Guide: Roleplaying

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Introduction

The expectations of 'good RP' vary between groups of players, and it is the duty of a group to make their expectations clear, and the duty of a new player to learn those expectations. Since every group does not play in the same fashion, it may seem pointless to write a guide, but this guide will attempt to explain the terms used to describe features of RP style, and to give some general good sense rules that apply more frequently than not. If you are in doubt about a group's expectations, following the guidelines here will at least make you look polite, while you're still learning.


What is Roleplay?

Roleplay is like acting in a play, but without a pre-written script. You have a character, and so do all the other players, and while you are playing in a scene, everyone involved acts out what their character is doing. The most important thing to remember about roleplaying is that In Character does not equal Out of Character, which means that it's just a game, and some other character's objection to something your character did or said shouldn't be taken as some personal offence against you. You are not your character, any more than Jack Nicholson is the Joker or Orlando Bloom is Legolas. When these actors leave the set, they stop acting as their characters, and go back to their regular lives. So should you.

Since you are not the same as your character, it can also be important to separate what you, the player, know about another character or situation from what your character knows. When you enter a room, in F-Chat, you can see the names of everyone there. But, unless your character has been introduced to these other characters, your character probably doesn't know their names. The same goes for other information in a scene that might not be immediately obvious. Does your character know the guy in the corner is a werewolf, or do you just know because you read his profile? Does your character know what's behind that locked door, or do you just know because you were looking at the map? Sometimes this gets a little confusing, so don't be offended if someone points out that you've done it. Just re-write the post, and it's fixed!

Another point that sometimes gets overlooked is that in-character actions will most likely have in-character consequences. This means that if your character breaks some in-character rule of the setting -- for instance, you're playing in a setting where the sheriff has said no dogs are allowed in town, and your character brings his puppy with him -- then you should expect that the in-character authorities of the setting are going to take action against your character. In our example, this might mean your character and his puppy getting run out of town. This can also apply on a smaller scale, to interpersonal interactions. If your character, Alan, is mean to another character, Beth, then Beth may go out of her way to avoid Alan, in the future, or if Beth is the type, maybe she'll even try to hit Alan.


Etiquette

The following are some points that are generally considered good form. If you are uncertain how things are done in a particular group, these behaviours are unlikely to be taken poorly.

  • Mark your OOC comments, to separate them from IC comments, if you must make them in an IC room. (Parentheses), [Brackets], or even just putting 'OOC:' at the start of a line are good ways to make this distinction. OOC is often best taken to the OOC room, if there is one, or to PM, if it only involves one other player.
  • Do not assume that actions involving someone else's character succeed. It's wise to break up important actions that other players may not be expecting, in order to give their characters time to react. Do not, unless granted permission by the other player, act or speak for someone else's character.
    • Bad: /me pours kerosene on Teal Deer and sets him on fire, laughing as he rolls around on the ground, screaming.
    • Good: /me sloshes kerosene over Teal Deer, from behind, and takes out a box of matches.
  • If entering an IC space that is a business, have your character request the things they want, instead of serving themselves. Your character may be told to serve themselves, but it isn't polite to assume that they should.


Perspective

The first thing to become aware of is the perspective being used in the posts going on around you. Do characters refer to themselves as 'I' or 'he'/'she' in their actions?

First Person

The first person perspective makes 'I' the subject of the sentence. 'I purchased a tulip.' is an example of a sentence in the first person. This perspective is not compatible with F-Chat's /me command, and using the two together results in things like '[Character] takes my pint', which looks like you, the player, are accusing your character of stealing your drink. It's not somewhere you want to end up.

Second Person

The second person perspective makes 'you' the subject of the sentence. 'You smell the scent of tulips on the air.' is an example of a sentence in the second person. There are very few times when this perspective is appropriate, and it is usually when a scene is being described. 'You can hear dogs barking in the distance' is an appropriate addition to a room description or a scene-setting forum post, but 'You slip and fall on the broken glass' is taking control of someone else's character, which is a big no-no, unless you are the GM in a dice system.

Third Person

The third person perspective makes 'he', 'she', or 'they' the subject of the sentence. 'He tossed the tulip off the bridge, watching it drift down the river below.' is an example of a sentence in the third person. This is the most common perspective in F-Chat, and it's the one supported by the /me command! you can type '/me looks terribly smug, behind his cup of tea.' and it will show up as '[Character] looks terribly smug, behind his cup of tea.' It's pretty easy.

