Regarding the first Guide, it must be stated that it was a mere beginning, a skeleton that waited patiently in its stone casket for this next scrap of informational flesh. Thus far, its solitary vigil has been mercifully uninterrupted, but I have never been content to leave the dead to rest in peace, and so late at night I have continued this hideous labour.
Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wank
☭ GLORIOUS PART THE SECOND!!!! ☭
This is the continuation of my first guide to RPing, and I hope you will be patient enough to slog alongside me through the swamp of customs and unspoken rules. As your unreliable guide, it is my intention to direct you towards firm ground, but it must be noted that I am in this swamp alongside you: I am not perfect, and at times you may find my advice does not apply to you. In such circumstances, I can only suggest that you kindly ignore my words and do as you feel to be right.
To ease this sweltering behemoth into the black waters where it belongs, I have created an index.
☭ Raison d’EtreEdit
The reason for this guide to exist is because I have noticed that some people are, let’s be honest here, a real chore to roleplay with. I will not name names, since these people are more often than not lovely individuals to whom I bear no ill will, it’s simply that when I find myself logging with them, my eyes glaze over, or I have to put my shoulder against my internal sloth and push to actually write out a response. I am sure that you, too, know such individuals and have been in a similar situation.
The question that occurred to me was, of course, why? I have nothing but good wishes for these individuals, and when I have been asked ‘why don’t our plots/tags ever go places?’ I strongly dislike having to reply with an uncomfortable shrug and an admission of the basest ignorance.
In this regard, I have started assembling a list of behaviours that particularly annoy or bother me, and annoy or bother people I enjoy roleplaying with. Many of these things are the hallmark of people who become quote-unquote ‘bad’ roleplayers. In each section I will attempt to explain the behaviour, explain why it’s unpleasant for the person on the receiving end of such behaviour, and suggestions for change.
Are you brave enough, dear reader, to plunge into these icy depths?
☭ Black HolesEdit
Nothing is coming out!
A ‘black-hole’ tag is one in which you get absolutely nothing from the other person. These are incredibly frustrating because it falls on Player A to make an effort to try and think of something to re-stimulate the conversation. Here is an example of Player A getting black-hole tags from the Player B.
- “I just wish that I knew what I’m gonna do with my life,” Joe said, covering his eyes with his hand. He shuddered out a breath and leaned his head forward against the wall, desperately seeking comfort.
- “Yeah.” Theresa said.
- “It would make everything so much better if I just knew where everything was headed,” he muttered under his breath and exhaled. He turned his head to look at Theresa and smiled.
- “Yeah,” Theresa nodded. Her hair was blonde in the sunlight. “It would be.”
- “What should I do?” he asked, voice tense.
- “Uhm,” she replied. She stuffed her hands into her pockets. “What do you think you should do?”
Did your blood pressure rise? Did you notice how Theresa wasn’t actually doing anything? She wasn’t adding anything to the conversation, reacting to what Joe was going through, displaying any emotion of her own, and was contributing nothing to the scene. Joe may as well have been talking to himself. She was, in effect, a black hole of text in this scene.
So how to change this? First, if you don’t want to put in the effort of reacting, go read a book. That’s what they’re there for. They’re a passive form of entertainment that don’t require your input, and you can do it on the toilet. If you actually do want to play in this scene, react. React as an actual person would, and if your character really would just say ‘yeah’ a lot, that’s pretty abnormal for human interaction—they obviously have some reason for being so blank and unemotive. Explore this!
☭ Not Your DonkeyEdit
Get your own damn Sherpa.
Not Your Donkey is an extension of Black Hole tags. If the behaviour of doing black-hole tags is continued throughout a whole scene, it eventually becomes incredibly burdensome on the other person to have to carry the plot and interaction on their aching back. Like a donkey, they will eventually lock their knees and refuse to play.
You can either shoot them, or pick up your fair share of the load! This guide strongly advises against homicide, as internet access is strictly controlled in prison!
