Aspects of the art of roleplaying

For some people, RPing is just a way to have fun and relax and comes with no obligation to themselves.

Others take it a step further and decide to elevate it to an art form – especially notorious in those who place their emphasis on?the collaborative story-telling aspect of RP. To these people, it becomes important how?well?they roleplay – that ends up being a large part of the fun for them.

So, here’m I, guilty as charged.

But what does ‘being good at roleplaying’ actually?mean?

Breakdown of an art

There are several aspects to RP. This list?attempts?to be exhaustive (it probably isn’t!) for text-based, largely freeform RP, and provide best-practise information on the subjects covered.

  • Creativity

    Creativity is the degree to which you come up with compelling new ideas, or manage to find compelling, new ways to connect existing ideas.

    One might think this is the most important aspect of RPing. As a long-time RPer (I’ve been in freeform text-based RP for twelve years now) with basically none of this trait but an embarrassingly large fanbase, I can safely say you don’t have to worry if you don’t excel in this point. A look at TV tropes should be enough to show anyone that old ideas can be recycled without being clich? (tropes are not necessarily clich?s – in fact, most of them aren’t) or boring.

    I find it’s rare to find someone who truly excels at creativity. And: I admire each and every one that does. It’s the cherry topping that I most certainly don’t have, and my envy comes in truckloads.?:P

    Consequence of pulling it off: Presumably, truckloads of awe!

    Consequence of failing to pull it off: none

    Tips:?Hell if I know!

  • Imagination

    Imagination is the trait of being able to?imagine?what is being described in more detail than was provided. Effectively, the ability to immerse yourself in what is being RPed.

    If you have none of this, you’ll probably find yourself getting confused about complex motions in RP while reading it, and thus asking a lot of follow-up questions. (That’s not to say someone ought to use that as an excuse to write shoddy descriptions of anything; imagination can only offset so much!) How vividly do you feel immersed in RP? Do you, for example, feel sympathy pain in your hand if your character just got stabbed into their palm with a knife? Or is it just words?

    Consequence of pulling it off: Largely, more enjoyment out of your escapism, for you!?But, can also be a dangerous double-edged sword. People with a lot of imagination are more prone to really nasty nightmares in aftermath of an compelling but evil-themed RP. Of course, some of us like that effect. >.> Even if it does heavily screw with how restful one’s sleep is!

    Consequence of failing to pull it off: You’ll probably miss things between the lines that are otherwise obvious to your fellow RPers. That can make your RP feel… flat and unengaged, for lack of a better phrasing. Chances are people can’t call you out on this one, because it manifests in vague ways, but ultimately, if you’re?really?bad at imagining scenes? People will stop seeking out RP with you.

    Tips: Practise, practise, practise! Read books. Let people tell you stories. This is fortunately a skill that improves the more you use it. Imagination is a great asset. I find mine is?still?increasing, which astounds me to no end – technicolor, detailed imagined scenes for the win!

  • Sense of realism

    Do you bend science to your whims or try to stay true to it to best of your knowledge?

    Realism in fantastic settings is a tricky subject. Some people dismiss it outright. ‘Dear god, we’re playing?vampires, and you want realism? Get real.’ The problem with telling a story is that you have to adhere to realism enough for people to want to suspend their disbelief, or you lose interest. It’s easy to come up with things that are completely removed from the world we live in, but it stops engaging us as readers / viewers / consumers the more it leaves the familiar. Reason? It’s hard to empathise with occurances that are very?clearly?not happening in our reality.

    The discrepancy is easier explained in pictures than in something as abstract as text. Imagine an image of someone with a cloak perched on the ceiling – but the cloak doesn’t fall down as per gravity, but as if gravity were up there with the person. It’ll look photoshopped or like a cheap trick.

    The same applies to written text. If your character does things that are just too unbelievable, people will assume you’re putting no effort into it at all.

