10 Steps to Better Roleplay

Just as a PSA. Not that I’m the super expert in these things, but in the few years I’ve been RPing I’ve noticed there’s always common mistakes made which can hold back everybody’s enjoyment.

Besides, I didn’t get into that Warhamster thing the kids are playing, and I didn’t get that other one. The Age of Clonan game. So I have nothing to write about except this.

So, basically, it was either this or an essay on the barren wasteland of sociopolitical commentary that is the modern MMO. Hm? What’s that? Oh, you want the 10 steps? Thought so.

Hit this mofo right here.

#1 – Be Generous with your RP

At some point you have to stop and assess just what the hell you’re doing with your RP. If you look at it honestly and you realize that this RP is just a comfortable vehicle for you to be the center of attention, if you want to control your storylines to the last comma, if you’re not receptive to input and so on… well, kid, what you really wanna be doing is to be a novelist, not a roleplayer. You’re looking for an audience, not partners.

No, seriously. Start writing stories and that’s it. Roleplay is best done when it’s a group effort, in which everyone’s characters are able to affect the storyline and everyone is able to contribute and take it to places perhaps you would not have. It’s better than roleplaying with yourself, because that’s considered a pathology and if people find out they’ll call the men in white coats.

#2 – Learn when to win and when to lose

You know when you were little and you were playing cops and robbers, cowboys and indians (am I showing my age too much?) or another pretend group game? Hm? Remember that kid that just refused to go down when you shot him? Remember all the lame excuses he put up?

You don’t wanna be that kid. It’s annoying. It’s more annoying than a Paladin when he thinks he’s right, which happens to be all the fragging time. People commonly think that those who play villainous characters have it so good because they can do whatever they want. Well, no. Anybody can roleplay a two-bit villain, but the really amazing villains are usually played by really amazing people who know when they are supposed to lose.

#3 – Don’t give love a bad name

Yeah, look, I’m not passing judgement. We’ve all been there. Boy meets boy playing a female character, they just click, she knew just the right thing to emote and her pixels looked just lovely under the light of… well, other pixels. Fine. Happens.

But before you take her to that empty house for some coffee and to show her what happens when the trouser snake crits, for the love of the Old Gods, make sure you’re talking in Party, Group or whatever your game uses to keep other people from finding out.

And yeah, I know “ERP” (to use the politically correct acronym) is not technically considered “RP” by many, but there’s a lot of overlap in the population of both. So it still applies.

#4 – You are not possessed by the vengeful, damned soul of Adolph Hitler when you say “Hi” to someone you don’t know.

This is a common misconception I’ve observed in many of my fellow roleplayers. It seems there’s a strong tendency to avoid what’s commonly known as “making new friends”. Two or more characters are having a casual conversation on the virtual streets of Sometown, but many people are afraid to interject a mere “Hello”, and introduce themselves.

Well, rest assured, you won’t in fact be possessed by Hitler when you talk to someone you don’t know. This is an erroneous, but common notion. Everybody knows the disembodied, malevolent soul of Adolph Hitler now works as a consultant and spends his time advising Electronic Arts and SOE. He’s really too busy to possess you.

#5 – Don’t play Mary Sue.

No, really. Don’t. The only one who is allowed to play a Mary Sue is David Tennant when he plays The Doctor. But only because he’s like Jesus – He’s playing a Mary Sue for the rest of us sinners, so we don’t have to.

The rest of us mortals really need to get on with the program and play our fallible, bumbling characters, which are far more interesting anyway.

#6 – Know your medium

You know why there isn’t a “Star Wars: The Theatrical Play”? Because the theater would burn down, that’s why. There are some things your medium can do, and some things it can’t. Deal with it. You gotta learn to tailor your storylines and characters to the world you’re playing them in, and the rules they’re bound to. Otherwise they don’t make sense and they don’t quite fit with their environment.

Read up *gasp* on the *gasp* lore of whatever world you’re playing, to see where your characters might have come from, and what vibes well. Your character is a Warlock by night and Web Developer by day? Well, that must be exhausting. And hey, ‘A’ for effort and all that. But it makes as much sense as re-electing Bush.

And yes, some people do it.

#7 – Your morality is your own, not your characters’.

When you’re creating a character you’re essentially creating someone else. Someone else who is not you. Now, this is basic. I agree that it’s very, very difficult not to project oneself into the characters we create. Even if it’s just a couple of small things, mannerisms, outlooks, whathaveyou. That’s fine. It’s unavoidable.

