Weekly Roleplay Warm Up

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Each week, I sit down with five wonderful players (and sometimes a guest player) for our weekly game of D&D. After recapping the events of the last session, we do a roleplay warm up: a question that each player must answer on behalf of their characters. They can do this in character, or they can simply answer the question in their own words.

Roleplay warm ups have made a huge difference at our table. We love to explore our characters, bringing them to life through social encounters, challenges, and decisions. Though we’re not actors by trade, these questions help us to “get into character.” They prompt us to think of our characters as real people. What are their hopes and dreams? Do they have a favorite food? What do they do when they aren’t adventuring?

At the end of it (usually around 5-10 minutes max), the players choose someone to receive inspiration for their answer. I try to frame the question for any given week around the session I’ve prepared or its major themes. For example, if the characters were heading to Candlekeep, I might ask them something like, “If you were an author, what would be the title of your first book?”

Improvisation is hard. It takes practice, vulnerability, and a willingness to fail. Regardless of the size of your table’s audience—it’s okay if it’s just you and your players—you might benefit from adding a roleplay warm up before each session.

Roleplay Warm Ups

Below, you’ll find a running list of roleplay warm up questions that I’ve asked on Twitter (@justicearman). Please feel free to use them in your games.

  • In your character’s opinion, what quality should EVERY adventurer have?
  • What would your character say to the party with their dying breath?
  • What’s one errand your character has to take care of the next time they’re in town?
  • What is the best meal your character has ever eaten?
  • You’re at the Tipsy Lobster, a tavern in giant glass bottle that hugs a rocky shore-cliff. A spunky halfling in a blue doublet arrives to take your order. What do you tell them?
  • What is the best gift your character has ever received?
  • What is one title your character has earned that makes them proud?
  • What is your character’s retirement plan?
  • Your character stands at the front gate of Candlekeep, the Castle of Tomes. However, you can’t get in until you provide the monks with a rare book or piece of writing. What did you bring?
  • With which school of magic does your character most identify?
  • What is your character’s favorite thing about adventuring?
  • For what would your character sell their soul?
  • What did your character last dream about?
  • What is one thing your character prefers to do alone? (don’t be gross please)
  • What is one thing your character has changed their mind about?
  • When is the last time your character was cold to someone else?
  • When is the last time your character failed?
  • Does your character see the mug as half empty or half full? Also, what’s in the mug?
  • Is your character a clean person or a messy person?
  • What does your character do on their day off?
  • How would the other party members describe your character?
  • What song would your character sing at karaoke night?
  • What is your character’s pet peeve?
  • If your character had a warning label, what would it say?
  • What is one of your character’s fondest memories?
  • What is one rule your character never breaks?
  • A new adventurer approaches your character, asking them for wisdom. What lesson does your character impart to the young adventurer?
  • Describe one of your character’s childhood friends.
  • If your character could ask an all-knowing entity one question, what would it be?
  • If your character was an animal, which one would they be?
  • Where was your character educated? If they didn’t have a formal education, how were they taught?
  • What is one secret the rest of the party doesn’t know about your character?
  • When was the last time your character said, “I love you,” if ever?
  • What is your character’s catch phrase?
  • When’s the last time your character has used a set of tools?
  • What deity does your character worship? How do they show their devotion?
  • Tell me about one trinket your character possesses.
  • What is one thing your character admires about someone else in the party?
  • How does your character relax after a hard day’s work?
  • What does your character see when they look in the mirror?
  • If your character was an author, what would be the title of their first book?
  • Describe your character’s personal hell.
  • What’s one thing that always makes your character smile?
  • What is one way that someone can earn your character’s trust?
  • What is one thing your character has seen or done that no one would ever believe?
  • What is one goal your character hopes to accomplish in the next year?
  • What is something your character does every morning?
  • What does your character look like when they get angry?
  • What is one sacrifice your character has made?
  • Describe your character’s aesthetic in one word.
  • Your character is given a magic hourglass. With it, they can change one decision they made in the past year. Which one do they pick?
  • What’s one thing your character does when no one is around?
  • How would you describe your character’s fashion style?
  • What is one way that your character shows they care about someone else?
  • What is something your character doesn’t have enough of?
  • If your character was a drink, what would they be and why?
  • How can someone new earn your character’s trust?
  • If your character were to start a business, what would it be? What would make it special?
  • What is one thing your character has seen or done that no one would ever believe?

