How to Roleplay in Five (Possibly) Easy Steps
I have been told several times on the neoboard chat group I go to that I am a highly skilled RPer. I have been asked on several occasions to write a guide to RPing.
Well, here it is. Enjoy.
Please note that this guide assumes you already know the bare basics of roleplay and just need to get better at it, and also that you roleplay in script format, not paragraph. I am aware that most people prefer paragraph roleplay because it’s so much more descriptive. I personally, think this is nonsense. I prefer script roleplay because it’s easier to keep your characters separate, and I have been known to RP as up to seven characters at once. Also, part of this article touches on that little problem about detail. Who says scripts have to be boring?
1. Design a good character
Do not just take a character straight from a TV show, video game, or book, without changing them. If you do take them from somewhere else, change them significantly. Make them yours.
If you want to design from almost-scratch, take a character who has been given shape, but little to no personality. Many of my characters started that way: Abigail Avinroo, Sir Pollonaire Freidl, Vitri Sitol, and others.
If you are designing totally from scratch, don’t just give them five features. Give them good qualities and bad, make them as deep as you can. Notice the emphasis on “and bad”. Nobody likes an Uber-Character.
An Uber is a character that, well, is almost god-like. Never play god. Ever. No character should be able to dodge every attack, kill with a single blow, overpower any monster/other character with a flick of the wrist, control seventy-four elements, and summon dinosaurs. Yes, that was an exaggeration, but it gets the point across. That does not mean that if your character is like that you should just swipe out dinosaur summoning. Swipe out about three things. A character should have, at most, two or three major abilities. Ubers like these not only unbalance the game, they annoy everyone else too.
2. Be real
A character is not a statue. A character is not carved in stone. A good character is fluid, not rigid. He or she should change over time. One of my characters started out as an arrogant jerk, and slowly morphed into a shy, depressed, emo person. By the way, said character was based on a TV show character, but he is now nothing like his namesake. This is the highlight of a good character. Change is the key to everything.
For a character to change, he or she has to have what I call a soul. Yes, I believe characters can have “souls” in much the way real people do. A good roleplayer can really do just that: role play. Play a role. They can get in-character. Feel what the character feels, think how the character thinks. That doesn’t mean you have to lose your own self. Just devote part of it to your character. Leave a part of your heart and mind for your character. This is their soul. Don’t ever force feelings or thoughts on them, and avoid forcing actions when possible. Let the character lead; you’re only there to type for them.
3. Be eloquent
“Johnny: *hits dragon with magic*”
Let’s see what we can do with it:
“Johnny: *raises his staff, looking furious, and fires a blast of purple light at the dragon*”
That’s much better. Same idea, more detail. Use a wide vocabulary for descriptions. Sound like a novelist. Use as much detail as you can. Describe a character’s expression and actions thoroughly.
As stated in #2, you should feel with your character. If you can feel with them, you can give their voice emotion. This is a talent, not a skill. It can only be learned by experience, not by reading. But if you can master the other basic steps of RP, character voice should follow easily.
The basic idea is, pay more attention in your language arts class. Writing and RPing are one and the same, two sides of the same coin. What you learn about writing can be applied to RP.
Being eloquent doesn’t just apply to players. Not by a long shot. It applies even more so to the GM. As a GM, or game master (the one running the game), you can go all out novelist.
Never do this:
“Abby: *enters next room, which is themed in red and has pillars*”
Do an OOC description. Paint your image in the player’s mind.
The following example is from a roleplay I recently GMed, Masters of the Elements.
“Abby: *enters the next room*
(The room is circular, with a tall ceiling. The ceiling here, as in the main room, is draped in shadow. The whole room has strange runes carved into the walls, and at about shoulder's height is a band carved into the wall all the way around the room, framing the doors. The band glows red. There is a slightly lowered area in the center of the room, with a stone stand in the center. At the northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest of the room are pillars also carved with strange runes, and at the same height as the band on the wall, the pillars also have bands, but from these bands burst dim flames. Right next to each pillar, next to the side facing the center, is a beautiful glass stand with a bowl at the top. There are two doors: one you just entered through and one directly across the room. The room is slightly dim. It could use a little extra light.)”
