For a while I’ve wanted to detail my specific approach to roleplaying. This is not and should not be treated as a roleplaying guide. I have one of those and you can look at it if you’re unsure of how to roleplay in general. These are personal beliefs, ones that I acknowledge that people can disagree with and still be happy and successful roleplayers (and even roleplay with me quite successfully.) These are beliefs that I have formed over several years of roleplaying within World of Warcraft and I believe they are successful for me. Obviously I think that they can be successful for you and I think you would do well to at least consider whether my approach would work for you. But this is not for everyone and I don’t pretend that it is. If your approach is different and you think I’m wrong, then by no means should you feel like I’m trying to force you to adopt my approach. On the other hand, you should understand that these beliefs are not things that I have decided to follow on a whim. These are concepts that I believe make for good RP, and you’re not going to be able to convince me otherwise with a comment or two.
The first thing I believe one should consider is what one wants out of RP. Here people differ and it’s foolish to pretend that they don’t. My feeling is that the happiest times in RP are when it feels like I and another person, or perhaps two other people, are crafting a story between two (or three) real characters with opposing interests. This is a rather rare thing and requires the right sort of person to be able to do it. It has to be a person who can put the story above personal character advancement. It has to be a person who is willing to let their own character fail, willing to let my character succeed to the detriment of her character, but realistically plays their character as pursuing her own interests. Where people generally fail in this regard is to place their own character’s interests above all else. If your character’s interest align with those interests you can have some temporarily fun RP, but ultimately it will become unsatisfying either because it lacks conflict or because that conflict is not addressed in a way that furthers the story.
A simple example will illustrate this point. Let’s suppose Jana is selling necklaces to Alice, Betty and Chelsea in turn. This is a simple roleplay and there’s little opportunity to develop a story but it is a great test of the character of the roleplayer. For this example, suppose Alice is completely oppositional; she rejects any suggestion Jana makes and refuses to negotiate over price. Perhaps she leaves with a necklace, perhaps not. Suppose Betty is completely agreeable. She accepts any suggestion Jana makes and accepts Jana’s first offer as far as price. Suppose Chelsea is unlike either; she knows what she wants but is willing to accept suggestions if Jana makes a good case for them. When Jana suggests a price, Chelsea negotiates her down to a compromise.
I would much rather roleplay with Chelsea and continue to roleplay with her in preference to the other two people (all else equal, of course; if Betty is completely agreeable because she’s buttering Jana up for a sting that’s another thing altogether). Chelsea represents a possibility of that desired story making and more importantly the person behind Chelsea is showing a more sophisticated approach to roleplaying that offers potential. Too often I see Alices who further their character’s interest above all else or Betties who are more interested in making me do all the work in a roleplay. Neither are fun to roleplay with and chances are I will try to avoid them in the future.
A word on that. On some RP servers where RP is very rare there is the notion that you should RP with anyone willing to do so. Further, there is the notion that if someone walks up to you and begins to RP with you that you have to RP back. In my view this is absolutely wrong and you will get very frustrated with RP if you continue to do this.
Let’s step back a bit and imagine a PvE situation. Imagine you have a person who, for whatever reason, you don’t like to PvE with. Perhaps he is unskilled. Perhaps he is lazy. Perhaps when he talks on vent you want to tear your ears out because his voice is so annoying. Maybe he’s misogynistic. Maybe he has the maturity of an eleven year old. If this person came up to you and said “Hey, want to run a scenario,” or “Hey, want to run a heroic,” or “Hey, want to be part of my raid team,” no one would or could fault you for saying no.
That same thinking applies to RP as well. This is a game. You are here to have fun. You should not do things that are not fun for you, and that means that if you don’t think you will have fun RPing with someone you shouldn’t RP with her. Walk away. There’s not anything judgmental by this—I have seen people who RP in styles I just can’t stand but others would enjoy. (Primarily, those are people who betray a lot of unknowable information in their emotes, such as their character’s motives and thoughts). You shouldn’t do things that aren’t fun.
This may result in some people labeling you an elitist. Primarily these are people who likely are obsessed with their own character and imposing their will on you, imposing their style of RP on you and who are not at all fun to roleplay with. They are likely to be technically poor roleplayers, prone to god modding, god mode and meta-gaming. They label you elitist because you are unwilling to roleplay with them. These people are not fun and you should ignore them, and by that I do mean put them on ignore and pretend they don’t exist. That’s how I treat such people.
