October 25th, 2019


Online Role-Playing

I have been roleplaying for a great number of years. Possibly longer than a lot of people who will be reading this (2017 made 20 years involved with roleplaying, both online and in person). While there have been large gaps in my RP history, I haven't forgotten the basics. The end sum of role(/roll)playing is that you are telling a story, sometimes within the semantics of the mechanics of a particular system. However I'm not here to discuss the benefits of one system over another. (A)D&D, Rifts, D20, Homebrew, there are as many systems to play within as there are imaginative people in the world and all of them have pro's and con's to them. Again, this isn't a post about your favorite system. More to the point, this is about a particular style of role(/roll)playing that is very well suited (and has been immensly popular in this author's opinion over the last 20+ years).

Before we go further, let me define roleplaying and rollplaying.
ROLEplaying is pure, unadulterated, communal story telling. It focuses on story-telling, character development, and the like. This is typical of many live chatrooms this author has been part of. No dice, no system, no real rules aside from the golden rule. It really requires a creative individual with a good command of the dominant language used.

ROLLplaying is primarily concerned with dice-rolling, system mechanics and the like. It is not mutually exclusive to roleplaying and, in this authors opinion, is dependent upon roleplaying when used in a text-based medium as often found online.

Now, the format that I'm talking about is called play-by-post. Some people call it RP chat (if the forum is a chat room such as Discord, AIM, ICQ, IRC, etc.). Some define Play-By-Post significantly different from RP chat. What I'm talking about is essentially RP chat within the mechanics of a particular system where the GM acts as moderator for the PCs, guides the story along, and plays all of the NPC roles necessary (unless some previous arrangement with the players was reached beforehand regarding one NPC or another). Essentially they are the moderators of the chat. The players tell their story and the GM makes sure everything goes along smoothly, describing new scenes/settings as necessary for the part(y/ies) involved. You can play this style in forums or traditional chatrooms or in more modern settings such as Discord or similar apps. Regardless of the medium used, the end result is communal story telling with some dice-rolling to determine outcomes.

With that in mind, over the years I have found that the best conventions to use in terms of structure of posts is those found in fictional novel writing. In essence everyone is gathering together to tell the story of their characters and how they interact with not only the world around them but with the other player characters as well. Once you strip away out of character comments, dice-rolling, and post editing (where possible) for clarity, what you have is a hopefully long-term community written story based around a group of characters.

If you're basically telling a story, then you would think it should read like a novel (even if not always grammatically correct or with perfect spelling), right? Well, what if it doesn't? What if people are just spamming out words as if they're doing an in-person group? At least in an in-person group (whether traditional 'pen-and-paper' or LARPing) you can use body language to know who is talking to who, the tone of voice can convey all sorts of things that you'd otherwise have to describe, etc. Basically you don't have to do a lot of scene or mood setting. Your actions/tone of voice set those for you. However, in a textual medium, it's impossible to know these things if you're not making them known, and it's even harder when you're not using some common punctuation marks to denote between speech, thought, and physical action.

If, as we've established, we're doing communal story-telling then shouldn't we use the same conventions that conventional stories use, such as descriptive text and all the punctuation marks that go with it?

Let me show you some of my conventions and examples after the cut.
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Community-based, RP chatting/play-by-post requires that everyone contribute to the best of their ability. It allows for everyone to have a more immersive experience which, in this author's opinion, increases the amount of enjoyment everyone can explore. In the end, these are just suggestions or guidelines, however I provide them with the intent of increasing everyone's pleasure in playing at whatever kind of game you're engaging in, because if you're not having fun, then what's the point?

Game on!