D&D live streams have changed the way pop culture views Dungeons and Dragons today. With live streams becoming more popular, we're seeing an influx of new players to the hobby. These new players come with a new set of expectations. While no two tables are alike, we also understand that many new players want to "play like Critical Role". To help new tables out, we discuss what it means to "play like Critical Role" and give roleplay tips to do it.
Why People Want to Play Like Critical Role
To start to play like your favorite streamers, you have to be able to analyze what makes them so different. In the case of Critical Role, the main difference we'll focus on is the roleplay. Since Critical Role is a set of talented voice actors, they are able to commit to their characters. Their characters drive the narrative of the story. The story is what brings viewers back to their channel. We'll be focusing on this main difference: the roleplaying aspect.
Ideas to Keep In Mind Before You Start
Before you start honing your roleplaying skills, keep these ideas in mind. Understanding these key items should come before you implement the tips we've provided.
No two tables are exactly alike!
While we're giving you tips to mimic your favorite streamer, remember that no two tables are exactly alike! Each table has a variety of players with different play styles. Your DM isn't Matt Mercer. Your Players aren't voice actors. Your table may or may not have 20+ years of experience playing D&D. Keep these things in mind as you move forward.
There is no right way to play D&D. The way that Critical Role or Dimension20 plays D&D may not be right for your table! Your table will not look exactly like Critical Role's table, and it shouldn't. Remove that idea from your head before you reach the table. It will save you some disappointment later, and allow you to have more fun.
You Don't Have to Be an Improv Expert to Roleplay
This is not a popular opinion, as far as we can tell in online forums. Based on our own experiences at the table, it's quite clear that you don't have to be an expert at improv to roleplay. Our table of gamer nerds hasn't one hour of theater or acting experience among them. This hasn't prevented them from giving roleplay their all. While that experience does help, it's not required to roleplay for Dungeons & Dragons. You can still have the same experience and fun with roleplay without the improv skills.
You DO Have to Communicate With Your Table
While improv skills aren't necessary, what is necessary is communication. Your table may not want to be like Critical Role, and that's 100% okay. There is no right way to play. The only way to find out how your table wants to play is to bring this topic up. Discuss with your table what aspects of D&D each player enjoys. Determine who would like to roleplay more, and who might find roleplay uncomfortable. At the end of the day, D&D is a game and you want to make sure every player is having fun!
It's NOT On Your DM to Bring Better Roleplaying Experiences
Do NOT blame bad roleplaying experiences on your DM. Great roleplay involves more than one character. Throughout Critical Role, there are instances Matt Mercer is silent in the background. Instead, the focus is on two of his players as they have a heart-to-heart. Your dungeon master is not the only person at the table. They are not responsible if the rest of your party doesn't take the roleplaying bait. To have a game like Critical Role, every player must take an active role in the narrative.
Tips for a Better Roleplaying Experience
Without further ado, here are our tips for a better roleplaying experience at the table.
Tip #1: Think of D&D as a Collaborative Story
We mentioned that great roleplay involves more than one person. This means that Dungeon Masters need to allow their players to influence the story. This also means that players need to have asides with other characters. These interactions will help you build a campaign that has more of a narrative feeling.
It's also important to show not tell. A good story doesn't tell you everything all at once. A good story has foreshadowing, suspense, and secrets revealed over time. There's a difference between saying "You see the man's fists clench until his knuckles are white." Versus "He looks angry." Show others what your character is doing and allow them to interpret it for themselves. Even misinterpretations offer a unique and fun experience.
Tip #2: Keep Some of Your Backstory Unknown
A great way to allow for some story elements is to keep some of your story unknown. Your Dungeon Master will be able to fill in the blanks themselves. This also applies to backstories between players. Keeping some of your histories a secret from others is a great way to add new interactions with others.
For example, one character may not remember any of his past. The DM could then throw in an NPC that recognizes that character. The groups would have the opportunity to learn more about the character. Another example: the player was a member of the cult that the party is now pursuing. The player wishes to keep this secret from other players to prevent them from turning against her. The DM, however, may have plans to reveal it when a cultist recognizes the character.
Both examples offer more narrative to the story, allowing characters to interact.
Tip #3: Build Characters (and NPCs) to Your Strengths
As a roleplaying beginner, start with a character like yourself. It may be easier to start with a character with a similar personality as yourself. If you're a very optimistic person, it may be hard to play a pessimistic character. If you're more into battle, playing a class like a fighter may make roleplaying easier for you. Build a character that matches your play style and personality to make it easier.
This isn't to say that you can't play a character that is completely opposite from you. In fact, you can have a lot of fun experimenting that way. Many have great success in creating characters unlike themselves.
Tip #4: Set Character Goals & Determine Their Reactions
Along the same lines, be sure to set character goals. In your favorite book or movie, the main character has a set goal they are looking to accomplish. This applies to D&D as well. Give your character a more realistic feel by setting goals. Then actively try to do them at the table.
Determine how your character will react when things go their way. What happens when they accomplish their goals? You need to understand how your character reacts. Is talking about family okay? Or did they run away from home? Or were their parents murdered by goblins? Each of these is a different reaction that adds to the narrative. You'll be better equipped to handle decisions and improv this way.
Tip #5: Get to Know Other Player Characters
This is one that I find many players don't do but could add tons of fun experiences at the table. Your character may or may not know much about the other characters. Make the effort to get to know them! This can be as simple as small talk! You want to build a relationship with other characters for the sake of the narrative. Why should any player try to save your character from death if you never speak to them? Maybe your dwarf is jealous of the elf in your party because he can always reach the top shelf.
An example of this comes from our campaign. Our fallen aasimar bard doesn't remember his past and doesn't know why he is fallen. He approached our other aasimar character in a one-on-one chat discussing patrons. In this conversation, our fallen aasimar determines that he needs to figure out who he is. He also may need to find a patron of his own to regain his status.
Tip #6: Prepare Your Improv
The key to good improv is actually in the preparation. Great improv actors have spent years developing characters and ideas that they can pull out on the fly. While you're no improv master, you can reach the same goal with a bit of preparation.
In the earlier example, our fallen aasimar prepared questions before having the conversation. He also had already determined a couple of outcomes he felt his character would come to. In fact, he knew his character would walk away from questioning how to regain a patron.
This player prepared before reaching the table. But it only took about 30 minutes of his time to prepare. Set aside time before your next game to think about how you want to interact with other characters. Determine how you would respond in certain situations. How would you react if a party member died? How would you react to fighting your favored enemy? Determine exactly what you would say and practice it. This will make it much easier to pull out on the fly at the table.
Tip #7: Remember, Good Roleplay Takes Time
Keep in mind that good roleplaying takes time and experience. If you're not used to roleplaying, you're not going to be at Critical Role's level right off the bat. You need to remember that it takes a lot of practice to be able to improv like they do. It also takes time to prepare for your game.
Get More Tips Like These On Our YouTube Channel
Looking for more great tips like these? Check out our YouTube Channel. We'll share tips for using our journals, as well as D&D tips for both players and Dungeon Masters.