Wednesday, October 3, 2012


The Roleplayer's Almanac

First Edition


Initially I had written a small 4-chapter guide meant to be a quick, easy-to-understand guide that served to introduce people to roleplaying and give them the necessary skills to begin their foray into the craft, both as players and creators.

However, after roughly two years, I came back to see the guide and found that, based on my experiences in roleplaying gained during said two years, that the guide was severely lacking. Yes, I'll admit, it served as a decent introductory pamphlet that could set an arguably decent foundation for many new comers, but I noticed many holes in its instruction and felt that some areas were left out or some glossed over. It is for this reason that I decided to create a new guide that would be bigger, better, and more informative.

I do know that there are a lot of guides out there, lot's of tutorials, threads filled with good instruction, etc, but I feel that I could do a great benefit to a lot of newcomers by compounding everything I know into one single volume. So, without further delay, let's begin!

Chapter One: Getting Started

For the purposes of this guide, we're going to assume that you know absolutely nothing at all about roleplaying.

Already you may be wanting to jump right in at the deep end, get straight to the action! But sadly, that's just not the way. You'll need to learn a few basics first. Walk before you run, so to speak.

First, let's define Roleplaying. What is it? To put it blunty roleplaying is a collaborative effort to explore a story from the perspectives of multiple characters. Think of it like a book that you and all your friends write together. Much like a multiplayer game, you're all in the same world, playing together to weave the story, however unlike any normal game, you have no graphical restrictions, no script to work with. Therein lies the true attraction of Roleplaying; the fact that your imagination is literally the only restriction you have. Of course, you might think, that if you're not the most literary of people and don't consider yourself much of an imaginative person that roleplaying isn't for you. Well, this is simply untrue for one simple reason: there's a whole group of other people working with you! You may feel that you just want to come along for the ride, and in a lot of cases, that's all you will be, but you'll experience the world just as well as any other player. You don't have to be God to enjoy the view of a countryside, for example. Although some do prefer to sculpt the landscape.

Roleplaying is (usually) entirely text-based, written and read. For this reason it can be played virtually anywhere at any time and last from just a few days to a few years. The most common method of roleplaying is on various internet forums, some may even play by email. However, since it's the most common choice, this guide focuses solely on forum roleplaying. Don't let that discourage you from reading this or participating in PBE (Play-by-Email). There's virtually no difference between the two save for some minor things.

When you first begin, you'll want to find the right roleplay for you. Commonly, you'll find roleplays organised by genre. I'm sure you know the differences between Horror, Fantasy, etc, etc, so I won't take the time to explain them thoroughly.

Just look for the right genre for you, such as Sci-fi. When you find a list of Sci-Fi roleplays, you'll come across some terminology you might not understand, namely the term 'OOC' and 'IC.'These refer to the type of thread. OOC means 'Out of Character,' these threads are the central home for the respective roleplay. It's in this thread that players meet and discuss the game and anything pertaining to it. We'll go into more detail in just a moment.
'IC' means 'In Character', and denotes a thread where the game is played, which will be discussed a little later on. For now, however, we'll go into more detail about the OOC (Out of Character) threads.

The OOC thread is where it all begins. A typical OOC thread will have the name of the roleplay, a description of the world in which it is set, and an outline of the plot. Then you will notice an area written much like a form that typically looks like this:

Code: Select all



Physical Description:



Note each of the fields. This is the first part of joining a roleplay. The GM (Game Master, the person who has created the roleplay) will ask that you fill out this form for your character. Here, you can begin to craft your character. Read the description of the roleplay, consider this world that your character inhabits, and begin to let your imagination run wild. Typically, a GM (Game Master) will use this type of form, also known as a Character Sheet, but they may make changes, add and remove fields. Each character sheet may be different just as each roleplay is different. However, the fields will usually be very self-explanitory.

Keep in mind that the GM (Game Master) may have certain requirements for characters or for their fields. For example, they may ask that you include or refrain from including a picture in lieu of a physical description of the character. If you ever have questions about the requirements for characters, always ask the GM (Game Master). A good GM (Game Master) will always answer player's questions about the roleplay.

Once you've filled out the Character Sheet, post it in the thread. It's commonly accepted that your character is automatically accepted into the roleplay and will be allowed to participate once the IC (In Character) thread is made. NB: Some GMs (Game Masters) will require that you wait for them to accept your character sheet. Always be sure to check just in case the GM (Game Master) has any issues with your Character Sheet. Try to be pleasant when being told your Character has some problems. I've seen many people act as if this has been a personal insult to either themselves or their writing ability, and this is almost never the case. If the GM (Game Master) takes some issues with your Character Sheet they should explain those issues clearly. Usually the issue will be that something about your Character clashes with the roleplays' world, story or themes. However, the reasons will always differ. Don't fret and try to accomodate changes to your character if they are required. After all, change is the most important part of a Character's growth. Don't worry, we'll have a Chapter about Character creation and development a little later on.

