Guide to good roleplay

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Guide to good roleplay

Post  Free2ryhme on Mon Oct 13, 2008 12:47 pm

The Basics

Before we even begin playing, the first question we should ask ourselves is: what exactly is a Role Playing Game? Although it is really hard to fully answer the question, the following would be a good definition of the word: A long story in which several participants take up the roles of different characters and write the story together.

Looking at it this way, role-playing is just like playing a board game with some friends. The biggest difference is that there is a lot more to a role-playing game than you might think. For examples, some of the most popular RPGs are the ones where people get together to play on table-top with dice rolls, character sheets and skill trees. All of this would be very hard to do on a forum, because each player is online at a different time and keeping track of all the information would also be quite difficult.

So on a forum such as this one, we usually don't have numerous rules and difficult character sheets. Instead, we use a totally different RPG system: freeform RPG. Basically this means all things like dice and sheets are unnecessary. All you need to do is design a character to play with, assuming you won't be playing as yourself. Usually, this is done by writing a story that describes the background of the character and explains his or her reasons for taking part in the adventure. The good thing about this forum is we can easily reinforce our stories with HeroMachine pictures, giving other participants a better idea of what our character looks like.

A Role Playing Game usually features at least one GM, or Game Master. This is the leader of the story. He controls everything that goes on in the world. Still, a GM is very different from a DM, or Dungeon Master. Dungeon Masters will describe the fights that take place, ask the players which spells, attacks or abilities they will use and roll the dice. He also describes the locations, but he does so very vague. It really is up to the players to fill in the details and create the world they roam. Game Masters really write the story themselves, and the players will tackle along. It may seem players are very limited this way, but only the opposite is true.

In freeform RPGs, the characteristics of the players are much more important. You'll never find things like love or hatred in normal action RPGs, but it's elements like those which really bring a freeform RPG to life. The RPG focuses more heavily on the story instead of the action, something which would be unthinkable in a normal role-playing game.

The Rules

The best thing about freeform RPGs is that they hardly have any rules. Rules are limits, and the more rules a game has, the harder and less satisfying it will be to play. Of course there are always some rules you will have to go by, these being the most important:
No overly sexual content
No autohits
Players cannot interfere with the main storyline
Players cannot kill other players’ characters
I will explain autohits in a minute. The first and last rules shouldn't be too difficult to understand. There are some quite youthful members on the board, and it's not a good thing to confront them with such things at their age. Of course this does not include simple yet effective actions like hugging or kissing. The last rule implies that no player beside the GM can kill any other player’s character! This is strictly forbidden, and players tend to dislike you for doing it. The reason is simple: no one but the GM or the player decides if the character stays in the story. The main reason for killing a character is that the player is no longer actively participating in the game, but there are other ways to remove them from the game, like putting them ‘on hold’.

The third rule simply says the GM will always be in control of the story. Players are still encouraged to throw in smaller plot twists, which mainly effect their own character. This to make the RPG more lively and give the characters more depth.

Aside from these rules, the GM can make some more rules himself. Those rules mainly affect the character development and the weaponry. For example, the GM could limit players to elven or human characters. Sometimes you do have to fill out a small character sheet, but mostly it's just used as a short summary so others can quickly see what your character is about.


Players are largely unlimited in character design, but you should keep in mind that you should not go too far when designing him or her. Almighty characters are hardly ever appreciated, and they are a lot less fun to play.

If you really don't know where to start, you can give the following things a thought:
What should he/she look like?
What is his/her nature?
What powers should he/she possess?
Those three basic points should get you started. Just remember that there are no good or bad characters, and different people enjoy different parts of character development. Some people like to mimic celebrities where others like to design flawed characters. Those are a lot harder to play, but can prove to be a lot more satisfying in the end. Regardless of where your inspiration comes from, the character creation process will prove to be much easier if you have a decent concept.

God Characters

This may seem kind of obvious, but I would like to add it here anyway. It is strictly forbidden in almost all RPGs to play God characters. God characters are characters that can do things like blow up entire hordes of undead with only a snap of their fingers, or kill a legion of soldiers with one bolt of lightning. This is not realistic (as far as fantasy is realistic) and will not be appreciated by the GMs.

In fact, since these characters tend to ruin the entire game for the others, their players are often kicked from the RPG. You'll also notice that playing this kind of character isn't fun in the long run. If you're that strong, why even bother accompanying the adventurers on their quest? Why not take over the world instantly? Seriously, there's no fun in it, so don't do it.

Writing the story

The way in which you describe what is happening to your character or what the environment looks like is very important. There's really no way for me to give you advice on this matter, but remembering this little rule will suffice: the more detail, the better. I'll give you a little example here.

Ian was very scared as he walked around the cemetary in the middle of the night, searching for his father's long lost grave.

Obviously, this can be done a lot better. By adding a few details and describing the environment you can really set the mood for the story. This is really important if you want to keep the other players’ interest.

Ian slowly walked around the cemetary, searching for his father's long lost grave. The moon had just disappeared behind a layer of thick black clouds, embracing the burial grounds in darkness. All Ian could see were the countless graves and the high trees standing in between them. He could hear the many leaves rustle as the wind howled violently around him. He quickened his pace, zipping up his coat and hoping he wouldn't have to stay in this grim place a minute longer.