Tense

Are you? *coughs* No, no. Tense is a matter of the time in which you're referring to things occurring. Are the people around you saying they 'did' things, or are they 'doing' things?

A warning: Some people have some very deeply-held convictions about which tense is the 'correct' one to use in writing.

Past Tense

Past tense is used when actions are already completed.

  • Bob picked up his drink and sat down.

This is used often in formal writing and is preferred by many authors, but by no means mandatory. There are some complications with using this in role-play, however. Consider the following post.

  • Bob tightened his fist and punched Steve.

If this is your story and both Bob and Steve are your characters, that sentence is perfectly fine. However, if Steve is not your character, is lucid, and is in a state to react, many players will say you have assumed an action on another character.

  • Bob tightened his fist and flung it towards Steve.

If you write it like this, the punch is assumed to have started, but not completed, and Steve('s owner) has a proper window to react.

Present Tense

Present tense is used when actions are in the process of being completed.

  • Bob picks up his drink and sits down.

Present tense is also used in formal writing, although arguably less so. Like the past tense, when role-playing, there are some reservations.

  • Bob tightens his fist and punches Steve.

This is considered less egregious than the past tense version, but there is still room for improvement.

  • Bob tightens his fist and throws it towards Steve.

The difference between these two sentences can be slight or significant, depending on how it is interpreted. The latter is unambiguous, however, in interpretation (and more importantly, assumes no action of any kind completes).

Future Tense

Most of the future tenses are used in speech. They are used when actions are yet to be completed.

  • "What is Bob going to do to with Steve, and why does he have a broken beer bottle?"
  • "Bob will have drunk six beers by the morning."

This kind of construct is not often used for describing actions outside of dialog, as it is not natural to do so.

About 'Would'

The word 'Would' is a very flexible word which can have a variety of uses. It is used in conditional statements, but it also the past form of 'will'. This can lead to it being used incorrectly and result in ambiguous sentences.

Correct Uses

Here it is being used to form conditional sentences. The outcome of the thing described depends on a given condition.

  • "Steve would be in the hospital if Bob had hit him with that bottle."
  • "I would drink with Bob, but I have to get up in the morning."
  • Bob would swing his fist at Steve, but he knew Steve had a knife.
  • The Bartender would have reconsidered giving Bob a beer bottle if he knew it would end up in Steve's face.

Likewise, you can use the present tense to form conditional statements.

  • "Steve will be in the hospital if Bob hits him with that bottle."
  • "I will not drink with Bob if it means I can't get up in the morning."
  • Bob looks for Steve's knife; Provided it is absent, Bob will bash Steve's face in with a beer bottle.
  • The Bartender will not hand out glass bottles if he suspects a fight will occur as a consequence.

Would has other uses, mostly in speech.

  • "Would you please stop hitting Steve, Bob?"
  • "I didn't know you would do that to him!"
Incorrect Uses

Because of Would's status as the past version of 'will', you can make a grammatically-correct sentence like so:

  • Bob would swing his fist at Steve.

But, this is ambiguous. When is Bob swinging his fist? Why has he not already done it? This construct is identical to a conditional statement, but in missing that conditional, it feels incomplete and will unsettle some people. This form is poor, even if the grammar checks out. Just like when you use 'will' and the future tense, it needs to be qualified properly.

How to Correct the Incorrect!

If you are dead set on using 'would', consider using qualifiers to clear up the ambiguity. Here are some examples of how to use will in the past tense with no ambiguity.

  • Steve made fun of Bob. Bob would retaliate afterwards with a broken beer bottle.
  • After hitting Steve, Bob would realize the gravity of the situation.
  • Seeing the pain Steve was in, Bob would regret hitting him with a broken beer bottle.
  • Because of the Police sirens, Bob would feel anxiety.

The problem here is 'would' is completely unnecessary there!

  • Steve made fun of Bob, and so he suddenly found himself with a beer bottle to the face.
  • Bob realized the gravity of the situation when Steve cried out in agony.
  • Bob regretted hitting Steve, seeing as his cries had silenced the entire bar.
  • The wail of Police sirens made Bob anxious.

