While it is possible to jump straight into Para-RP with no prior RP experience (or no prior experience in Shards), bear in mind that you are going to have to invest a lot more up front effort in reading and understanding the rules and background of the setting than you will in "normal" roleplay rooms. In Para-RP, you must show you add richness to the setting and the storylines that arise from the play through the quality of your writing. Para-RPers are not impressed by flashy displays of "power" or large numbers of character abilities. The "currency" of Para-RP is the play itself: your contributions to the evolution of story and setting, the depth of your character, how convincingly you dialogue and so forth. "Meta" skills such as the ability to work with others and play for everyone's enjoyment, as opposed to just your own, and especially the ability to keep things in perspective even as you get intensely involved in a RP are also paramount to Para-RPers. In short, to "buy" your way into a Para-RP hub you must do more than create a stunning character; you must play well, make good contributions that advance everyone's enjoyment and in short show you are a valuable addition to the hub before you are likely to be fully accepted.
This last point is important. A lot of people come to Shards and jump straight into para-rp without realizing how much effort this requirex. They then are quickly offput when they receive an indifferent or hostile reaction from the regulars in the hub because they failed to do basic tasks like reading the rules completely or watching the play for a while before getting involved. Unless you are willing to make substantial investments in time and energy, and are willing to do a lot of up front work before you get to play (let alone be accepted as a part of the hub), you are well advised to stay away from para-hubs until you have more experience RPing in Shards. Normal RP settings tend to be more tolerant of newbie mistakes and in general less concerned with "correct" play, so you may find this to be an easier introduction to Shards. The decision where to play is yours; just be aware that jumping into para-rp carries an expectation of commitment to play above and beyond what you have probably experienced.
How do I get in on the play?
Shards is not like other roleplay sites. This cannot be stated enough. To get in on the play you really need to first decide where you want to play. Click on the Who's Here link and check out the descriptions and rules for various areas people are playing in. If in doubt, you can always consult a Pathfinder (if available) or even one of the many Shards regulars for advice on good places to play. Once you find a setting that looks promising, you should jump into the room and watch the play for a little while before joining in. If the setting is Para-RP, you must must MUST read the rules thoroughly before playing. Once you get a feel for the room and have read the rules (you read them, right?) you should be able to decide if you can bring in an existing character, or (this is frequently the case in Para-RP areas) you need to create a new character.
From there it should be a fairly simple matter of playing and interacting with other people to get involved. It's a good idea to click the info link and find out the room moderators, particularly for para-rp settings. You may want to introduce yourself to them as well, particularly if you are having difficulty finding a play partner as the moderators will frequently know the play opportunities for a hub best. If you follow the simple advice here you should have no problems.
Patience is a virtue here. It can be particularly frustrating at times when people are involved in their RPs and don't seem to notice you. Remember that Shards is first and foremost a roleplay community! Most people here are rather friendly, but we all have our "cliques" or regulars we usually play with. We're here to roleplay and chat with our friends, not to bow down to every hot-to-play newbie who walks in off the net! People wont intentionally ignore you (well, unless you do something really obviously lame like bringing in a banned character type to a para-rp setting), but they also wont drop everything they're doing to acknowledge your oh-so-witty 3 paragraph entrance. In short, if you aren't noticed it could be because you just happened to come in at a bad time, or people were busy, or the phase of the moon was wrong. Keep trying! If one approach doesn't work try another! And remember that room moderators and Pathfinders are here to help, so there's no need to give up hope.
Once more, you can always consult a Pathfinder if you need specific advice. You can also check out the RP Etiquette Guide for more in depth advice on the specific dos and donts of roleplaying in Shards. If you don't find something you like or there doesn't seem to be much going on, don't worry and don't lose hope. Shards is large, but a lot of our citizens have irregular hours. You can come back a few hours or days later and find a completely different mix of players. Pathfinders are generally always willing to help improve your roleplay experience, so don't be affraid to fire off a PM!
We hope this guide has provided some useful information for getting started on your roleplay career in Shards. As always, if you have any questions feel free to ask!
Starfyre and the Pathfinders