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How to Encourage Roleplaying by Using Traditional Game Mechanics

Written by Expy - Published on April 21, 2017

“A gnome on a gold dragon?” (CC BY 2.0) by Benimoto

Some players don’t realize that being a DM is quite a task. In addition to organizing and often coming up with the campaign, you have the complicated job of making sure players play well, enjoy themselves, interact with each other in character and don’t detour too much from the main quest. To make the comparison to video game RPGs, you’re not only taking on the role of the software but the game developer too. It’s no secret that there are many playing styles in DnD: some who will even dress up and put on make-up for a tabletop session. Others focus more on fighting well and increasing their stats. In all cases though, the ultimate goal is for everyone to enjoy themselves. With that in mind, today we’re focusing on how to add more variety to your sessions by incorporating classic game mechanics.

Rolling the Bones

One of the most talented players I’ve met decided to be a male pirate from the Player’s Option: Skills & Powers book, although it was her very first foray into DnD. She had come up with an interesting backstory and came equipped with a special effects-grade knife wound across the face, apparently the reason why the character, Jimbo, left his village for the high seas. Although I had a few ideas about where the intro session would be going, she had other plans: her character was a lowlife, gold-crazy adventurer and although quite sociable, the first thing he’d do once he met someone friendly enough to not attack on sight would be to play dice with them, hoping to get all their money. They’d play a basic game of higher wins, where the roll with the highest value would win both wagers. The four-sided dice we already had we already had were enough to allow for such gameplay, but considering the variety of polyhedral dice we use, there are many more different options available – both in terms of rolls and dice style.

“Dice” (CC BY 2.0) by James Bowe

Mixing it Up

If you’re looking to make gameplay more complicated and allow players to think about their characters more, have an NPC invite them to a bluffing dice game. Liar’s Dice was made popular by $3 billion franchise Pirates of the Carribean. It can be bought as official Pirates merchandise, dubbed “Pirates Dice: A Game of High Seas Deception” the DIY option uses 20 four-sided dice and as many cups as the players. Depending on how willing the DM is to put the main quest aside and allow players to develop their roleplaying skills, the benefit of choosing Liar’s Dice over a simpler higher-roll-wins game is that it allows for deeper character immersion and development: players must remember to stay in character rather than go for what they would have done in real life. A Half-Orc Barbarian with an intelligence of 6 should definitely not play well, regardless of what the person who roleplays the said Barbarian is.

Anteing Up

Another option to engage your players with your characters and allow their personalities to shine are simple card games. Blackjack is good to consider, as it’s one of the most straightforward and well-known card games available. In its more traditional form, the goal is to make blackjack, which means a total of  21, or come as close to it without going over. If you’re the sort of DM who likes to make players’ lives a little more complicated though, you may want to look into multiple deck blackjack, where it’s way more difficult for players to calculate odds. Still, it’s something that your 18-intelligence Wizard should do her best to solve – especially if the character likes to show off their wits.

“6 color” (CC BY 2.0) by Dicemanic

Traditional Games as Puzzles

One of the issues you may face as DM is having players too eager to fight. Interestingly, 2009’s cult comedy series Community­ creator and also DnD player Dan Harmon advises against constantly engaging players in battles, calling long fights “dangerous, even unnecessary.” If you’re looking to advance the main quest, consider including the aforementioned game mechanics in your session as part of a challenge. Strip these games or other traditional offerings down to the basics and repackage them as a dungeon puzzle. If you’re looking for something exceptionally fiendish, you can reimagine a game of blackjack as a room where the heroes have to pick up a certain number of sticks from the floor and place them on a table to open a door. Without knowing it, they should be going for 21 or under. Whenever they go bust, as the lingo has it, an enemy will attack them.

We hope these examples have gotten your creative juices flowing. Once you realize that pretty much anything can serve as inspiration for your dungeon mastering, the sky’s the limit. Don’t be too hard on your players though. Only joking, they should get exactly what they deserve!


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Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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One Response to “How to Encourage Roleplaying by Using Traditional Game Mechanics”
  1. Catdragon says:

    I would like to have seen more examples of traditional games as puzzles. It would make a great post. :)

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