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November 4, 2021
by Yichard Muni, elf bard
This page explains the most common rules and concepts used in roleplaying in virtual worlds. This is what you can expect when you join a virtual roleplaying community. But you can also make your own mix and build your own roleplay community.
Roleplaying is the act of, in a group, deliberately acting and speaking as if we were different characters of what we are, generally in imaginary or simulated situations more or less implying a game or a predefined story. Usually the unfolding of the game is based on improvisation, but theater can be considered as a directive form of roleplay. This is done since millennia, but today virtual worlds open up entirely new possibilities.
There are different categories of roleplay:
- Intensive roleplay, where we have a context, a plot or a stake. It is essentially for having fun and pleasure. Although some people may misunderstand or feel uncomfortable if they are grabbed in without warning, so that intensive roleplay takes place in special areas.
- Social (or soft) roleplay, where we play at being a character, but without a plot, stake or storyline, so that we behave spontaneously. It can be for fun, but it can also be for expressing aspects of our personality that we usually cannot express.
- Educative roleplay, directed by teachers or educators, in a way to make the attendee share a specific experience, learn something, have spiritual development, etc.
- Simulations: industry, science, firemen, physicians, social experiments, etc.
- Art. Theater, Mysteries and street representations are the oldest forms of directive roleplay.
Usually, presentations of roleplaying mention only the two first categories. But the intent behind Halcyon is to open up virtual world to the whole society, with its whole spectrum of activities, not to remain in a leisure ghetto.
Roleplay rules is what makes the roleplay consistent and interesting. No rules at all means each players starts in his own direction, and there is no interest for the other players. So, all roleplay have rules.
However, there is no universal set of rules used by everybody. There are frequent rules that we expect about everywhere, there are people who hold fast at some specific rules or even special rules, and on the other extreme people who deliberately break common rules, generally for comic effect. The set of agreed rules in a specific roleplay defines the roleplay style.
Therefore, the set of rules, allowed characters, place, storyline, stake, etc. must be agreed upon while starting the game. When joining an already running group, a new member must then follow these decisions. A new member not following the existing rules can be disruptive of the existing roleplay, or it may put people not at ease.
Historically roleplaying was done in the physical world, using very poor means: sticks as swords, huts as palaces, etc. Today all children are still playing that way, but adults can go as far as thousands strong groups operating in genuine historical reconstitution.
- Theater, Mysteries, etc. technically are directive roleplay, with a defined story, and often using elaborated props.
However Modern technologies led to several other systems:
- Chat rooms can be used for text-only roleplay (generally in text, sometimes in voice).
- Virtual worlds allow for the immersion in a virtual landscape using virtual bodies and virtual implements. Today we are still mostly in text, but voice is possible. To the contrary of ideologically constrained video games, virtual worlds allow for much more freedom and variety, to create our own style and projects. In more they are appropriable, while video games are not.
- Video games are technically virtual worlds. But they have a very strict ideological frame (Like «the need» to have fights, enemy groups, gaining something, etc.). Contrarily to virtual worlds which are ignored and despised, video games are highly advertised, and thus very popular.
The theme of the roleplay is a set of conditions: epoch, tech level, country, culture, species, etc.
Popular themes are medieval with Human characters, fantazy with Elves, Dwarves and dragons, pirates with Human characters, Treckkers with Humans and some specific species, and other science-fiction themes.
The whole definition of a theme includes:
- The roleplay style
- An epoch, styles, technical level
- A place, which includes builds, landscapes, props, all in the style
- Characters and allowed species
- A storyline, where our actions will start. The continuation can be directed, or left to improvisation.
It can be sketchy, or very detailed: what is the place, what are the characters, why are they like that, the history of the main characters, etc. In the virtual this is often done in an information center, or with notecards per character. Some roleplay may be very directive, leaving few initiative to the players. The extreme form of this is theater, or street play. Other roleplay can on the contrary be improvised, so that any character can join or leave at random.
