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Storyboard

Storyboard: Using the fourth wall for good

Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

I wish the real world would stop providing me with better material than I can think up.
I don't remember much of the poetry course I took in college whilst pursuing my (ultimately useless) English degree, but I do remember my professor quite vividly. The first day of the class he stood up in front of the room and wrote a line from renowned poet Theodor Geisel: "It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how."

In his case, he was leading into a discussion of the rules of rhyming schemes and such, but he also admitted that the lesson is applicable to a lot of other things. Case in point: using the fourth wall in roleplaying.

MMOs lean on the fourth wall all the time, some more or less than others. But roleplaying generally steers clear of it because leaning on it too heavily can really screw with the overall roleplaying atmosphere. So let's talk a little bit about what the fourth wall is and how you can use it with care to enhance roleplaying rather than damage it.

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Storyboard: Breaking game mechanics for the sake of roleplay

Game Mechanics, Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

And now it's time for a breakdown.
Sometimes your max-level character in World of Warcraft is supposed to still be a student. Sometimes your Trooper in Star Wars: The Old Republic is an expert at hand-to-hand combat with a techblade that you can't wield. Sometimes your Final Fantasy XIV is a gunsmith in a world where guns clearly exist but aren't available to players.

Sometimes you've found something that the game itself is directly at odds with in your roleplaying. I'm not talking about lore; I'm talking about the game mechanics. And while I've brushed up against this before, I've never actually talked about how to deal with situations that the game mechanics explicitly forbid. You are X, and the game tells you that you cannot be X.

So what do you do? I can assume you can get over the point of saying that you're something that's slightly at odds with the game mechanics, but how do you explain the fact that your character should be something that the game won't allow?

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Storyboard: You are what you pretend to be

Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

I still love the Zorai designs.  The game the Zorai are in, not so much.
It's the day after Halloween, and that means we all take off our costumes. Or to be more accurate, we all take off the costumes that other people get to see. We're still wearing costumes just the same, except we call them our normal personalities and hope that no one notices.

None of this is shocking. We all know that we present ourselves differently to different people. You don't act the same way around your boss that you do around your closest friends, you don't treat strangers like your mother, and so forth. It's part of the human condition: We put on different faces depending on whom we're dealing with at any given moment.

Do your characters do the same? They should. Even if they aren't technically human, most alternative options in games still have more or less human thought patterns. So let's talk a little more about putting on a brave face for the outside world and what it says about your character as a whole.

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Storyboard: This is your next character

Culture, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

This is your brain on you.
Coming up with a new character concept is hard. Not as tough as it could be, obviously, but it's still challenging. For some people, the hardest part of roleplaying is figuring out whom to play, and once you figure that part out, the rest is just down to the execution. But coming up with a character concept requires hard work, careful consideration, and quite possibly a few blood sacrifices.

Or it requires someone who wants to do a Halloween column that's more about dressing up than the usual plague of ghosts and demonic pumpkins.

In today's Storyboard, I'm going to just give you your next character and make it as easy as slipping on a costume. I'm even giving you choices. I'm even making it more of a system than an outright list, so you can use it from here to eternity. It's everything you could want except for more familiarity with the game's lore.

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Storyboard: What are you scared of?

Culture, Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

Lots of things, really.  Spiders.  Abandonment.  Silence.  Myself.
I've made it pretty far into October without a single article that could be seen as remotely Halloween-themed, so I think I'm doing pretty well right here. But that's changing right now because it's time to talk about another topic that I thought I'd covered long before: fear.

Unfortunately, fear is also difficult to address in a logical fashion. Fear itself isn't logical. From a logical standpoint, there is nothing serious that a spider can do to me. I'm thousands of times larger (no fat jokes please) and have access to a variety of tools; it just has eight legs and poison that's generally harmless to me. That doesn't mean I'm not scared of them, despite the fact that logic dictates that I should be more scared of seeing a bear in the woods.

So I'm not going to talk about that. What I will talk about is giving your characters fears that feel real, making sure that you're afraid of things that work, and portraying those fears in a consistent way. After all, even if fear isn't logical, it certainly is understandable with a bit of effort.

