.Ford: I like the spear/halberd, however I have played with a character that invested disproportionately in armors (after having his first character killed at level 1)... and the dwarf was useless. There's a fine line to tread here. Fighting from a distance (archer! spells!) works much better. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for concrete recommendations and an example from real experience. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 18:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also worth adding here, Adrenaline does wonders on a person's fear level. I have seen actual people in situations where they would normally be terrified. But they get hit with a huge dose of adrenaline, function more-or-less normally during the situation....but then get the shakes and freak out after the fact once the adrenaline has worn off and they have time to think about what the hell they just did. This could be someone tackling a gunman during a shooting situation, or rushing into a fire to save someone else, or just roaring at an oncoming wild animal to intimidate it into backing down \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, this is the best answer here: It actually provides a good in-game suggestion. \$\endgroup\$
    – AAM111
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 2:13

Consider playing your PC as someone who is competent but limited by fear or super-lucky.

It might be that your character is very talented at adventuring but that fear is their main flaw. So if they fail an attack roll, you can play that off as them freezing up; when they succeed, it's because they managed to be brave for a while. Likewise, failed saves can be roleplayed as the result of hesitation, dizziness, or weak will. If you're just as effective as the others in a combat but afterward apologize IC for panicking and missing that important attack roll, you get the roleplay without hindering the group. You can pretend in your head that the PC would be even better without the fear and if you decide that they're getting over it, you can incorporate that blossoming of their skills as part of the leveling-up process.

Alternately, if it fits the campaign, they might be relatively incompetent and terrified but just happen to luck out. They flail so wildly with a sword or a spell that they manage to land some blows. This is a more comedic approach, but if it fits your campaign it provides a good way for you to be a useful coward. Depending on your system, you may be able to supplement this with luck-related Feats or similar rules. And as for why the PC isn't leaving the party: maybe it's scarier in this world alone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is actually a pretty amazing perspective, I hadn't considered that aspect... Now I kinda want to make a character like this just to incorporate your suggestions! \$\endgroup\$
    – Taegost
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 20:18

There are multiple good answers so far, so I'll just add my two cents to them.

The thing about getting in conflict with powerful enemies, is that they take notice of you. If you are hunted by things vastly more powerful than you, you might not be able to simply run and hide. In that case having a bunch of well-armed, highly-motivated and experienced people around could actually be the safest place for you. If your GM is receptive, it should not be hard to concoct a scenario or find a piece of information that shows that your character's chances of survival alone would be drastically lower than staying with the others. As time goes by, this reasoning could very easily turn into rationalization first, and a comfortable lie later.

How to roleplay it: Be afraid and be cautious, stick very close to the party (which can lead to some hilarity). Try to be useful and try to steer things to the least dangerous paths. Only take calculated risks, but do take them if they are beneficial to the groups survival. Don't be afraid to lie to the party about "checking for enemy reinforcements" or "doing some scouting" when you don't show up to a fight (which can also lead to some nice roleplaying opportunities). Try to grow into an intelligent coward, an adventurer by necessity from somebody paralyzed by his fears. Try for a mindset of "I am already too deep to get out, my best chance to keep surviving now is riding the wave to the end".

This is similar to the Ciaphas Cain method of cowardice, in which he rationalizes, that being seen as a hero and loved by his soldiers is a much more effective long-term survival strategy, than avoiding every single instance of combat. He has to fight wars anyway, so the best bet to stay alive is staying in the middle of a military force who will defend him with their lives.


I actually played a character with over-whelming fear of red blood. Specifically, red blood. In the beginning, my character stuck to blunt weapons (much harder to make large pools of blood with blunt). As he grew, he found a teammate that was able to craft these spectacles that filtered out the color red. My character ultimately became a fairly strong fighter, with a paralyzing weakness if he looses those spectacles.

In other words:

You need to elaborate on specifically what he is fearful of.

If it is literally 'fear of feeling pain', he could become a drug addict to overcome.

If it is fear of struggle; he fears being tied up.

If it is fear of death... convince him he already died.

There are other players that can help you properly RP this out, depending on which direction you are taking it you might need the DM to help.

He could have a totem; gift from someone important... He's a coward until someone brandishes the totem against him... or something...

How to role play? HIDE. RUN. Wait until the 'real' fighters are getting their butts kicked because you are hiding... then pull a Kid Gohan and freak out on the baddies. Always carry smoke bombs with you to make a stealthy escape. etc


This answer is from a board game and not D&D, but could be modified to suit your purposes. In Arkham Horror (based on H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos) prior to combat players must pass a Horror check. Based on the player's level in Will, he rolls dice to determine whether he has the will to face a monster without losing Sanity. Some particularly terrifying monsters have a negative modifier to Will

You could add a fear roll prior to any combat to determine whether your character overcomes his fear or succumbs to it. As the campaign progresses, his skill can increase, or the fear component can be removed entirely.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to add that there is support for this straight from the DMG. I don't have the book in front of me to provide the specifics, but the DMG includes rules for the optional ability scores Fear and Sanity, IIRC. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Like I said, I don't have the book in front of me. Now that you mention it, though, it was in fact Honor and Sanity. Thank you for the clarification/reminder. However, it does set a precedent that Fear (or Will, or Fearlessness, or something like that) could be an additional (house-ruled) ability score. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LegendaryDude I don't think he's looking for something mechanical ( which reskinning Exhaustion as fear could do) , or using the optional ability/trait scores as you suggest (and a good suggestion it is) but a scheme of role play that both adds the fear of the character into his role play while not being a burden (MGS) on the group. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 16:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast That's fair, but I think that's a more appropriate response to this answer than my suggestion which was only meant provide D&D "spirit of the rules" support to Leatherwing's answer regarding a mechanical method of role-playing fear. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ KorvinStarmast is right. I'm looking for answers that focus on roleplaying regardless of the game being played, not game mechanics that can express certain aspects of my character for me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 21:30

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