HOW TO ROLEPLAY WELL
WRITTEN FOR THE OnRPG ROLEPLAYER IN MIND
Hello there! I see that you are reading my guide on how to roleplay well, written for the OnRPG roleplayer in mind. This guide is here because I want you to get the most out of your roleplaying experience. It will contain something for everyone. Whether you're someone who hasn't even seen an RP before, let alone played one, or an expert trying to refresh his skills, this guide is for you. So go ahead and glance through it. It will constantly be updated like my other topic, so check back every once and a while.
Also, feel free to contact me via PMs with questions or things you'd like to add. Reader feedback is always wonderful, especially when it is coming from you. So if you're not sure on what I mean about something, or would like a section on something, do not hesitate! I'll do my best to answer your questions and make this guide as clear as possible.
A Special Thanks to:
Pipster, for stickying this topic for you to read. And he's so cool.
MarineKing, he's such a good proofreader!
Written with the help of the wonderful OnRPG Roleplayer's Guild. If you have any interest in RPing on this forum, I strongly recommend you join.
How this is divided
Part One - What Roleplaying is
Part Two - The Basics of Roleplaying
Some things to keep in mind
Part Three - The Character
Part Four - The Story O
Part Five - The Setting X
Part Six - How to Host an Excellent RP Which is Fun for Everyone Involved X
Some advanced stuff for the dudes and ladies who can roleplay pretty well now.
Part Seven - How to Write and Stuff Like That X
(an X means coming soon, an O means it is not finished yet.)
What Roleplaying is
Within this part we will discuss what roleplaying is, how to get acquainted with it, and have a chat about the basic themes and pillars that make an RP an RP. This is intended for someone who has only a faint idea what roleplaying is.
I see you do not know what roleplaying is. I do not blame you. Roleplaying is something that is not too popular, but it doesn't mean it's not a lot of fun! Note that roleplaying only excites certain types of people. The traits commonly found in these people are: an active imagination; enjoy reading and writing, especially imaginative stuff, especially fiction; like video games or Pen and Paper games such as DnD; used to pretend a lot as a young child. Note that you don't have to be any of those.
Now, onto your question. What is roleplaying, you ask? The name is actually quite self-expanatory. When you RP (a short term for Roleplay, or Roleplaying) you play a specific character, or role. Roleplaying takes advantage of whatever medium it is done over. Since this is written for the OnRPG RPer (short for Roleplayer) in mind, we will discuss only Roleplaying using message board mechanics.
First, I recommend you take a look around the forum. You will see some things: a topic, with a title, sometimes very much like a novel or video game title (these are the biggest inspirations of Roleplaying, for your informations.) Within this topic, you will find that the first topic gives an overview. Think of this like the back of novels, that will explain in a few paragraphs what the novel is about and where it is. This is called an Overview. Read this! Then, will come the character sheet. Virtually all RPs have character sheets. More on character sheets in the next part. The character sheet outlines who the character a person is playing. Things like their name, their gender, a physical description, etc,
Now what is this all for? To roleplay! The overview is where the RP takes place. The Characters are what the players are roleplaying, and who they will be within this setting.
I see that you are asking, how do they play these roles? An excellent question, my friend! When you start reading these roleplays, you will notice that they are written like prose, usually past tense. That is, they're written like ordinary novels. Like the stuff you find in the fiction section in the library! The best way to explain this is by example.
For example, let us say there is an RP with two characters in it, George and Anne. The setting is Alabama. This is not a very interesting RP, but it will suffice as an example.
Player one will make a post like this:
Then player two will respond like this:
Originally Posted by Player One
When you roleplay, you will make posts like that! Note that only you will control your character. That is a big thing about roleplaying: nobody controls the other person's character. Otherwise, it defeats the whole part of playing a role.
Originally Posted by Player Two
You will notice that each post plays off of the other player's post, allowing them to work together. Just like you do in real life. You hold conversations with other people, not yourself. If you're not going to work with other people, then you're not roleplaying. That's another part of roleplaying; working with other players. If you're not working with other players, then you're pretty much writing a novel.
These are the five pillars of roleplaying:
2. Plot and Story
3. Your character
4. The other characters.
And all of these tie into:
5. Playing your character as he exists within the setting working with other player's characters in a plot to make a good story, by writing a few paragraphs with prose, and then waiting for another player to respond to that post with more prose, and then you and the other players respond to that post. After a while, a story will form from these interactions of players playing a role. This is called "Roleplaying."