One way that RP differs from PvE (and PvP, I suppose) is that it is primarily subjective. Personality quirks aside, the quality of a person in PvE can be measured in a number of ways (dps, ability to stay alive and out of bad, ability to keep things healed, etc.) With RP it is primarily subjective. One person who you think is a great RPer may be a horrible RPer to someone else just because their styles do not mesh. For this reason you should be gentle about labeling someone a horrible RPer; what is bad for you may be good for someone else and vice versa (though I do think there are some things that are absolutely bad, like godmodding, meta-gaming, contradiction and the like.) At the same time you should recognize that people should not be offended if you don’t like to RP with them. If for whatever reason you don’t have fun RPing with someone you should really just not RP with him or her. Similarly, don’t be offended if someone doesn’t want to roleplay with you. Interests vary.
Since this is Jana’s Roleplaying Manifesto and not your Roleplaying Manifesto or someone else’s Roleplaying Manifesto, what follows is a rather subjective sense of what I do to find people that I would be interested in RPing with because I think they have the potential to offer me that joint story I’m looking for. I am not saying that what you do or what you are looking for is wrong. Rather, this is what I do, and generally I think that you can glean some useful information from reading it even if our styles differ.
The first priority in finding people to RP with is to construct a suitable MyRoleplay profile. Reading MyRoleplay descriptions is one of my pastimes and it is the primary way I identify potentially good RP partners. It would be hypocritical of me to neglect my own MRP. It follows that someone who would mesh well with me would likely judge me based on my MyRoleplay Profile.
Before constructing a profile, of course, I try to get a fair idea of who I want my character to be. I think of a basic backstory. I outline some interests of the character, and paint a rough picture of what he or she looks like. I have some idea of character quirks that I could talk about and visual cues that other people could ask me about to break the ice. At this point I don’t think I would need to have everything developed; a lot of the character development occurs during roleplay as I think of stories to fill in the character’s history. The idea for me is to have enough of a background to allow others to take an interest in the character.
It is my belief that the purpose of a MyRoleplay profile is to attract people with whom you would like to roleplay. It is not designed to offer a vivid image of your character, or describe your likes or dislikes in length (although that can certainly be part of it). Everything in my profile is constructed with the mindset that there is someone out there who is figuring out whether to RP with me, but has a limited attention span. One needs to grab that person’s attention, hold it, and make a case to be approached..
I’ve written about constructing a profile before. The one thing I want to emphasize from that post is that you should start out strong. Take one thing that is unique or distinctive about your character and write about it first. Your potential roleplaying partner may not have the patience to read through a paragraph of dull description to reach the interesting bits. If I am reading your profile, I am judging you from the moment I read your currently and nicknames, through to the point where I start to read your description. If at some point I become bored with it, I will stop reading and move on.
There’s one thing I should make clear about that, just to avoid some misconceptions. Just because I get bored with your MRP does not mean I won’t RP with you or that I think you’re bad. It means I’m not going to approach you for RP. One of the two ways RP begins is by me approaching you; the other way is, of course, you approaching me. If I’ve bored you with my profile and you’ve bored me with your profile, neither of those things will happen. If you do approach me and your profile bores me, I will be much less enthusiastic about the RP than if I liked your profile. You will have to work harder to convince me that I want to RP with you. You can certainly do this—many have—but wouldn’t it be better to have an interesting MRP in the first place?
Your profile should reflect your character and be aimed at people you want to roleplay with. This may not be me. I do have my preferences. With that it mind, here are some of the things I like to see in profiles:
- RP “hooks”. These are distinctive features visible on your character that I can ask you about to break the ice. They range from unique hairstyles to jewelry to clothing to tattoos to weaponry, and that list is not exclusive. It’s much easier to approach someone when there’s something to talk about.
- Taller and heavier characters. This is a personal preference based on in character and out of character concerns. Jana was teased for her size as a kid and instinctively feels more comfortable around people near her size or larger. And while tall characters aren’t that distinctive, anyone playing a slightly heavier character stands out and is someone Jana could relate with.