    Consequence of pulling it off: Not much, really. It’s considered something of a pre-requisite for good RPing by just about everyone, so there’s no glory in getting it right. But:

    Consequence of failing to pull it off😕Shunnnnnnnnnnn the non-believer!?People don’t typically put up with this for long, though it depends on the setting how much you can get away with. The more fantasy, the more you can (typically) get away with raping science. Going by the palette of my very limited taste of genres, as far as degrees of getting-away-with-it go: Fantasy > Vampire-Modern > Cyberpunk > Modern

    Tips: If you want to solo-tackle this, Wikipedia/Google is your friend. Put some effort into looking stuff up before you incorporate it into your RP. Then if someone calls you out on a blooper, you can at least prove you put effort into it, which will almost certainly net you respect. A second option, though, is to grab yourself someone you personally feel is more experienced with RP and ask them to mentor you in the realism aspect.

  • Punctuation, grammar, and spelling

    Your grasp of language. An obvious no-brainer, really.

    Consequence of pulling it off: Largely, nothing. It’s typically expected you get this right.?Careful: If you’re?too?good at this, you can come across as pompous and/or intimidating (*cries*).

    Consequence of failing to pull it off: Unfortunately almost always utter ridicule. This is the easiest mistake to spot and entirely sans subjective interpretation – if you typo, you typo, there’s nothing to debate (excepting of course BE/AE-style spelling differences, but those aren’t typoes in the first place, and anyone claiming that needs their head checked), so on the internet chances are you’ll get sniped mercilessly within ten seconds of your first post. There are some communities that let you get away with bad spelling, but everywhere, it’s always a question of degree.

    Tips: If you’re very?new?to typing with a keyboard, get yourself a proof-reader. Depending on what medium you’re RPing in, you can paste things into Word, too, for spell-checking purposes, but Word has the nasty habit of changing quotation marks, ellipses and some other punctuation to special characters that are not in the?ASCII?character set and can seriously break in some environments. Most modern browsers have in-built spell-checking, though, and don’t do that, so if you’re posting on a forum, you’re usually good to go just typing into the text-field on the site. Grammar is a bit trickier – I definitely suggest a human proof-reader here. Punctuation, meanwhile, is another thing for a human proof-reader; but with the added gotcha that it’s surprisingly subjective. A proof-reader should try to minimise the proposed punctuation changes. Finally: If you just make?occasional?typoes, use?wiktionary?or other tools to check words you’re not sure about, or ask your fellow RPers to point out when you’ve gotten a word wrong, which will likely find things for you like you using ‘phase’ instead of ‘faze’ or vice versa.

  • Vocabulary and rhythm

    How many different ways can you refer to the same thing without using the same words? How does your text flow? Is it written in a literary style that keeps you reading?

    Vocabulary is a tricky subject. Some people think that looking things up in a thesaurus to avoid duplicating their words in a post is a good idea – but you’ll quickly notice that overdoing it will only greatly amuse people at your expense.

    Finding the sweet spot between looking like someone who overdosed on thesaurus and word duplication ad nauseaum that results in an intelligent, compelling writing style is something that comes with experience more than anything else, unfortunately.

    Consequence of pulling it off: People will probably suggest you write books for a living – which makes for a deliciously fuzzy feeling!?Careful: There is such a thing as overdosing on literary style. Remember: You still want people to?read?your stuff. You’re doing no one a favour if they have to look up every second word. You’re trying to entertain, not make the story a chore to them! Not to mention you?will?look just plain pretentious if you’re not careful.

    Consequence of failing to pull it off: Having a limited vocabulary rarely pops out at people. Rhythm is more important – if you don’t section your writing into legible chunks that compel to continue reading, people frankly won’t. Sad… but true.

    Tips: Read lots. Look at a thesaurus occasionally (but carefully). Play with writing and rewriting posts: If you can make the same action pace differently by conscious intent, you’ve reached a point where you’re mastering rhythm, way to go!

  • Characterisation

    How believable is your character’s personality? Can the reader empathise with them?

    As far as I’m concerned, this is the single most important aspect to roleplaying – and simultaneously the hardest to pull off. At the very least in adult fiction, no one wants to read about characters that are painted black and white – even the heroes have their flaws and the villains their redeeming features. But it’s more subtle than that: Even in the subtleties of someone’s personality, psychological realism shines through.

    Does your character have motivations matching their attitude? Have you sat down and thought about?why?your character chooses to be an ass? Have you thought about what really gets under their skin? Have you imagined them in situations they cannot win? Have you imagined them in situations where they won against all odds? Et cetera.

    Consequence of pulling it off: I find this attracts people to RPing with you like a light does insects. I imagine people just like to interact with characters they can partly predict by own social observations (putting them less at the utter whim of the story) – and that aren’t paper thin!

