Maybe you play Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe you play Delta Green, Numenera, or any of the other amazing tabletop role-playing games given a spotlight by Megan, Aser, and the rest of the cast of The Redacted Files. Whatever game you play, I hope you’re having fun. I also hope you read my piece on etiquette for the gaming table. In it, I highlighted what I consider the cardinal rules for anyone who wants to play these types of games. Even more than the actual rules laid out in any game’s rulebook, these rules will guarantee that, even if you struggle with the rules from time to time, or you’re just learning a game, the other players and the DM/GM/whatever they choose to be called will appreciate the effort you put into it and show you an appropriate level of respect.
But TTRPG’s are about more than the rules.
I play these games because they allow me to escape, to step out of myself, with all of my neuroses, anxiety, and other issues, out of a world that is often unpleasant. When I play in any of the countless game settings out there, I get to take on the role of the hero (or, occasionally, the villain) and live the fantasy of being an important figure to the shape and future of the worlds in which I play. I get to, for a couple of hours at a time, be somebody else, and forget about everything that is going on in my real life.
To do this, however, I have to do more than fill out a few boxes on a stylized piece of paper, read some rules, and roll some dice. I have to get into character, and actually let myself become the character I’m playing. It is something that I see players struggle with from both sides of the DM’s screen. Now, no game is going to be fun if your DM isn’t creating a proper immersive experience for you, so don’t be afraid to bring up any issues you may have with a DM, just be sure to do it respectfully, like I discussed in my piece on etiquette. Even if you think your DM sucks be respectful, because disrespect will only deepen any tension that is already there.
Beyond the responsibilities that fall to the DM, there are some things that you can do as a player to help yourself get into character and have more fun at the gaming table.
The first tip for immersive, enjoyable role-play is to invest in your character. Sure, if you aren’t familiar with the game or setting, you can ask your DM to make you a “pre-gen” (a pre-generated character), but how much are you really going to care about them? Making a character is a bit like becoming a parent (I know, I know, “eww, children” amiright?). When you take the time to actually invest in building your character from the ground up, by fleshing them out with stats, flaws, special abilities, and backgrounds, you will inevitably care about them more than a character that is just given to you. And yes, part of this is coming up with a backstory for the character. In a home-brew setting, this means sitting down with the person who’s going to be running your game and asking questions about it to learn more about the world in which you’re going to be adventuring. For official settings, this ties back to the rules of etiquette and actually reading the rule-books. Some popular settings for adventures are D&D’s Forgotten Realms, Warhammer’s 41st Millennium, or Firefly’s The Verse. While reading through the setting, ask yourself some questions. Where did your character grow up? Where did their family fit into their community? Why did they leave? What prompted them to become an adventurer? How did they train? Why are they with the current group and how did they meet? Some games incorporate aspects of this directly into their character creation, but I like to have my players write me at least a page of backstory. And, just a tip, but it’s far too easy and cliché to simply say that they have amnesia or come up with some tragic horror story where everybody they ever knew and loved is dead and they had no choice but to set out on their own, but that isn’t interesting. Be interesting. Everybody will thank you for it.
Role-play tip number two is one that usually goes without saying, but I’ve seen it happen: always refer to your character in the first person. It’s role-playing, play your role. Your character is you, not some third party you’re controlling, so don’t talk about them like they are unless that’s a very specific quirk about the way they talk (like The Rock back in his WWF days).
Tip 3 is to develop a voice for your character. Accents, vocabulary, timbre, and more all combine to give a person their voice, and a person’s voice is even more unique than their fingerprint. Is the primary language of the world not your character’s first language? Then they probably don’t speak it fluently unless they’re really smart and/or charismatic. Does your character smoke or drink? Their voice is probably going to be a bit rough. How much do they curse? How educated are they? How loud are they? What size are they and what race? All of these things have an effect on how a person/character sounds when speaking, and coming up with a character’s voice can be just as personal and interesting as any other aspect of getting into character. And no, it isn’t easy. It may take practice, but it will be worth it to not only flesh out your character and help you immerse yourself in playing, but also in distinguishing when you’re interacting with the group on the level of your player vs when you are actually in character, speaking to other characters. If you aren’t sure how to do any of this, that’s fine. I do a bit of voice acting work here and there, and it isn’t easy, but there are plenty of resources on YouTube and elsewhere to help you learn.
The fourth and final tip I want to put out there is to not be afraid to cosplay for game nights. Regardless of how you actually play, either online or in-person, at somebody’s house or at your friendly local game store (check with the store first to make sure it’s okay before bringing props into a store, though, please, thank you), if you and your friends all bring props, costumes, etc, you’re going to be that much more immersed in the experience of your character. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a full costume with armor, setting-appropriate clothes, and the whole nine yards. If that’s what you want to do, by all means, I won’t ever tell a player they can’t, but it could also mean little things. Maybe your character has a favorite hat that you can wear, or maybe they’ve got a specific and identifiable magic item that you can bring a prop of. If you go on YouTube and watch a few episodes of Achievement Hunter’s Heroes & Halfwits, you’ll see a good example of what this looks like. And remember, you’re playing and enjoying a game that many in society still mock and look down upon, if they don’t outright think it’s evil, so don’t concern yourself with what they might think of you because your gaming group certainly shouldn’t be judging you.
All in all, how immersive your game is comes down to how immersive you want it to be. It is a collaborative effort with the other players around your table and everybody should be in agreement on how much time they want to spend in-character versus out of character, and how you all, as a group, will distinguish this. Every group will be different, and not every player will be as comfortable or as practiced. I’m lucky in that I live in Hollywood and often game with actors and other entertainers, but not everyone does, so spend some time in your zero session discussing this, and everybody will have a good time.