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D&D 5E How do You Roleplay a Fantasy Race?

With all the discussion around roleplaying elves, dwarves, dragonborne, etc. I was wondering, what are the common ways you see your table/players/DM's roleplay the races?

I'll give it a go:
  • One player in our group does a great job at playing a "traditional" halfling. Always a little afraid when combat starts, kind of a jokester, food discussions abound, and even the word choice and language is pretty spot on. Not to mention naively friendly.
  • Another player does an interesting job at playing a tabaxi. Describes mannerisms such as making bed rolls smell from spraying them, being elusive when he doesn't need to, and a good job at describing facial expressions, especially with whiskers.
  • We have a person playing an elf that plays the logical elf. A bit like Spock in the sense that they feel time will come and go and things will right themselves, so for many things, it's not necessary to get worked up over. This has come across in several sessions; be it understanding that Pterafolk need to eat to so we shouldn't fault them for hunting Tabaxi or staring at the sky and waxing non-emotionally of the stars and how they used to be, almost like a lecture.

Side Note: I get that all these are personality traits and could be applied to any race. I'm just mentioning the more consistent patterns I see with certain races and wondering if your players do them as well. After all, personality can be learned, in large part, by culture. So my guess is these players are playing the character's cultural personalities.
Side Note Number 2: They do leave room for individual personality. Like the elf gets excited about historical ruins in Chult, transforming from a non-emotional character to a fascinated child.
 

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D1Tremere

Explorer
My favorite is playing a Kenku who dreams always of flying and often forgets that he can't. He spends a lot of time trying to learn to mimic not just language but body language and will often communicate in mimic sounds that he believes are much clearer as to the intent, such as an ocean wave or crash.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I'm currently DMing 100% of the games, so I have to role play lots of NPCs and have to mix it up. Though quite different from one another, I find that many of my NPCs want to kill the players. :)
 

When I approach playing a character, I consider:
  • Age and gender
  • Life circumstances (born to money/power? streetrat? etc.)
  • Individual quirks (suave, serious, playful, grim, determined, etc.)
  • Likely cultural origin (e.g. a dragonborn from an enclave of old Arkhosian culture vs. one who grew up among dwarves)
  • Religious beliefs, if any (I usually play devotees of Bahamut, but not always)
  • Level of education/self-teaching, plus profession (e.g. a talented blacksmith vs a scholarly bard)
  • Vocal timbre (e.g. my gold dragon NPC has an even and deep voice, while the Sultana's voice is warm and always sounds like she's smiling)
  • Stock phrases that might be appropriate (e.g. Bahamut-related swearing for someone of his faith, merchant jargon for a rich banker, etc.)

For the moment, I'm only running games. But I try to give each character as close to a unique voice and set of mannerisms as I can.
 

When I approach playing a character, I consider:
  • Age and gender
  • Life circumstances (born to money/power? streetrat? etc.)
  • Individual quirks (suave, serious, playful, grim, determined, etc.)
  • Likely cultural origin (e.g. a dragonborn from an enclave of old Arkhosian culture vs. one who grew up among dwarves)
  • Religious beliefs, if any (I usually play devotees of Bahamut, but not always)
  • Level of education/self-teaching, plus profession (e.g. a talented blacksmith vs a scholarly bard)
  • Vocal timbre (e.g. my gold dragon NPC has an even and deep voice, while the Sultana's voice is warm and always sounds like she's smiling)
  • Stock phrases that might be appropriate (e.g. Bahamut-related swearing for someone of his faith, merchant jargon for a rich banker, etc.)

For the moment, I'm only running games. But I try to give each character as close to a unique voice and set of mannerisms as I can.
No race (D&D'S definition), just cultural origin? Interesting.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
First, let's separate character from racial traits. Any particular PC can be jovial or taciturn, a devoted follower or rebel.

So given that, I try to imagine what it would be like to be a different race. Sticking just to the basics:

Dwarves
A long lived race that in general has a tightly knit community. Tell someone a falsehood and it's likely that they'll learn about it sooner or later. Structure, ritual, even brutal honesty is how you live with people around you for centuries.

So when it comes to talking to others, dwarves tend to be blunt to the point where it seems insulting to others. Pragmatic to the extreme, if you're building something build it to last whether that's an extension to the clan holdings or relationships. They also tend to be straight and to the point, and have little time for idle chit-chat which may make them seem impatient and intolerant.

Elves
As another long lived race, elves take a different approach and live day by day. Strive for quality but build for beauty. Elves may seem haughty, but it's simply their way of keeping others at an arms length. They know that if they befriend a human, that human will grow old and die in mere decades. Have fun with them if you wish, but don't get too attached.

Realizing that they have little control over the long term, they're simply there to enjoy the ride. On the other hand things that look like hard and fast rules and rituals can be misleading. It's just as likely that a certain pattern is working well enough and there's no reason to change it just yet. Maybe in a century or so they'll get bored or come up with a different approach but for now, why fix something that's not broken?

