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Reader Comments (9)

Posted: Jan 21st 2011 1:40PM TheElvenAssassin said

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I totally agree - RPing isn't about making your story by yourself. If you want to do that, write a story. RPing is a story that you develop with other people - a good example of this is Eera, a character I have in RoM. I hadn't really considered RPing with her, but I joined an RP channel anyway. Pretty soon, she's making conversation with another person and her backstory and personality start to develop. So now, she's a farmer girl who left home when she came of age with only one of her chickens as a friend.

Now I'm not condoning this, and this is the first time I've done it, but I just wanted to make a point. Not only is it more fun, but it also allows you to check out different areas that you hadn't considered before.

"and a chance for me to reference Stephen King, Inigo Montoya..." Inigo? Princess Bride FTW! "Hallo. My name is Inigo Montoya..."

Posted: Jan 21st 2011 1:42PM cowboyhugbees said

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Every RPer should have to read this post. I really don't enjoy having to recount my character's entire life history during every conversation.

Posted: Jan 21st 2011 2:01PM kjhasdfjkhk said

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I appreciate this post but I think this should be obvious to most people...but I'm assuming it probably isn't, so it's probably a good thing that you did write it. Roleplayers should live their story rather than tell it.

That's not to say there aren't opportunities to tell stories while roleplaying, especially if you are roleplaying a wandering storyteller or bard or something else along those lines. There is nothing wrong with sitting around the fire and telling an interesting story (emphasis on the INTERESTING part) but that should not be the crux of your character's existence. There is also nothing wrong with coming up with a backstory about your character in order to provide a basis for why your character acts the way he does, but that too is not necessary.

But backstory is not the story of who your character is, it's the story of who your character was and the events that shaped him/her into the character they are today and in the future. You cannot write what you don't know. Your current story is not just written by you, it's shaped by the people you meet, the enemies you encounter and the places you visit in your travels.

Your character, regardless of what race they actually are in the game, essentially carry the essence of the human spirit and there actions should be shaped on this foundation. Nobody in real life walks up to a stranger on the street and starts telling them about how they are miserable because when they were a kid, they were picked on by a bully at ye olde schoolhouse, or that they watched their entire family get carried off by monsters in the middle of the night and you made it your life's goal to hunt them down. Even if someone asked how your day was, you don't state your feelings then recount events that happened years in the past that led you to your current mood. People live day to day, they don't dwell on things that happened when they were children, nor should your character.

Develop a personality and act accordingly based on the guidelines you have set for yourself, rather than developing a story and rehashing it to every person you run into. If anyone does that to me, I just make fun of them (in character, of course).

Posted: Jan 21st 2011 2:21PM Bhagpuss said

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I don't roleplay but I do often play in character. In my tabletop days I would indeed write out a character history beforehand, and I did start off doing a bit of that in MMOs, but it's been years since I last planned anything in advance.

I entirely agree that setting out in an MMO with a pre-ordained story and trying to get everyone else to stick to a script they haven't even read is a terrible idea. Most of the character traits that stick come up on a whim in a moment of improvisation and just seem to be fun or to fit. It's the personality that's important. Get that reasonably clear in your mind and all the future stories will tell themselves.

Posted: Jan 21st 2011 5:22PM Yukon Sam said

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The distinction between storytelling and authoring is that the former is a verbal form and almost by definition more amenable to improvisation and tailoring to a specific audience.

Apart from that minor nitpick, the thrust of your article rings true. It's very frustrating to roleplay with somebody who has written their destiny in stone.

Posted: Jan 21st 2011 9:32PM Cypt said

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@Yukon Sam

I concur that it's indeed vexing to roleplay with a person who is simply trying to fill vacancies in their plot with foreordained roles, and I've become the unwitting victim of such disasters in the making on numerous occasions.

For example, years ago, my main character was a healer, and sometimes people's characters would come to mine seeking treatment for an ailment or injury of some variety; however, I can recall specific characters who knew precisely how they wished for their character's condition to progress without exception, meaning their intent was to act out a long, tedious scene with a predetermined outcome. I remember thinking "What is the point?" several times while assisting with this so-called roleplay.