(more to come for this section)
The Basics of Roleplaying
Here, we will have a pleasant little chat on the basics of roleplaying. This assumes you have read Part One, or already know the basics of that part. We will discuss what metagaming is, how to make a post, who the Host is, what an OP is and some other tips and tricks to get the most out of your roleplaying experience, and get you started in the wonderful world of Roleplaying. Yay, right? Right!
Note: This is a pretty lengthy section, so I've cut it up into mini bite sized morsels.
Keeping the Five Pillars of Roleplaying in mind, we begin on how to Roleplay. Like I suggested in Part One, I recommend you read a few RPs first. I'll wait for you to do this.
Have you finished yet? Yes? Good! I can't see you through this screen, so I'll take your word for it. This witty statement actually leads me to my first tip about roleplaying:
IMPROVISATION! I bet you've heard of it. RPing is really just improvisation, except that instead of acting on a stage, you write a story with a bunch of other people. In improvisation (called improv by those people who like to shorten words, like me), you, an actor, work with other actors to make a story, similar to a play. It is similar in that you are on a stage, and that you are actors, but it differs in that you make up the lines as you go along. Our friends at wikipedia call improvisation "Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment." However, improvisation is not a chaotic mess with every actor does their own thing and there are no rules. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Improv has quite a few rules! (I know, I took an improv class once. You can take my word for it!) Let's deal with these rules as they apply to Roleplaying one by one. RPing still differs from Improv in many different ways, but those will be addressed later.
a. Follow the premise. Like I said before, you can't have one actor on the stage on mars, and the other in medieval England in 1236 preparing for a Crusade or whatever. This doesn't make any sense for the audience, or for anyone. Don't do it. Instead, work out a premise before hand and stick with it. Searching for an artifact in the Jungle like Indiana Jones, or strolling down the park during a carnival or whatever. The improvisation happens based on what you see. For example, a flying saucer coming down in the middle of the carnival is not very improv-like; it is silly, in a bad way. However, you being dressed like an alien, and pretending to speak in Martian is perfectly fine. Or, having a flying saucer come down in the middle of the jungle is uncool, but a sudden ambush by a gorilla (or guerrilla, if it's a jungle ravaged by civil war) is fine.
b. Acceptance. This is a pretty big rule, actually, so keep it in mind. In essence, this rule is: Once somebody has improvved it so, it is so. So, let us say we are both improvising on a stage. I say I have a sword on my hip. You cannot contradict that. Your character cannot say, "No, you have a CHICKEN on your hip!" and it will be so. This rule ensures that the whole improvisation is coherent, and non-contradictory. Once it gets contradictory, it becomes a mess, and it's no longer fun. This doesn't mean characters cannot argue, ("No, we should go to the left!" "No, we should go to the right!") it means that you have to accept whatever the other actor says about the environment. HOWEVER, the Host of an RP can veto things that do not fit in with the premise of an RP.
c. Play off lines. This is probably where roleplaying is more like improv. But, it can be summed up like this: "Work off of other people's posts, and make your post in a way people can work off of yours." RPing is all about working with other people to make a coherent and fun story. If you go off on your own, it's not fun for everyone else involved!
Pretty simple, right? If you keep these three rules in mind while roleplaying, you're going to do great. However, RPing is not like improvisation acting more than what I listed above. In fact, it differs from it improvisation in many important ways.
2.2 The Host and the OP
First and foremost, there is the HOST. The Host is the person who created the topic, and the OP (original post.) Hosts have veto power over every post, control who can join their RP, and control the overall arc and direction of the story. You must follow the rules set by the Host if you want to stay in his RP, even if the rules don't necessarily follow those found in the RP Rules section stickied near this topic. The Host is very similar to the Dungeon Master, or Game Master of D&D or other games, but the big difference is that Host is virtually always a player in the RP.
Moving on, I'm going to say a bit more about OPs, mentioned several times before. OPs are the opening post of the RP, and they contain the setting, the outline for the beginning of the story (similar to what you'd find on the back of a novel), any of the Host's special rules for the topic, and the character sheet. Read all of these in depth so you know what to do when making your character. A good OP is one that contains important information so if you forget something, you can always go back to the OP and check. Keep this in mind!
Now, the OP will contain something curious: A character sheet! Now, a character sheet is something very very important.
2.3 The Character Sheet
A character sheet will look like this:
And anything else the Host wants to add, such as Magical Powers, or Guns, or Race, or whatever:
Before attempting to tackle your character sheet, first read the Setting closely, so you can be sure that your character will fit in the setting. For example, you don't want to be Babu Chamrajnagar, the Indian Guru, in the middle of an Elvish Swamp, now do you? (You don't.) A lot of the time a Host will add restrictions to the characters, such as nobody over eleven years old, no women, no Elves, etc,
Here are some common sense rules to keep in mind while filling out your character sheet:
A. Is this someone you would like to roleplay? By far the most important rule. If an RP has restrictions that won't allow you play character types you absolutely do not want to do, then don't join the RP.
