The One Page On How To Roleplay

The One Page On How To Roleplay

I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t read the PHB cover to cover. Like a lot of people, it was the first book I bought and had every intention of reading the whole thing immediately. Of course life got in the way, we started playing DnD on a regular basis, and it became more of a reference tool I used to look up spells when the internet was down.

I decided to sit down and read through the entire book to see if I could find any little nuggets of information that I didn’t know about. It was an interesting exercise, and I found the sections: Time and Between Adventures very compelling. (On a side note, Stephen has been developing a massive system for Downtime Days that we are currently using in our campaign. It’s amazing and I’m trying to convince him to develop it further and put it together as a supplement on DMsGuild. Time will tell)

What I found fascinating is that there is basically one page in the PHB on roleplaying. Dungeons & Dragons is the original RPG, and yet players are given very little information on how to deal with roleplaying and social interaction. Sure, there is plenty of talk about roleplaying combat, but in the world of 5e… Critical Role and a million live play podcasts and twitch streams use social interaction roleplaying as the focus of the game, and combat has been reduced to an almost secondary part of many games. I know we spend at least 75% of the time in our campaign talking with each other, NPC’s and bad guys when we don’t want to fight them. So I wanted to take a look at this one page and see how a total newcomer might view what the PHB has to say about roleplaying.


Roleplaying is, literally, the act of playing out a role. In this case, it’s you as a player determining how your character thinks, acts, and talks.

Roleplaying is a part of every aspect of the game, and it comes to the fore during social interactions. Your character’s quirks, mannerisms, and personality influence how interactions resolve.

There are two styles you can use when roleplaying your character: the descriptive approach and the active approach. Most players use a combination of the two styles. Use whichever mix of the two works best for you. (PHB, pg. 185)

There it is folks, the official WotC summary of what roleplaying is in Dungeons & Dragons. The PHB spends sixteen (16) pages describing various character backgrounds that some players don’t even use (our entire party does, but honestly, at an AL table where you jump in part way through Dungeon of the Mad Mage, do you ever get to think about your background?). Here we have seven sentences on how to roleplay in the biggest roleplaying game in history. We often talk about balance in DnD. This doesn’t seem balanced to me at all.

Tell a person to think and act like their character, and it can be a daunting task for a player new to DnD. Sure, you have your character sheet in front of you, with all the stats and general information on it, but none of that tells you who your character is. OK, I’ll admit your background is on the sheet and it helps you develop your character’s personality, so maybe I was a little harsh. But still… sixteen pages vs. seven sentences? Something is a little out of whack here.

DnD started as a war game. Rules on combat were, and still are, the most detailed part of the books. Everyone loves to hit things, kill monsters and get treasure (not necessarily in that order). But as the game progressed throughout the editions, the roleplaying part of DnD started to take on more and more importance. Now in 5e, players want to roleplay, flesh out there characters, use funny voices (poorly) and act out their character’s actions. The PHB describes the two main styles of approaching roleplaying: Descriptive and Active. The description of both is pretty straightforward, but let’s take a look at them in a little more detail.

Descriptive Approach to Roleplaying

With this approach, you describe your character’s words and actions to the DM and the other players. Drawing on your mental image of your character, you tell everyone what your character does and how he or she does it. (PHB, pg.185)

The PHB goes on to give an example of the descriptive approach in game. The descriptive approach is the easiest way to get started roleplaying for the new player. There is no pressure to come up with a funny voice (let alone remember to use that voice) or try to act out what you are going to do. These things can be intimidating to a new person, especially if they are at a table where they may not know everyone. It also gives the player a chance to think about how they want to develop the character and their emotions, actions and overall thought process without worrying about acting it out. I think the descriptive method allows the greater freedom for the new player.

Active Approach to Roleplaying

If descriptive roleplaying tells your DM and your fellow players what your character thinks and does, active roleplaying shows them. (PHB, pg. 186)

The active approach comes later, when players feel comfortable with their own abilities and the other people at the table. It takes time for the player to feel comfortable in their characters skin, and sometimes it takes someone else taking the Active Approach and being goofy before others are comfortable to do so. Once they start, a player can integrate physical actions into their descriptive roleplaying. Critical Role has made making a unique voice for your character the favorite way for most player to add flavor. Though, I know plenty of players that will jump up and act out what their character is doing while describing it to the table. It’s not for everyone, but if you feel comfortable doing it, then do it.

Here are links to the best article and video on how to roleplay that I feel are out there. Roleplaying is a crucial part of DnD. While the original RPG, DnD now places more emphasis on the roleplaying aspect of the game than combat. I think this is great. It adds such a great element of flavor to the game that was missing from the earlier additions.

Just remember, we can’t all be Sam Riegel. You’ll feel silly sometimes, and maybe forget your favorite voice… but you’re playing a game of make believe with friends. If you can’t be silly and have fun doing that, than what can you have fun with?

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