Exploring dungeons, overcoming obstacles, and slaying monsters are key parts of D&D adventures. No less important, though, are the social interactions that adventurers have with other inhabitants of the world.
Interaction takes on many forms. You might need to convince an unscrupulous thief to confess to some malfeasance, or you might try to flatter a dragon so that it will spare your life. The DM assumes the roles of any characters who are participating in the interaction that don”t belong to another player at the table. Any such character is called a nonplayer character (NFC).
In general terms, an NPC’s attitude toward you is described as friendly, indifferent, or hostile. Friendly NPCs are predisposed to help you, and hostile ones are inclined to get in your way. It’s easier to get what you want from a friendly NPC, of course.
Social interactions have two primary aspects: roleplaying and ability checks.
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.
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.
For instance, Chris plays Tordek the dwarf. Tordek has a quick temper and blames the elves of the Cloakwood for his family’s misfortune. At a tavern, an obnoxious elf minstrel sits at Tordek’s table and tries to strike up a conversation with the dwarf.
Chris says, “Tordek spits on the floor, growls an insult at the bard, and stomps over to the bar. He sits on a stool and glares at the minstrel before ordering another drink.”
In this example, Chris has conveyed Tordek’s mood and given the DM a clear idea of his characters attitude and actions.
When using descriptive roleplaying, keep the following things in mind:
- Describe your character‘s emotions and attitude.
- Focus on your character’s intent and how others might perceive it.
- Provide as much embellishment as you feel comfortable with.
Don’t worry about getting things exactly right. just focus on thinking about what your character would do and describing what you see in your mind.
Active Approach to Roleplaying¶
If descriptive roleplaying tells your DM and your fellow players what your character thinks and does, active roleplaying shows them.
When you use active roleplaying, you speak with your character’s voice, like an actor taking on a role. You might even echo your character’s movements and body language. This approach is more immersive than descriptive roleplaying, though you still need to describe things that can’t be reasonably acted out.
Going back to the example of Chris roleplaying Torde above, here’s how the scene might play out if Chris used active roleplaying:
Speaking as Tordek, Chris says in a gruff, deep voice, “I was wondering why it suddenly smelled awful in here. IfI wanted to hear anything out of you, I’d snap your arm and enjoy your screams.” In his normal voice. Chris then adds, “I get up, glare at the elf, and head to the bar.”
Results of Roleplaying¶
The DM uses your character’s actions and attitudes to determine how an NPC reacts. A cowardly NPC buckles under threats of violence. A stubborn dwarf refuses to let anyone badger her. A vain dragon laps up flattery.
When interacting with an NPC, pay close attention to the DM’s portrayal ofthe NPC’s mood, dialogue, and personality. You might be able to determine an NPC’s personality traits, ideals, flaws, and bonds, then play on them to influence the NPC’s attitude.
Interactions in D&D are much like interactions in real life. If you can offer NPCS something they want, threaten them with something they fear, or play on their sympathies and goals, you can use words to get almost anything you want. On the other hand, if you insult a proud warrior or speak ill of a noble’s allies, your efforts to convince or deceive will fall short.
In addition to roleplaying, ability checks are key in determining the outcome of an interaction.
Your roleplaying efforts can alter an NPC’s attitude, but there might still be an element of chance in the situation. For example, your DM can call for a Charisma check at any point during an interaction if he or she wants the dice to play a role in determining an NPC’s reactions. Other checks might be appropriate in certain situations, at your DM’s discretion.
Pay attention to your skill proficiencies when thinking of how you want to interact with an NFC, and stack the deck in your favor by using an approach that relies on your best bonuses and skills. If the group needs to trick a guard into letting them into a castle, the rogue who is proficient in Deception is the best bet to lead the discussion. When negotiating for a hostage’s release, the cleric with Persuasion should do most of the talking.