Rule mechanics that encourage role playing

What are the best rule mechanics to encourage role playing?

As I posted on another thread I’ve wanted to play the Genesys system to see how their narrative dice system works?

Champions had ideas like disadvantages.
Fate has Aspects
Then there are all the bennies/inspiration/Fate points sort of encouragements.

Certain settings do this with tailored rules. The Bond game had the seduction skill broken up by steps like the Look, Opening Line, etc.

That’s about all I can come up with, but there must be more right?


I must say, I absolutely adore the idea of mechanizing Bond’s game of seduction. That is too good.

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Perhaps more ‘narrative’ than roleplay but I love the DCC ‘Mighty Deed’ mechanics - it adds an mechanical impact to an attack role but also encourages players to think about a fighting style for their characters.


A Warrior (or Dwarf) rolls a ‘deed’ die as a bonus to their attack roll. A lower levels it’s a D3 (increasing with level) The deed die result is added to the both the attack (to hit) and damage results. The player can optionally declare a ‘mighty deed of arms’ which succeeds if the deed die is 3 or higher. Typically deeds don’t add to damage but might, for example knock an enemy away from an ally, disarm them or blind them causing their next attack to be impeeded.

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I really like Hollow Earth Expedition for it’s Style Points. Basically, it is a currency that the GM hands out for good roleplaying, or for whatever they want, as long as it is making the session better. The points can be exchanged at like any time for extra dice (it’s a dice pool game). When I run it, I hand these out like candy at holloween. Oh, you only have a rating of four in your melee skill? Well, since you’ve been awesome for the past 45 minutes of the game, you have earned the privilege to roll 14 dice to stab that T-Rex in the face.

I also like Fate for the create advantage action. It incentivizes players to utilize environments instead of just trading blows in a combat situation. It goes a long way to facilitate teamwork as well, which helps with roleplaying.

Blades in the Dark uses “clocks” instead of hit/health points for enemies. It makes the resistance to the players very abstracted, so you can go ahead and fight it, or you can use social skills to fill up the pie pieces of the clock. Leads to more roleplaying because players have more options in how to handle obstacles. Plus the game is just damn cool.

My personal opinion is that mechanics inhibit true role playing. The mechanics codify something that I feel should occur organically. I think I read another post from you on the topic and understand why you are seeking mechanics for this item.

I think what encourages role playing the most is put the characters in situations that require them to roleplay / interact.

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After seeing your comment on a recent episode, I think I might have a perspective for you.

Power gamers with a history of D&D, huh? And I see you give some ideas about “roleplaying mechanics” in the form of Champions Disadvantages and Fate Aspects. I have a two-pronged discussion about this.


Which iteration of D&D do you play? 5e? What would happen if you went back to Original or 1e? In those games the power bloat to superhero status is not present, and—most importantly—there are no Skills (outside of the Thief’s specific abilities—okay, some Ranger, too). Have you read Matt Finch’s Quick Primer for Old School Gaming? His thesis essentially is that the lack of mechanics promotes roleplaying. In other words, if there are no rules to accommodate rolling for task resolution, the players have no choice but to describe—or roleplay—how they do just about anything.

Other Systems

But, of course, you are asking for roleplaying mechanics. Champions Disadvantages thrusts complications upon the PCs. Cypher allows Intrusions. I’m not familiar with Fate, but it seems that some systems allow incentives for roleplaying. This seems to be the most prevalent mechanic for encouraging roleplaying: incentivizing roleplaying. Currently I’m running Modiphius’s 2d20 Conan. That gives the GM a resource called Doom with which to complicate situations for the PCs, and each PC has a Trait that, if they lean into it (in terms of roleplaying), can award them a resource called Fortune points. Still, this leaves a lot of indeterminacy and value judgments for the GM; it could be a problem for power gamers who, say, invoke their Traits fairly lamely and then demand rewards.

My own practice is this: avoid rolling as long as possible. Let’s consider those games (including Conan 2d20) that have social skills. For the most part, when a situation first comes up, ignore those Skills. Roleplay the encounter until one side—the GM or the player—is tapped out. Then make an evaluation. In my 2d20 game I’ve roleplayed encounters so successfully that no roll is required*. Is there some question of success? In this case I use an evaluation of the quality of the roleplaying (would the player have convinced me, were I the NPC? did the player choose to resolve the task in a surprising way?) to assign a difficulty to the task. In this way “poor” roleplayers still have their Skills to fall back upon, but they have to get there first. Chances are your players might be too eager to roll. I would say to them, “No, we’re not there yet. I don’t know what the Difficulty is. What do you say next?” Or, “How do you do it? This is important.” In other words, the players still have their carefully “built” stats, but they have to roleplay for an evaluation of how well—or even how—they use them.

