Newbie's Guide to Roleplay

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Contents

The Basics

What is Roleplaying?

Have you ever wrung your hands in helplessness as you tried to explain roleplaying to a layperson and kept running into a wall of incomprehension? ...It is very hard to explain the essence of roleplaying to someone who is totally unfamiliar with it... - De Profundis (Hogshead, 2001) You hear opinions like this all the time. For some reason, there exists the general belief that roleplaying is hard to describe. It is complicated. It's something you have to experience in order to understand. Granted, every so often, someone will put forward a definition of the activity, but it inevitably gets rejected by the rest of the community, each person responding that one part of the defintion doesn't fit properly. So, in an effort to be true to everyone's personal roleplaying experiences, we often end up with no defintion at all. Instead, we fill the hole with a kind of "wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more" understanding, one shared by experienced roleplayers but completely opaque to those outside the community.

Consider roleplaying as "Let's Pretend" with rules.-- TORG (West End, 1990)

So what is a roleplaying game? ...a more mature version of the games of "Let's Pretend" that we all played as children.-- All Flesh Must Be Eaten (Eden, 1999) Remember when you used to play "make believe" as a child? Roleplaying is a more adult way to play "make believe."-- Chill 2nd Ed. (Mayfair, 1990) Storytelling is a sophisticated way for adults to play make-believe. ...In order to prevent jaded adult imaginations from being bored quickly, the setting is much more intricate and complex than most people's childhood fantasies.-- Exalted (White Wolf, 2001)

When you were young one of the games you played may have been "let's pretend" where you would assume the character of a film or television program etc. Roleplaying is the natural extension of that childhood game. Each Roleplay system has a set of guidelines of what should happen in certain events. These systems explain how magic works (if applicable) and how to simulate combat, illness and other skills.

Dungeons & Dragons (1974) was firmly fixed in the world of wargaming. By the time Call of Cthulhu (1981) went on sale, roleplaying had already distanced itself from its roots. And by the 90's, there was more of an effort to take roleplaying out of the box of strategy games and connect it with ordinary social activities, especially the games we reminisce about from our childhood. Despite the fact that not everyone actually played "make believe," the idea immediately caught on. Roleplaying was described as something so natural, so innocent, and so fanciful that children did it all the time without even knowing why.

The bomb, of course, was eventually dropped by Vampire: The Masquerade (1991), which replaced all references to roleplaying with "storytelling," attempting to distinguish itself from everything that had come before. As with calling on "Let's Pretend," appropriating the word "storytelling" emphasized the natural, instinctive nature of roleplaying, connecting it with the rich tradition that has existed in every culture throughout time.

Who Roleplays?

Thousands of people around the world Roleplay, from teenager upwards. Many people get their first contact with roleplaying at university or college where there are often groups of clubs of roleplayers.

Why Roleplay?

Roleplay allows you to become (for a short while anyway) a fighter in a mystical land, a private investigator in search of horrible creatures or a magic user fighting to save the world. Have you ever watched a film and said "I could do better than that." ? Chances are, there is a roleplay system that will allow you to test your skills in these situations.

Persona Development

When creating a character, take time to consider it's background. Start simply at first, and work with what you know, and that which you find most comfortable. After you have decided on a race and class, make an outline on a piece of paper (or on your PC) in order to create your history. It can be as general or as detailed as your imagination will allow. Start with your personal history from child to adulthood. What is your character's name? What trials and tribulations did you have to over come that shaped you into what you are now? What has happened to your character in recent years. How did you come to be where you are and why?

Once you have those areas hammered out, you can move into other areas, such as, what was the most important event in your character's life and why? Who (if you choose) is the most important person in your character's life and why? Why did your character choose to be X class? What is your character's greatest fear (if they have one of course)? What does your character do for a living? What does your character do in their free time? How does your character support themselves? Where does your character live? Does your character have family? Does your character have any friends or enemies? Are there any family secrets? Where does your character like to hang out? Does your character have any birthmarks or scars? How brave/cowardly is your character? Is your character good, evil or neutral? Does your character like to have a good time, or do they keep to themselves, as a loner? Does your character have any racial or place related prejuidices? Essentially you want to flesh out as much of your character as possible, in order to not only make it real to others you interract with, but also yourself. From there your character will begin to take on a life of it's own that will become entwined into the very fabric of the game itself.

