Roleplaying in DnD is not always just between the player characters and your NPCs. One often missed experience is the roleplaying that happens between the player characters themselves.
It’s easy to find yourself in a rut of shuffling your characters from one location to the next and from encounter to encounter, completely missing these player to player roleplay experiences. When this happens there are many solutions to liven up the dialogue between your player characters.
Player Character Chat
Depending on your group, you could find your players gleefully roleplaying amongst themselves at length, or they might never roleplay without being prompted by an external force. As a dungeon master, too much of either can be stressful as you try to balance and move your game along.
For now, let’s just focus on the lack of player to player roleplaying. This might present itself in different ways, but often it’s expressed when players narrate their characters’ actions, but don’t speak as their characters. This can cause scenarios where the player characters don’t talk and your players talk about the game from a meta standpoint.
When players do roleplay within the group they tend to focus on doing a few key things. Often, players relate backstory elements that are important to the character’s history. Players can spend a lot of time on their characters’ backstory and discussions between players are the times when this is most likely to come out.
If your players don’t do in-character conversation, the group might never hear any of this backstory and fail to fully grasp significant pieces of character lore.
Beyond just backstory, players also get a chance to establish their characters ideals and personality. Many DMs will see this presented through the lens of the “unlikely duo” where you have two players in a party with wildly opposing world views and senses of morality. Classically this presents as the lawful Paladin vs the chaotic Rogue.
Without the group talking to each other, things like character ideals are hard to understand. Failing to find ways to address this problem will lead to one character’s actions being met by dumbfounded confusion from other players, or worse, create reasons for infighting amongst the group.
A great part of this is the contextualization of any shared history. This can easily be lost when your player characters don’t roleplay amongst themselves.
After the players beat a hard monster or overcome a big trial, talking about it and relating their character’s feelings about it can help the group grow together. Knowing that the barbarian felt empowered after a fight, but the rogue who got severely wounded thinks things could have gone differently is important for party cohesion.
The discussion about how an encounter went or the characters feelings on a particular topic can help shape the actions of the group. Without these scenes some players may feel that they’re not really part of the story, as their character no longer seems to be participating in the overall actions of the party.
All of these things are issues that come up with a silent group. But don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to help encourage your players to roleplay amongst themselves.
Ways to Help the Silent Group
Some groups have trouble roleplaying. This is just a natural occurrence that comes up from time to time, and every DM will face this issue at some point. With that, let’s talk about how you fix it.
Option 1: Don’t
Not every group needs or wants a roleplay heavy DnD game. Ask your players what they want and modify your game to fit. Never try to force players who don’t want to roleplay to do so.
If your group is split on this aspect of the game, you can set a few ground rules for minimizing the whole group’s roleplay and maximizing roleplay experiences for the players that want more. This is a kind of tightrope walk, but there are plenty of ways to handle it. Just be sure you provide opportunities for everyone to participate with the game.
Option 2: NPC Tag Along
If your group won’t naturally start up conversations or feel weird doing so, you can initially get the ball rolling with an NPC tag along. The NPC should be a neutral ally that has to stick with the group. This could be a king’s knight sent to oversee them or a merchant they need to escort to another town.
Once the NPC is in place you can stretch out a journey. Take a traveling scene and have the NPC ask questions based on what they would notice about the characters. A knight escort might ask about someone’s weapon, where they learned to fight, what kind of combat they enjoy, etc. A merchant escort might be more interested in why the characters choose the adventurer’s life.
In any event, the point is to have the NPC kickstart conversation, and you as the DM get to see how many of your players bite. From there the idea is to simply let your players lead the scene and use the NPC to gently nudge the players along if the conversation starts to go stale.
Sometimes this works great, but it doesn’t always lead to good dialogue. If your players don’t ask questions back or interact with any of the juicy tidbits that your group members drop, then it can feel like a game of twenty questions. If that ends up being the case, just end out the scene rather than forcing awkward conversation.
Option 3: The Established Down Time
Downtime is part of the game that is most often skipped by groups. These are sections when your group is not in peril and the story is at a natural rest. These are times around a bonfire on the way to a location or a few days in town for shopping and feasting. During these times you should take care to set up scenes where players find themselves with few mechanically driven things to do and ample time to talk.
To make this work more effectively, the idea is that you prime your players with this ahead of time. Let them know you’re going to run a downtime session. Let them know it will be a roleplay heavy day. Tell them there will be room for character dialogue. If you prepare your group they will have the opportunity and it is their choice to take it.
Option 4: Extreme Measures
I don’t really recommend this unless your players are going to jive with it, but if you really want to get your characters to know each other, send them out on this quest:
Someone has been sneaking into important meetings, impersonating individuals in the castle, and stealing the kingdom’s secrets, but no one can figure out who it is or how it’s being done. The group has been hired to follow a lead and investigate a nearby cave where a suspected imposter traveled to.
Upon investigation, the group finds a strange stone table with runes carved into it. When they get closer, the table activates and the players find themselves with a different players character sheet, as they have all swapped bodies. They will have to work out how to undo these body swapping effects by chasing the suspect into the kingdom.
However, if they don’t act out their new body’s character properly, the guards, already on high alert for imposters, will arrest the individual and throw them in the dungeon.
This can be a fun session all on it’s own and could even last a few sessions, but it really makes the players talk to each other and learn each other’s back stories. With this quest you can make it more tense by having people who would know about the characters’ customs or history around the kingdom, or by forcing the group to split up to take care of issues.
If your group is of the opinion they can just tell someone they’ve swapped bodies, be sure to make up some contrivance that prevents that. It’s magic after all.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
While you may think your players don’t enjoy roleplaying or that they are not interacting with opportunities, it might be that you are not managing the game in a way that works for them to do so. There are a few core problems that you should be on the lookout for if you think this might be the issue.
Sometimes the pacing is too fast for players to get a sense of a lull long enough to rest and talk in. When you whisk your players from place to place they don’t have a lot of time to react to all the changing scenes and scenarios. Remember that they have to imagine everything as they work through this environment that you’re helping them build into a mindscape.
This can be difficult to notice because every pause for you might feel like a lifetime when you’re already thinking about what comes next. The easiest way to fix this is just to remind yourself to take breaks.
Too Many Time Skips
You will often skip forward in time in DnD. You don’t spend 4 days roleplaying a 4 day trip to the next town, but maybe you should spend more than a few minutes on the travel scene. Establishing a rule for yourself about when it is appropriate to time skip can help you give your players scenes designed for roleplay.
Be sure to spend enough time in a scene and ensure no one has any additional things they want to do before moving forward in time.
Four is Crowd
Another issue that can come up is that your players are always a united group. Sometimes the best conversations happen one on one. Be sure to give your players the opportunity to talk with each other in a more personal, intimate setting. It’s actually okay to split the party from time to time.
Player to Player Communication is Important
While interpersonal character roleplay in your group is important to the game, it’s not everyone’s strength. When trying to tackle this issue, like most issues, be sure to talk to your players about it and figure out what they want out of the game.
If it’s a problem where you need to intervene to help the situation along, you have plenty of options to do so. In the case where the problem is you, the first step is knowing that and being honest about how you run your game.
We hope these helpful tips can get your group role playing amongst themselves in no time.
As always Happy DMing!