    Consequence of failing to pull it off: Very little, actually. I’ve seen people with the characterisation skills of a toad get heralded as excellent RPers – but people quickly get sick of interacting with them, without that they can quite put a finger on why.?Just to make one thing clear: I actually find that a little sad. Like I said in my main blurb, characterisation is very hard to pull off – it’s not entirely fair people should suffer for it. Luckily, this is a latent, background thing; its effects can be countered to almost complete degree by excelling in other aspects of RP, excepting extreme cases.

    Tips: Don’t be afraid to RP several characters, even if you do it shoddily at the start. Take some time to picture your characters doing every day things – cooking, for example, or waiting for food to warm up if they’re not the cooking type. Also a nice challenge: Write your characters as doing nothing, just standing somewhere. Don’t fill it with inner dialog, but try to capture the subtleties of their expression to the outside. As a final tip, try to describe your characters solely from the perspective of other characters for a while (this is entirely possible without godmoding; it just means describing facial features and body language to greater detail and omitting inner dialog).

  • Interactivity

    How approachable is your character / plot?

    Upfront: I fail at this. Accordingly, I’m not sure precisely how to help others with this subject, but I?can?highlight its importance. Essentially, if your plot is entirely self-contained, that gives you a lot of freedom, but it also makes involving people harder. If your plot reaches out and requires a lot of outside interaction, then it’s easier to get people involved, of course, but you’re also vastly more dependant on them.

    The same holds true for characters. If you write your character as a recluse, you can’t expect people to flock in for a chance to play with them. Mind, the solution is not to write your character as socially outgoing – that doesn’t actually open them up from isolation much. The better idea is to change your character in a way that involves other people’s plotlines (with their permission, of course), and build up a semantic web. Characters that are ‘only’ socially active tend to drop off people’s radars as quickly as they appeared on them. You have to give people an incentive to keep coming back to the RP with you.

    Consequence of pulling it off: Lots and lots of RP!

    Consequence of failing to pull it off: Isolation. There’s only so much effort people will go through to RP with someone that’s giving them little to work off of.

    Tips: Short of the very abstract ones already mentioned, none, sorry.

Now you

Rate yourself for the different aspects, on a scale of one to?ten!?:)?Or get a friend to do it if you’re not sure.

[ ]?Creativity
[ ]?Imagination
[ ]?Sense of realism
[ ]?Punctuation, grammar, and spelling
[ ]?Vocabulary and rhythm
[ ]?Characterisation
[ ]?Interactivity

Remember, there is no shame in failing at a few of these, even the ones I mentioned are most of a hindrance in other people viewing you as a good RPer. The point of this thread is to illustrate just how many aspects flow into good RP, and that no one excels at all of them.

Case in point: I’ve seriously met excellent RPers who didn’t have ‘Punctuation, grammar, and spelling‘ down, but just about everything else. For example, I’ve had great roleplaying experiences with one player in one of my games (a French Canadian; his English just wasn’t as good as that of a native speaker’s) that I’d very honestly hate to trade. I admire the man’s RPing prowess to this day.

This entry was posted in advice and tagged , by pinkgothic. Bookmark the permalink.

About pinkgothic

pinkgothic is the primary gamemaster of a freeform cyberpunk IRC RPG called 'Wildcard' that she's run in several incarnations steadily since the end of 2000. Her gamemaster style is more that of a run-away player who's been given a total godmoding waiver. Miraculously, this has yet to run her players off, though she suspects shenanigans (as opposed to skill).

One thought on “Aspects of the art of roleplaying

  1. Back when I first wrote this, I rated myself:

    [1] Creativity
    [8] Imagination
    [7] Sense of realism
    [9] Punctuation, grammar, and spelling
    [5] Vocabulary and rhythm
    [9] Characterisation
    [1] Interactivity

    I’d say those numbers haven’t changed much, if at all – maybe I’d siphon one point off of ‘punctuation, grammar and spelling’ and onto ‘imagination’.

    I’d say that last one is a terrible affliction for a gamemaster, of course, but it makes it no less true. I blame the fact people put up with me on my strong ‘characterisation’ skill. Otherwise they’d all sensibly run for the hills.

Leave a Reply