Playing your character

The first thing you have to remember, no matter what is that it's just a game. It's fun, it's relaxing, but it's still a game. Fun is the point of roleplaying. Whether it's silly fun, moody fun, angry fun, or hack-n-slash fun, the point is still to have fun. There are lots of people (like me) who'll give you all sorts of advice when it comes to roleplaying. Try things out. Experiment. But when it comes down to it, as long as you and the rest of your group are having fun and you aren't hurting anyone or anything, then you're doing something right. The trick is to remember that the rest of your group or fellow roleplayers are included in this having fun thing.

When you make a mistake or things seem to go wrong, try to stay calm. Try not to get angry, flustered or defensive. If something really bothers you, get an out of character discussion going and try to come to a comprimise or at least a better understanding of what's going on and why. All roleplay should be consenual and you should not be subjected to nor inflict anything that makes your or another player uncomfortable.

I'm sure you've noticed that most of this is simple, obvious stuff. A lot of people forget these kinds of obvious things in the middle of a game, however. They're all adrenalized from the dragon-killing, or they're angry because something went badly, and they forget about the basics. Try to remember simple issues of politness, communication and compromise, and your roleplay experience will go much smoother.

Classic Character Archetypes

While there are many character types we associate with roleplaying, and we could potentially spend several hundred pages on each, we chose to limit it to the top four most common archetypes that are found in roleplaying. The examples and explanations are given as the purest forms that can be made by players to help you identify the archetype. Each archetype can be combined to create a different type of character as well. With that being said, let's begin.

  • The Scholar: He who seeks to change the world through knowledge and technology.
  • The Soldier: He who seeks to change the world through might and magic.
  • The Politician: He who seeks to change the world through words and guile.
  • The Priest: He who seeks to change the world through faith and vision.

Examples of the Archetypes

The following examples offer the most commonly found illustrations of these specific archetypes. We recommend that you break free from the mold of what is provided for you, as they tend to be considered the stereotypical staple of roleplaying. Look for our next article on breaking stereotypes in roleplaying. These four types are broken down into the specifics.

The Scholar: The scholar is perhaps the most underestimated type of individual that exists in character building. He can be extremely calculating, highly intelligent, rational, an excellent strategist, and extraordinarily... vain. After all, he has all this excess intelligence, why not spend a little on himself? Scholars are guided by the pursuit of knowledge and the usage and implimentation thereof. This can range from the trivial, to the extensive knowledge and inner workings of political culture, computer design, or magic lore. Of course, like the rest of the archetypes, he comes in many forms. Usually the stereotypical scholar spends 10 years in hermitville studying on his choosen craft, he wears the scholarly glasses, the slightly balding head with a bit of wildly unmanagable tufts of hair sticking out, the plain and unassuming clothes of someone living on the edge of financial existance, however, as roleplaying of this character becomes divergent from the typical Hollywood influences, many new types are becomming apparent. Jesters and technology or weapons gurus also fit into this catergory. Jesters for their high levels of intelligence and strong usage of, and technology or weapons gurus for the same reasons.

The Soldier: Strong, willful, and looking for a fight, whether it be for profit, or to avenge the death of a loved one. One type of soldier encompasses those who seek to do justice in an evil and dark world: The rugged heroes who are strong in arm and wit, but have some fatal character flaw (dealing with the death of a loved one, pride or vanity, a weakness for damsels in distress...) that will be the end of them if they don't figure out how to solve it. Another type refers to those who always use sheer force to solve any problem. Big, hairy, and usually extraordinarily stupid, these individuals are almost always hopeless at accomplishing complex tasks. Still others might seek to cause destruction or chaos to appease a higher entity or leader. Persons of action, and extreme calculation, these people tend to make fantastic villains. Overall, the soldier class of characters seek to force their will on the world, directly, or indirectly.