I didn't find it enjoyable at all, needless to say, as the reason I tend to roleplay (and have been for nearly seven years in the online RPG environment) over simply writing fan fiction or original fiction is primarily due to the element of the unknown that is pervasive in unscripted roleplay (and if we want to get into semantics, is it even technically roleplay in the conventional sense once it becomes scripted?), which is completely lost once we start to assign "roles" for "scenes" as I've seen a number of people do, unfortunately.

There were occasions where it made perfect sense for my character to be present at a certain time in a certain location where an event was unfolding (keep in mind that these were not random strangers but close friends of mine who were involved), but due to the fact that the "scene" had filled every role needed, I would usually end up sitting off to the side and observing from an out of character perspective.

Conversely, if people wish to construct such private stories, I believe that is perfectly acceptable and even integral to forming bonds with other roleplayers you might have encountered through more random/free-form roleplay. I, too, have done this; however, what I have NOT done is parading my band of roleplayers about in a public venue as if we were some sort of a circus troupe putting on a show for everyone else; and the times people I know have done this, it almost invariably results in a calamity of epic proportions (meaning the ignore list threats start flying).

Not only is it obnoxious to do so while excluding other roleplayers from participating, but I guarantee you it will confuse and anger the local populace if it appears you have arbitrarily seized a public location for your "scene." Yes, if you arrange it prior to the event and properly disseminate this information, that's wonderful, but it's absolutely frustrating when arguments erupt over who has an inherent "right" to use a city tavern, for example, unless it has been agreed upon by the overall community beforehand.

Now I'm going to offer a dissenting opinion (well, only slightly as I mostly agree with the article) simply because I've found myself in a unique position regarding initiating a loosely woven plot with complete strangers.

There are times when I've noticed that the creativity is stagnating and people seem a little, well, bored. Hey, it happens. Well, I suppose I'm a rarity (for better or for worse) in the respect that I often dual-box (meaning playing two characters concurrently), which affords me the rare opportunity to actually start an event, at random. (Nothing earth-shattering. It's extremely annoying when people walk into a tavern and claim that they've poisoned your water supply or set the building on fire, which ensures I won't be paying attention to you before too long as this isn't orchestrating a story for the enjoyment of others but another form of "god-mode" play.)

In one example, a character of mine had her purse stolen by a second character under my control, and she then proceeded to complain to the bartender about criminals in the area. In this particular instance, someone roleplaying a local guardsman became involved, and other people, too, later became involved in what was a very spur-of-the-moment decision on my part. This subplot eventually went off on an entirely different tangent from the event that sparked the original confrontation, but it at least served the purpose of introducing me to a few new roleplayers while rekindling the spark of creativity within a few people around me who then took the reins after my character's handbag was returned to her.

It wasn't a part of a "preordained" plot that was "set in stone," and I certainly provided other players with the opportunity to either involve themselves and alter the course of the events or to remain indifferent and allow the girl to lose her coin, but the point I'm trying to emphasize is that it's all right to have some form of a story going, even if it's not with an established group of friends.

Don't be afraid to try stirring up a little excitement if very little is transpiring at the moment around you.

Granted, please do not try to entangle everyone in your (I use this term in the illustrative sense; it isn't directed at anyone in particular) character's "all about me" storyline as I've seen some people do, which is, in essence, precisely the problem cited in this article, but there is a distinction between a well-timed infusion of creativity every once in a while to liven things up a bit versus monopolizing everyone's attention for your own self-glorification with your rigidity in terms of plot.

As the original author of this blog stated about not refusing roleplay opportunities simply because a character wants to head north while another wants to head south, I agree that you're only hampering your own ability to roleplay if you've mired yourself so deep in trivial character rules that you've possibly excluded yourself from roleplaying with a large segment of the roleplaying population.

