Epic Rescues: Hack n’ play?

Hey Vex, I’m currently running my first campaign ever. I have four of my friends playing in it. They’ve played Dungeons and Dragons before, but only in the form of video games. Baulder’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, you know… I’ve found out that they must have just clicked through the dialog of the games because they are just pure hack and slash players. Each and every one of them just brute forces their way through my carefully laid plans. I’ve followed your past advice and stopped planning so much in advance. But, I LOVE ROLEPLAYING… They don’t. I really want to incorporate it more in the game, but I don’t want to force feed my players dialog and role playing opportunities when they just don’t want it. Can you please help me find a way to let them see just how fun it is?

-Cheatos

First off. Cheatos… Brilliant. Secondly, I KNOW THE PAIN! My most loyal play group came from players who had never had a real chance to experience the game. They came from backgrounds like Magic: The Gathering, and video game hack and slashers. So I had to introduce them to the game in a familiar way, stat blocks. The first few weeks were very little role playing, just nice and simple crypt crawling and hunting bad guys. Slowly getting used to their skills and all. I started them with 4e because, it’s just flat out easy to understand when you come from a card or video game back ground.

The problem is. They absolutely loved solving their problems with all these powers and actions they had. Skill challenges were just not as interesting as using their mighty double strike attacks and spell slinging at minions and artillery monsters. The reason I tell you all this back story is because I had to devise a way for them to want to role play, and want to interact with non-player characters, versus hunting things down on their own and just blowing it to bits.

First I started small. I would hide some important information somewhere nearby. Perhaps on an enemy and when they killed him a parchment with information would fall out of his coat. This would inspire them to loot more carefully. I would drop in helpful NPCs as well. They would offer information. Perhaps the NPC recognized them and said “I can help you find so-and-so, for a cost.” This let the players say, “Hey, cool now we don’t have to deal with this other thing and get to the bad guy faster.” Yes, they wouldn’t pay the cost, they’d take the person out back and interrogate them instead. But, that was a step forward in role playing. They couldn’t just kill the guy to solve the problem.

Then I just stopped offering this stuff for free. Suddenly it got a lot harder to find what they wanted. So they would remember that people may have information on them. They would search bodies, or keep someone alive to interrogate, even actively seek out information in town. That was a huge step forward in the problem.

The next thing I did was start introducing puzzles that simply couldn’t be bashed through. Puzzles that didn’t just require skill checks or rolling dice. My favorite is the old talking door. Simple puzzle, entertain the door (make the GM laugh), and it opens up. Or going around and finding parts to open up these doors and solve the puzzles. Perhaps they find someone who knows the way through, but it requires them to cast a spell on it. So they have to role play it out and escort them to the door. This gives them the combat they want, with a small opportunity to role play as well.

My final step in getting them to like role playing was to strip them of their gear. Which happened in the most recent campaign. The only way to get the gear back is to get help and fight for it, or ask for it, or earn enough to buy it all back. You have to be careful with this one, because it needs to be something rarely done. A one time use of it is very effective. Perhaps put them against an impossible fight, and end the night with things going black. The next session, they awake as prisoners with nothing but ragged cloth for clothing. This leads to them being forced to role play with other slaves or prisoners to hopefully create a revolt or something along the lines. But, its a great bait; they want to get back to hack and slash… But, they may just have a lot of fun role playing to get the gear back; or coming up with make shift weapons to fight to get it back.

All in all, ya gotta start small. Bait them with things that make the session easier to get where they want. Once they show signs of looking for it actively, take away the bait. Then make things a little harder to figure out, requiring interaction in less violent ways than before. You don’t have to do this all the time, always try to give them what they want. But, now and again can be very fun. Finally, hit them where it hurts. They can now use all the things they’ve learned to role play their way out of the scenario instead of straight up hack and slash.

This doesn’t force feed them anything. It lets them open their eyes to another aspect of the game. And, if they take the bait and begin to do things on their own; great. If they take the bait but go right back to hack and slash when the bait is gone, then try more creative puzzles. If they don’t care for that. It may be best to sit down and talk to them. Explain that you really want to do role playing once in a while. Tell them what you expect out of the game, as you know their expectations. Normally a player won’t even notice what you were trying to do. You’re the only one with the big picture in your head. Communication with your players is more important than any adventure idea you could ever come up with. Unhappy GMs and unhappy players leads to pointless stress on friendships.

Good luck,
~Vexar

If you have questions that need answering, or want some advice on how to play or game mastering, please shoot an email my way or comment below at adventamp@gmail.com

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