B. Don't be a child or an old person. 17-50 is an excellent age range because characters can still be fit, but young or old at the same time. Most RPs are physically demanding for your characters, and a six year old boy wouldn't fit in well with an epic quest to slay a dragon, and a 70 year old woman likewise wouldn't do to well trying to solve a murder mystery in New York.
C. Physical descriptions should be accurate, and to the point, and realistic. Not everybody is the "strong guy," or the "weak, but agile guy." Some people are strong and fast, and some people are weak and slow, and levels in between.
D. This follows up on rule C in that you should always avoid stereotypes and cliches. Always.
E. In your History, give your character depth. Depth doesn't necessarily come from being an orphan and surviving hard times; depth comes from how you deal with situations, not all of which are hardships.
F. Fit in the setting! I mean it.
Coming up with a character can be a hard thing. Usually, you want a character already in your head, and you morph around the character to fit in the setting while still being unique. Uniqueness is good, but don't go for originality for originality's sake. Make your character interesting, and fun to roleplay, and for others to roleplay with. This doesn't mean your characters has to be a clown, but RPing is all about having fun. A megalomaniac evil wizard can be fun without being a clown.
2.4 Metagaming and OOC
OOC stands for Out of Character. There is an important, albeit obvious distinction between in character and out of character posts. An IC post is where you play the actual character, hence, in character. OOC, inversely, is where you're just yourself. For example, right now, I am OOC. I'm not playing anybody right now! You can still make OOC posts in an RP, even though an RP is still predominantly IC posting. Which is good, because RPs are about the IC posts, not about the OOC! I strongly recommend you only make OOC posts when you need clarification for something.
Well, how do you make an OOC post, you ask? An OOC statement is usually surrounded by double parenthesis, like so: ((This is an OOC post.))
An IC post is like so:
Lord Donovich is not making an OOC post.
It's a pretty clear distinction.
However, this is one of the Biggest Rules of RPing: Any information you receive OOC the character does not know. It can also be written as: If the information is not available in the environment the character is in, or the character did not already receive this information beforehand in an IC manner, the character does not know it.
This is called metagaming. An example of metagaming would be if I were told by the Host that there is a secret mine of silver somewhere in the mountains when the Host was OOC, and then suddenly my character in the RP went, "Hey! I know a mine of silver!"
Metagaming is considered cheating, and ruins the suspension of belief that could be found in the RP. Avoid it at all costs.
In this section we will have a nice chinwag about roleplaying a Character in an RP, how to make a good, believable Character, and one that fits in with the setting.
Oh, hello! I didn't see you come in. I was just thinking about how to roleplay a character well until you burst into the room. Would you be interested in hearing what I was thinking? Oh good, you would!
The character is a very important, if not THE most important, part of an RP. Why, that's exactly what RPing is: role playing. Playing the role of your character, that is. When joining an RP, the character should be first and foremost on your mind, and second the story, and third the setting. Why do I put it in this order? The character first needs some foundation, some something, be it a personality, a quirk, a destiny, whatever is important to that character, that decides how a character interacts in situations, affects the story, and relates to the story.
3.1 A good foundation
I will reiterate, the character is the most important part, and requires a foundation to help you build on. When I say foundation, I do not mean cliche. I mean something like a history, or a certain personality type you'd like to roleplay. This foundation will sort of dictate how a character deals with situations. For example, a sociopath character won't care who gets hurt on his quest, whereas a righteous good-two-shoes will, and will go out of his way to help people on his quest. A character with an extreme phobia of bats won't easily go into caves, whereas a character who adventured often in his childhood, and is therefore no stranger to dark, dank caves, will waltz in without a twinge of fear in his heart.
After you have a foundation that you are pleased with, the rest should come naturally. For example, if you started with personality (sociopath) then the history will come easily. What gave your character sociopathy? Maybe he was ridiculously abused as a child by his sociopath dad, or everyone he trusted betrayed him repeatedly, or everyone he loved died and he had to fend for himself against potential betrayers, etc, etc.
The important part is that the progression in the creation of your character should be natural, and flow together. Having a bunch of traits just thrown together and ducttaped together will be a sort of jerky character to roleplay, since it will seem more like a caricature of traits rather than a realistic character.
3.2 Interacting with the story and other players in the RP
An RP would be boring if it were just you! Or, it wouldn't be an RP and just a normal story. Either way, a big part is interacting with other players. Interaction should be fun for all parties involved! Whether this means saying cool things, or funny things, or bantering back and forth, having a serious discussion, or whatever your interaction is, it should be entertaining.