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

5 Things I Love About Quest

Check out the definitive guide to Candlekeep in 5th Edition D&D, Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. Featuring design and consultation by creator of the Forgotten Realms, Ed Greenwood, this supplement is packed with lore, new player options, and the first-ever map of the library fortress! If you liked that supplement, you’ll LOVE what we have coming next month, so be sure to sign up for my newsletter to get notified when that drops!

Recently, I learned about a new tabletop RPG (TTRPG) called Quest, which Dicebreaker toted as having “a good shot at becoming the definitive RPG for first-time players.” After watching Dicebreaker’s short video on the system (which you can find here or at the end of this article), I decided to order a copy and examine it for myself.

I gotta say, I like it a lot.

In this article, I’m going to share 5 things I love about Quest RPG with you. Before we get started, I want you to know the following:

  • This is not an endorsement of Quest over D&D or any other TTRPGs. I encourage you to find the TTRPG that works best for you and your players, one that brings you unequivocal joy with every session.
  • I won’t mention things that I don’t like about Quest. That’s just not my style.
  • I’m not an expert on Quest. If I get something wrong, I apologize.
  • Quest RPG did not ask me to write this article, nor am I being paid to do so.

The Artwork

The first thing that roped me in about Quest was the artwork. I’m a huge fan of Adventure time and Tales from Alethrion, both for their exaggerated cartoon art style and their whimsical yet thought-provoking method of storytelling. (If you’ve never watched “The Reward,” I just linked it. Go watch it, I’ll wait.) The artwork in Quest reminded me of my favorite cartoons while also maintaining its own sense of style.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fantasy painting. Our house is covered with them. But I’ve always been drawn to styles of art that are different, such as singers who maybe aren’t as technically proficient as others but who have memorable qualities to their voices. The art in this book scratches that same itch for me, while also conveying the epic and fantastical scope of adventuring with good friends. Oh, and it’s beautiful.

It’s also worth mentioning that the art in Quest is both inclusive and empowering. I especially love the artwork for the Naturalist role (depicted above), whose wonderful bird tattoos extend along their prosthetic arm. As a related aside, the community guidelines are also quite nice.

The Presentation

Quest is a book that holds your hand and takes you on a tour. It reminds me of the wholesome tutorial in the video game Little Big Planet, where the friendly narrator (Stephen Fry) engages with the player as they learn the controls at their own pace—while having a bit of lighthearted fun along the way.

From the very first page of the book, which states “This is a special place,” you feel like you’re on a learning journey. The table of contents is split into sections with commentary telling you what you’re going to learn in each grouping, and the book is presented logically without burdening you with too much information on any given page. I found myself thinking, If this rule works this way, I wonder about that rule, only to discover it in the following section. Font and layout vary from page to page, providing you with simple, direct information without any extra fluff. Once Quest has taught you a rule or conveyed its point, the book lets you have some space to ponder and chew on the information before continuing.

Backstories contain familiar elements of an ideal and a flaw, but the way that they are presented to the player is especially friendly to new folks. It’s sort of like mad libs meets D&D, and it works. You don’t need to write a 5-page backstory to get playing, and there are no races to choose. You just fill out the Character Profile, and you’re ready to go in that regard. They’re available as separate files on the website, too, so you can print off as many as you need and get rolling.

It’s Elegant

You can call Quest simple. In many ways, it is. But it’s simple in all the right places, which makes it elegant.