A very frequent rule in roleplaying is that the decors, clothing, tech level, etc. must fit the general theme of the roleplay. Most places have arrival points, or welcome centers, or safezones, so that before entering people can get knowledge of the rules and of possible actions.
Games are for pleasure. Therefore, we must be something we would really like to be, that we feel at ease with. However it must be in the limit of what is allowed by the group. Not following this rule can be very disruptive.
-There must be some adequation to the frame, style, plot or place.
- It is better to avoid bizarre or improbable characters (like son of a dragon and an ET, raised by the CIA in a ninja school) Some fashioned stereotypes, like vampires, zombies, matamore, etc. are not either a proof of high playing skills.
- Ugly characters must be avoided too, as they can spoil the enjoyment of others. This also applies to evil characters allowed by the plot, which must not be too horrible. Indeed, those impressions are felt by real persons, and they can have a lasting real impact.
- Character background. In some roleplay, it is requested to have notes on what a character is, why he is like he is, etc. This can also avoid mistakes.
Abilities are important in games where there are antagonism or stakes. They describe what a character can do or not. Examples are magical power, endurance in fight, ability to breath under water, etc. In such games, it is important to have a balance between each team or type of character, so that everybody has a roughly equal chance to win. Some video games go as far as resuscitating evil characters so that the antagonism can continue. In virtual worlds, HUDs display above our head our species, abilities, and remaining points of life.
In non-antagonistic roleplay, abilities can be useful, but accounting them makes less sense, so that we can do without HUD.
It is used in antagonizing roleplay, and describes in a simplified way the «ethical» orientation of a character. In D&D, we can have lawful, neutral or chaotic as abscissa, and good, neutral, evil as ordinate. In Star Wars, we have only two cases: Light side and Dark side. Some see alignment as essential, others don’t use it at all.
In a general way, each character must have a specie. The list of species depend of the roleplay theme, epoch, etc. Some roleplay have a very limited list of species (most often Humans), some have very specific ones, some are more open to rare or improvised species. It is advisable to avoid bizarre or extravagant ones. Some roleplay themes allow for changing species (shapeshifting).
NPC are computer-animated characters. Their purpose vary, such as guides, opponents, or replacement when Human characters are not enough. In virtual worlds, they are represented by bots.
This describes the general story, characters and place where the game will unfold.
This storyline and the context can be very sketchy, allowing for much improvisation, or on the contrary elaborated, with the history of a country, genealogy and life paths of the characters, etc.
Our character and actions must fit in this frame, and possible variations must be discussed before.
This also defines the allowed species. Some roleplay obviously impose a given set of species. Some groups enforce this rule, others allow for exceptions, generally for comic effects.
In a general way, roleplaying is rather an improvisation, from a starting situation. But some roleplay groups are more directive, like enacting a specified story or event. In this case, players are no more allowed to improvise, as it spoils the reconstitution. In the extreme, we have theater or street theater. It is important to agree on any predefined scenario. Indeed, misplaced improvisation can be disruptive, while being constantly reminded our role can become annoying. So that directive roleplay must be stated before.
In the case of a game intended for teaching, training or experimentation, the game will be rather «free in a frame». That is, the player is given choices, but from a short list of options. These choices will then be discussed, evaluated or corrected.
«Para» stands for «paragraph». In a text roleplay, instead of uttering short comments, we can use a whole paragraph to describe our actions, our thinking, our mood, our appearance, etc. Some groups or people impose this style, others refuse it. But most often we can make a wise use of some paragraphs among shorter replies.
- using a whole paragraph to say something irrelevant, or which can be summarized with a shorter sentence. Basic rule is to say something that the other players need to know, or that they are supposed to see (and that the simulation does not show)
- posting paragraphs at a moment where there is a swift action or discussion. People will not read these long paragraphs.