But it’s also common to find characters who are essentially carbon-copy of their creators. Now these creators can be very nice people to know and play with (and they usually are) but we’re playing with our characters here. They need to be different. And depending on what kind of character you play, they possibly need to hold a lot of different values than the ones you hold. If you can’t deal with this, your characters start getting flatter and flatter.

It’s the old “Why would a Christian player roll a Warlock?” thing. Why? Well, because they’re overpowered, duh.

#8 – Your characters are not walking libraries.

Let’s get one thing clear here. See this? This is you. Now see over there? Far away? That’s your character. Good? Good. Two different things.

So, with that in mind, while it makes a lot of sense for you to know every nerdish detail there is to know about the lore, the same thing doesn’t make sense for your character. Your characters need to make sense in the context they’re being played and within the boundaries set by their backgrounds.

In other words, if your character is the son of a farmer from Westfall, who spent his whole young life helping out in the farm with ma and pa and sis, and maybe got drafted that one time he came to Stormwind to sell some grain, or plants, or clouds or whatever the frag farmers grow… well, don’t have him going off and detailing every minute detail of the Highborne exodus to Quel’Thalas which happened thousands of years ago. That’s something you know. Not your character.

#9 – It’s okay to be a supporting character.

Really, it is. You don’t have to be the center of every plot. You don’t have to solve every mystery. You don’t have to be Scooby Doo, the gang and the van all rolled into one. You don’t have to be crucial to the plot.

It’s okay to help out sometimes. Just help out. Just be there. Have that little conversation where you say just the right thing to the star of the show. It’s okay to be there just for the screenshot. People remember. Your fellow roleplayers remember. It’s okay to pass the torch sometimes, let someone else be in the limelight, and help them out.

Am I getting too touchy? Back to business then.

#10 – Keep your storylines manageable.

Logistics is the great killer. This is valid for raids, as well as for roleplay. Look, think of it this way: You know how hard it is to schedule a lunch out for three or four people? How about 6, think you can handle that? 10? That’s just pushing the envelope of sanity a bit ain’t it.

It’s all very nice to dream up and conjure these vast, sweeping, world altering storylines in our heads, or even on paper. But when it comes down to it, you have to realize that they won’t happen unless you have an army of GMs helping you out. And since most of us don’t (well, unless you play EVE) then it’s best to keep it simple and rewarding.

It’s always better to play out two or three little, nice and rewarding storylines that don’t involve too many people, than to try that huge one where fifty guilds are involved and you end up defecating bricks all the way through. The good storylines are the ones you don’t want to end, not the ones you can’t wait to end.

3 thoughts on “10 Steps to Better Roleplay”

  1. Have to say i agree.. except i do see a problem with number nine. I agree that one shouldnt hog the spotlight, but too many people are content to let those that have been “support characters” remain as support. Normally to the point where anything they attempt, either to involve themselves in the current storyline or creat their own, is met with dismissal or quickly forgotten.

  2. Hiya Marii ;)

    Yeah, I agree. Ideally you wanna strike a balance between how many storylines you’re able to support, even if tangentially, and how many you can be more involved in or lead.

    Even the idea of “involvement” in itself changes from person to person. For some people, being “involved” may mean to just be there, part of the group as they do whatever they do. For some others, “involved” means more of an important part in the story.

    You also have to consider the type of storyline. Some plots are more porous and lend themselves well to little parts coming in and out, here and there at all times. Some others are more hermetic.

    I think in the end this is something that evolves naturally for each person. Nobody can make anyone join up if they don’t want to, but yeah when a typically “support” character acts in ways that are more limelight focused, it might get brushed off naturally and that could be a problem if it’s not communicated well from the get go. OOC, even.

  3. Mariiko the answer to that is stop playing with the people that always want to be in the spotlight or who always say “no”. There are plenty of people RPing and playing. No reason to keep hanging out with people that you don’t like to be with and don’t respect others.

    #9 is probably the best advice out of all, and what people should start with. It is kind of like this:

    Say “yes, and” not “no” when playing with others. For instance if you say “i am from so and so town” to me, then I say “yes” you are from so and so town “, and” I’ll take it a step further by saying something about your town, or about you, that “heightens” the main point of the story and “keeps the story going”.

    Saying “yes” is better than “no”. Being negative shuts down the story, and then what do you do? Have to try to start another story. This applies even when people get the lore wrong. Really this is where #6 comes in. MMO rp is closer to Improv than writing, or even acting.

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