I spend a lot of time playing with new players, and often get questioned about how one can learn to roleplay better. A lot of people ask about improv classes, how into a particular system you need to be to play it well, other game and acting-related strategies.
While these are all good, I think there are much easier things that you can do to elevate your play. Here are three suggestions I often give. Let me know others that you feel improves play.
Address other players’ flags
Flags are bits players set out to indicate their interest.
Some systems mechanize these things – in Burning Wheel you can see the Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits of other characters. These are direct call-outs to things the player will find interesting. Bring them up in play, address and challenge them, put yourself into situations where the player gets to call on the mechanics for these things.
A popular hack of Dungeon World even swaps out Bonds for direct calls to action, rewarding the players when they engage discrete actions defined by the flags. I think this is a great adjustment to the game, and can easily see this being ported into other rewards systems.
Other games may not have discrete, mechanical flags, but they exist in all games. Players pick certain classes for reason, they usually invest into skills that will solve problems they are interested in, they tie themselves to the relationships they feel will drive their play forward.
The player of the Cleric in your group probably has some thoughts about religion within the game, they may even have a strong desire to help other characters throughout the game. Take time to ask them about these things – maybe turn to them for questions about their understanding of the cosmology of the setting. Look to them for aid. When a situation arises where you can help another character, leverage their experience to gain insight on how you can potentially help others.
By using, addressing, and challenging these flags you create a culture at your table where every player is interweaving their actions into the interests of every other player. While you aren’t responsible for each others fun, if someone says “hey, making my character look cool by doing/talking about/engaging with *this*”, and its not to your detriment or the detriment of others at the table – its an easy win to collaboratively create fun at the table.
Sometimes this can be thought of as making other players’ characters look awesome, but it works just as well in games where looking awesome may not be part of the theme, which is why I think flags are a better tool than some rule of cool.
Roleplaying is an awesome hobby where the world we are playing in is communally created from our imaginations. Its a place to throw out ideas, toy with fantastical concepts, and bounce cool scenes off of each other.
One of the worst feelings is to be told that something you have come up with is dumb. It feels like being dunked in icy water to propose an idea, thinking it will be fun for the whole table, only to have one of your fellow players tear it down.
Always be open to accepting the suggestions of your fellow gamers. This doesn’t mean everything goes wholesale. Sometimes there may be something that just doesn’t work as-is. If this happens to the case, be kind to the other player – tell them what you appreciate about the idea, then see if you can figure out if there is a form that the suggestion could take that applies to the game.
Maybe a suggested origin story for a race in the game doesn’t fit with the lore, but you can talk with that player to find out what it is about the origin they like, and work in the theme or idea behind their suggestion, if not the exact story suggested.
There is no greater advice for roleplaying (or probably any human interaction) than to communicate honestly and openly.
Take time to check in with others. If it seems like someone is bothered by something, ask them if this is the case. If you have reservations about a scene or a topic, bring it up to the group.
Encourage your gaming group to talk to each other like adults, and let everyone know that their thoughts and feelings are appreciated. No matter the scope or topic of the game, make sure to occasionally take time to check in, see how everyone is feeling, what everyone is excited about. Facilitate the kind of game where everyone is comfortable talking to each other, working to play the best version of the game you all want to be playing.