☭ Fascinating, But Do SomethingEdit
I had no idea how your character felt about nylon.
Fascinating, But Do Something is an affliction that occasionally spreads across the faces of experienced roleplayers. These are individuals who have a decent grasp on their character and are interested in viewing the world through their eyes, but who sometimes forget that the roleplay isn’t their private document in wordpad. Here is an example:
- “Coming, Kendra?” Alice asked. She picked up the deer skull and plopped it on her head. This was going to be the best Fertility Festival ever, she decided.
- The deer skull was white, noticed Kendra. White as the candles in the temple, white as the feathers of the sacred doves she’d bitten the heads off of while in her berserker’s frenzy. They were white and sparkling like diamonds, like the dew on early morning grasses. Yes, all of these things were white like the deer skull and the skull symbolized all of it. She could see this now.
- “So, uh, coming?” asked Alice again.
- Alice’s voice was like honey to Kendra’s ears, like the finest wine poured from a golden carafe into a bigger pool of wine. The wine was dark red like blood, like the very blood she’d spilled while in her berserker’s frenzy. Her berserker’s frenzy was difficult to come out of—
- “Oh, to hell with this, I’m going alone,” Alice said, and left Kendra where she was, which was apparently comatose and staring at a wall in need of a good shot of anti-psychotics.
As you can see, things went off the rails by the end of the scene. If your character is ruminating to the point where they are physically inactive and unresponsive to the actions of others, you are not roleplaying, you are intellectually masturbating on a public forum. Stop that.
On how to stop doing this: the easiest method is to make sure that your tag has some sort of physical action or phrase that responds to the actions of the other character and moves the scene forward at the same time. After all, the other person is Not Your Donkey.
☭ Playing With a JukeboxEdit
It keeps playing Nickelback and I can’t make it stop.
In stark contrast to Fascinating, But Do Something, are the mysterious pythons that I like to call Jukeboxes. A Jukebox is a player whose characters behave pretty much like one of those ancient, annoying things you find in Denny’s across the continent. You put in your money and it will start playing. How it works, what’s going on in its flinty, silicon heart, all of these things are complete and utter mysteries. It does its thing, and you are not privy to the lurid details of its private life.
- Jonathan stared out the window at the train, tears in his eyes.
- “Is something wrong?” asked Arthur as he sat down beside his friend. Jonathan had been acting strange ever since they left the art gallery and he was worried.
- “I’m fine,” Jonathan said. “I’m just fine.”
- “Are you sure?” Arthur asked. “You look like you’re about to cry...”
- Jonathan stood up, reached into the overhead compartment and brought out a violin. He began to play the theme from Schindler’s List, tears streaming from his rich, brown eyes.
What the Christ?
Why did Jonathan do that? What was he feeling? Is there any sense in this scene? How is Arthur supposed to really react when Jonathan acts in seemingly random, arbitrary ways? While Jonathan is keeping the scene going, this can quickly become irritating for other players, because they can’t guess where the scene is going and adjust their expectations accordingly. They begin to feel like their character is just chasing after Jonathan, who is a jukebox stuck on ‘random’. It gets old very quickly.
How to change? Give motivations. If we’d known that Jonathan saw a picture of a concentration camp in the art gallery which caused him to remember his grandparents who died in them—thus provoking his outburst of pathos via the violin, it could have been an interesting and moving scene. As it is, Jonathan just looks socially awkward. Instead of embracing his dear friend in a life-affirming hug, Arthur probably hunched down in his seat and pulled his hat down so no one would think they were associated.
☭ Bring Me Your Finest Meats and Cheeses!Edit
And a tub of chocolate to bathe in!
While this is more of a criticism of players and not styles of writing, I feel that it belongs here as well! Bring Me Your Finest Meats and Cheeses is a hallmark of another type of player that I nicknamed ‘Emperors’. These players may be fine roleplayers in every regard, except that they demand that other characters entertain their characters. They never instigate plots, they are utterly passive when it comes to exploring or seeking out drama with other characters and they eventually become quite frustrating.
