D&D Acting: A 12 Step Guide to a Better Game Night

Often times Dungeons and Dragons sessions can feel stale and boring if players don’t feel engaged with the story. Without some kind of player-story investment the game loses the effect of its more profound moments. As a DM you may have spent weeks planning out a final epic battle between the players and an ancient black dragon but if the players don’t become invested in the story, killing the dragon might produce little more than a “whelp… that happened.” While of course some of this burden falls on the DM’s ability to create an engaging, interactive world for his players in the first place, often times players can improve a session simply by improving their role-playing or more to the point their acting skills.

This doesn’t mean that players are required to take the game more seriously or that the game can no longer be fun or comedic, it simply means that players with better acting skills can submerge themselves into the story for a more rewarding playing experience. Think about your last D&D session. Did it feel like you were going on an adventure? Or did it feel like you were sitting around a kitchen table rolling dice without any real connection to what those rolls meant?

Improving your acting skills will help the role-playing (read:  the collaborative storytelling part) of the game feel much much better. As a DM you’ll appreciate your players engaging in the world you spent so much time creating and it’s much easier to lead a story if you feel like a player is involved and as a player you’ll reap the benefits of playing in a game you actually give a shit about.

Just like anything though, improving your acting skills may take some time. It’s not about getting it right or giving an Oscar winning performance every Thursday it’s more about dipping your toes and testing out the waters. So if you’re looking to have a more engaging and rewarding Dungeons & Dragons experience I present to you 12 starter tips to improve your acting skills:

  1. Build a Character You Want to Play

Before you even begin rolling stats think about what you might want to play. Many players already do this but only consider what their character can do rather than who their character actually is. For instance, when you do roll stats assign points according to how you want your character to act or behave in the game rather than just assigning points based on what’s the most combat efficient. Essentially, during the creation process keep in mind that your aren’t playing just any old Elf Bard, you’re playing a specific Elf Bard; he’s unique, has his own motivations and is more than just his stats. Now that you have an idea of what you want to play, we move on to shaping the character. A good way to start doing this is by…

  1. Finding a Character to Study

Pick a character from a movie, book or tv show that is close to what you want to play in terms of personality. Pay close attention to the character’s mannerisms, their style of speaking and how they interact with the world around them. Make note of what makes them angry, happy or sad and how they react to these emotions. Furthermore why they show these emotions the way that they do is often more important than the emotions themselves. Now, it’s important not to just copy them directly because after all you aren’t playing Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine you’re playing a Halfling ranger who is influenced by Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Think of the character you study to be a blueprint, then improvise off of it. So now that you have an inspiration in mind, it’s time to go back to your character sheet. First thing you’re going to what to do is…

  1. Give your Character a Background

Too often I’ve made characters without any real background in mind.  They were simply a race and a class with some arbitrary numbers assigned to them. There was no substance to them since they weren’t really characters to begin with, they were just stats. One of the best ways around this is to give your character a background story. It’s essential that you come up with your character’s origins, who they are and what they’ve done. It’s a good way to get a feel for your character’s motivation and mannerisms which in turn can help shape how you play the character. For example, if your character grew up among the social elite never knowing life outside the castle walls then chances are they aren’t going to feel at ease in the local tavern and likewise their behavior and dialogue in such a setting are going to reflect that. Basically, giving your character a background story can inform how you play which in brings us to my next tip…

  1. Think About your Character’s Personality

The cardinal rule in creating a character’s personality is to give it multiple layers. People’s personalities are complex; they aren’t confined to a universal emotion that they fall back on for every situation. Sure your character might be a bit of a grump but having them react to everything with rage fueled screaming while angrily staring off into the distance is just… boring. Devote some time to thinking about how your character’s background would influence their personality and make sure that it has layers and displays a level of complexity that feels real. Remember that personality is more than just a character’s emotions; it’s a pattern of behavior, cognition and emotion that come together to form a personality.