So that paragraphs are more used for descriptions, explanations, or for setting a general mood. Most common example is to describe oneself when arriving in an ongoing scene. Remember that gaming is for fun, so that descriptions may usefully supplement an imperfect or incomplete simulation.
We sometimes need to discuss the game before starting, or to comment it while it is unfolding. These comments or actions are called «Out Of Character», by opposition to the actual roleplay saying (or actions), called «In Character». A commonly agreed rule is framing OOC comments between two parenthesis ((like this)), or to start a line with IC: or ((IC:)) or OOC: or ((OOC:)). These rules are general, and among the few which must never be broken. Although different signaling may exist.
A game may unfold for hours, or even may run permanently over days, months, etc. Individual players then will need to enter or get out of the game, or to have pauses. There are several signaling for these:
- When a new player enters, we tend to say hello. This must be done in a way appropriate to the game. But if we are numerous this can quickly become disruptive of the game, so that it is better to abstain
- A player entering may request a briefing on the situation. These most often are OOC discussions.
- When we need a pause, this is called being AFK (Away From Keyboard). A short sentence like (AFK some minutes) does the trick. When returning, we say (back). It is advisable not to comment on these, as it is OOC and it can break the discussion flow. For longer absences, it is better to find some in-game scenario to explain it, like saying we are dreaming, or that we have an errand. (This case differs from the short AFK in what there is too much chat backlog to read back and catch up)
Exciting a game, we can say goodbye, and this follows the same rules as saying hello. But in more, we must find an in-game reason for why we leave.
Some roleplay places impose a meter, worn by our character, and which serves several purposes:
- To display our name, specie, role, etc. In a general way this info appears above our head.
- In antagonizing or stakes games, avoid cheating or metagaming, with for instance counting life points.
- Show abilities, and other info
Some roleplay places propose elaborate economy systems with a meter (purse) or an inventory (bag). Some offer economy and industry simulations: each player has an inventory, and items can be purchased, bartered, offered, and even cultivated, fabricated or transformed in workshops. For instance we need to obtain wood and a horse to do a cart, and the «transformation» happens in a wheelwright workshop.
Beware that in-game money (or any form of points, etc.) must not be exchangeable with real money or advantages (neither with the in-world money). This is cheating (advantaging the rich) and often a financial scam.
Abilities are special abilities granted to specific characters or species.
In antagonizing roleplay, abilities of both teams, or per species, must be balanced, to avoid one always winning. For instance, Elves may have magical powers, but they are physically less strong, so that any opponent also has his chances if he can dodge the magic.
This balancing requirement does not apply in non-antagonizing roleplay, but abilities can still be used.
Or we may decide that the bad guies are less able, to avoid the game to become unpleasant.
Video games and online games most of the time feature levels. Each level sees us with stronger abilities, but facing more difficult situations. In our more modest purposes, computer-managed levels would be socially and technically difficult to implement. In more, they must not come as a way to make the game «interesting» if other players are not interesting themselves (common case in video games, especially the ones where we are the only real persona).
On the other hand, levels make sense in training or learning. But in this case they are managed manually by the teachers.
(Permalink) In a roleplay, breaking the rules or being a bad player is very disruptive, spoiling the enjoyment of everybody, and ultimately of the cheater himself. Most roleplay places are banning cheaters.
Cheating is defined as gaining an advantage from the roleplay system, that we are not supposed to have in the roleplay itself. Sometimes it happens using cheat sheets (list of tricks to game the roleplay system). But some roleplay groups use the same cheat sheets to overcome limitations of the roleplay system, or to pass over imposed rules they do not want (a common situation in video games, which impose a competitive style). In this case it is not cheating, as ultimately it is to the players to decide their rules, not to a system provider.
Being in a roleplay is a social situation like the others, which as much as the others call for respect of the partners, and more generally being pleasant, non-conflictual and reasonable. Starting with not cheating on commonly agreed rules.