Typically, unless your roleplay takes place in a featureless void or a vast, barren landscape devoid of hope and humanity (Ohio, for example), there is something for them to be doing. Reading in the library, watching movies, cooking, eating, exercising, fighting... the possibilities are endless!
Other players are not a string of entertainers who are dying for the approving wave of an Emperor’s hand, so complaining constantly about the character being ‘bored’ isn’t just bad manners, it’s very grating.
☭ My Toilet is Finally Clean, Guys!Edit
What do you mean it’s not awesome?
In contrast to the Emperors, we have these charming folks who feel the need for their character to report on everything they are doing, leaving other people struggling to form a response that isn’t “Oh, how nice.” Just like cleaning your toilet, some activities do not need to be trumpeted to the universe from a hilltop once completed. Consider other players before you post or tag... is there any reason why they would care? No? Restrain yourself.
Some of the most common ways that this bad habit reveals itself is a character discussing minutae of politics on their homeworld, extreme details of their academic papers, or long lectures on proper behaviour to which the only response is “cool story bro”.
There is a happy medium between being an Emperor and yodeling about one’s bathroom. A good way to avoid this is for the character to talk about things that affect more than just themselves, and then to explicitly ask for feedback.
☭ My Canon, Let Me Show You It!Edit
And I cannot dredge up a load of care from Give-A-Fuck Bay.
It’s always good to be comfortable in a fandom. It’s also good to have a knowledge base of said fandom when roleplaying characters of that universe! Of course, where this gorgeous automobile fishtails off the highway is right about the point where the character is obscured by the massive amount of bling on whatever pimpcane the player is swinging.
We all understand that you like the canon. It’s why you’re playing a character from it. However, we are not terribly impressed when scenes are crippled by the infodumps or emotional derails ham-handedly mashed into our faces. Here’s an example:
- "I baked a pie," Hermione said. "I hope it comes out better than the last. I didn't put live blackbirds in it. What do you think?"
- "Wow, that's great!" replied Frodo. "Next time, perhaps a mushroom pie. Hobbits are very fond of mushrooms. So much so, in fact, that when I was a boy we used to risk our necks against Farmer Maggot's giant guard dog just for a chance at his mushroom patch! But he seemed to have forgiven us when I later saw him as an adult. He even gave us supplies and sent us on our way. That was when the Nazgul showed up..."
This is an example of an infodump. Hermione doesn’t care. I don’t care. You don’t care. Hell, Frodo doesn’t even care. The only person who cares is the person who is attempting to advertise their canon via roleplaying. An emotional advert would be:
- “I can hardly wait to see my mother again on the New Year!” declared Iruka.
- “Lucky,” rumbled Snake, his head bowed. “I had to kill my mother, only she wasn’t really my mother, but my mentor. Together, we developed a form of close-quarters combat, or CQC, and it was crucial when I had to fight my way past her COBRA squad after she defected to the Soviet Union with Colonel Volgin. That’s where I met Revolver Ocelot for the first time...”
Can you see where the player of Snake took a mild comment and brutally twisted the scene into an emotional advert for Metal Gear: Solid? If you can’t, I suggest you turn off your computer and go play with string for a while.
If you want people to experience the same wonder, amusement and joy in a fandom that you do, I suggest talking to them, and not skewering characters or rudely grabbing the emotional wheel during scenes to try and convince people to consume the same media you have. Share videos or pages, passages and (non-spoilery) plot points (in moderation) and then practice just... letting it go. You cannot make other people like the same things you do, and shoving it down our throats is a great way to trigger an emotional gag-reflex.
☭ I Am the Internet, All of ItEdit
The mun who cried ‘XD!’ at the heart of the net!
I want you to lean forward and touch this magical, glowing panel that you are reading these words on. Go on, just a small caress. Appreciate its texture, the fine engineering and effort that went into producing such a marvel of the modern world. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
A little lower... yes. Oh. Oh, that’s good.
