Note: This is a response I wrote on the Happy Jack’s forum to a listener who was having trouble getting a new player to role-play during the game. He described his efforts (some of which were monumental) to get the player to join in — but no success.
I suggested three possibilities as to why. Here they are.
He’s not there to role-play
My wife flatly refuses to play with us any more. She played in the very first DnD4e session I ran and had fun doing it.
Since then, she’s decided she isn’t a role-player. She wants to solve puzzles and kill monsters, a la old-school D&D. That’s they way she played back in the day, and she’s not interested in taking on a persona, engaging in RP encounters, etc. (apart from talking to the old man selling the map to the dungeon).
So I wonder if you should ask him what HE (not his character) wants out of the game. Or you might be able to figure this out by observing him. Does he perk up when a combat starts? Does he offer suggestions when the party’s faced with a conundrum?
You could have someone who is just shy. Maybe he’s uncomfortable and fearful of role-playing. There is a very real fear for many people regarding letting go of their inhibitions, whether it’s role-playing, improv theater, dancing, singing, etc., and I wouldn’t underestimate that fear, because for some people it can be paralyzing.
Every time my band has a “big” show, or prior to the first show of the Faire season, I’ll have a short, mostly mild panic attack. I know my band is (mostly) prepared. I know I know the music. I know the audience is friendly and mostly filled with folks who are already fans of the band. That “twinge” of fear is NOT justified, but that doesn’t make it any less real.
So I can totally understand if this guy has the standard “I-don’t-want-to-look-like-an-ass” fear. Even though everyone else around his in fearlessly role-playing, acting silly, etc. Even though he may know that he will only be lauded for doing the same, that fear is still there, and only time will get rid of it.
It’s also possible he tried out RPGs because he was curious or interested in them, and now he’s realized that RPGs are not his cup of tea and is just being too “polite” to say anything and gracefully bow out.