Another great way to give your character’s personality a sense of depth is to give your character some flaws; don’t make them the badass who is always right. Now that you have a character that you want to play, made a background, and gave them a complex and interesting personality it’s time to…

  1. Study your Character

It might sound tedious but knowing your character off the back of your hand will make roleplaying them feel much more natural. It’s important to know more about them than you will ever need during a game.  Knowing your character off the back of your hand allows you to become more in tune with who they are and likewise playing them will feel more natural. So you’ve made a character, gave them a background and a personality and you know them inside and out; now it’s time to start to playing with them. Before the session even starts though…

  1. Take Some Time to Get into Character

Dungeons and Dragons, or any table top RPG for that matter, is a great way to escape from the stress in your life and submerge yourself into another world for a little while. Take some time to relax, push those pesky problems of yours away for a little while and shift your focus from yourself to your character. This is your chance to sink into your character’s shoes and take on their personality. One of the best ways to get into character is to…

  1. Consider your Character’s Motivations

Every character should have some kind of larger goal in mind that drives them to do what they do. Is it gold? A promotion?  Revenge?  A love interest? Giving your character an essential goal to work towards makes it easier to care. In other words if you understand your character’s motivations you’ll feel much more emotionally invested in the story. When something happens in the story you’re going to feel it and your reactions will follow. However, a lot of that is going to fall on your DM, which brings us to our next point…

  1. Trust Your DM

You’re going to  want to go into every session believing that your DM is going to give you a chance to role playing your character have a brief moment in the spotlight. Given, this is entirely up to them but it’s important to go in with the mindset that you’re going to have the opportunity to play your character, not just roll them. The nice thing about improving your acting skills is that improved player-to-DM player interaction means that the DM will be motivated to devote time to developing those interactions. This is a great chain reaction since the more chances you have to play with your character the more chances you’ll have at improving your acting skills. Now that you’re sitting down at the kitchen table, in the skype call or wherever,  you’re finally ready to play. From the moment the game starts it’s absolutely essential to…

  1. Get into it

Seriously, don’t be afraid to really submerge yourself into the story; get lost in it even. Now I should be perfectly clear I don’t mean to take it too seriously; it is a game after all. I don’t mean to start flipping tables if your attacks miss or get on player’s cases for making mistakes; that’s not submerging yourself in the story that’s just being an asshole.

Having gotten that out of the way, allow yourself to feel the story. Try to imagine yourself being a part of the adventure, try to feel the triumphs and the loses of your characters. Imagine how you would feel if you found your old friend skewered onto a spear or how you’d react to a challenge from a burly bearded man who stands head and shoulders above you as he throws down his tankard. However, it’s not enough to feel the story on an emotional level it’s important to interact with it as well. One of the best ways to do this is by…

  1. Improving Your Dialogue Skills

There’s no doubt that improvising dialogue on the fly can sometimes be a very difficult thing to do. Unfortunately many players fall into the notion that saying nothing is better than saying something and being wrong. In a tabletop RPG game like Dungeons and Dragons the dialogue is your way to take part in the story.

One of the best ways to improve your dialogue skills is to make every effort to speak naturally. Players often times try to make everything they say some earth shattering statement, or they get lost in the game’s fantasy origins and their dialogue ends up becoming flowery, over-embellished or even melodramatic. Remember you don’t always need to say the right thing, since often times in terms of role playing how you say something is going to be more important than what is actually said. And of course one of the best ways to improve your dialogue skills is to match your emotion, so obviously you’re going to want to…

  1. Get in Touch with Your Character’s Emotions

Become aware of the emotional state of the story and your character’s emotions as well. You’ve taken the time to create a background for them, developed an interesting personality, took time to get into character and submerged yourself into the story, now it’s time to get in tune with how your character is going to react to things in terms of emotion.

No one is expecting you to be able to cry on cue causing the rest of your group to give you a standing ovation; this simply means being more in tune with what your character is going to feel. It’s important, to consider how the character would react to a certain situation rather than how you would react. After all D&D is a great way for people to break out of the shell of their real life self. Before we go further we need to talk a little bit about reactions, in this it’s important to…

  1. Go With Your Instinct (Sort Of)

When it comes to reactions you’re going to want to trust your instincts, while keeping in mind who you’re playing. Reactions shouldn’t feel forced or rehearsed, simply go with your instinct. If you took the time to go through the previous 11 steps then your instinct based reaction will end up feeling realistic. Furthermore, it gives the reaction a sense of depth and validity; you’re not just going “yay we beat the dragon” because that’s what you’re supposed to say you’re saying it because you’re actually really happy you finally defeated that damn dragon.

As you can see  improving your acting skills often times is just a simple matter of doing a little extra planning beforehand and allowing yourself to get “lost” in the story a little bit. Give these tips a try for your next D&D game and see if the session doesn’t feel more engaging and that you’re getting more out of the game story wise. Do you have any tips for improving your acting skills for D&D? Have a great D&D roleplaying moment deserving of an Oscar that you’d like to share? Please feel free to let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for joining me for another edition of Game Nonsense, I hope you learned something and had a little fun along the way.

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