Halflings
Halflings have an odd lot in life. Smaller and (in general) weaker than other races, halflings go out of their way to get along and pose little threat to others. They deflect danger with good cheer and a sense of humor.

They also tend to empathize with the underdog. While not as long lived as dwarves or elves, they may well live to the middle of their second century which still gives them a different perspective on life and history.

On the other hand, halflings can be quite fierce when they need to be, or when they feel like they or a loved one is threatened. Sometimes the mouse must roar.

Gnomes
Another small race, but longer lived than halflings most gnomes in my world take one of two paths. The majority inventors and tinkerers. They don't want to become stuck in a rut so they constantly try to reinvent themselves. Often the creativity of the invention is more important than the invention itself.

A minority of gnomes in my campaign world are instead in tune with the natural world around them, simply enjoying the beauty of nature and the constant ebb and flow of life.
 

Dwarves
A long lived race that in general has a tightly knit community. Tell someone a falsehood and it's likely that they'll learn about it sooner or later. Structure, ritual, even brutal honesty is how you live with people around you for centuries.

So when it comes to talking to others, dwarves tend to be blunt to the point where it seems insulting to others. Pragmatic to the extreme, if you're building something build it to last whether that's an extension to the clan holdings or relationships. They also tend to be straight and to the point, and have little time for idle chit-chat which may make them seem impatient and intolerant.
Great for roleplaying a traditional dwarf. And for being misunderstood by someone other than a dwarf. ;)
Elves
As another long lived race, elves take a different approach and live day by day. Strive for quality but build for beauty. Elves may seem haughty, but it's simply their way of keeping others at an arms length. They know that if they befriend a human, that human will grow old and die in mere decades. Have fun with them if you wish, but don't get too attached.

Realizing that they have little control over the long term, they're simply there to enjoy the ride. On the other hand things that look like hard and fast rules and rituals can be misleading. It's just as likely that a certain pattern is working well enough and there's no reason to change it just yet. Maybe in a century or so they'll get bored or come up with a different approach but for now, why fix something that's not broken?
I particularly like the focus on attachment to the short lived races. That would definitely be rooted in the mindset of many elves. That distance is pretty easy to roleplay, and can be interpreted by the other players as haughty, rude, or to the perceptive, as someone who is afraid to open up.
Halflings
Halflings have an odd lot in life. Smaller and (in general) weaker than other races, halflings go out of their way to get along and pose little threat to others. They deflect danger with good cheer and a sense of humor.

They also tend to empathize with the underdog. While not as long lived as dwarves or elves, they may well live to the middle of their second century which still gives them a different perspective on life and history.

On the other hand, halflings can be quite fierce when they need to be, or when they feel like they or a loved one is threatened. Sometimes the mouse must roar.
Roar! No doubt. But again, great roleplaying traits to work with, especially the deflection with good cheer and humor. I also like the underdog thought process. There is definitely something to work with there from a DM standpoint.
Gnomes
Another small race, but longer lived than halflings most gnomes in my world take one of two paths. The majority inventors and tinkerers. They don't want to become stuck in a rut so they constantly try to reinvent themselves. Often the creativity of the invention is more important than the invention itself.

A minority of gnomes in my campaign world are instead in tune with the natural world around them, simply enjoying the beauty of nature and the constant ebb and flow of life.
The creativity part is awesome. So many nice opportunities for roleplaying this; from building the campfire using the Rube Goldberg method to distilling various leftover tavern drinks to create a perfume or cologne for the dwarf in the group.
 

No race (D&D'S definition), just cultural origin? Interesting.
I consider that part of culture in this context. Physiology matters, but culture matters more. A Dragonborn from far-off Yuxia (read: a land inspired by Wuxia and East Asian culture) is going to be a very different person from one native to the Tarrakhuna (read: a land inspired by the Thousand and One Nights, and North Africa/the Middle East/India), even if gender, age, and physiology are otherwise equivalent. Language, values, perceptions...all of these things are cultural in nature. Being a Dragonborn may alter how a person walks or sits, but I don't spend much time role-playing those things. I spend most of my time role-playing by speaking a voice, making decisions, describing clothing or aesthetic tastes, and deciding what (if any) clues/openings/unsubtle hints/etc. the character provides through these actions. Almost without exception, culture matters so much more than physiology for the actual roleplay of a character. And the cultures in my world are emphatically NOT mono-ethnic or mono-racial. The Tarrakhuna is the trade crossroads of its continent, and has people coming from all over the world and Jinnistan (the equivalent region in the elemental otherworld) to boot. Yuxia is a vast, vast land with enormous internal variety despite its implicit claim to "one" culture (though this is a lot less fleshed out because my campaign has never actually gone there).
 

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