The Politician: The politician archetype usually encompasses the most diverse groupings of individuals: Poets, Rogues, and of course, Politicians. The Poet is the hopeless romantic that is usually more skilled with his instrument of choice, rather than sheer brute force. The instrument can range from musical lyres, lutes, and the like, to the musical sound an axe or gun makes when going through flesh. They are socially capable of holding conversations, but most people tend to view them as lost or dreamy souls. They tend to be stereotyped with the thin, wiry, tall, and dreamy; however, the jovial, heavy-set drunkard leaning on a wall with his mug of ale is just as susceptible to being a Poet. A Rogue is the strongly misunderstood man of the moment. Usually an attention getter striving to better himself at his trade or skill, the rogue is a drifter, never really settling down with someone or something. This could be caused by profession, reputation, or self-inflicted torture. Impulsive activity mixes with the common traits of exceptionally specialized skills in one or more areas, high levels of reflex, agility, and intelligence. They could potentially be very dangerous given the right circumstances, or alignment, for example, the Great Rogue himself-Robin Hood. Politicians are exactly as their name implies-great talkers who love to listen to the sound of their own voice. Rather than facing conflict, they seek to beguile, distract, and utilize words to walk around it. Usually they are highly intelligent with strong social skills, specifically dominate, persuade, or manipulate.

The Priest: Priests, Clerics, Necromancers, Fortune-tellers, Mediums, and anything else dealing with the spiritual and supernatural world fall into this genre. These types of characters usually come in the most unlimited range of styles, body types, and personalities, as the effects of dealing with the spiritual or supernatural may have odd effects on someone's psyche and physical appearence. Your average neighborhood Catholic Priest heavy in the midsection, could mingle with your thin teenage punk kid who has more than a few run-ins with walking zombies-and won. These individuals are either guided, aided, cursed, or replused by an driving force in their lives, and a sense that something bigger than them exists. Hunters that seek out supernatural creatures to kill for their own means portray aspects of the priest as well, as they seek to impose a vision of the world without those creatures. The priest is above all a visionary-he can see something that no one else can, and through his faith-in himself, or something higher-everything he sees will be accomplished.

Combinations: To some extent, gypsies fit all of these profiles and work as a good combination. Very intelligent jesters at heart(Scholar), without a sense of the limits of their own physical property, mixed with a bit of old world swindling, story-telling, and pan-handling(Politician), perhaps guided by an overwhelming guiding force that lets them see the words, "I'm naive, steal from me." in bold letters on someone's forehead(Priest), and take advantage of the situation for their own ends(Soldier).

Advanced Tips and Tricks for Roleplaying

The anguish, glory, and laughter shared with your first game should always be the reason you keep comming back to play. However, when it comes to prolonged playing, people within gaming "cliques" tend to either: keep playing enjoyably, or, they get bored-real fast. We have several solutions, even if this isn't the problem-this is still a helpful section to read.

What to do if you are bored

First and foremost, evaluate why you are bored. Is it the group of people you game with? Even though you may or may not wish to believe it, sometimes, it's not always you who is the problem. Perhaps you know someone in the group who doesn't participate. Perhaps you, as one of the group, or as the newbie into a group of roleplayers ought to get to know each other better. Do things other than just gaming together, and talk, before and after the game. Tell them what you feel is good about their style, and *kindly* tell them what you dislike, and feel is disruptive to the scene. Or maybe, disband the group, and find a new one. No one *should* have ever forced you into a gaming group, and no one says you still can't be friends with them. It could be that they always like to play specific characters the same way-i.e. a big, strong, not-so-intelligent barbarian, with a mighty temper, and a courageous attitude-or that the player created content is way too simple, or way too complex to fully develop with the characters that are made.

Another factor could be the characters, NPC characters, or storylines that you develop as a role-player. Some individuals get trapped into playing their characters, over and over, and never face any resolve. This may be okay if that was the original intent, but in my opinion, I believe that to make a good story, the characters have to be affected in some way. Change is the key factor. If you have some amazing mage that can't be touched on or off the battlefield, maybe it's time to put him to rest, give him a good last battle to the death, and start a newbie character. Or even worse, you find yourself creating the same character, over, and over, and over again. Never let yerself do that. It's abhorrent to gaming in general. Try to think of new concepts all the time, write them down, and utilize a little bit of it. Perhaps, if you wish to keep the same character, develop a sudden fear to something, have a flashback of a tramatic experience which affects your resolve for several days, remember something vital to the existance of mankind-or it's destruction thereof, meet a person from your past that brings up a different side of your emotions. Not all characters are one-sided. How does this person react to a lost love? Pain? Anger? Of course, always let the storyteller know beforehand. All of these factors could affect the storyline significantly. If it's your storyteller who is the problem, take over for a bit of the game, and start doing things that are in character, but will add spice. Perhaps "Joseph" the loving father of three wonderful children, drinks a little to heavily one day, after seeing another man with his wife, and goes driving, injuring another man who turns out to be a long lost friend, or his wife's "friend".

