Halicron's Rules For Good RP (which be more like guidelines)



  • Lots of people complain about not finding good RP, but don't tell you what they're looking for. So, I'm going to try to give some helpful advice. Take what you need and leave the rest, as they say.

    I have a theory, though, about why people fall into certain kinds of RP and can't seem to grow beyond that point. The two kinds of primary RP are A: bar RP and B: combat. Both kinds of RP naturally give your character something to do. Or something to which they can react. When you are drinking, you always have something to do in your next pose-- take a sip, order another drink, flirt with the waitress, whatever. Fighting is easy because it's all 'hooks', things you can easily respond to (I punch you, you punch me, round it goes). So, the secret to improving your roleplaying is to figure out what it is about those two kinds of RP that make it so easy and translate it into other things.

    When I first started RPing back in the Ice Age, I sucked. People were nice enough to give me massive amounts of help along the way. This post is a "pass it on" sort of philosophy, not an "I know better than you" thing, so, if it feels that way, please accept my apology ahead of time.

    1. Make Other Writers Shine. Remember the first rule of writing: ‘What does this character want, and what’s stopping them from getting it?’. Ask that question of other player's characters. MUSHing is free-form collaborative fiction. Roleplay is both a game of improv and a game of catch. Neither of these are zero-sum competitions. The goal of catch is to throw the ball where the other person can catch it. The goal of improv is to make the whole team look good. Any decent writer can throw out a 'hook' or element that provokes a response. A great writer anticipates the motivation of other characters, the needs of narrative, and even the preferences of other players.
      Offering to buy someone a drink is a lot less interesting than tripping into someone at the bar. Make other writers the star of the scene. Don't just tell stories where the other characters are merely an audience that offers periodic applause.

    2. Show, Don’t Tell. Dialogue without context is difficult to interpret. Overstate physical expressions and gestures rather than writing ‘He is sad’ or ‘she is angry’. Tense frowns, worried headshakes; a flashing grin or a subtle wink can quickly clarify intent in ways subtle or exaggerated. The words ‘very’, ‘lightly’, and ‘gently’ should be removed from your vocabulary. “She’s very tired and gently sits down” is much weaker than “Shoulders sagging from exhaustion, she eases herself into the sofa with a groan of relief.” While the other players have limited omniscience, the other characters do not. The game is played via the characters interacting with each other. Internal monologues, 'thought bubbles', are weak writing because characters aren’t privy to them. Think about how people talk with their hands, or their eyes. Body language is implicit; use that in place of explicit meta-narration. Show, don’t tell.

    3. Don't Ask for RP. Asking for RP is asking other people to entertain you. Offer to create RP. You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for your activity or lack thereof. Take the initiative, approaching people in a direct manner with specific ideas in hand.
      Never just ask "Do you want to RP?" Lead with an explicit pitch. "I have an idea for a scene. Would you be interested in catching bank robbers/helping my character/discussing politics?" Personal character plots are a great tool for breaking the ice. Nothing motivates participation like asking someone for help, both in and out of character.
      This applies equally true to in-character actions. Often people who complain about a lack of attention in a scene are being wallflowers who are being about as interesting as the scenery. They are either not contributing to the conversation or are only interested in talking about themselves. Acting like an NPC will get your character treated as such. You have to write your character in a way that compels other characters to approach them. People aren't going to go out of their way to approach your character just because of a lot of expository narration in your poses.

    4. Use quirks and props. Your character is a person moving through the world. Don’t write them like a disembodied voice in an empty void. Describe a conversation while walking down a sidewalk in winter. Add pushy pedestrians, honking car horns; a cold wind that cuts to the bone. Describe clothing and how they wear their hair. There’s even nuance to lighting cigarettes. Is there a favorite item of jewelry that they play with? Are they merely ‘in’ the room or do they flop into a favorite, comfy chair? Quirks make characters more human and more relatable. A character might have a fear of spiders or be tone-deaf. Grizzled old vets always sit with their back to the wall and ESL characters slip into their native tongue when under stress. Characters should be described as in motion, not merely as statuary.