You get twelve items that reasonably fit in a backpack. Want to carry more? Drop one. Firing a ranged weapon? You’ll need one slot for your ranged weapon—be it a bow, laser rifle, or supercharged t-shirt cannon—and another slot for ammunition. But don’t worry about tracking all that ammunition. You have enough, it just takes up space.

In fact, don’t worry about keeping up with money and balancing an economy. Most things are free. Want something fancy? You’re going to have to trade for it. If you like tracking resources, this probably isn’t your game. However, if you are like me and don’t jump for joy every time a player asks how much a magic item costs, you’ll probably appreciate Quest’s bartering economy.

Because the rules in Quest are so light, there’s a bit more freedom to the group as a whole. Having just played Burn Bryte last night, I gotta say I like the freedom that comes with making skills versatile or even removing them entirely. There have been a lot of moments in other TTRPGs where my players will look down at their character sheets to try to find something—anything—that they can do. Often times, they’ll rule out the things they aren’t good at, which is natural in a system with skills and modifiers. When success depends on how good you are at a thing, you tend to focus on what you do best.

In Quest, there are no modifiers. You simply say what you want to do, and you do it, just like other TTRPGs. However, when you try to persuade someone, there’s no Diplomacy or Persuasion check. You just roll the d20 and use the following outcomes:

  • 20 — Triumph: you automatically succeed, and might find fortune.
  • 11-19 — Success: you do the thing without a negative outcome.
  • 6-10 — Touch Choice: you do the thing, but the Guide gives you two setbacks that you must then choose from.
  • 2-5 — Failure: you do not do the thing, and you might have a negative outcome.
  • 1 — Catastrophe: you automatically fail, and something bad happens.

This means that the probability of success for any check that doesn’t use a special ability stays the same for each character throughout your campaign. Some people will like this, others will not. Personally, I think it’s neat and helps keep the game moving, especially if math isn’t your best friend.

It’s Interesting

Quest isn’t a watered-down version of your favorite TTRPG. While some aspects may seem familiar, there are several that feel entirely new—and refreshing.

For example, the game lifts some of the responsibility of controlling pace off of the Guide (the game master), particularly when it comes to player advancement. At the end of each session, each character gets Adventure Points (APs), a finite resource which the players can accumulate to use abilities with an AP cost. A fighter might use 1 or 2 APs at a time, utilizing them for minor maneuvers. Alternatively, the wizard might save their APs for a clutch moment, surprising everyone at the table by wielding mighty magic in an epic display. There’s no limit to how many APs a character can accumulate, so players can decide their ideal reservoir of points for themselves throughout the campaign.

Character advancement works similarly. There are multiple learning paths in each roles, similar to skill trees in a common theme. They must be taken sequentially, but you can borrow from any of the paths. You might go all in on the Invoker’s Invocation path take a vow (similar to a paladin oath), or you might pick the Shield ability from the Wards path and a couple abilities from the Wrath path. At the end of each session, you’ll get a new ability, so it’s possible to get all the abilities in a role—if your campaign runs long enough. There are also legendary abilities, which only the Guide specifies when a character can get. These are things like the wizard’s ability to create dimensional portals, or recruiting an army of small animals to aid you and your companions as a ranger!

It’s Easy to Teach

Most important of all, Quest is easy to teach. It feels like a great way to introduce a new player to TTRPGs. There are, of course, easier TTRPGs to teach new folks, and there are certainly more complicated ones, but Quest feels like a nice balance of rules with common sense, which makes them easier to remember.

A player might ask, “Can I hit the creature with my sword?” If you’re in reach, you can hit it where you stand. If you’re nearby, you can travel to it on your turn and make a melee attack. If you’re in range, you can make a ranged attack, but not a melee one. And if you’re too far—well, I think you get my point.

If you or someone you know has never played a TTRPG before, and that’s not enough to warrant a deeper look, there’s also:

  • A single die.
  • No modifiers.
  • No money.
  • No skills.
  • No multiclassing.

If you’d like to give quest a deeper look, there are some basic rules on the Quest website. If you’re a writer like me, you’ll be pleased to know that they recently announced an open creator’s license.