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Storyboard: Signing up for the team

Lore, Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

Every so often I like people to try and figure out the unifying thread between the images.  Sometimes there is one and sometimes there isn't.
Major organizations in a game's lore are kind of a big deal to the characters living in those games. They represent something important, after all, either in terms of intent or power. So why doesn't your character sign up with the organization of his choice and start working for it instead of just alongside it?

What do you mean that there's no mechanical way to fully model that? Come on. Sure, that's a bit of a problem, but if there's one thing you've taken away from my columns other than the word "verisimilitude," it's that no problem is insurmountable.

Fortunately, signing on with your in-game organization of choice isn't all that problematic, even if there isn't an actual dotted line to sign for membership. So let's talk about signing up with your local recruitment office for fame, fortune, and the occasional bit of character motivation that you can't massage in any other way.

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Storyboard: Keeping your roleplaying fresh

Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

Not funky fresh.  That's different.
The big problem with marriage is the same problem you have with always going to your favorite restaurant. Sure, you like the menu, and maybe it's even extensive enough that you could eat there every day for a month without having the same thing twice. But eventually it's just not going to be fresh.

You've had everything on the menu, and from here on out it's just the same burgers until the end of time. And so you wind up leaving the restaurant and eating at a fast food place, and then you wind up in divorce court.

You are not married to your roleplaying characters. But you're still in a situation where you're inside of this character's head at all times, and eventually you don't even need to guess what happens next. So just like a marriage, you need to keep things fresh even when you know your character inside and out. Which is trickier than it might sound, but still eminently doable. And it might even be that as long as I'm making the marriage analogy, some of the same advice applies.

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Storyboard: Sharing the spotlight

Culture, Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

Truth is gonna give up the world if you could give up the stage.
We roleplayers tend to be a little... self-centered. Kind of the nature of the game, seeing as how you're creating a persona and then trying to flesh out an entire life story for that persona. It's natural that you'd want to be on the center stage a little more often.

The problem here is obvious. Heck, you can see it in day-to-day life. If only one person thinks, "I'm the star," everything flows fine. If everyone thinks that, you're surrounded by a screaming cacophony of people who all think that their individual problems are more important than anyone else's problems. You have a band full of lead guitarists and no one on drums, a full team of pitchers without anyone at second base.

You need to learn how to step away from the spotlight. To let someone else be important for a bit. To give up the spotlight and be the supporting cast for a while. So how and why do you do that? I'm glad you let me assume that you asked.

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Storyboard: You've got to make a living

Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

You move sixteen tons and what do you get?  Another day older and you're deeper in debt.
Your character does something to stay alive. No, I'm not talking about fighting off demons or flesh-eating wolves or whatever else you blunder into on a regular basis. I mean that your character either needs to construct shelter, gather food, and produce clothes himself, or he has to pay someone to do it.

Yes, most games probably allow for the possibility that those wolves contain enough meat, articles of clothing, and end tables to provide all of the above. That would be a separation of mechanics and story. It's much more fun than watching most of your characters die of infections caused by mild scrapes against rusty metal.

As a roleplayer, you need to think about what your character does for a living, not just because it gives you an explanation for what's going on when you aren't playing (although that certainly helps) but because what we do informs a lot of who we are as people. It's always better to show than tell, and nothing shows quite as nicely as character occupations done right.

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Storyboard: Trigger-happy

Culture, Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

Objecting to the idea of trigger warnings is like objecting to labels with nutrition information on the side of cereal boxes.  I look forward to the comments.
Graham Chapman passed away on October 4th, 1989, leaving behind a legacy of work that included the groundbreaking Monty Python oeuvre. To avoid having his funeral service become a media circus, the five surviving members of the comedy troupe held a separate service on December 4th, two months later, memorializing their friend and fellow creator. John Cleese delivered a eulogy for Chapman, and after claiming how many people would be sad for the loss of such a creative and talented soul, said the following:

"Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard; I hope he fries."

To some people, this might seem like the epitome of disrespect. To others, it's the finest possible testament to the life of a man who loved making jokes and pushing boundaries on acceptable topics. The problem is that in a roleplaying environment you can wind up pushing the boundaries without realizing it, making someone uncomfortable or broaching subjects that someone feels are beyond the pale. And you have to deal with these situations quickly before OOC inevitably creeps into what's going on.

