Years ago, I wrote the article Five Roleplaying Tips From Watching The Guild. As a passionate fan of the web show, I noticed keen roleplaying instances in the series that could work for MMORPGs, D&D, and other computer and tabletop RPGs.
Like The Guild, Critical Role is another web show where roleplaying tips abound. If you’ve seen every episode, or only one, then you’ve witnessed a myriad of roleplay techniques, whether you noticed them or not. So if you enjoy immersing into the heart and soul of your D&D avatars, or if you want to know learn how, then here are some Critical Role-inspired roleplaying tips just for you.
Detail Your Character
Giving your character plenty of details is an important way of bolstering your roleplaying. Adding details, from the obvious physical ones to the private cerebral ones, will build a solid base from which your character can grow. The 5th edition D&D Player’s Handbook puts it this way: “Your character is a combination of game statistics, roleplaying hooks, and your imagination… [you] invent the personality, appearance, and backstory of your character.”
A sterling example is Vox Machina’s backstory and development. Each is an example of how characters are so much more than race, class, list of stats, or a walking pile of weapons and equipment. Think about your personal characteristics and how they are portrayed in your daily life. Now, think about how you want your in-game avatar to experience and affect the world, and give them characteristics that will allow them to do that.
Play Your Character
As mentioned earlier, your character as a whole is greater than the sum of its individual characteristics or pieces of equipment. However, those things are all still a vital part of your character. Make sure you play them out in game to fully support and reflect your character’s personality, both in and out of combat.
For example, think about Vax’ildan’s signature attack involving his Boots of Haste combined with his daggers. Average pieces of equipment, for the most part. Yet, how integrated with Vax has this simple attack method become? So much so that it has its own catchphrase: “Dagger, dagger, dagger.” I’ve been playing D&D many years, in hundreds of games with hundreds of other people, and I’ve never heard “dagger, dagger, dagger” used. Liam O’Brien does it with such flair, that I will forever associate that phrase with Vax, and no one else. That, folks, is how you play your chracter.
As much as D&D is a roleplaying game, it is also a game of interactive storytelling, which raises the experience to another level. The 5th edition Player’s Handbook describes these interactions neatly under the phrase “social interactions” (pg. 185), and categorizes them into two styles: descriptive approach and active approach.
Descriptive approach is when “you describe your character’s words and actions to the DM and the other players.” Active approach is when “you speak with your character’s voice, like an actor taking on a role,” even going so far as to physically display “your character’s movements and body language.”
My favorite Critical Role example of interacting can be found in “Episode 14: Shopping and Shipping.” This episode is highly notable for its top quality interactive roleplaying, but also shows that D&D can be hellafun even without getting into combat. Oh, and Vox Machina make a trip to Gilmore’s Glorious Goods. Gilmore!
Role the Dice
Yes, “role” the dice. Three participants make up a standard D&D game: the DM, the players, and the dice. The dice have as great a part to play in the interactive storytelling as the DM and players do.
So what does “role” the dice mean? It’s the difference between saying “you take 10 HP damage” and saying “you take 10 HP damage as the kobold deftly finds an opening in your defense, surprising you with a sword cut to the ribs.”
Critical Role DM Matthew Mercer does this exceptionally well. The best example comes with that phrase we all know and love, “How do you wanna do this?” Instead of merely spouting a bunch of combat numbers and ending at that, he instead gives the last die roll over to the player and has them roleplay how their chracter ends a fight. That is powerful stuff, my friends.
Avid Critical Role watchers may have also witnessed how much importance Mercer gives to role-ing the dice. More than a few times he has rolled a die on some critical event, and then Instagrammed a photo of that die roll. That act shows tremendous honesty, and also shows the value he places on letting die rolls have their role in game.
And if you need more convincing, click over and watch the ritual skill challenge (starting at 4:19:45) Mercer puts Vox Machina through in “Episode 44: The Sunken Tomb,” as they attempt to save a fallen Vex. That is, if you can bring yourself to experience the feels again.
Let It Flow
Finally, don’t try to force your roleplaying into play. Allow it to develop and flow with the game, and as you interact with your fellow players. Vox Machina have been a D&D group for years now. And they, have been real life friends for many years more than that. They know each other very well, both as people and as players. The quality of interactive roleplaying they have together has been nourished and grown over those years. Don’t compare yourself to them!
These tips can apply to new and veteran roleplayers alike. What roleplaying tips have you gleaned from Critical Role? What’s your favorite Critical Role roleplaying moment? Share them with us in the Comments below!
Featured Photo by Steve and Shannon Lawson, recolored