    5. Don’t Be Batman: Even if you’re playing Batman. This is more of a comment about the ‘Mary Sues’ and ‘Marty Stu’ type original characters but it applies to media characters as well. Players with this reputation swiftly find that they’re just not welcome anymore, because in every scene, they win. This goes beyond the ‘Squirrel Girl’ running gag. They always have the last word. They never make a mistake. They are smart, handsome, urbane, charming, and generally unbeatable. If you bring up a problem, their next pose will draw a straight line from A-B to solve it in one easy step. Even their flaws are played off as strengths. If they do go down, it’s always at the height of maximum tension and with the most possible drama.
      It is okay to play second fiddle in a scene; it’s okay for even super-human characters to have realistic flaws and weaknesses. It's okay to not know the answer, or to make a mistake. Playing characters who never have to run afoul of their own weaknesses is a dreadfully boring (and largely masturbatory) exercise.
      The best stories start with the protagonists losing in the first half, only to rally and come back even stronger in the second. Heroes are not defined by their strengths; they're defined by how they overcome adversity and even failure.

    6. Get a sense of timing. It's not necessary to respond to everyone and every thing in everyone else's poses. You end up with nightmare scenes where everyone is conducting three or four parallel conversations while walking full circles around crowded rooms. No one talks like that in real life. Think about how long it takes to voice a thought aloud, or responding to someone’s hyperactive stream-of-consciousness. Pick a single topic to address and ignore the others. Change the topic or reply with a mute shrug. Throw a pencil at someone in lieu of a response. Whatever it takes to break it up. If nothing else, stop to take a breath once in a while. Matching effort in poses is important-- don't be the person who drops a two-line response to the pose the other player worked very hard at.
      That said, there are no extra points for word count. It's better to drop a short and meaningful pose than to make people wade through 50 lines of purple prose about a bag on the wind. It’s helpful to plan your pose out, pre-writing a bit of what you know you want to do while the scene unfolds. Ask questions, make plans, get clarification. You can cut down on your typing time and respond more organically to the scene in progress. Write your scene like you know someone will read it later.

    7. Agree upon the use of tense and stick to it. A broad consensus is that Roleplay is done in the 'active' tense-- 'He goes, she walks, they leave'. Recollections/memories can be had during RP, but deserve their own paragraph or brackets around them so the reader knows it's a memory and not the active scene. Play to the tense established on your game of choice.

    8. Avoid powerposing. Powerposing is when you take control of other player's character. It can be the sort of faux pas that kills RP on the spot.
      An extreme example is "Bill pulls out a gun and shoots Ted twice in the heart and kills him." Ted should get a chance to dodge, turn them into near-misses; or, have a dramatic Body Armor Reveal (a la Marty McFly). If nothing else, it should fall to Ted to describe how his character dies. If Bill is writing out Ted’s reactions or responses, then that implies to the other authors that they’re not really needed in the scene. Even if your character can violently shove someone else around, it’s inappropriate to write that action without permission.
      There is a corollary here: no-selling someone else's actions is itself a kind of power-posing. If Bill's the greatest marksman in the world and Ted has the reflexes of a potato, then Ted's going to take two rounds to the chest, absent a miracle.
      In some cases, powerposing can be an asset to good writing if done with clear consent. This hobby is about collaboration, and collaboration requires a little faith. Statements like "Steve hugs Janet if she allows it" are very awkward. Doubly so if Steve is talking, hugs Janet mid-conversation, and continues to talk. Janet's player is either forced to accept the hug, or the pose make no sense because she slaps him and he apparently carries on speaking. Either candidly ask for a result from the other player, or structure your actions carefully so that any possible reaction won't disrupt your pose.

    9. Be time-courteous. If you're involved in multiple scenes, let people know. If you need food, let people know. Most folks are very willing to accommodate a bit of laxity, but it's courteous to inform them of that fact. In group scenes in particular it’s polite to drop out of the RP rather than holding things up while you get your affairs in order.