I hope you enjoyed this quick look at a great new TTRPG! I can’t wait to play some in-person with my friends when the pandemic finally slows down. You can watch Dicebreaker’s short video on Quest below.

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

Take a Beat to Avoid a Beating

Have you ever tried to avoid an encounter in D&D, but it didn’t quite go how you wanted it to? The roleplay started to feel awkward, and you ended up fighting anyway, making the whole interaction seem pointless?

We had one of those this weekend.

Beware! Spoilers for chapter 3 of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist ahead!

Image result for bar fight dnd
Come on, though. Who stops a tavern brawl?

The Situation

This past Saturday, the party entered Gralhund Villa, a luxurious mansion belonging to a pair of ambitious nobles, Yalah and Orund Gralhund. The session was going smoothly until the party reached the Great Hall, where a trio of Zhentarim thugs stood over the fresh corpses of several Gralhund guards.

Two of the characters have chosen to align themselves with the Zhentarim in this campaign. Seeing the Black Network garb on the thugs, the pair understandably attempted to avoid an encounter by reasoning with their fellow faction members. Unfortunately, these two characters work for Istrid Horn, but Istrid didn’t send the Zhentarim thugs in the Great Hall.

For simplicity, here’s our D&D party.

  • Sear. Fire genasi divination wizard. New member of the Zhentarim.
  • R’yzzlan. Drow kensei monk.
  • Nika. Human gloomstalker ranger.
  • Henzio. Aasimar celestial warlock. Long-time member of Zhentarim.

Urstul Floxin, Loose Cannon

If you’re not familiar with the module, there’s a bit of a divide within the Zhentarim. After all, it’s a company of mercenaries, and members are entitled to their own alliances – especially if those alliances could lead to a buttload of gold.

Urstul Floxin. In the charred flesh.

One particular Zhent baddie, Urstul Floxin, is a bit of a loose cannon. He’s been hired by the Gralhunds to retrieve the stone of Golorr, but they didn’t trust him entirely to do his job. Long story short, his employers cost Urstul half his face, so he’s come to Gralhund Villa to beat the snot out of them and take the stone.

While Urstul’s more of hands-on, I’ll-do-it-my-way type, Istrid Horn likes to sit back and keep track of her ledgers. As Master of Trade and Coin, Istrid is keen to follow the chain of command. The characters currently owe Istrid a lot of money. She’s warned the characters in the past about Urstul and his way of doing things. As long as they make payments and don’t draw attention from the city watch, Istrid stays happy.

So, What Happened?

Sear and Henzio, the two Zhents, attempted to calm the guards down. They tried to blend in, mentioning their affiliation to the Black Network. Nika mentions that they are a clean-up crew, and all is going well until the lead thug asks, “Who do you all work for?”

It’s not a bad question. They don’t exactly blend in, and the drow monk refuses to remove his mask due to his monastic order. Suspicious, the guard asks again. “Who do you work for?” he presses.

D&D brain begins to set in. Nika essentially no u‘s the guards by replying, “Who do you work for?” The players – not the characters – begin to panic. Henzio tries to cover by stating the party works for Istrid, which makes the guards exchange a look and tighten their grip on their maces. A bead of sweat runs down the lead thug’s brow. A fight is imminent.

The players, however, don’t realize this. They don’t know the guards have been ordered to hold the room. They could ask, but it’s probably too late. In their minds, they’ve entered roleplay with the DM, and it’s time to improvise. Not surprisingly, improv is hard, and they begin to forget what they’re doing here.

Insults start rolling of the monk’s tongue – he’s been a bard for the last three years. The characters stop communicating with each other. One by one, they say the first thing that comes to mind. I, as the DM, have failed to keep the excitement flowing and to clearly demonstrate the results of the characters’ actions.

Roll initiative, I guess?

