Roleplaying at the Table

This month is "Social" month and that means it's time to take a look at one of the most basic aspects of a role-playing game. If you boil down any tabletop RPG to its absolute base, remove everything else, you're left with role-playing. The narrative, whether thick or thin, is vital to all role-playing games. You can play without any rules at all and still have fun, but pure numbers on their own, with nothing imaginative to represent are meaningless. But that doesn't mean that every game has to be a deeply intense character driven narrative masterpiece.

It is for each group to decide how much they want to role-play. For some groups all they really want is a reason to go hunt monsters, a brief explanation for their character's abilities, and some baddies they can really get behind stomping. Other groups want to have rich detailed back stories, in depth webs of characters and associations, personal rivalries and alliances, and no clear singular threat at all.

There has often been a lot of debate over just how much detail should be put into role-playing, but I'm of the belief that the "ideal" is going to vary, not just between groups but between campaigns. A World of Darkness game usually needs a different level of detail and role-playing than a Pathfinder game, which is very different from what you might need for a Fifth Edition DnD game. I've ran games all over the spectrum, from totally rules free to very crunchy pure combat encounters, and I've yet to find an amount of role-playing that cannot be fun for my group.

The most important aspect of role-playing in your group however is that everyone should be on the same page. Do as much or little in character speak or depth as you like, but be aware of the rest of the group. There's few things more awkward than one player talking in character, and the other responding out of character. It kills the pacing of the conversation and keeps either from getting the experience they really want.  This doesn't mean every player has to have the exact same level of detail, but at least they should interact in the same way.

Also keep in mind it's completely fine to change up how much or little story is going on, and "zoom out" on the level of detail. I love character interaction as much as the next person, but sometimes you just need to buy items and don't need to chat. And other times a conversation with the local merchant might open up a wealth of vital information about the setting or even about the players characters themselves. It is definitely an art and not a science, it's important to feel out such situations, and if you aren't sure feel free to just ask around the table.

Whenever my party sets into a long travel time, from one area to another, be it walking through deadly forests or driving across town, I like to give them the opportunity to interact with each other or other NPC's on hand. Some of the best scenes we've ever had come from those moment, and sometimes it's enough to have a little summary of how they interact. Role-playing should never be looked at as a mandatory boring aspect of a game, but it also doesn't have to completely consume everything either.

Remember, as with all aspects of tabletop RPG's the most important thing is to have fun, however much role-playing you need to do that, it's the perfect amount.