    10. Play in theme. Stay true to the core material. Playing at Star Wars? Drink jaffa juice instead of cola and play Sabaac instead of poker. Superheroes? Use an sPhone from Stark Tech and get your news from the Daily Planet. Dragonlance? Wear the latest fall fashions that match rider to steed in the best foliage patterns. It does not take much theme flavor to have other players consider you desirable for RP and seek you out. Then if we're all lucky, they'll emulate you and you've added to the game's flavor.

    11. He’s holding a thermal detonator! Ever seen someone 'scenebomb' RP? You'll know it when you do. It's when with no real prior discussion, a writer introduces an element to the scene that your character can only react to a certain way-- and forces focus on the new player. A common one you see is 'Bill walks up, then gasps and faints to the ground'. Unless you're playing an amoral savage, if Bill's a friend, your character MUST get up to respond to that entrance. More dramatically, it’s ninjas bursting through a wall, or a sudden heated verbal altercation. Conflict is what makes the story go forward but springing unplanned conflict on people stops player enthusiasm dead in their tracks.

    12. In Context Actions = In Context Consequences. ICA=ICC is a hot topic. Conflict is the root of all narrative. Some people struggle to embrace this idea because of strong emotional attachments to our characters. Some narratives require one character to win, and the other to lose. This becomes a serious problem when people box themselves into a corner, and then make out-of-character (OOC) demands for everyone else to accommodate them. Whipping out a thermal detonator to menace a crime lord comes with consequences. Trying to make OOC demands for exemption from those consequences is grossly unfair to the rest of the player base. Don’t demand other players ‘fix’ things for you by undercutting their own characters.

    13. Players are not their characters. There's no easy way to say this-- drama kills more games than any other issue. Drama happens when people don't communicate. A character might be an arrogant ass, but the player is not. Just because a character is flirty does not mean the player has romantic intentions. It's when these lines become blurred that drama erupts.
      Characters in stories will develop loves, hates, enemies, friends-- conflict should be embraced. Conflict is between characters and not players. Actively seek out and understand your RP partner's perspective and feelings. What spoils narratives is when writers avoid 'plain talk'. "Hey, Max has some emotional issues about his blanket. He's probably going to scream if someone takes it from him." Just prefacing an aggressive or hostile response with this clarification can very quickly reassure other players that the character is reacting inappropriately, rather than the writer expressing their real-life feelings through their character.
      Writers of villains in particular need to be doubly, triply sure to communicate frankly and reassure others that their villainous actions in the game are part of a story, and not just dickishly hurting characters for the hell of it. If you can't have a frank OOC talk with a player about planning relationships or villainous plots, then you should look elsewhere for that sort of RP.

    14. Avoid Meta Posing. There is a fine line between omniscient narration and meta posing. Narration is a useful tool for conveying information to the readers. Good narration sets the stage for a scene. It creates an environment, puts characters into a physical space, and sets the tone. It can even be used to get a chuckle or two.
      Badly done metaposing is problematic. Remember, every pose needs to create a hook for the other players to drive the scene forward. Metaposing often only provides information to the other writers.
      A sure source of drama on games is when people weaponize the narrator's voice. It often turns into passive-aggressive spite-fests where the writer is using the metapose to express their discontent with a situation. "Jane stops trying to get Jill's attention. Jill's been blowing her off for a week anyway and she clearly is more interested in talking to Jack. Jane will find other people to talk to." The narrator's voices contains nothing useful to the characters. It's a form of powerposing that is dictating the intent or choices of another character. Narration is tricky, and best used with a soft touch.

    15. Proofread your work. Spelling and grammar are very important. Read your poses aloud as you write them- if they sound awkward, they are awkward. Spelling and punctuation are simply essential. Don't abuse commas to stitch a bunch of fragments into a FrankenSentence: "He looks around, his face confused, turning around he waves at Bob, the man nods agreement, then he walks away."
      Remember that capitalization is the difference between helping your uncle Jack off a horse, and your uncle jack off a horse. Or dedicating a book to your parents, Ayn Rand and God. Don't abuse ellipses outside of speech, either: "She nods solemnly...frowning she looks... from one to the next...apparently... the discussion is making her sad..." (a rule of thumb with ellipses is one per paragraph, tops); and, finally, spelling. Everyone has spellcheck these days courtesy of google-- if you know you're a bad speller, run it through Word and right click on anything red.