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

There are times when you can avoid fights in D&D, but some are easier than others. It can get tricky as a player to gauge this information. If you’re not careful, social interactions can become a habitual game of replying off the top of your head without considering where you are, your character’s identity, or what you want from the exchange. In my six years of DMing, I’ve found that when players lose sight of their goal during roleplay, they default to insulting the NPC, which rarely works. Eventually, these scenarios simply escalate, making all previous roleplay feel like wasted effort! It’s especially frustrating if some are trying to diffuse using one method while others are not.

Getting Better

I often take time after sessions to write down what I thought went well or fell flat. How can I learn from my mistakes to avoid them in the future? I think that a mark of a great DM is setting the pace; that includes identifying or anticipating lulls and getting everything back on track. However, DMs are already monitoring dozens of small things behind the screen. Until something becomes second nature, it’s going to be a constant effort that divides your attention.

So, what would I have changed about this social interaction? Well, for starters I would have encouraged the players to take a beat and assess the situation.

A cool map of Gralhund Villa by Valeur RPG.

Taking a Beat

When you notice a troubling roleplay scenario like this, it’s a great time to take a pause as a group. No one has to think on their feet unless a timer has been placed on the table. And, in my opinion, the players should not be held to the same standard of knowledge as their characters. Otherwise, we get into a typical D&D brained back-and-forth where tension escalates, but we aren’t really doing anything helpful to calm it down.

When you take a beat as a party, here are some good questions to ask:

  • What do we want here?
  • What stands in our way?
  • Who is the best person to represent us, i.e., who should take the lead?
  • Do any of us have useful information?

Let’s take a look at the situation again from the party’s perspective.

What Do We Want?

We are trying to avoid a fight. We need to convince the Zhentarim thugs that we belong.

What Stands in Our Way?

Well, we look pretty weird. We’re arriving late, just after they’ve murdered a bunch of people. On top of that, we’re not really dressed like these Zhents, nor are we in disguise.

Who Should Take the Lead?

Probably one of the two Zhentarim characters. They’ll be the most convincing, and one of them is a warlock with a nice Charisma score.

Any Useful Info?

Henzio knows that there’s a split within the Zhentarim. Perhaps he could whisper this in character, or convey that he would have told Sear this info, since she’s new to the Black Network. It also doesn’t hurt for the DM to remind players of useful info they may have forgotten.

Improving Communication

It’s no wonder so many players have trouble finding a steady group. It’s hard to specify exactly what makes a “good” Dungeon Master, but I think we all agree that a lot falls on the DM’s shoulders. Heck, the amount of time I’ve spent trying to actively improve my DMing – practicing accents, prepping for sessions, reading books, and watching videos – easily dwarfs the time I spent studying for classes during my undergrad or MBA (maybe even both). However, improving in-game communication is one skill that can only really be strengthened at the table during session.

Here are a few ways you improve communication at your table.

Asking Questions

Ask your DM questions. This may remind them of something they forgot to mention or assist other players in understanding a situation. It also may prompt the DM to have you roll checks and keep the game moving forward.

  • “Does it look like the thug believes us?” Make a Charisma (Deception) check.
  • “How likely is a fight here?” Make a Wisdom (Insight) check.
  • “Why are these guards here?” Make an Intelligence (Investigation) check.

Convey Your Intent

You don’t always have to come up with the mechanical solution to a problem. Try not to think of what’s on your character sheet, but what your character wants to do. Your DM can then help you make your plan a reality.

  • “I want to avoid a fight by deceiving them, but I’m having trouble thinking of a useful lie.”
  • “I’m wearing Zhent colors. I want to use that to my advantage.”

Be Clear to Each Other

Both in and out of character, make your desires known! If you don’t want to fight, don’t let the party barbarian push you into one. On the flip side, throw them a bone every once and a while and share the spotlight.

  • (Out of character) “I don’t want to get into a fight here because I think we can avoid it. These guys are Zhents and so are we. Let us handle this one.”
  • (In character) “R’yzzlan, Nika, I told you we’d find the rest of the squad in here! I’m Henzio and this is Sear. You look surprised. Didn’t you get our flying snake?”

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.