No, I'm not saying one should thrust his/her character into a vat of water if the character is hydrophobic, but if someone wants to roleplay for the duration of a quest that takes us near a body of water, my character would probably find a way around the water or perhaps this would mark a turning point if she could finally start to face her fears. If you make a blind character, think about the consequences of this choice and the limitations you're imposing upon yourself.

To address the final point discussed in the original article--character backstory--I'll simply issue the same caveat as I did about physical impairments: Consider the restrictions you're placing on yourself and the ultimate ramifications of these choices.

I've seen people write themselves into a corner on numerous occasions (including some otherwise excellent roleplayers), and it makes it very frustrating for me to interface with them on any level as we have to plow through a litany of reasons as to why cannot partake in .

Frankly, I love reading people's background stories, but, as others have said, I do not believe them to be imperative to developing a well-rounded character, and I've actually encountered characters with thesis-length wiki pages who, in game, seem very two-dimensional, unfortunately, in terms of personality. I sometimes wondered if it was due to the fact that the author was afraid of violating one of the many rules of conduct he/she established for her character in the background, which is, as others have said, very disappointing for all parties involved.

One of the best roleplayers I've ever come to know (and one of the people who has influenced many positive changes in my roleplay style as well over the years) never even wrote a background story for her characters. She simply thought out a few concrete details about their personality, origin, and motivations, and she'd jump right into the game. She never agonized over pointless trivialities, and she made every roleplay session very enjoyable as a result.


For the "tl;dr" crowd:

Always think about the restrictions you're placing upon yourself when you add a prescriptive rule for your character's behavioral pattern, such as a phobia, motivation, etc.

If you like writing a background story, that's great (and as I said in the body of my post, I enjoy reading a well-written background story that doesn't only serve self-aggrandizement purposes), but if you overdo it, you might find other people are as frustrated with your rigidity as you are with their unwillingness to serve as animated props for your plot.

Try to place yourself in another person's position. How would you feel if you were forced to participate in a story that can't be altered? I roleplay because of the fact that my characters can possibly have a monumental impact on another character's life or vice versa. I've had characters who start out as cynical and detached but gradually change in ways I never expected because they encounter a character who truly impacts their view of the world around them. (Or the opposite can certainly happen, too.)

If the story you have planned is so inflexible that you know how it will end already, then perhaps you're not looking for roleplay. That's the primary point of roleplaying: I honestly have no idea how a character's story will end, or when it will. It's the surprises along the way that make it a thoroughly fun experience in the end.

As someone else said, your background story explains how you got here and why you are--you character's origin and your goals in game--but what happens once you enter the game is not yet determined, which is the reason for interacting with other players in the first place--to see where they will take you.

Posted: Jan 21st 2011 9:34PM Cypt said

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Minor correction: "your character's origin" and not "you."

Posted: Jan 31st 2011 3:59AM Ken from Chicago said

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Great column, Eliot, but it's flawed. It's not that RPers can't be "storytellers" it's the KIND of storytelling they do when in-game. The kind of storytelling referred to in the column is only one kind, with a single fiction writing.

Collaborative storytelling requires you to let go and allow others to tell the story, in part.

Journalistic storytelling can tell what people plan and then *reports* what occurs.

Both those elements, collaboration and reporting, are part of RPing in an MMO. You collaborate with other players or NPCs (aka the game designers) to jointly tell a story. You, the RPer, can report on the events that occurred--leaving in or leaving out what events you see fit to include in your narrative.

Posted: Feb 6th 2011 2:53PM N620AA said

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My problem with this argument is that it's a false dichotomy. RP can be as much about storytelling as it is about spur-of-the-moment interaction. Real-life interaction is much the same way; sure, it changes as it goes, but there is a time and place for storytelling during interaction. After all, it is how knowledge used to be transmitted.

People seem to always want to take either the "pre-planned story or it's worthless" camp or the "it must be borderline chaotic and unpredictable to matter" camp. You can plan a story arc for a character/group of characters by setting rough goals, and allowing the interaction therein and how those goals are reached to be spontaneous.

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