In the second example, I've added a lot more detail. I think you'll notice that reading the second bit was more satisfying that reading the former example. Of course, the same goes for combat situations. Here's another example.

Ian swung his axe at the zombie and sliced the evil creature with one blow.

Even though the players understand what just happened, they don't recieve any details on how the fight commences. This following example would be a lot better.

When Ian noticed someone was approaching from behind, he quickly turned to face him. All colour disappeared from his face as he noticed a zombie standing before him. He quickly drew his axe, jumped at the creature and yelled: "Die, you evil fiend!" With all the power he had in him, Ian swung his axe at the zombie's head, trying to decapitate him and finish the fight quickly.

If you compare the two examples, you'll notice another important difference. In the second example, Ian doesn't destroy the monster. Instead, the writer makes us wonder whether his blow will connect and kill the zombie. The way the fight is described in the first example is called an autohit, which brings us to the next topic.


In most role-playing games, autohits are strictly forbidden. In typical games, the GM controls the NPCs (non-player characters) and thus controls the monsters. Therefore, it's up to him to decide if the monster dies or not. Let's look at the following example.

William ran towards the archer, his spear pointing forward. Before the archer could even react, he struck him and impaled the poor man with his spear.

In this particular example, the player just killed the enemy without him ever being able to react, let alone counter-attack. This is forbidden. We'll get back to a former example to show you how it's usually done:

When Ian noticed someone was approaching from behind, he quickly turned to face him. All colour disappeared from his face as he noticed a zombie standing before him. He quickly drew his axe, jumped at the creature and yelled: "Die, you evil fiend!" With all the power he had in him, Ian swung his axe at the zombie's head, trying to decapitate him and finish the fight quickly.

Now the player that controls the zombie (likely the GM) reacts to this attack. Now he has the choice of letting the attack connect and be killed, or dodging the blow and continue to fight. The following two examples show the possibilities.

The zombie saw the axe being swung in his direction, but was too slow to respond. With a loud splattering sound, his head was seperated from his torso. The corpse fell limp to the ground and the battle was over.

The zombie was able to dodge the blow just in time, and Ian's axe hit nothing but air. Now that Ian was distracted, the zombie seized the opportunity and launched a punch towards Ian's face, trying to knock him out.

Both of the examples shown above are correct, but only the second one keeps the fight going. Now the player has two options: letting Ian get hit by the zombie or also dodge the punch and attack him once more. Some of these fights can take a while, but the GM usually loses the fight after a while. We wouldn't want our hero being killed, now would we?

Of course, the autohit rule also applies to normal character actions. It's strictly forbidden to anyone but the GM to control the actions of another character, even if it's just making him or her bow down for someone. The GM, however, can interfere with someone's character at any moment if he feels the need. Also, the GM is the only one who can kill the players’ characters, but this will not be necessary in most games.

Some advice for GMs

Participating in a role-playing game can be quite challenging at times, but starting and controlling one is the real deal. Thinking of a story, a ruleset and keeping it all going in a proper fashion can be a daunting task. Indeed, the role of Game Master is not an easy one, so here is a few tips and tricks to get you on your way.

First of all, define your rules very clearly and stick to them! Do not keep your players in the dark about your strictness, but be clear about how you are going to enforce the rules that you have set for them. If someone does something that he is not supposed to be doing, warn him. If it happens again, punish him. Never bark without biting, it can ruin your game faster than you can say ‘down the drain’.

Second, keep your game as balanced as you possibly can. It is a role-playing game you are running and thus, character development and plot is very important, but do not forget about some edge-of-seat action in between! On the other hand, don’t forget some good story telling in between the numerous action sequences. The trick is to keep the attention of your players by finding the balance between these two extremes. This balance should come naturally after playing with your group of participants for a while, but if you really cannot figure it out, it is always fine to just downright ask your players what they’re looking for in the game.

Third, make sure that every player gets a personal moment. For example, if you have a computer hacker in your team, have the team face some complicated technology that only this player can tackle. If you have a herbalist in the party, get him some entertaining disease to cure. It’s a group thing, but individual players should be able to shine every once in a while. Don’t leave anyone out.

And finally, do not forget that expressing emotion is not as easy in a written description than it is when playing face-to-face with your participants. Sometimes things you say or describe can be interpreted in different ways by different players, for different reasons. Be forgiving when it comes to this and learn to deal with it. In fact, you can use it to your advantage. Different interpretations can make the story move on in directions you never would have thought of yourself! Make the most of this, do not force players to understand YOUR way and your way alone, or pretty soon you will have no more players to convince.


I've pretty much told you everything I know about participating in role-playing games, but there's just one more tip I would like to give you: use proper grammar! Nothing is more annoying than reading the posts of someone who cannot properly write. Using quotation marks is also highly important, especially during conversations with multiple speakers.

Now that you know how to participate in Freeform RPGs, you'll likely want to join one. Many RP threads are out there, some closed down, others still recruiting.

I hope this thread will help the new members (and maybe some of the older members) getting around the forum and participating in the many RPGs available.

Last edited by Sly Guy on Wed Oct 22, 2008 5:32 pm; edited 3 times in total (Reason for editing : removed some things that applied to UGO, not to heronation.)

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