Let it Roll: Five Ways to Let Loose and Have Fun Playing Tabletop RPGs

Image by Natania Barron. CC BY SA 3.0

One of the most common questions I get asked about having a weekly D&D group is how to start it in the first place. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that. But what some people fail to see, I think, is that even when you have a group it doesn’t mean instant success. Once you’ve assembled your players there’s a chance that personalities might get in the way. Some may be more experienced than others. One or two might want to control the game. And, more likely than not there may be one or two who just have a hard time getting into character.

So how do you get past shyness? How do you work with the group, over a potentially long period of time, if there are reluctant members in your group who just can’t get past their self-consciousness? Since we’ve been playing with the same group, more or less, for almost 4 years, I thought I’d share some of the tips that have worked for us.

  1. You don’t necessarily have to jump into the game. Sure, and an initial meeting where you get together and talk about your hopes and dreams and aspirations for the campaign is totally fine, of course. But you don’t want to get the cart before the horse. It might be a good idea to play some other games first, just to get an idea of how your players work together. You never know what kind of personalities, alliances, or distractions might exist. Couples might try to continually work together, or players with opposite strategies might be loath to work together. My suggestion is to play something with role-playing elements, particularly a game like Fiasco. We regularly play Fiasco around here, because it’s a fantastic icebreaker. It’s a very adult game, so make sure that’s appropriate to your group. But the great thing about Fiasco is that it forces people to work together, and it often displays players strengths and weaknesses. Not to mention it’s totally fun. It’s a priceless tool for both DMs and other players, as you can watch the game and take mental, or physical, notes. This will help you mediate in the future. Or, more likely, allow you to cater your game to your players’ personalities.
  2. Be the example. There’s nothing worse than a boring DM who can’t get into character. If every NPC feels the same, if every setting is a tavern, your players really won’t have much to work with. Remember that you’re setting the stage for their imagination and the more you’re into it, the more dedicated you are to the world you’re creating (within healthy limitations of course, please don’t go all Mazes and Monsters on us, mmkay?) the more likely they’ll start participating without thinking about it. Collaborative imagination is one of the best parts of a successful RPG campaign, and as the fearless leader you’ve got a lot of power to make it work–but it’s not just for DMs. Players with big personalities, shine on! Your enthusiasm can be infectious. I’ve been known to whip out accents and visual aides. Which leads me to the next tip:
  3. Use props. Okay, this sounds silly, sure. But it can really help. Yeah, not all of us have the kind of props available (or time to create them) as one might see in Gabe and Tycho’s posts. However, a little goes a long way. For instance, when I was running my campaign I had created a plot in which the PCs had to tell which vial of liquid held the antidote to the werewolf curse. It was a puzzle, because the first clue was the color and the second was luminosity. I brought out a platter with various goblets willed with fizzy, colored liquid. The right one was blue and glowed under blacklight (tonic water does the trick). Using wine glasses and cordial glasses really gave a feeling that we were in a steampunk world (which was the backdrop) and definitely contributed to the participation. Other suggestions: set a medieval tablecloth, play some ambient music, burn some incense, light a fire in the fireplace. A little goes a long way toward snapping players out of the mundane.
  4. Drink! Okay, this won’t work for everyone. But if you’re group is of age and generally without concerns where it comes to liquor, there’s nothing like a little wine or beer to get people to relax while letting loose their imaginations. If you’re worried about having a little too much fun, you can always be the sole provider. Just don’t get a keg. Unless, of course, you want to re-enact that bar brawl! Other options? Food! As you might have figured out by reading my past posts, I like food. And I do tend to arrange for vittals for the group. Building camaraderie around the table, whether we’re crowded around bratwurst from our favorite local German restaurant (seriously, that website is… a must-see) or an elaborate dungeon, is one of the ways we continue to have so much fun together.

    Image by Natania Barron. CC BY SA 3.0

  5. Keep up the dialogue between sessions. This might be the single biggest factor, and something that’s a collaborative effort through everyone. While much of the tone and feel of a tabletop RPG has to do a great deal with the DM, this one is something everyone can take part in. We’ve set up a Google Group, and especially when we’re really in complicated campaigns where we can’t fit everything into one session, we’ll often finish in text. It’s also a great place to fill your DM in on your character’s background, so they can integrate that into the campaign. There is nothing as awesome as having some big life-changing moment for your character occur during the course of the game (my husband once built my character a whole airship–furnished and all–and it was the most amazing birthday present ever). Good DMs will work to get everyone to include everyone–which is no easy task, but definitely worth it in the end!

How about you? What have you done to help tease your players out of their shells? Were you shy and have since burst onto the scene? Tell us your stories, IC or OOC.





6 Responses to Let it Roll: Five Ways to Let Loose and Have Fun Playing Tabletop RPGs

  1. The main problem I have with getting into tabletops is my location. I'm often somewhere devoid of any official groups or anything, and I don't really know anyone near me who's into them. I keep considering online tabletops, even if the excitement is perhaps brought down from it that way…

  2. Props is something my GM likes.. Most of the times, to a reasonable degree, but sometimes, he just goes above and beyond to draw us in with his props.

    For one campaign, we ran into a cipher, and he actually went and made us a custom one just for that part of the plot! (and it wasn't even an essential part of the plot, had we been able to solve the cipher, we would simply have reached the end of the plot about half a session earlier).

    Dimming the lights, moody and appropriate music (sometimes he uses a remote to on the fly change so we have appropriate music for the setting that we happen to enter, kinda like music changes in a game.)

    All in all, most small things to a long way, but with just a nudge extra effort, you can end up 6-7 hours later and wonder why the sun is starting to come up while going for a smoke during the toilet intermission.

  3. Yes to all !!! Thx for the great article. It was very inspiring and made me think about gathering my old group together. And thy for the honesty when it comes to the booze part! ;-) And I totally agree that a bit is great to drive imagination but too much can quickly result in … well, usually tiredness at my age ;-)

  4. I’ll add my vote to music and small touches. I’ve found that if you can add just a touch of professional lingo it can add a lot to the area. If you’re working near ships, spars and other nautical terms, formations and tactics when the military, crops and animal husbandry for farmers. NPC’s are not stupid, which I think more than a few people make the mistake of.

    Not only that even visual cues can be something, from crude sketches to paintings, game art.

    I actually might pick up a board game like Lords of Waterdeep and run a session of that prior to starting my next campaign, but that being said, a coffee shop meeting to get everyone together worked well enough.

  5. My group handles things thusly:

    Our maps are projected onto the table so we can have a little fun with them (DM can use his laptop to highlight things or 'draw' on the table). We like doing full days worth of gaming instead of a few hours, so it'll be morning bagels during play, break for lunch, play some more and close with dinner out. There's always music going, but nothing 'ambient', just your regular rock/pop favorites.

    Moreover though, the guys I play D&D with are the same guys I play poker with, so dice rolls will frequently break into friendly bets.

    For us, at the end of the day, it's as much about friends getting together to screw around, have a few beers and some snacks as it is about dungeon crawling.