What to do if you are happy with your gaming abilities

Then why are you here? No-I jest. There is never a point in which you are the absolute best, even if everyone bows down to worship the Level 993 Kri'sarian Warlock you made in three days. There is always room for improvement. Slow down, and start thinking about your fellow players. Instead of being a player, play the storyteller, or help others come up with new concepts. Create a character who's ambition isn't to help the group, but to covertly create havoc-without the knowledge of the others. In other words, do more. You are essential to the game, just as much as the other players are.



REMEMBER! THIS IS JUST A GAME!

Thanks to Govannen Darkstar, who compiled this from The Roleplayer's Handbook

Role-Playing Etiquette

Ok, you've got a character, and you're ready to rock. But before you go out into the realms and proceed to kick butt there are a couple of rules that you need to know. Remember, most of these apply to a general concept, if your "character" does not play by the rules, that's different. Relax, and have fun. We all have enough stress in life and there's no need to bring it into the game. This can be a time of catharsis, or emotional release which is healthy. Be nice to those who are new, remember how difficult it was for you to start off, unless, of course, they are acting in such a manner that is disruptive to your game, in which case, you are normally rewarded for removing them.

Don't cheat by using game mechanics (ie exploits) to your advantage. "If everyone else can do it, you can do it too". Rules are there to create balance and fairness. Active communication with the members of your group is important. Do not let problems fester if you can talk about them right now. In so much, don't break up a hunt to talk about how you're upset so-and-so stepped on your pet frog.

If you are being out of character, crude, cruel, or even disruptive to a game, do not expect to be liked, or have folks take your side. It's important to remember that people generally have social norms, and breaking them can get you trouble.

Problematic Forms of Roleplay

Characterization and ideas from BrainSplitter

Roleplay scenarios and styles fall into some classifications. Everyone has tastes and different people prefer different styles of roleplay. There are a couple of forms, however, which you need to be a little more cautious about. Some of these are forum based, while the rest are in-game based.

The consistent thing about each form of these is that they aren't always fun for everyone. For you? Maybe. For those around you? It can be one hell of a drag and a real dimmer to people's fun.

Subversion, Control, and Captivity

Any time your character gets power over another character, be careful.

Sometimes, you capture someone. Whether as a slave, a prisoner, a hostage, or perhaps even someone that you've got under consistent coercion. This often results with a player, or players, with definite control over another player. I do say player instead of character, because what I"m covering is the OOC courtesy behind these, instead of "Yeah, that's perfectly IC thing to do".

Obviously, playing the victorious leader with a slave at your beck and call, or a captured prisoner who is fun to taunt for the day can be enjoyable; it's best to keep in mind that there's the other side of the fence. I can assure you, for most people, having your character captured, tortured, held hostage, or the like is far from enjoyable. Many players may even roll along with this sort of roleplay to reduce OOC issues, to comply with the notion that the roleplay is ICly appropriate, and so players on the other side didn't scream "That's unfair! It's purely roleplay!"

Additionally, the captured character may have in-character friends that may be traumatized by the incident. That falls under Conflict below.

It's purely roleplay, in a game built for enjoyment. Keep in mind that the other players may or may not enjoy it.

Nullification

To nullify something is to invalidate it. On occasion a DM will have need to declare an action or event "Null" which means that players should coerce the memories and experience of their characters in such a way that the event or action never happened.

Players too can insist on some action being nullified with other players, but this is a very rude and very coercive thing to do. Perhaps there is a disagreement over whether something actually happened, or whether or not something happened properly. It is always preferable to proceed with events as they unfolded, and perhaps to allow for an in-character misunderstanding.

If it moves beyond that and can't be resolved, or if it is an issue that involves a lot of people, get some DM help.

Disempowerment

Disempowerment happens when your player commits an act which has the sole purpose of preventing others from being able to interfere, immediately nullifying their efforts, in some one-handed and potentially out-of-character or inappropriate claim.

