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How to Increase Suspension of Disbelief in Your Roleplaying Game

Tabletop roleplaying games are legitimately one of my favorite means of storytelling. There’s something incredibly special about about gathering your friends together for a night of fun and enjoyment. Instead of catching up on your favorite streaming show or spending a small fortune getting drinks, everyone sits around a table to collectively craft their own stories with their own original characters. But let me stop myself before I gush off topic. To set up this discussion, I first have to talk about “suspension of disbelief.” Boiling it down, suspension of disbelief happens when a storyteller (or Game Master) and their audience (or players) both understand that a work of fiction is not real, but all parties agree to suspend their disbelief. There’s a sort of unspoken contract between storytellers and audiences that certain core aspects of a fiction story (i.e. the existence of magic, other races, fictional technologies, etc.) are going to remain unaddressed outside of the fact they’re presumed to be true.

Suspension of disbelief — leveling characters

Okay, so now that we’ve established suspension of disbelief, let’s talk about a core element of roleplaying games that can absolutely shatter some people’s disbelief — the leveling system.

Since the inception of roleplaying games, the notion of your character progressing along a journey and acquiring new skills and abilities has been present. This progress (usually represented by a character “level”) is sudden, as opposed to gradual. Once a character reaches a certain point in the story or obtains a certain amount of experience, they gain a sudden capability for new powers or abilities, they become hardier (manifested by an increased hit point pool), and we all suspend our disbelief that this is just how a roleplaying game world works.

Now, before players get into an uproar about not gaining anything at new levels without a prerequisite, I’m not suggesting your PCs have to roleplay into everything, and I’m fully aware there may be some groups this rule just doesn’t work for. However, those groups that are very heavy into roleplay (like mine) might find this rule enjoyable.

The notion is that, upon reaching a new level, your player characters gain their additional hit points (a manifestation of their rigorous adventures and hard work), but when gaining a new class feature, the character must interact or “train” with a mentor, who will teach them about their new class feature.

I personally think this rule is especially useful for newer groups with a seasoned GM, as it can make the step-by-step accrual of abilities for the PC much more accessible, and it offers your players a means of asking questions in game. Plus, the notion of having a guaranteed trusted source regardless of situation can be invaluable, especially as a higher-leveled contact.

Additionally, by having a potential quest giver or story hook deliverer tied so closely to the party, it can aid further in suspension of disbelief when it comes to doing jobs and going on missions, as the PCs hold a vested interest in helping their quest giver outside of the frankly standard, “Go on this job for me, and I’ll give you treasure.”

I may delve more into this topic in future articles, if people show interest. So, please, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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Follow Steven Partridge:
Steven Partridge is an aspiring author and experienced tabletop gamer. As a child, he dreamed of growing up to be a dinosaur, but as with many children, his childhood dreams were dashed when the rules of reality set in. However, our valiant Steven never allowed this to sway his ambition. He simply... adjusted it to fit more realistic aspirations. Thus, he blossomed into a full-fledged nerd with a passion for the fantasy genre. When he's not working on his debut novel or filming YouTube videos, Steven can be found lap swimming, cooking up some pescatarian cuisine, or playing D&D with his friends. He works in the mental health field and enjoys sharing conversations about diversity, especially as it relates to his own place within the Queer community.

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