Now, as was mentioned in 3.1, you should already pretty much know how your character will respond to in most predictable situations. It should not be how you would respond in a situation, but your character. Let me put that in bold so it isn't missed. How your character responds in a situation should not always be how you would respond if you were in that situation. It defeats the whole purpose of RPing a character if you're going to RP yourself. Instead, before writing a post, I suggest you take a minute and put on your Hmmmm face and think about what your character would decide, and go through his (or hers! from now on I'll refer to the character a he for simplicity) thought motions and patterns, and think about what parts of his foundation would help decide this reaction. And then when you're finished, write that post up! The more thought you put into it, the more details you have, and the more details you have, generally the better your post is.
Now, to get more specific on interacting with characters: have every post you make in some way respondable by another player. It's pretty self explanatory. You want the RP to go back and forth as much as you can while moving the story along. Avoid dead end posts! Those are posts where no one can easily respond. Even if they are theoretically able to be responded to, it doesn't mean it's going to be easy and therefore fun for the other parties involved.
It's a little difficult for me to give you an exact example of a dead end post, since it varies so much based on context. I will attempt, though. (Wish me luck! Thanks. I appreciate the luck.)
So two dudes and a lady are having a pleasant conversation, when one gentleman makes a rather sexist remark and insults the lady. She makes a post where she storms off in anger, and the two gentlemen, who have nothing really in common, have a very hard time making conversation, and the RP eventually dies. So, where then, was the dead end post? Why, the part where the lady storms off! Although this is indeed a plausible reaction, it still causes a chain of events where ultimate end is the death of an RP. (Hence the name: dead end! Pretty clever, huh? I'm glad you agree.)
What should have the lady done? Good question! In this particular instance, the person playing the lady should have told the insulting gentleman how insulting he is, and start a debate on sexism, or at least in some way continue the conversation. This is much better! Keep conversations and scenes going on as much as you can, but when they start to drag, transition easily and smoothly to the next scene. It's an art, so it takes some practice! So get out there and start practicing!
3.3 Growing your character
I mentioned before creating a solid foundation for your character that gives you a good model of how you character would react in predictable situations. If you have one, excellent. But here's a thing to remember: a good character is not a rock. A rock character does not change no matter what he goes through over the course of the RP, never learns anything from other characters, and never does anything later on in the RP that he wouldn't have done in the beginning because the RP hasn't changed him. Do not let your character be a rock.
Let your character grow and change over the RP. RPs are typically very harrowing and stressful experiences for your characters, and these experiences are typically ones that change a person, and force them to adapt. Don't force changes on your character, but don't be afraid to let things about your character change, even fundamental things. For example, a character who has been betrayed in the past will in the RP meet several people who are very trustworthy and help said paranoid character. A good direction to go with this is that the betrayed character realizes that people aren't so bad and is more trusting, rather than remaining a stoic and paranoid individual the entire RP even though all the people around him are treating him kindly.
This is called character development. It's an advanced technique that does not come naturally to all RPers, but it's an extremely important one. All good novels and stories have characters changing over the course of it, either by learning new things, and reacting to things differently than they would have at the beginning, and so on.
But to best help your character grow, he needs to be tended like a plant. A plant does not grow without sunshine and water! Well, you ask, in this analogy, what are the sunshine and water to growing of my character? Thoughts and narratives. This will be explained more Part Seven, but I can sum it up right now: when you write your posts don't just write action and dialogue. Write what your character is thinking while he does those actions and speaks those words. This is the biggest difference between a good RPer and a beginner RPer: the good RPer writes from that character's perspective, while a beginner RPer is more likely to just describe what that character is doing or saying.
In this segment we will sit down and maybe drink some tea and discuss how to best RP your character in a story/plot arc/narrative environment. It can be deceptively simple!
EDITED for the first time by Xenonight2 on June 17th, 2008. Added sections to Part Two, and a few minor touch ups to Part One.
EDITED for the second time by Xenonight2 on June 19th, 2008. Added the third rule of Improv and how it relates to RPing in Part One.
EDITED for the third time by Xenonight2 on June 20th, 2008. Finished Part Two.
EDITED for the fourth time by Yours Truly (that's Xenonight2) on September 6th, 2008. Added some of Part Three.
EDITED for the fifth time by that One Guy (What was his name? Oh yeah! Zenoknight3, I think?) on January 10th, 2009. Finished Part Three!! Wow, that took a while.
EDITED for the sixth time by THE GUY WHO DID IT BEFORE. April 1st, 2010. IT'S BEEN OVER A YEAR, WOW.