    16. Hanlon’s Maxim: Never Ascribe to Malice That Which Can Be Explained By Carelessness. There is an unbelievable amount of wholly un-necessary drama that exists in our small community, and it’s largely due to simple misunderstandings that could have been cleared up with a little direct conversation. It never hurts to take the direct approach and ask someone what their intent is, or was—particularly if feelings are being scuffed. It’s a rare instance where it turns out to be something was actually intended to be hurtful.


  • Tutorialist

    I feel like this should get some peer review that I don't have time to give it right this second, and then made sticky. And flashing. And possibly mandatory to read. Potentially with a quiz at the end.



  • @Derp thanks man. :D I'm still tweaking it with some notes and stuff 'cause I can actually proof it better, here, and go 'Oh yeah, that's a thing I wanted to mention'.



  • I like it. Don't agree 100% with every little thing but as you said up front: 'take what you need and leave the rest'. Overall I think it's a good set of guidelines.

    But this: "A good RPer can turn a nod into a six-line pose."

    Really? That I'd like to see :)

    But it ties into my pet peeve, which I'm guilty of myself: enough with the smiling and nodding. Seriously, if I had a nickel for every time a MUSH character just nodded or smiled as their only action in a pose, I'd be rich.



  • @faraday said:

    But this: "A good RPer can turn a nod into a six-line pose."

    Really? That I'd like to see :)

    The question was a difficult one to answer, and it clearly vexes Bill in a way that's troubling the stout fellow. He pauses, pursing his lips, but checks himself before uttering a word. Dusky grey eyes the color of graveyard granite flicker across the street, to a gaggle of children and tolerant mothers watching like mother hens. Remembering the cigarette in his fingers he brings it to his lips and inhales, ash crackling in the silent wake of inquisition. He holds for a count and then like a smouldering dragon exudes twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils. The late winter's winds pick the ash up and carry it off and away, into the crisp sky overhead. He turns back to Denise, finally, and a tight smile crosses his face. His head dips a fractional amount-- the thinnest of concessions-- and then the smile disappears, and his cool gaze returns to unreadable speculation of passing pedestrians.



  • @Halicron Hee. Okay, if everyone nodded and smiled like that I'd have to rescind my pet peeve :)



  • You don't need six lines to nod and smile as a decent pose. But if a nod and a smile is your only pose, are you giving your rp partner enough to work with? Clearly it depends on the nod and smile!



  • @Halicron said:

    @faraday said:

    But this: "A good RPer can turn a nod into a six-line pose."

    Really? That I'd like to see :)

    The question was a difficult one to answer, and it clearly vexes Bill in a way that's troubling the stout fellow. He pauses, pursing his lips, but checks himself before uttering a word. Dusky grey eyes the color of graveyard granite flicker across the street, to a gaggle of children and tolerant mothers watching like mother hens. Remembering the cigarette in his fingers he brings it to his lips and inhales, ash crackling in the silent wake of inquisition. He holds for a count and then like a smouldering dragon exudes twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils. The late winter's winds pick the ash up and carry it off and away, into the crisp sky overhead. He turns back to Denise, finally, and a tight smile crosses his face. His head dips a fractional amount-- the thinnest of concessions-- and then the smile disappears, and his cool gaze returns to unreadable speculation of passing pedestrians.

    There's such a thing as to much purple prose. Length of pose !=quality of pose.


  • Pitcrew

    @Halicron said:

    @faraday said:

    But this: "A good RPer can turn a nod into a six-line pose."