There are innumerable ways to cheat. Specifically in Halcyon virtual worlds, we have:
- Using the minimap to find opponents who are supposed to be hidden (fix: using bots to fill the minimap)
- Having alts in both opposed teams. This is hard to detect, and one of the reasons why I request legally checked but anonymized identities on the net. Actually, this situation can build up without our intent. We must then avoid passing critical information. Doing so will expose our alt anyway, leading to a ban.
- Aggressive actions inside the roleplay must be clearly In Character. Even so there are limits, as a fictitious aggression can also be unpleasant. In any case it must not be a cover for real stalking, real hate, real racism, real sexual aggression, etc.
-Being a pleasant roleplay partner also is a requirement for the game leaders. Too many reprimands or unreasonable demands will empty the group.
God powers is the fact that a character is always winning, thanks to ad-hoc super powers or insane luck. This happens quickly, especially in text roleplay. Example: you get machine gunned at blank point. But you wriggle fast enough to dodge all the bullets (I knew somebody who actually did that. But she was very lucky, lol). This is often called «God» powers, because it relies on magic or unbelievable luck, which are not part of the roleplay setting. Only a Jedi can dodge bullets, so that it is appropriate only in this setting.
Metagaming is controlling other characters. For instance if we say «when you see my weapon you scamper off». The part «you scamper off» is metagaming, because actually it is to the other player to decide what he does, and all the more what he feels. Nobody likes to be controlled, and in game all the less. So you can only describe your actions and feelings, and the other players react as they like to. It is their game, not ours.
Knowing what the other characters think, feel or know. We are not supposed to, but often the imperfect simulation allows us to know. In this case, we must do «as if» we don’t know. A common example is a character describing his emotions or thinking, for the enjoyment of the other players. But replying him is metagaming.
These attitudes are generally considered as disruptive or spoilers of the game. Forbidding them is among the most agreed upon rules, and breaking them will make you considered as a bad player.
In large online roleplay, appeared a whole traffic of players gaining abilities, powers, money, etc. And then selling their characters to noobish or bad players, who then gain undue advantages they are unable to use properly. This is a financial scam and a nuisance for the other players. Still worse, being able to exchange roleplay money with usable money give rich players an undue advantage. There are other scams of this kind. Yet all this is hard to detect and to avoid, with the anonymity of the Internet. In our more modest virtual worlds, we have two levers:
- Roleplay money cannot be exchanged with money usable out of the roleplay (including with the virtual money of the world).
- Avoid or limit the levels system.
Without entering into descriptions, sex, fight or horror can involve situations, visions or acts which, depending on persons, may be unpleasant or objectionable if done for real, not in a game. Even as a game, we can get very close from real emotional shock and abuses, which are no longer roleplay. There are some specific rules and signaling to avoid trespassing the limit:
- The place or group has rules on what is allowed or not. People must be informed when entering, and give their consent.
- The game happens in private places, or in any case it is taken care that no unexpected visitor can step in a scene and think it is a real abuse. In the virtual this is ensured by 1) the rating of the place (general, mature, adult). 2) visitors cannot enter directly, but they need to be part of a group, and thus read the rules. 3) they are routed to a region entry point where they can read the rules, agree with them or quit.
- Safezones are protected zones where no offensive actions can take place. People here can discuss the action with the «enemies».
- People have a likes and limits list, and even preferred scenarios. We read the list before engaging in an action, to see if it will be pleasant or not.
- People have safewords agreed before starting. Any utterance of a safeword must stop the action immediately.
In the physical world, there are no specific laws, other than the ones on informed consent, by people able of giving it. In any case, roleplay or simulation are not an excuse for real abuse on an non-consenting partner. By lack of specific laws, there still is a clear jurisprudence: the simple fact of ignoring a safeword can transform a fun evening into ten years in jail.
In the virtual, people can quit the game at any moment. But abusers will still be banned and considered as bad partners.
Today (2021) there cannot be physical abuses, but with the advent of force return, things will become more serious.
(Permalink) Moral rules lovingly concocted by: