WTF is Roleplay?
Roleplay is assuming the role of a character and acting as that character, to put it simply. There are various forms of roleplaying, ranging from the type you play on a console video game system to text-based roleplay. This guide is an introduction to text-based, play-by-post forum roleplaying. From Wikipedia's Article:
A play-by-post game (PbP) is an online text-based role-playing game. This is a niche area of the online roleplaying community which caters to both gamers and creative writers. PbP games are often based on other role-playing games, non-game fiction, or original settings. This activity is closely related to both interactive fiction and collaborative writing.
Hold on there, dude. Just because you like the sound of that doesn't mean you can post to the first forum you find—prior to leaping into any game, you should investigate several things to see if they are for your liking:
- Setting: Where and when is this game set? If you want to write about futuristic robots, you should avoid games set in the past, post-apocalyptic games, non-human games, etc.
- Plot: Some games have a particular storyline already set for them; for example, many wolf roleplays use warring packs competing over resources, bad history, or other conflict to generate a larger plot. Other games only sporadically post large plots, often termed Board Wide Plots, which run for a few months and are completed. Other games don't use a main plot at all—there, players should expect to make their own storylines with other characters.
- Characters? Again, this depends on what you want to write. If you'd like to write about frilly Victorian ladies, you can quite easily find a Victorian-era roleplaying game. If you want to write about frilly Victorian ladies with superpowers, you can probably find a Victorian-era roleplaying game that allows superpowers and magic. There are a vast array of different games, and different games accept different characters.
- Fandom: Sometimes you take in a world someone else has already created, and you want more! Roleplaying is a great way to get involved, and many people enjoy the interactive aspects of roleplaying, as it can be less taxing than writing fanfiction. There are many X-Men, Harry Potter, and Twilight roleplaying games for you to munch on, if you'd like.
So, did you find something you like? If not, don't give up—your perfect game is probably out there somewhere, waiting. There are numerous directories, webrings, topsites, and various other advertising methods through which you can easily find a roleplaying game. There are even forums where you can request your perfect RPG—you lay down the terms, and people will bring you games within your interest!
Characters Versus Players (OOC and IC)
- OOC: Out of Character. This is the player, the person behind the computer, speaking.
- IC: In Character. This is the character, the fictional being made up by the person behind the computer, speaking.
When you roleplay, you assume the role of a character. A character is ficticious (made-up) entity created for the purpose of roleplaying. So, basically, you're creating a [person/animal/alien/god/demon, whatever your character is!] that you can act as.
You can think of it sort of like a role in a movie—the actor is not the character they are portraying (unless they are portraying themselves). Johnny Depp is not Captain Jack Sparrow, Mort Rainey, or Jack Skellington.
One of the most important things to remember is that your character can be different from you, and many people say that's the best way to roleplay. New roleplayers find it easy to roleplay “themselves,” but this can very easily lead to destructive roleplay behavior; for example, a new player with a character based on themselves may take offense at another character disliking theirs, since in essence, the character is the player.
In Character is not equal to Out of Character. Keeping that in mind is very important for an enjoyable roleplaying experience. Just because a character dislikes your character does not mean that player dislikes you; just because of a fight between players does not mean characters have to start disliking one another (though it may be easiest to avoid drama by avoiding the player). The OOC/IC split in roleplaying is very important—keep that in mind.
One of the pillars of roleplaying is remembering you are writing an interwoven story with many other players. Though your character is important to you, others' characters are equally important to them. Though there is great freedom in roleplaying, please remember others' characters will also be affected by your actions.
It is also important to remember that your character is not the central point of the plot at all times. Please don't join a thread where there is clearly something going on between the other characters and expect everyone's focus to suddenly shift to your character. Play to the story; don't expect others to gravitate toward or even care about your character in any particular moment.
Azazel: The coyote leaned over his mother's grave, his ears folded back and his expression completely somber; there was not an ounce of happiness within the man. She didn't need to have died.
Baphomet: He meandered over to the other wolf, clearly distraught. “I lost my favorite bag, man,” he said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. This was his absolute favorite possession and he really wanted it back.
This is really rude in real life situations—it's also really rude in roleplaying. If a player seems to have written the first post to a thread with a particular idea or plot in mind, it's best to reply only if you're interested in shaping that storyline with then.
Consent is an important concept in roleplay. Consent can be boiled down to three basic ranges. Some games require explicit permission from one player to another player for control of that player's characters. Note that individual games can and will vary.
- Non-Consent: In this type of roleplaying, In Character Consequences are favored; even if you do not desire for your character to die, other characters can kill your character even without permission.
- Limited Consent: In this type of roleplaying, there is an even balance between consent and consequence; while roleplayers may not be allowed to kill other players' characters without consent, consequences for an action will be enforced. For example, the roleplaying game that allows an Alpha to kick a member out of the pack would likely fall under this category.
- Consent: Players cannot control anyone's characters but their own. You cannot kill another character without the player's permission; you cannot so much as force that character to blink without that character's player's permission.
Breaking this consent is often termed godmoding, powerplay, and various other terms; please see the Bad Roleplay Guide for more information. There's far too much to be covered here!
In Character Action = In Character Consequence
Roleplaying on play-by-post forums is typically a Limited Consent environment; it is important to remember that for your character's actions, there can often be very dire consequences. Though it was a fun and interesting plot for you to have your character suddenly snap and go crazy, your character's alpha may not be so approving, and it could end up with your character being kicked out of the pack.
Don't expect to be able to do whatever you want at all times no matter what if you roleplay; there are other people playing, too, and if your character does something, they are well within their rights for their character to react to your character's actions. Most roleplayers are courteous enough to plot through Private Messages or plotting forums; if you do not extend this courtesy to others before plotting, you may end up with some unintended or even unwanted consequences.
Roleplaying Still Requires Realism
Even in solo writing, realism is an important aspect of creating a flowing storyline. As an author, if you create a world and then throw in something that breaks that world, it will irritate your readers. That being said, different games have different levels of realism. In some games you are permitted to use magic, spells, and other supernatural powers. In other games, strict realism is required. Seek a roleplay that fits your desires—if you want to roleplay fantasy wolves, there are various games that will allow you to do that.
When seeking a roleplaying game, it's important to read over the plot and any other guides or information they provide. This should give you a great idea of what the roleplaying game expects in terms of realism—if you read about a character in the history who could fly and ate bullets for breakfast, chances are you can probably have a telepathic character who controls flame. If you read about normal people doing normal things, you probably won't be able to use any magic at all.
Along the same line, the time setting is important; if you are playing futuristic humans, it's unlikely your character would be riding around using a horse for transportation, wearing chainmetal and speaking Old English (unless they are seriously insane). Make sure your character's possessions, actions, demeanor, etc. matches the setting you wish to play them in. Although you can always shape a character to a particular roleplay, if you are looking for magical roleplay, don't try to force a realistic roleplay to adapt to your tastes. It's extremely rude, and if you are persistent, you may find yourself banned from the forum.
The Glorification of Disorders, -Isms, Etc
A sensitive issue in roleplay is the use of certain plot devices or character “flaws.” Among them are rape, molestation, mentally challenged characters, characters affected with a particular mental disorder, characters affected with a particular disability, and various other sensitive issues. Most games will allow you to play these characters; a rare few ban them outright.
If you want to roleplay something like this (e.g., a character who was raped, or a character who has Down's Syndrome, or a character who is transgendered) it is extremely important that you treat these issues with respect. It is important to remember that these issues do not entirely shape that character and their perception. Your character with Down's Syndrome is not just “a character with Down's Syndrome” and you should explore and expand on other aspects of their personality, history, and interactions, too. Don't let the disorder/disability/bad past define the character in its entirety.
More importantly than anything, remember that there are very real people who do suffer from these disorders or have experienced such a thing as rape or molestation. They deserve your respect more than anything, and it is important to keep this in mind while writing a character affected as such. Avoid cliches, tropes, and stereotypes—there's more enough of that in real life.
Powerplay, Godmoding, & Bad Roleplay
If you're seriously new to roleplaying, I suggest heading over to the Bad Roleplay Guide to soak in these various behaviors. This is a very important aspect of roleplaying, but there are too many aspects and they are too nuanced to elaborate upon here, sorry!
Good Roleplaying Etiquette
While the exact nuances of these behaviors may vary from game to game, in general you can abide by the following concepts. Breaking these concepts isn't likely to get you banned from a game, but it won't win you any friends or permanent roleplaying partners, either.
Joining a Game
So, you're really excited to get to roleplaying, huh? It's important to slow down and soak things in before you dive in headfirst, however, and as each roleplaying game is different, even if you are a seasoned veteran of the roleplay world, you'll need to stop for a few minutes and check things out first.
- Read over their information. This is very, very important, obviously. Reading their information lets you know what the game is about; it simply suffices to say that you cannot roleplay well in a game without understanding that game.
- Ask questions. If something is not clear, if something does not make perfect sense, or if you're just uncertain as to what they're even talking about, ask questions first! Most good roleplaying games appreciate players asking questions; if you are met with snarly ferocity and simple “Um, go read the information!” retorts, you may have found a ‘bad roleplaying game’ and you may want to jump ship before you get too involved.
- Review. If you are asked to change something about your application, go back and change it. In wolf roleplay, it's very bad form for a character to trespass onto pack territory. If the Alpha PMs you and gives you the opportunity to change it, it's in your best interest to change it. Not altering the mistakes could get you denied! Many games do not accept applications until they are to specification; you run the risk of not being able to roleplay.
- Grow. Nobody expects you to be perfect on your first shot, and even seasoned roleplayers make mistakes. If you screw something up, it's important to admit your mistake and move on from it. It's even more important to learn from it and don't do it again. Conversely, if a game's members or even staff members come down on you extremely hard for a simple mistake, again you may have found a ‘bad roleplaying game’ and you may want to take your leave.
- Adapt. This is important for roleplayers who have experience at other games—your new game is not your old game. Things may be different; if it is common procedure not to use post templates, you probably shouldn't use post templates (unless you ask and make sure it's alright).
Spelling and Grammar
Spelling and grammar is a must in the vast majority of roleplaying games out there. If you type in chatspeak, 1337, or any other unintelligible garbage, you will most definitely anger your fellow roleplayers (most of us consider ourselves writers, you know!) and you may end up getting banned from the forum; different games have different tolerance levels.
Remember proper typing and spelling are important both In Character and Out of Character—if your Private Messages and thread requests are unintelligible, chances are you'll have trouble finding roleplay. Don't give up, though—there are numerous beginner roleplaying games that will be much more tolerant, and you may find it easiest to start here. Later on, when you've gotten better at typing and roleplaying in general, you can check out the more advanced stuff!
Understandably, conditions such as dyslexia do exist, and some people are just flat out bad typers. However, there are various ways you can spell-check your post and make it more readable for the other person. Firefox has a spell-check built into the browser. Microsoft Word and Open Office are capable of checking your spelling. Failing all else, there's Spellchecker.net and various other in-browser ways to do it, too!
If you're looking for roleplay, you'll want to start a thread. Many roleplaying games have Private Message systems you can use to approach individuals about threads. Other games have a forum specifically for thread and plot requests. The vast majority of games allow for “open threads.” That is, one player starts a thread and specifies they are looking for random players and an unplotted thread. Usually, players tag these threads "all welcome" or "open" to indicate they're looking for replies—see more about joining up in those in the next section.
- Ask first. It is extremely poor form to start a thread without asking the other player first. Be considerate of their thread load, their real life, and other duties, and ask first.
- Setting is important. When you start a thread, certain things are important. Where is the thread set? What time of day is it? What's going on? It's important to describe the scenery; if you are starting a thread, you may want to dedicate your first paragraph to this. It may be confusing for both roleplayers if you set the thread at night, and the other player replies as if it is daytime.
Replying to Open Threads
Many roleplaying games allow for the use of open threads; that is, these are threads without a particular participant in mind, intended to be replied to by a random roleplayer. Most games use "open" or "all welcome" (or similar terminology) to denote these threads. Even if a thread is marked all welcome, though, you should still be aware of a few things.
If a thread is already very heavily underway, it's very good form to ask the other participants if they mind you jumping in. If they say it's alright, make sure you read the entire thread and you understand what's going on. Things can get very confusing very quickly if you don't fully comprehend the setting and scene! If a thread specifies certain types or numbers of participants (e.g., the player includes in the OOC portion of their thread “Members from Group X” or “One person preferred”) please respect the OOC information. It's there for a reason. :)
Excepting these two things, open/all welcome threads can be replied to for interesting and unplanned thread opportunities!
Pace in roleplaying is important. Too lax, and you may lose inspiration for your threads. Too strenuous, and you may find yourself overwhelmed. It's very important to set a good pace for yourself, and keep it up. If you are feeling too pressured to reply to your threads, you can always drop a few.
Don't feel pressured to reply to a thread quickly because the other roleplayer replied quickly; it is very important that you are comfortable replying at your own speed! Remember, roleplaying is supposed to be fun. It is normal in many forum roleplaying games to wait a few days to a week for a reply. In some games, threads take even longer—each game has a different pace, and each roleplayer has a different pace.
If you constantly feel like you're swamped or you always feel like your threads are lagging, it might be time to start asking your potential thread-mates what their reply speed is usually like. If people provide honest answers, you can avoid speedy or slow posters, and stick with people who are more of your style. You can always ask people to slow down a little if they're overwhelming you, but it's somewhat rude to ask someone to hurry up.
Asking for Replies
Asking for replies is considered by many roleplayers to be rude. If your thread participants are slow, please consider that they may have real life, other duties, or other threads to reply to, too—your thread may be plot-centric to your character, but not so plot-centric to their character. If a thread is progressing too slowly for your liking, you can always archive it and try again later!
In most forum roleplaying games, you can be in as many threads as you'd like at once. In many forum games, you can pick up multiple characters; some games don't even have a limit as to how many characters you can play. If you feel as though you're not getting enough roleplay due to slow participants, you can always pick up other characters or new threads.
Some threads are plot-centric and should be kept as a priority; you should keep this in mind as you're picking up threads. For plot-centric or important threads, it's less rude to ask about a reply, but of course, your mileage may vary. Some players find asking for a reply rude regardless of the situation; other players don't mind being asked to reply quickly at all.
Text-wall posts are bad. They're very hard on the eyes. Separate your posts into paragraph form, please. You can quite easily do this on most forums; if HTML is not enabled, the lines should break automatically. If your forum uses HTML, you can use the
tag to make a new line.
Please do not hit enter mid-sentence or unnecessarily to give your post
a weird alignment like this where every line is as close to the same length
as possible but it's done manually via line breaks rather than by justified
alignment because it is also very difficult to read.
Bold your speech, or enclose your speech with quotation marks. Italicize your thoughts. Do not intermix the two; do not use italics one post for speech and then bold the next, and then italics and bold the third post. This is extremely important; if your character thinks something and the player misinterprets it for speech, things can get very messy!
Post Length & Writing a Good Reply
Post length is pretty important, but remember that it's not all about length. Some roleplay games expect you to pump your posts with 800 words of fluff; other games don't expect more than 200 words for a reply. It's important to peer around at what's going on in other threads—try to match your roleplaying post's length to the other player's posts. If you find you're exceeding everyone else by hundreds of words and many paragraphs, consider a more advanced game. Conversely, if you find yourself writing only a few lines to someone's paragraph-long reply, you may want to either write a little more or bow out of the game if you can't keep up.
More important than post length, however, is writing a good reply. This includes:
- Reacting to the other character's actions and speech. If a character does something, have your character react. Otherwise, it looks like your character is ignoring the other character(s), or you as a player are not fully reading the replies you are given.
- Giving the other player enough to react to. This ties in very heavily with length. While it is possible to “say a lot in a little” this is a more advanced writing technique, and beginners should be sure to describe various aspects of their interaction for clarity. If your character speaks, does s/he speak in a particular tone? Does s/he use a facial expression? Does s/he physically react to the other character's words or actions?
Show, don't tell. This is important in roleplaying and writing both—rather than telling your audience flat out how your character feels, you should show them instead.
WRONG: “Azazel felt awful for what he had done.”
RIGHT: “Azazel's ears drooped and his eyes fell to the ground, unable to look at the other canine. The corners of his lips drooped in the beginnings of a frown, and when he opened his mouth to speak, he found shame had taken the words out of him.”
- Avoid thinking too much. This is mentioned specifically because it is a pervasive problem. Thought is important in roleplay; describing your characters thought is essential to character development. However, thought is near impossible for a good roleplayer to respond to if they wish to avoid metagaming; thus, make sure your post isn't composed entirely of thoughts and verbal responses; it's good to throw in physical actions the player can respond to, even if it's just a shoulder shrug or head tilt. This also lends nuance to what is actually going on in the thread.
- Let others play, too! It's important not to entirely direct the course and flow of a thread. Allow the other player to make some decisions, even if it's an unplotted thread—this is easily done by leaving open-ended replies. For example, if two wolves are hunting a moose, the first character's reply could detail their approach, the second could detail the selection of suitable prey, the third could detail the actual attack, so on and so forth. Each roleplayer gets to dictate a different part of the interaction and advance the storyline a little; it's more fun for everyone this way.
Roleplaying in Large Threads
Group threads are awesome—it's a chance for a lot of people to come together and work toward one end, and they're often essential for larger, board-wide plots. However, a common problem in large threads is the tendency for each character to react to each thing that happens. It's easier to summarize and breeze over non-essential interactions if you can, however; a larger amount of participants naturally means there is more to read throughout the course of the thread. It's courteous to your fellow roleplayers if you keep your replies short and succinct. There is no reason to reply to every little thing every other character said or even think about it. If you're in a group and several people are talking at once, are you listening to and responding to every conversation? Unlikely. :P
In some threads, keeping a strict posting order is very important. This especially holds true in larger threads that are plot-centric; the thread-starter or plot-master may wish for the thread to move at a certain speed to make other things sensible within the timeline, and thus slow repliers may be skipped. If you're skipped, you should ask the thread starter if you can reply to the post out of turn, or if you should just wait for your next turn. Also, one-on-one threads should be replied to in turn, as posting twice to the same thread can be very confusing.
In other threads, strict posting order is unnecessary. Roleplay is typically more lax and not plot-centric in these threads. If you're not sure if the posting order will be strictly enforced, it's a good idea to ask the thread starter what they intended.
Big words don't necessarily make a good post. While vocabulary is very important, it's important to find a balance and make sure you're not overdoing it. There's no reason to use an extremely obscure word when there's a more familiar one that does the trick just as well. Make sure the word you're using means what you think it means.
Wolf roleplay especially tends to have a problem with this. That is, there are certain words that wolf roleplayers adopted and mutilated that should generally be avoided. Urban Dictionary has a great list an example of wolfspeak.
- Wikipedia - Play by Post Roleplaying Game
- Wikipedia - Online Text-Based Roleplaying Game