An example of this in game is saying "No, you can't do that because <insert cliché reason here>". Another example of this on the forums would be "All of your posts are removed by a shadowy force that repeats the process at each posting right behind you".

Disempowerment also occurs when your PC takes some action that you intend to be totally unvulnerable and untraceable. Such as... *Grabs your sword and immediately flies to the skies beyond reach and arrow shot*.

This is just rude. It's in-character (sometimes), but it's plain rude.

Alteration

Alteration in this case is when we decide, on our own initiative, that something is going to happen to another player or their work. Often it even has OOC consent, and often other people feel pressured into it. This can include making someone evil, performing a mind-rape, forging someone else's work to alter it, and the like.

Why is this bad? Well, typically it isn't, especially if you've got Out of Character consent. Often, however, many people decide to never quite specify exactly what alteration is being made.

Again, this is rude, and in the examples of altering another character; it's often inconsiderate despite perceived 100% agreement. Remember, when you change a character, especially something drastic such as religion or alignment or friends / enemies, you're altering a major part of a character.

A much preferred way to achieve the same thing is to oocly suggest the outcome, and let the other player emote the effect. This has the advantage of letting the other player participate actively in the drama in an enjoyable fashion.

Conflict

Conflict is necessary in roleplay. Conflict shapes characters. But there's a difference between a roleplayed battle, and the apparent belief that the only good roleplay is conflict roleplay. If you have too much conflict in your roleplay, you'll have people simply walking away from you OOCly.

Conflict can be good roleplay, when done properly, but when it becomes the driving point of your style on Amia - to always create trouble and anger wherever you go - it becomes less roleplay and more of what can be percieved as simple disruptive behaviour or attention seeking. You'll have people screaming at you "Oi, stop following me around, I don't want to roleplay with you." or finding half-hearted in-character reasons to ignore you.

This is especially bad when you character will take any minor reason to start harassing people in any way possible, keeping them under some form of suppression.

Metagaming

Metagaming is giving your character knowledge that it would otherwise not know about. It involves passing out-of-character information to your character from you the player to it the character. Metagaming is not always bad! It's bad if it doesn't involve the consent and agreement of other players, though.

Making up out-of-character a reason for your character to do something is not really metagaming. After all, most of us do not play our characters 24/7. For example, you may want to have your character wander by an area so you can accidentally meet a friend. Additionally, having your character accidentally appear in an area that they would normally go, where you know a DM event is about to start is not metagaming (though it may be against the rules of the server for other reasons, as in you may not be invited to that event).

Having your character shift into an umberhulk form to spot a shadowdancer that gets spotted by an NPC that normally should not spot that character is a form of metagaming - the fact that the NPC saw the shadowdancer is a bug in the game mechanics. Any use of a bug in the game mechanics to your character's advantage is a form of metagaming and is generally not a good idea.

Pretending that your character knew about the wedding of her best friend (when you were not there to play knowing about it) is also metagaming. That's a good example of generally acceptable metagaming - a good example of metagaming that's not bad.

Etiquette Summary

The above can all be fun, and each can be easily justified by roleplay. Just because you can justify it, however, doesn't make it right or good (Just have a look at your local courthouses to get a clear picture of that).

Things don't happen as they should, or certain situations are simply so unfair but the player is afraid to speak up about it. While fear isn't quite justifiable in my eyes, it's easy to feel that you're going to be berated and harassed, if only for a minute, if you don't follow the 'Roleplay' as it were.

The best thing to do, if you absolutely MUST perform one of the above, is to get out-of-character clearance in a calm, neutral, equal manner and ask what their thoughts are on that path. Sideline conflict or some in character slandering you wouldn't need this for, but once you start getting into the nitty gritty, or anything that involves directly affecting another PC, you should start talking it out.

Escape clause

And, always... ALWAYS leave a route of escape for those you roleplay with. If you have to capture someone, leave a hole in your plan for them to worm through in case they don't agree with it. This allows you to stay in character, playing your marauding troupe of capturing torturers, while allowing everyone else to not get pressured or forced into something they might not agree with.

Typically, the best method to keep in mind is.. "Would I, assuming I were an ordinary player (which might not neccessarily be you), be comfortable with how this is going to happen and what will or might result were I in his/her position?". If you need to think more than 10 seconds on that, maybe it's time you opened up a Private Message window or start writing a tell.

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