View Full Version : Help with a DM who can't RP.

Iron Angel
2014-11-29, 06:29 AM
Our DM is great, first off. He tries to make dungeons that are interesting and he's getting the hang of it. I've given him a few pieces on how to keep track of a story line and now I've given him a piece on how to design a dungeon. But theres one thing I don't know how to teach him, and thats role-playing.

He doesn't know how. Any time he tries to put a toe in that pond he uses humor to water it down, and any time I try to talk to an NPC he hadn't planned on us trying to engage in conversation with he stumbles for a moment, then goes off the deep end with the bad jokes again. I feel like he's using humor as a deflection for an insecurity, which won't really help him get better at it, but I don't know how to explain that to him without sounding like a ****.

As a result the majority of our sessions are combat and a puzzle or two with a couple skill checks, and time spent in town is literally "you buy your magic items and you're off to the place you go next". No travel time, nothing happens in town. It actually kind of makes me sad because I would like to roleplay more. Can anyone give me a good way of helping him come up with roleplaying ideas, and actually getting him to roleplay?

Corwin Icewolf
2014-11-29, 08:34 AM
That's not easy since most of us probably don't know him.
Though I have similar issues when dming. And playing, I can only really comment on what helps me.

If it's a matter of him worrying that the players won't like his ideas, then maybe try to look at stories, etc he's done (with his permission of course), and explain what you like about them. It won't kill the anxiety completely, but it helps. Don't tell him about this post as he may wonder if you just said all that to get him to role play and you secretly hate all his work.

All this is assuming he's as crazy and nervous as I am, which may not be true, he may just have some jitters, in which case when he gets nervous just tell him you can wait a minute or two if he can't think of the answer right away.

That's all I can really think of.

2014-11-29, 09:19 AM
I feel with your GM, or at least, I think I am similar. But I also want to be the best GM possible.

I find it stressful to come up with NPCs on the spot that have more than 3 interesting sentences to say. So interactions quickly switch to the third person: "He doesn't know or won't say.". But they should have been memorable role-playing encounters. I believe that doing voices is one of the easiest way to differentiate NPCs and make a lasting impression, but it's not easy for me.

But what can you do?

1) Our group talked about it.
Agile IT nerds that we are, we had a retrospective for our RPG ... The players expressed a desire to role-play more and more often. We looked at the possibilities (allow/limit/forbid out-of-character talk, faux medieval talk or not, ...) and agreed to try more first-person/in-character talk with little other restrictions. Me, the GM, also agreed to do my part.

2) Lead by example and show that it's fun.
Give the GM a good experience by role-playing with him/her in a non-threatening way. You said you're trying to engage the NPCs and the GM uses jokes to cover her/his insecurities, so you're doing your part and maybe it just takes time. You could start with a light-hearted situation, e.g. joking with a drunk NPC at a bar. You'll have to have a visit to town first, of course ...

3) Just role-play.
Who's keeping you from role-playing? Does the GM prevent you from saying "I'm looking for a pub, where we'll start a drinking game." Then have fun. I find it incomprehensible when and why my players decide to RP among themselves about trivialities instead of discussing the world-changing mission, but for some reason, they like it, and it's a relaxed time-out for me that I enjoy, too. (I didn't quite enjoy it at first because I feared we were wasting valuable time, until a player who I thought was more goal-focused told me that this was a great session.)

4) Let the GM learn.
I recently stumbled over an ebook: "Unframed: The Art of Improvisation For Game Masters". It's about 100 pages containing 20 short essays for the spontaneously challenged GM. It's a bit repetetive but with awesome nuggets in between. (Improv actors probably get less out of it.) There's also articles about how to lead dialogues and one on giving NPCs a voice and with suggestions what it encompasses. (Catchphrases and speech patterns are easier for me than accents or impersonations.)
These reviews describe it better than me: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22664894-unframed and there's more about it on the net.
It hasn't magically changed my game, but made me think about how I GM and how I could have more fun with less stress. If you can gift-wrap the PDF for your GM, maybe it's a good investment. Of course, there are a million other GM resources out there on the web, too.

5) Avoid it.
When the GM is bad at role-playing or doesn't want to role-play, mazes and monsters are still a great way to play. Expecting a mega-dungeon from a story-teller GM isn't the best idea either.
Of course, you could also rotate or split GM duty and simply scratch the role-playing itch when someone else is doing the hard work in a different way.


2014-11-29, 10:13 AM
As a GM, I've run into not knowing what to say as an NPC.

Some thoughts:

As a player, if you see him struggling, it might help to try to guess aloud what the NPC is going to say. If he's stuck for ideas, he might just take yours.

As a GM, think ahead about a character. When planning next session, take a moment to think of how each character will think and act. You can often guess which NPCs people are likely to talk to, and think ahead about how they'll act.

Also, have any of you considered taking a turn at GMing? In our group, we don't have a single steady GM - we all take turns. One of us will GM one adventure, and someone else will do the next. I know I've taken ideas from how my brother GMs. Maybe if he sees you roleplay during your turn as GM, he might get some inspiration for his next round of GMing.

Jay R
2014-11-29, 04:20 PM
Our DM is great, first off.

Then count your blessings, enjoy the game, and don't sweat the areas he's not good at yet.

2014-11-29, 05:16 PM
Do you guys have the sort of friendship where the following would be taken as friendly?