- Strength. Both in personality and athletically, I think adventurers should be stronger than average and it strikes me as a sign that a person has thought their character through. I also just like it better as a personal preference.
- Suggested duplicity. If you can somehow suggest that your character is not who he or she appears to be, that makes for great RP and my interest generally skyrockets.
- Uniqueness. Something that indicates to me how you have created a character that is different than anyone else’s while still remaining credible is a big plus. (This does not include the RP clichés like dragons, half-elves or other cross breeds, demons, horde in disguise, etc.)
- Wickedness. If you can somehow suggest that your character is wicked or evil, that also makes for great RP and my interest in you skyrockets.
- References to jewelry or tailored clothes. Jana is a jewelcrafter and a tailor and these descriptions give me an easy hook to start a conversation.
There are also ways to turn me off. Some of these are purely personal. I may not be the person you want to roleplay with. Some of these I think are generic, in that they would turn off any reasonable roleplayer. With that in mind, here are some things that make me stop reading:
- Explicit indications that the character is ordinary. My experience is that this is done either by someone who thinks all unique characters are Mary Sues or is so afraid of being labeled a Mary Sue that she has decided to be completely ordinary. In either case the character is unlikely to be fun, unlikely to provide a mechanism for breaking the ice, and unlikely to provide the conflict necessary to make a great story.
- Extremely short characters (with the possible exception of rogues). I think this is a cliché, and I also think that such characters would very likely not choose to be adventurers. I see far too many of these.
- Shy or meek characters. I don’t think such people become adventurers generally, and I’m not inclined to like that sort of person anyway. Meek people tend to lack the passion I would want for someone who would help me write a story.
- Contradictions in descriptions. All the time I see characters that claim to both be full-figured or pudgy or voluptuous but also slender. There are other ways people contradict themselves (petite and long-legged comes to mind), but this is the most common. It gives me the impression that the person really doesn’t have a handle on his or her own character.
- God modding in descriptions. Typically this is in the form of “As you look at [character name], you see X … Moving your eyes downward, you see Y, etc.” There is no need to force my eyes to look at particular parts of your body. Just describe it. If you godmod in your profile it generally means you don’t understand why it is bad and are likely to do it in RP. That’s no fun at all. (A possible exception is a well written narrative description written from the perspective of the participating onlooker.)
- Cliché Mary Sues. Maybe you’re going to be one of the few people to roleplay a dragon properly. Maybe you’re going to be one of the few people to consider the wildly different history and point of view of a Quel-dorei or a half-breed. I wish you the best of luck with that sort of thing because so often I have run into such horrible roleplay with such people that I’ve decided to write the whole thing off rather than RP with you on the slender hope that you’re the exception.
- Pregnant characters or characters with kids. I’ve found that RP with such characters generally tends to focus on the pregnancy or the kids. If that’s your cup of tea, best of luck to you. It’s not mine.
- Indications that you are willing to change your character to suit my desires. With the possible exception of a seductive shape-changer, what this indicates to me is that you either don’t have a firm idea of who your character is or don’t care to develop a fixed character. It leads me to believe you will be a Betty in the example above, unwilling to push back or create the conflict that makes for a good RP story.
There’s something I want to emphasize about the last entry. Regardless of my likes and dislikes, I believe that you should create a character that you are comfortable playing and round out that character with a developed history and personality of your choosing. If your MRP reflects that, I will be far more interested in roleplaying with you regardless of any personal likes or dislikes, and more importantly people who actually share your personal preferences will likely be more interested in you. If you really want to play a half-elf because you have an interest in the problems facing half-elves and have a good idea for a story behind it, go for it. I won’t approach you, but if you approach me and you RP it well, that might lead to something really fun. That will be much better for you than creating a tall, heavy-set warlock disguised as a mage with mountains of jewelry that you don’t really have a desire to play or flesh out.
What I’ve written up to now applies to drafting your own profile or how I view other people’s profiles. The hope behind all this is that I would find people I would have fun roleplaying with, either by finding them myself and having my own profile be interesting enough to convince them to respond to my approach, or by them approaching me directly. The function of the profile is to break the ice.