Now I want you to consider that this magic, glowing panel that you stare at for hours every day is connected to a network of other, magic glowing panels, and in front of them are... other people.
I know, I was shocked, too.
I Am the Internet is another bad habit that players pick up, and it stems from the fact that players forget that other people are involved in the game. The hallmark of someone who believes that they are the internet is an inability for their character to lose, come in second, be support instead of the star, be stupid, be awkward, or be wrong.
Characters are not perfect. Perfect ones are called Mary or Gary Stus, and it is up to the mod-team of whatever roleplay you are involved in to reject those applications like a botched kidney transplant in a Botswana field hospital. However, slipping through the cracks are people who can have their character have faults... except when their egos are involved. This causes problems, because if there’s a Big Bad to kill or a puzzle to solve, not everyone can be first, not everyone can be the smartest, not everyone can be fast enough or have eaten enough fiber that morning.
There is fun in playing a stupid, derpy character. There is joy in playing someone who trips over the answer and then kicks it off to the side. There’s joy in writing a character who blazes towards the solution leaving awe and amazement in her wake and then veers off at the last second into a flaming grease stain on the wall so someone else can prance over the wreckage.
If you are a player who feels personally threatened by not having your characters win or come in first, you need to take a step back and reconsider the character you’re playing. You, as a human being, are not threatened if Jean-Luc Picard has the dumb one day and Mr Blonde figures out the solution before him. You, as a human being, are not shamed or looked down upon if Gandalf gets pegged in the head by a falling rock from David’s slingshot. You, as a precious, unique human being, have no reason to feel like your person is devalued if your imaginary anime doll that you pretend to be loses an argument.
If your ego is so wrapped up in a character that they cannot lose or come in second, stop that. Remind yourself that you should have no personal stake in Sarah Conner’s bicker-fest with Ironhide over how to cook a turkey. If you can’t step back, drop.
☭ Actually, It’s Called Le WhopperEdit
And they really do serve wine in McDonald's in France.
The next bad habit is a very simple one to fix. If your character is supposed to be knowledgeable on a subject and you’re stone ignorant, Google it. Yes, it takes effort, but it’s so much better to have a rough idea of how a gun works if you play a sharpshooter than to simply make something up.
Unless your character is an expert in some lost, forbidden, obscure art of the ninjas, there will be information on Google about it. Most people who’ve grown up in the city have never ridden a horse and have no idea what individual parts of the equipment for riding is called.
I did a Google search for “horse head leather thingy” and I got a Wikipedia article on horse tack, which included pictures. Five seconds of effort made it possible for me to replace this:
- Link reached up and grasped the leather thing that circled Shadowfax’s head which was attached to reigns. He rested his hand on the big part just under the horse’s neck on the side.
- Link reached up and grasped Shadowfax’s bridle and rested his hand on the point of the horse’s shoulder.
Obviously it looks better the second way, reads better, and gives the impression that you actually give a flying fuck, which is always desirable!
In the case of truly obscure or complicated subjects, just gloss over it when it’s reasonable. Use your own judgment, but try not to come off as intellectually lazy!
☭ The ConclusionEditAt last!
By now, gentle reader, you have probably bitten your knuckle bloody, having recognized yourself in several of these examples. This is fine. I, too, have recognized myself in this grim, tear-streaked mirror, because like the rest of you I suffer from this malaise called fallibility.
We all fuck up, dear reader, and we all are sometimes Jukeboxes or mysterious pythons, Emperors or Black-Holes, and there are no-doubt many more ways to fall from the path of good roleplaying manners and back into that swamp of self-insertions and toilet brushes.
The remaining advice that I have saved until now is simply to have fun, and when you notice yourself displaying one of the behaviours above, be gentle with yourself and try to correct the problem with the least amount of flailing of limbs and furious gnashing of teeth.
We all fuck up, gentle reader, but we’re all here just to have fun.
Until the next lurid installment, I hope life finds you well and your characters suitably anguished!