Vary your sentence structure. Semicolons, commas, ands, buts! Punctuation is your friend! Use a lot of it, vary it, make it interesting. Adjectives are good too. Love them, for they can make you a great GM. If your description sounds like an excerpt from a novel, you’ve done well.
4. Be logical
Avoid non sequiturs. Please. Your players/GM will love you for it.
Don’t make anvils fall out of the sky and crush Bob because he’s annoying Bill. Don’t make alien spacecraft randomly abduct Joe. Just don’t. Especially when it’s completely inappropriate. If Sir Jason is in a dramatic, climatic, one-on-one swordfight with the King of Darkness, don’t have your character start doing the chicken dance. Don’t have random manga characters walk in and give other people’s characters odd looks. Please.
Don’t criticize a character because the player had a late post. I’ve had an instance where my post, in which my character dramatically killed a monster, was posted late. The person controlling the monster had had a character pull out a laser blaster and turn the creature to soot (which, by the way, was bordering on a non sequitur), and when my post came late, his characters all started acting like my character was nuts for “attacking soot”, despite the obvious late post.
Finally, the most touchy part of “be logical”, so touchy that I’m almost afraid to type it up: what you can and cannot do when attacking. Avoid “*blasts dragon with magic and kills it instantly*”, because:
a. The dragon may be impossible to kill with that method
b. The GM may not be ready for the dragon to die.
Attack, and let the person controlling the character decide whether it’s fatal or not.
When attacking another character who is not a monster, however, things get a little more messy. The golden rule, at least where I roleplay, is, you cannot kill or permanently damage another character without the player’s permission. However, things like magic spells that prevent motion for a few posts can be put on characters without permission, though it’s still nice to ask. This is where things get tricky. I have seen time and again, people getting into arguments like:
“Bob hit Joe with magic so Joe is frozen.
No, Bob hit him!”
My reaction is almost always: Unless it permanently damages your character or plot, or seriously disturbs you, you should let it hit most of the time. Yes, if it’s realistic for a character to dodge, you may. If it’s not, have him take the hit. Even if it is realistic for him to dodge, don’t always have him do so.
Your character should take damage. Tying into avoiding non sequiturs, don’t come up with ridiculous ways of avoiding damage. Don’t dodge anything and everything that doesn’t have “- and doesn’t miss*” attached (which should be used sparingly, by the way), and then block the unavoidable ones with “I see you’ve met my clone” or “That’s a cardboard cutout”. It’s just annoying.
One more thing in this section: OOC and IC are different. This:
“Me: (OOC: Tim, you’re pulling a non sequitur.)
Tim: (OOC: La la la, *puts Alex-proof earplugs in*)”
should never happen. Do not use in-RP methods of avoiding people in OOC. OOC exists so people can learn the truth and make comments; it is not simply another dimension of roleplay. Also, OOC cannot be heard by the characters. Characters should not be able to enter OOC for anything other than comical purposes, and even then it should not go into their actual memory. There’s a reason it’s called Out-Of-Character. Finally, do not apply things learned in OOC to the RP. If someone reveals OOC that Bob is actually working for the baddie, your characters can not just suddenly go “Bob, you’re working for the baddie aren’t you? I’m going to call the Chia police!”.
5. Be creative
As stated in #1, never just take something without changing it. This applies to characters and environments. Make things yours.
Don’t make everything the same. If you have ten monsters, don’t make them all the kind you have to kill by plunging a sword through their hearts. Perhaps one needs to be attacked with fire. Or maybe it needs a light shone into its eyes first, or it can only be defeated by casting a special spell.
Be prepared to have your character think outside the box. Don’t just have them try the usual method then give up if it doesn’t work. Have them try something else.
Make puzzles new and challenging, though you can use riddles that aren’t yours if you need to. Try a variety of locations, themes, or times.
Drop subtle hints in your flavor text and descriptions. Throw in a few red herrings. Be creative in your attempt to get other people to be creative. Creativity: it's what roleplay is all about.
Good luck, and good roleplaying!