My strategy in this regard is to cast a rather wide net. I approach anyone whose profile piques my interest in any way, either because it seems well written, because it has something that would mesh well with my character, or it has a nice character hook I can use to start something. When someone approaches me, I read their profile to get ideas but I don’t reject anyone based on their profile or even lack of profile. My take on this is that the other person found me interesting, so I should roleplay with them in earnest. Sometimes people are a lot better than their profiles and RP with them can be quite enjoyable. In the other direction, sometimes people with phenomenal profiles can be horrible to RP with, whether that’s because they are objectively bad at RP or their style simply doesn’t match with mine.
Now it comes to the RP itself. I’ve approached you, or you’ve approached me. There are two things I will want to do as the roleplay progresses. The first is to set up the story to be told, and the second is to actually roleplay the story.
What do I mean by a story? The specifics differ but generally a story will be about two characters who each want something and who each want to hinder the other person. Let’s take as a simple example a gladiator fight between A and B. A wants to kill B and simultaneously wants to prevent B from killing A. B wants the opposite. There is a story of their battle to be told. (The story could also have much more complex subtleties, but you get the idea). There are all sorts of different variations here but they all involve some sort of conflicting desires. Without conflict there is no story. People may hop off happily into a land of sunshine and rainbows but it’s not all that interesting.
Sometimes from an MRP profile I can instantly get the idea for a story or for such conflict. But often times I can’t, and can only identify in character desires to get to know someone or approach. That’s when setting up the story comes into play. These are the typical question and answer sessions where characters get to know each other.
While the goal may be the story itself, setting up the story can be quite enjoyable in its own right. As Jana I quite enjoy telling stories about her past, giving my RP partner information in the hope that there will be some connection around which to build a story. Depending on her description, I might talk about her tailoring, her jewelcrafting, her experiences with Jeremiah, Bronlissa or Putricide, or make up something completely new. Sometimes a story between the characters doesn’t develop, and the RP ends after Jana’s done describing her past. This is not necessarily a failure—chances are I’ve made a friend and the RP itself, while not the goal, was still enjoyable.
There are several things I look for as signs for whether the RP is going to work or not work. The most important of these is whether the person interacts with me or is simply off on their own world. I had an RP a little while ago with someone who at least initially seemed very interesting, but she would say things and act as if she were on her own agenda without what I had said having any impact on what she said. She showed no interest in my character but seemed intent on saying what she had to say without really reacting to my responses. This is an objectively bad sign. It tells me that the other person isn’t really interested in RP at all, but in playing a pseudo-game where her character by necessity “wins”. In the example above, this person is an Alice.
Some other objectively bad signs are obvious. My strategy when I see these things is to stop the RP. If in the initial approach the person tries to control my character in a way I did not obviously consent to, or meta-games, or acts in an obviously outrageous or trollish manner, I stop the RP. If the person RPs in a style I just can’t stand (generally, the primary culprit is being excessively floral in their emotes), I stop the RP. I believe the best way to do this is to make an in-character excuse that I have to go somewhere and walk away. If the other person asks to follow me, I decline. If she decides to follow me anyway, I will be more forceful. If she takes it OOC, I may or may not explain why I don’t want to RP with the person (sometimes this is useful with a stylistic clash), but I don’t feel that I have to. In general I don’t believe it’s not worth the effort to try to change someone or teach her how to RP. On rare occasions I will run into a person who is genuinely new at this and wants to get better. I can’t describe this specifically but my feeling is that I will know this when I see this. In such situations I may refer the person to my roleplaying guide. On the whole I tend to be skeptical about this because people have at times latched onto me and then gotten angry when I’m busy RPing with other people.
I should try to qualify that last bit. Sometimes I get someone who is a mixed bag, someone who I imagine I could have quite a bit of fun with but for some nagging qualities such as emoting too slowly, minor godmodding, technical mistakes like using “you” in a public emote. If the good outweighs the bad I think it might be worthwhile to offer to help with RP mechanics, especially if the person acknowledges they are a beginner and is willing to learn. I don’t think anyone should feel obligated to do so if you don’t enjoy the other person or helping people generally. Personally I will link people to my guide if I think it’s appropriate but I won’t push RP lessons onto people who don’t really interest me otherwise.