"Hey, I've noticed you don't do much roleplaying with your NPCs. Is that because you're not really comfortable with it, or for another reason?"

Basically, if you can talk about it in a friendly way and the DM wants to improve, go for it. But if the DM isn't interested in improving then you'll have to accept that that particular fix is something you won't get from this game. Maybe join a more RP-heavy group on the side (or do something that tends more towards one-off events, like the occasional LARP).

2014-11-29, 05:27 PM
Ill be honest, improving is a pain, but you get god at it after awhile. My current DM has a pile of hats, both mine and his own, that he switches out when hes playing different NPCs. Its silly so it might work for your DM.

Also, when you go "off the rails" on him and hes floundering just go "im gonna go grab a soda/chips w/e, take your time" Obviously phrase that better, but i tend to do that when my DM needs to think, generally i just go and get some food and by time im back he usually has something.

2014-11-29, 06:14 PM
I can think of a few scenarios that might happen if you go to your DM with this...

1. You tell him he's bad at RP, and he agrees. You try to tell him a lot of ways to improve, some from this forum. He doesn't improve, though, because improving RP is hard, there are about a thousand reasons why he RP's poorly, some of them take plain ol' practice to improve at, and of course, different methods work for different people.

2. You tell him he's bad at RP, and he disagrees. He maintains that he's doing fine, and you feel guilty about criticizing him for something that is subjective.

3. You tell him he's bad at RP, and he tells you it's perfectly good RP for the lighthearted romp he envisioned his campaign would be. You feel guilty about criticizing him for something that is subjective.

4. You tell him he's bad at RP, and he tells you if you die in the game, you die in real life. You wake up in the nightmare gamescape where everyone you talk to suddenly breaks off into an awkward joke.

2014-11-29, 06:55 PM
I have this problem. I have two NPC voices, angry and ridiculous. I want to get better at role-playing as a DM, but it is proving difficult.

2014-11-29, 07:38 PM
Is he avoiding character interaction at all, or is he just uncomfortable acting a part and using description rather than dialogue?

If he's getting the information to the players, he shouldn't worry too much about how it's conveyed. Some people aren't wired for acting. If he's a good DM otherwise I wouldn't even bring up the subject. If you're expecting him to act out the NPCs and he isn't comfortable with it, he probably will never be and you should let it go.

Remember that talking in character isnít role-playing, it is acting. Acting is a specific skill and involves specific talents. Some players are better, some players are worse, and some players are just uncomfortable with it.

2014-11-30, 04:11 AM
Is he avoiding character interaction at all, or is he just uncomfortable acting a part and using description rather than dialogue?

If he's getting the information to the players, he shouldn't worry too much about how it's conveyed. Some people aren't wired for acting. If he's a good DM otherwise I wouldn't even bring up the subject. If you're expecting him to act out the NPCs and he isn't comfortable with it, he probably will never be and you should let it go.

I agree with this. Some DMs like acting things out while some don't and instead just describe from a third person perspective what NPCs say and do. If your DM isn't good at the former but hasn't considered the latter, suggest it. It's a lot less stressful and much easier to improvise that way.

I also suggest making a handful of "oh no, the players are going outside my planned material" NPCs with names, a few character traits, and motives written down that can be pulled out when needed. This guy right here is Sigurd Firehammer. He is a former soldier, now a drunk armor shop owner who spends more time in the pub than at his business. He's distrustful of the town authorities and massively in debt to a travelling merchant who he expects to come back to town again within the next week. What town does Sigurd live in? Why, every town until you meet him in one, and then that one from then on. Having Sigurd and other NPCs set aside in advance makes it so that when my players tell me they want to talk to patrons in the pub I don't end up sitting there, going "...uh..." and making a dumb joke or glossing over it.

2014-11-30, 08:52 PM
A very easy and simple trick is to pick a TV show you know well and just model each NPC after one of them. Try:

Mayor He is a good leader, who gives long inspiring speeches at the drop of a hat.
Mayor's Aid Is a good follower of the mayor, but likes physical action and women
Sheriff Is every much swing swords and ask questions later, but is good and honorable at heart
Wizard is smart, but often talks too much and does not understand social stuff...but desperately wants too
Cleric she is good at reading people and always has something nice to say about everyone
Healer she is not so secretly in love with the mayor, and cares too much about people
Gnome he leads a lonely life with his stuff and can't find a gnome girl, but he is a good worker

Who are they......it's the crew of the Enterprise D (and E)

Even better is you can mix and match characters from anything.

2014-12-01, 04:05 PM
I highly recommend talking to him about running a short modern campaign. Maybe Call of Cthulhu, World of Darkness, etc. Modern settings are totally easy to work with. You understand how people behave, what social norms are, how the economics and day-to-day stuff works, etc. It may be hard to connect to a zealous Paladin of St. Cuthbert attempting to capture the guys who vandalized his temple, but it's pretty easy to imagine the policemen arresting the teenagers who broke all the stained-glass windows at the church. And if you set it in the present day, the small details are things that you can handle as soon as they come up without thinking. Plus the ludicrous amount of detail you can go into; after all, reality is the most fleshed-out setting imaginable. Hell, I've even had a player fill out ATF Form 4473 completely in-character when he went to buy a gun at a reputable gunstore. Which I later burned, along with a bunch of handouts I used that were mockup official FBI case files, so as to not fall prey to the Shadowrun Effect and be arrested because of gaming.