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Storyboard: Nobody wants to play with you

Culture, Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

Using non-specific you here.
You want to roleplay. Oh, boy, do you ever want to roleplay. You have pages and pages of character backstory, you have your character's voice down, and you can cycle through emotes like a champ. (There's no championship for that, I know. Bear with me.) Your only problem is that when you walk into the room, everyone quietly turns away and discusses how urgently he or she needs to get to the next dungeon, and well, it's late. Bye!

It's just like at prom, except this time you can't assume that people were just turned off by your decision to wear Groucho Marx glasses. So why does no one want to roleplay with you?

Obviously I can't tell you exactly why people don't want to roleplay with you. There are a lot of variables that I probably don't know about. But I can at least give you some ideas about why you might be encountering some problems and how you can fix them, since you deserve the same sort of fun that everyone else is having. Sit down and let's figure it out; there's no judgment here.

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Storyboard: Making a challenging character

Culture, Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

Two of these games came out.  The third probably won't.
You don't build muscle by lifting weights that don't challenge you. Once a given set of weights doesn't challenge you any longer, you need to move on to something heavier or you're going to stop getting stronger. It's a pretty simple principle: Challenging yourself makes you stronger all around.

So long as you play the same roleplaying character, you're not going to improve as a roleplayer. For some people, this is fine. Roleplaying is something you do, you're happy playing one sort of character, and that's what you do. But for others the point is being able to shift into different characters, to come up with something new and exciting and then wind up with more interesting stories to experience. You want to get better, to make even your more familiar characters feel different.

That's why you give yourself challenges. And when done right, challenging characters can force you to grow in new ways and make for a better roleplaying experience for everyone.

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Storyboard: That was a poor decision

Culture, Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

Oh I idolize - my mouth can't deny what I've said with my eyes.  You're all around me, angel, you've found me, heaven surround me and sing to me... I made all the same mistakes.
Having a new kitten in the house is sort of like watching a slideshow of poor choices. My kitten knows, for example, that the older cat of the house doesn't want to wrestle all the time because she's made this clear in the past. And he knows that right now she's not happy to see him, as evidenced by the fact that she moved somewhere else when he entered the room.

Despite all of that information, he still runs right up to her and pounces on her, then acts completely shocked when she smacks him to the ground and hisses with anger -- as if this outcome was not only unexpected but somehow cruel.

I've talked before about the importance of making bad decisions with a character, but it's hard to gain the necessary immersion in a character's mind to make decisions that are meant to be believable while still missing the forest for the trees. So instead of offering positive advice, I want to give advice on how to make dumb and short-sighted choices that will later explode in your character's face due to poor reasoning. Think of them as reverse life-hacks.

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Storyboard: Getting to know you (hopefully)

Culture, Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

You knew I'd do it if you followed the news.
In real life, I'm not what you'd call a social butterfly. More of a social weevil, or a social stick insect, or a social whatever arthropod it is that hides and avoids talking to people. The point is that I'm not really grand at parties.

This cannot be who I am in roleplaying terms, and not just because it's not roleplaying in the strictest sense but because a roleplaying character who never roleplays isn't. Some of my characters are incredibly gregarious, some are more insular, but all of them need to find some way to interact with others or the entire system falls apart.

Some of you reading this have never had a problem walking up and introducing yourself to someone you've never met before, which is great. You might even be able to stop reading now. For the rest of us, the question remains: How do you strike up conversations with new people for roleplaying?

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Storyboard: Brother from the same mother

Opinion, Roleplaying, Storyboard, Miscellaneous

Special shout-out to my actual brother in the unlikely event that he's reading this.
An awful lot of characters seem to be only-children. In some countries this is pretty normal, but it's certainly not normal where I'm living. Pretty much all of my friends and contemporaries have at least one sibling. So it seems a bit odd that your roleplaying characters don't have any fellow family members to talk to.

The realistic reason, of course, is that most of us don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about those siblings. And in some cases it's entirely reasonable to say that your character might not know her several half-siblings. But in the interests of verisimilitude, it's worth thinking about this, even if you never want siblings to become a major focus of roleplaying.

You can come at this topic from two angles. You can talk about how to handle siblings, or you can talk about the impact of siblings. For this column, I'm going to focus on the former. What are the options for including your character's siblings?

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