In the end, most of the time you do not need to use 'would' and it may be confusing to do so. Moreover, you have more grammatical and poetic freedom if you completely avoid using it when you can.

Speaking

When speaking to other characters, surround the words you're saying with quotation marks. If the spoken text is followed by an attribution -- 'he says', 'she laughs', 'it drones' -- end your spoken text with a comma (unless it's a question), and keep the attribution lowercase. If an action that does not generate those words follows, end with the usual punctuation, and follow with a capital letter and a new sentence.

  • Good: "Hello, Marty," he says.
  • Good: "I'd like a pint of the nutbrown ale." He nods and sits down on a barstool.
  • Not so good: hello marty he says and sits down.

Speech can also come after an action. If the action causes the speech -- 'He says', 'She shouts', 'It burbles' -- then there should be a comma and then the speech should start with a capital letter, inside the quotation marks. If the action is not directly related to speaking, then there should be a period, before the speech starts.

  • Good: Finally, he answered, "Yes, let's do it."
  • Good: She put down her beer. "Let's get this party started!"
  • Not so good: she put down her beer and said lets start the party.

Acting

This is where that totally awesome /me command comes in. When performing an IC action, before or instead of speaking, use the /me command. The verb following /me should be lowercase, because it will end up in the middle of a sentence.

  • Good: [Bob types] /me grins and lifts Bruce's kilt.
[people see] *Bob grins and lifts Bruce's kilt.

If you wish to open with an action involving a possession or part of your character, /me 's can be used. Note the space. Leaving out the space used to cause an unknown command error. Does it still?

  • Good: [Teal Deer types] /me 's eyes gleam, and he smirks.
[people see] *Teal Deer 's eyes gleam, and he smirks.

Spelling and Grammar

It's important that other players can decipher what your character is doing. Since this site focuses on written RP, spelling and grammar really do play a part in that. Take, for instance, the sentence 'I helped my uncle jack off a horse.' Add some commas and a capital letter, and it becomes, 'I helped my uncle, Jack, off a horse.' It's a whole other thing.

Most modern web browsers have spellcheck functions that you can enable. Keeping this turned on will help you catch the obvious typos, but only paying attention will help you avoid using the wrong word. One does not, after all, go to hell in a henbasket. Also, keep an eye on your spellchecker's suggestions! 'Rum and cock' is not 'rum and coke', no matter how much you might like it to be!

If you find that you would like more assistance improving your writing skills, whether in RP or just in general, please take a look at Purdue University's Online Writing Lab, specifically, the sections on Grammar, Mechanics, and Punctuation. While these helpful documents are primarily intended for writers of American English, most (but not all) of the points made are equally applicable in other regional forms of the language. (And if anyone can point me in the direction of a UK English guide after the fashion of Purdue's, I will love you forever. Especially if it supports use of the Oxford comma.) Paul Brians' excellent guide to Common Errors in English Usage may be of service in helping you determine if that's actually the word you meant. Alan Cooper's epic Homonym List is useful for the same.

Enabling Spellcheck in Your Browser

Firefox

  1. Go to the Firefox Dictionary List.
  2. Click the one you want to install, and follow the prompts to install it. You can install more than one dictionary, if you use more than one language regularly, but the spellcheck can only use one at a time.
  3. When Firefox asks to restart the browser, do so.
  4. Right click the nearest text input and ensure that 'Check Spelling' has a tick mark beside it. Click on it, if it doesn't.


Chrome for Windows (I'm assuming the Mac version is similar, but perhaps with different labels? Can someone get me some Mac instructions?)

  1. Click the wrench icon on the browser toolbar.
  2. Select Settings.
  3. Click Show advanced settings.
  4. In the "Languages" section, click Languages and spell-checker settings.
  5. In the Languages and Input dialog that appears, use the "Enable spell checking" checkbox to turn the spell-checker on or off.


Safari for Mac

  1. Click in a text field.
  2. On the menu bar, select Edit / Spelling and Grammar / Check Spelling While Typing.


Safari for Windows

  1. Right click a text field.
  2. From the context menu, select Spelling and Grammar / Check Spelling While Typing.


Internet Explorer 7/8/9

  • These do not have native spellchecking capability. WTF, Microsoft? There are third-party solutions, if you do a search for 'spellcheck internet explorer'.