Priciples of Roleplay

Okay, that's the mind numbing dictionary stuff out of the way. be bored! Before I outline some of the specific dos and don'ts of good RP, I'd like to dedicate some verbiage to more general principles that should be the underpinnings of your RP career. The rest of the guide will follow from these principles, so if you understand and adopt them as part of your RP philosophy, you will find the rest is easy. What I present here will be four principles or doctrines that I think are fundamental to any good roleplay, no matter what your other style preferences (e.g. freeform vs dice based) are.

#1 The Doctrine of IC-OOC separation.
Some couplings were just never meant to happen. Mustard and vanilla ice cream. The words military and intelligence. Anything and Janet Reno. The same is true for the IC and OOC realms. Essentially, what goes on IC should remain IC; conversely, what happens OOC should remain OOC. This doctrine has broad reaching implications. For one, you should not take personal affront to things directed at your character. Remember, this is roleplay - acting - it's all in good fun. Someone may play a real jerk, but be the sweetest guy you'll ever know outside of RP. The flip side of this is not to allow things that happen outside of RP influence the RP itself. For instance, you may have an OOC discussion with other players revealing all the deep dark secret schemes to take over the PB&J market, but that doesn't mean your character has that knowledge! Hardcore roleplayers especially will expect strict adherence to this doctrine, and will get very angry if you blur the boundaries. And you wont like them when they're angry. Also, while being pseudo-IC is fine in The Void, it is never a good idea to drag this kind of murky partially in character/partially out play into a proper roleplay unless you enjoy a good ass whuppin'.

#2 The doctrine of internal consistency.
Either you're with us, or you're against us. Whoops, wrong kind of consistency. Being internally consistent is another key concept underpinning good play. Another way to put this is you should play realistically. However, I try to avoid the term realism because we're specifically dealing with (to use the cliche) realms of the imagination. Plausibility is the name of the game and is held in particularly high regard with those wacky hardcore RPers. There are a couple of components to plausible roleplay. The first component is the "physical" component. In essence, your characters actions should always be consistent with the physical "laws" or rules of the setting they're in. This generally means it isn't possible for your character to sit in the middle of a thermonuclear explosion and laugh, but the details will vary from setting to setting and character to character. The general idea is your actions should remain true to what is possible in the setting and what the c is physical capable of doing. This also means there should be no exceptions just because you're character is in a tight spot. The other aspect of plausible RP is the "psychological" aspect. In essence, this means your characters behavior should remain consistent with the personality and psychological makeup of that character. For example, a character that has never seen combat and faints at the sight of blood is unlikely to stare a mugger down in a sudden show of bravado. This guideline is a bit murkier, because your character may possess secrets or be putting on an act unbeknownst to others. However, this should all be well established and explainable. As with physical consistency, your character should not have miraculous personality changes just because it's convenient; keep them true to who they are and evolve them in a believable fashion (cowards can become heros, for instance, but it generally doesn't happen overnight or without internal conflict).

#3 The doctrine of fair play.
All's fair in love and war. Some people would extend that to roleplay. These people are commonly known as assholes. Playing fairly is extremely important to ensure smooth progression of the roleplay, or you will end up in a stalemate of non-stop bickering. "Fair play," however, does tend to be a rather nebulous term. What is "fair" to one person is often "cheating" to another. This is especially true when it comes to freeform roleplay, and even more so when it comes to competitive situations in freeform roleplay. The application of a little common sense can go a long way toward answering what it means to play fairly. You can simply determine whether or not any particular behavior is fair with a relatively straightforward test: would you feel cheated if other people played a certain way with you? If the answer is yes, then chances are good that course of action is unfair, and hence should not be pursued. Extending this, fair play means consistent play. The first standard of consistency is the one that directly follows from the test I gave: apply the same standards of conduct to yourself that you would apply to others. A second, slightly less obvious consequence of this principle is you should also apply the same standards in your play with friends as in your play with total strangers. It is extremely dishonest to suggest something done by a newbie is godmodding, for instance, while at the same time holding your friends can do it because they're "good enough players" or some such. Don't go there. I will provide a few specific dos and don'ts later, but they all arise from the first principle idea of fair play.

#4 The doctrine of cooperation.
Yes, what you learned in kindergarten even applies here in the land of RP. This shouldn't have to be said, but unfortunately we live in the era of me-first instant gratification. Roleplay is an inherently collaborative effort. This means you must cooperate if anything is going to happen. You are depending on the assistance of others to create interesting storylines both for your character, and for the RP community as a whole (if not, why are you even RPing? Write a freakin' book if you don't want to work with others). Believe it or not, true cooperation doesn't just mean everyone has to be accommodating to your wishes. The accommodation must be mutual. Cooperation, in short, means several things. It means cooperating with the rules and established ambience of a setting. It means "going along" if another character bests yours in combat. It means being willing to let your character to be bested to begin with. It means restraining your play to provide interesting opportunities for others to join in (e.g., single handedly solving a murder, while gratifying for your character, wont do much for the play as a whole). In short, cooperate, and not just when it's convenient for you. Freeform RP is all about give and take between multiple players, driving forward an improvised story that everyone is contributing to. That will not happen if you only cooperate when it's advantageous for your goals and otherwise don't allow others to influence your character, your play or the storyline you're involved in..


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Article text ©2004 Chris Wyman. Redistribution is permitted provided this notice is retained. All other rights are reserved.