    Really? That I'd like to see :)

    The question was a difficult one to answer, and it clearly vexes Bill in a way that's troubling the stout fellow. He pauses, pursing his lips, but checks himself before uttering a word. Dusky grey eyes the color of graveyard granite flicker across the street, to a gaggle of children and tolerant mothers watching like mother hens. Remembering the cigarette in his fingers he brings it to his lips and inhales, ash crackling in the silent wake of inquisition. He holds for a count and then like a smouldering dragon exudes twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils. The late winter's winds pick the ash up and carry it off and away, into the crisp sky overhead. He turns back to Denise, finally, and a tight smile crosses his face. His head dips a fractional amount-- the thinnest of concessions-- and then the smile disappears, and his cool gaze returns to unreadable speculation of passing pedestrians.

    This pose would make me stab someone. It's a ton of words to say nothing, there's pretty much no content, and there is very little given for me to actually respond to. If more than a handful of these sorts of poses happened in a scene, I would not enjoy playing with the person.



  • Hey, like I said-- to each their own. Take what you like, leave what doesn't work. :) Sometimes styles don't mesh, and that's okay, too.

    Considering I just flrrpd that out in about a minute and a half with no context, I feel pretty good about it!



  • Nothing wrong with being succinct for emphasis.


  • Pitcrew

    Maybe "A good RPer can turn either a long or a short pose into something that the others in the scene can interact with, it's the involvement with the other PCs and paying attention to what's going on as well as the others in the scene that can make or break it." Or somesuch.

    Because yes, there are people who can spew 3 paragraphs about the wind rippling their hair and their eyes gazing into the distance and all that stuff (seen it) while totally ignoring most everyone else in the scene. They kind of suck. However, you can also have people who are needing to info dump and must spam because there's no way around it or they're a bit on the flowery side but do very obviously care about/pay attention in the scene even beyond themselves. They're kinda awesome.

    I suspect that people may be wincing at something listed in the "Rules of good RPing" that seems to indicate the longer the better. I do think that a two word pose being your only contribution ever indicates poor RPing, but the converse is really not very true.



  • @mietze Exactly. A good RP'er engages the scene and interacts enough to keep the scene flowing. It doesn't have to be a six line pose to do that. Sometimes a nod is just a nod, but you can always do /more/ than nod to keep the scene flowing. You don't have to fill it with 6 lines of telepathic prose that people can't even know because it's inside their characters head, or whatever.


  • Pitcrew

    I'm a flowery poser, myself. But if I'm constantly shoving it down people's throats when they don't like it because it's my "style"--honestly, I think that means I'm a horrible RPer, no matter how awesome of a writer I am. There's a very distinct difference. I've learned to adjust myself to the enjoyment/time expectations of my companions as I can, and to attempt to not be super selfish. There's a happy medium to be found. Terse posers who like to contribute to everyone in the group enjoying themselves should do the same.

    And hopefully everyone can agree that psychic poses are very dicey, and pretty much almost always a hallmark of a shitty RPer (note, I did not say writer) when they're used to provide negative/snide commentary that the other PC can't possibly react to except to do it back. That's not present in the example given though.



  • You know what's worse than nodding and smiling? 'X ohs and nods.' 'X ohs and smiles softly.'

    Fuck. That's not even a verb! (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

    And just once I want to smile loudly.


  • Pitcrew

    Next time react in your pose as if they'd had a visible orgasm in front of you. :)



  • @mietze OK, I loled.



  • Holy shit, those are a lot of guidelines. Can we summarize down to:

    • Play in context of the game, theme, character, and scene, in that order.
    • Play for those around you.

    Thanks.

    (edit: Added 'and character ... in that order' to playing in context. Being true to the character and telling their story is a lot of why people log in at all and should never be pushed to the side, by you or anyone else. The same is true, though, for the rest of it.)



  • And, every once in a while, remember to ask yourself: "How would William Shatner act this out?"

    Then do the thing that is its diametrical opposite.


  • Admin

    @Thenomain said:

    Holy shit, those are a lot of guidelines. Can we summarize down to:

    • Play in context of the game, theme, character, and scene, in that order.
    • Play for those around you.

    While it is a lot of guidelines, I think the OP's intention was to demonstrate 'how' and 'why' rather than just 'what'.

    If you don't know how to 'play for those around you' then the general principle isn't sufficient. How do you put that into practice, what does it mean? What do you actually do?


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