One thing you might have noted here is that I am assuming I have approached one person and am RPing with one person directly and more or less exclusively. This is generally because my ultimate goal—to craft a story with someone else—is not generally possible with more than one other person. It just gets confusing, and the temptation to try to assert one’s character increases exponentially as characters are added to the RP. That’s not to say I won’t engage in roleplays with more than one person. It just means my approach changes. At that point I’m more interested in learning about characters and getting ideas for stories rather than trying to develop a story. Very rarely two stories will interact and that can be quite fun, but nine times out of ten or more the presence of a third person ends up harming the development of a story. Your mileage may vary.
So let’s assume I’ve now found someone that’s interesting to me, who is interested in me, and we’re roleplaying and getting beyond the “here’s who I am” phase. What’s next? The first step is to ensure that our mechanics are compatible. The traditional mechanic is that each person takes turns with their emotes, but I also like a two step approach where a person takes an “active” turn describing the actions or words to be reacted to, and then an “incidental” turn describing incidental actions that would not require a reaction. There are several ways a person can trip up here. One is by taking too long in a turn either by using excessively floral language (making the number of words conveyed too long), in time (by making me wait too long to receive a response) or by taking too many actions (by describing actions that logically would not occur because my character would have reacted to something before then). There are also the other trip ups like god-modding, meta-gaming, being non-responsive, and so forth. Generally good roleplayers will have a bit of flexibility in their mechanics, and usually I can tell before this point whether there will be a mechanical problem
That leaves content. It’s tricky to describe content because there are so many different ways to engage Jana’s interest that it’s impossible for me to reduce them to categories. The things I look for are whether my parter OOCly and ICly seems to understand Jana’s desires to the extent I’ve revealed them, which could include subterfuge, and vice versa. I will look for whether my partnet seems to be playing off those desires, exploiting them ICly to try to give Jana what her character wants. That’s the sign that a roleplay is really getting to the next level.
At that point, it’s back to mechanics again, and here’s where things get tricky because here’s where someone observing us might think we’re really bad roleplayers. At some point I will decide that I trust a person enough with the scene to drop the traditional objections to god modding. I will, in essence, cede control of my character to some extent and expect the same. What happens now is that some incidental or even serious detrimental effects to my character will be controlled by my partner. She won’t need to clutter the RP with “attempts”, but rather has some sense of what I consent to and just does it.
That’s when RP can get really good. And that’s my goal. If you ever get to that point with someone, cherish it, and hope it lasts as long as possible.
There is one more thing I want to get into here, and that’s the idea of canon. Canon refers to the ongoing story of your character, the one that stays with you and defines your character to others. The typical approach to canon is to say that every bit of RP you run into is canonical and can be used by you or referred to by others later.
It is my opinion that this is a horrible way to RP.
There’s certainly some logic to it. If Jana were alive and wandering through the Mage Quarter she could really have only one thing going on with her at a time and her actions should have consequences for everyone. But this approach ignores quite a bit of game mechanics and limitations of the game itself. To take the approach that everything is canonical unnecessarily restricts your RP specifically and makes you too cautious about trying new things and new stories.
I’ll take a specific example of a wonderful RP I had lately. This was an RP that was with a warlock who had posed as someone quite innocent. She lured Jana to her in a number of different ways, by appealing alternatively to Jana’s concern for her safety and anger at being over-privileged. The end result of the RP was that Jana DIED, and did so in a way that she could not be resurrected - there was nothing left to resurrect. If I were forced to treat it as canon, well, Jana would be no more, but more importantly I would have made ten different decisions in the RP out of OOC concern for keeping Jana alive. In doing so I would have missed a really fun RP.
Your character and her history are too valuable to commit to altering on every bit of RP you have. Treating everything as canon will alter your roleplay OOCly in ways that you will miss out on fun roleplay. I allow Jana to take chances. I allow Jana to mess up. I allow Jana to get trapped and get hurt and even get killed if that’s how the story goes. I do so in the knowledge that it’s my choice and not anyone else’s as to whether the results of the story stick with her. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
Yes, I will occasionally run into people who object to this, who want everything they do to Jana to be a permanent part of her character, and because I don’t give them that power they decide not to roleplay with me. I don’t view this as a huge loss.
I think that about covers my approach to roleplay. I hope you’re able to pick out some wisdom from this, whether that means trying something you wouldn’t before, rethinking your approach to descriptions, or whatnot. Again, I don’t expect anyone to agree with everything I do, but I do hope people understand I have my reasons.