*2d20 has a very interesting feature in that a player can still use a Skill for a task with “0” Difficulty. The incentive or “purpose” for this choice is the chance of generating a resource called Momentum. With every Skill roll, though, there is a corresponding chance that the player will generate a Complication. This is the risk/reward dynamic of 2d20 and many other games.

I think systems that have quirks and flaw can (but not do) promote roleplay. Some people need a prompt, and having those little things on their character sheets can be those prompts.

I think I’m with ya here - After reading this post I realized that it really resinates with me in that, “Yeah! That’s right!” kinda way :slight_smile:

Perhaps, but it might not be “Roleplaying” as the general experience but to encourage Roleplaying on brand. (Don’t mind the capitalizations here, auto-correct must be trying to make a point.) I’ve played in numerous games where people have roleplayed their characters into acting like dicks and being some of the most un-heroic heroes any world has ever seen. Some of these mechanics can be used to ensure everyone can see the buttons that were designed to be triggered, particularly for first-time players. For example, gaining inspiration in 5e based on aspects of your character’s background that help players stay on target (and not steal from your fellow party members… BRAD!! Sorry, flashbacks.)


I absolutely agree that putting players in difficult and or interesting situation organically encourages roleplaying. But the rules create the stage, setting and how everything is done in the game. Isn’t that an example of rule mechanics encouraging role playing? In FATE a character with no standard combat abilities can still be effective in a fight. You could baffle people with your BS, figure out the villains aspects are so other people can take advantage of them, encourage your team, tear down the villains self confidence, etc. All of these things can effect combat. This is the games basic mechanic and it diffidently encourages role playing.

People play and act differently in different games. Super heroes play differently than characters in Call of Cthulhu than in D&D. So, I guess I will have to disagree, respectfully with everyone and I will let it go. Although, I keep thinking of examples I will just argue with myself.

And as always I look forward to the next podcast!

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To many of the points above, I think they all nailed it rather well. I think the key lies in letting the rules aid that role play (obviously the topic being which ones) but making sure we all don’t let those rules act as a hurdle to role play.

I think games that have degrees of success/degrees of failure baked in encourage role playing, as players must deal with more than just pass/fail and their characters must deal with subtler shades of success and failure and consequences. PbtA and Genesys have this type of mechanic built in, for example. And I guess you could say that about Savage Worlds with a raise being better than a simple success. But this concept can be incorporated in any system, if the table is willing. See today’s Running the Game from Matt Colville for some examples of using degrees of failure in 5E.


I’ve never watched Colville’s video’s (for fear of Brett accusing me of cheating on Gaming and BS), but that dude always looks hysterical in every screen shot. It’s like Jim Kramer! (Kidding, I’ve heard Colville’s stuff is really good.)


Warden - when you say role playing “on-brand” does that mean like theme of the game? If it is a spy game then the game has mechanics that support not only the action but also the RP side of things? Like seduction, false facing, etc? I agree that this can help establish a tone for a particular game. I have also though seen new players when you tell them what the game is like get totally in character and capture the flavor of the game. They cant tell a d12 from a d20 but they are super into their character.

As far as players acting like dicks I domt think any number of rules or system mechanics will prevent this. I dont know these individuals and it could be entirely possible they always and will always act like dicks! Like the two knuckleheads that run this clown show say sometimes, “maybe your playing with the wrong people”.

To mimic what someone else said I think PBTA games, like monster of the week, inspire more role play / problem solving over straight power gaming. That is if you play it by the spirit of the game. You may find your players simply revert back to their habits. Instead of describing their action, role playing it, and the GM saying “Ok that sounds like investigate mystery, roll +smart” your player may just say “I want to investigate a mystery, my dude is smart.”

Well I think this post was sufficiently meandery on my part!

Yeah, playing their characters to match the theme, tone, styles of the game. So a paladin is probably the best - and also worst - example of this. The game is a dungeon crawl where you play a party of freelance adventurers slaying monsters and taking treasure. Quite a few people play paladins as noble figures who would arrest every rogue who picked a pocket but that is not “on brand” with the actual game. Being a dungeon crawler is and so paladins are supposed to be valiant heroes, yes, but ones who are able to align themselves with other non-paladin and/or non-good companions.

So having RP mechanics can be XP rewards that encourage positive aspects of that character type suitable for the brand of the game. With a paladin, gaining XP for finding a way to accept your companion’s unpaladin-y habits or how you found a way to balance out their bad deeds with good ones could be a way to go.

Paladin is a good example of how role playing can go wrong and you can have dick head players. In HS (2e) days we would groan whenever one of these players rolled good enough stats to be a Paladin.

Heroes Journey 2e has mechanics that encourage what your talking about. I have only read half the book so cant give full opinion on the game yet.

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