So. Your character has been accepted into a roleplay! Take some joy in the fact that you're on your way to enjoying a whimsical adventure. The GM (Game Master) has created the IC (In Character) thread and everyone has started to post.

Consider a metaphor I used earlier; that roleplaying is much like writing a book. When you write, you will be writing from the perspective of your character. Look at what is happening, what other characters and doing and saying and ask yourself: "How does my character feel about this? What would they do in this situation? What is my character thinking right now?" and then you begin to write. At first, you may find writing, if you're not an active writer already, to be something of a task. You may find that initially you can write only a few small paragraphs while other more experience players write long winded posts, understand that this is only reflective of your skill and the roleplayers around you. You'll find that over time you'll learn to how best to describe the world and your character. Often your posts will grow larger and this, in turn, influences larger posts which influences your post to be larger ad infinitum.

This takes us to a common argument in the roleplaying community: Quality verus Quantity. Is it more important to make small posts that get right to the point, or is it better to weave a long tapestry of words that go into minute detail about your character's actions? Well, if you ask me, both are best.

When roleplaying you don't want to write too little, other players may see this as a lack of involvement or interest. Conversly, over-writing may be seen as taking too much control, and generating far too much reading for the others.

A good post both describes the world, the character, and everything relavant to the turn being made. You may wish to fill this with beautiful description, but this is just as bad as barely describing anything. It's called 'purple prose' and can be just as boring as under descriptive posts because it decorates everything and puts an emphasis on the phrase and turn of words rather than the actual actions and dialogue being made by Characters. Ideally, you want to find a balance between too much and too little. This sense of balance comes naturally over time with experience and with time spent in a roleplay.

I've come to notice that when it comes to the size of posts this directly influences the sizes of other posts. The more a person writes, the more the other players have to work with. If your character just sneezes, and everyone has already had their turn, it means not much is happening. However, if your character opens up a dialogue and begins to walk forwards, suddenly everyone else can enter into a discussion and join you in a journey, they may even begin to notice routes and lead the party elsewhere while the plot begins to unravel. I'm not saying that a large post is a good post, of course not, but I am saying that more content breeds more content, and if you want your roleplay to remain active and interesting then you'll need to give as much as you want to get.

That is about all you'd need to know to get started in a roleplay. Some would argue that you'd literally need to learn no more, and while I might be inclined to agree that experience is the best learning tool in the roleplayer's school, passed on experience goes a lot further. So, the next chapters will not necessarily go into the specifics of how to roleplay, but more analysing specifc parts of roleplaying and lesser known areas of it, such as the competitive roleplaying games.

Chapter Two: Character Creation & Development

As you may remember from the previous chapter, Character Creation is a vital part of Roleplaying and creating a Character is the first step in beginning your roleplaying career.

The Character is the single most important of roleplaying, in my opinion. It's the link to the fictonal word, your vessel in another plane, you in a different light. The Character is everything you want it to be. But of course, some people, particularly the inexperienced, want their character to be Mr. Perfect. You have heard a term thrown around for this situation: Mary Sue. Who is Mary Sue? She's the perfect character. Nothing bad ever happens to her, no obstacle is too difficult, no enemy too strong, nothing too hard at all. In fact, she's so perfect that she becomes terrible. You see, a character is just like a person. They need flaws. Flaws are what make a Character dynamic. If they have no challanges to over come, then how can you expect them to grow?

When making your character and when you're playing as them, consider their life. Think of how they got to be where they are. Look at the story and the world of the roleplay and ask just how your character fits into it all. Most importantly you need to understand them as you understand yourself and look at their own story in relation to the roleplay's story.

Ask yourself "what is my character's primary motivator?" What is the thing that keeps them going? Did someone wrong them, do they seek revenge? Are they greedy or vain and seek money and fame? Do they simply want the thrill of adventure? Why do they want it? A character's Primary Motivator differs from the end-goal of the roleplay, the goal of the plot. Your character may or may never even explore their Primary Motivator. It's something they can seek to do all their lives and never accomplish. some people even carry their character across multiple roleplay's and change them slightly to accomodate the story and roleplay they're in. This means that you can actively grow with your character, go on several adventures with them, and see their development.

The development of a character is the most interesting and difficult concept of a roleplayers character. Development is the progression through story and how they change. Are they the strongest in the land?

What happens when they lose a fight? Does it demoralise them from ever fighting again? All good characters change like a plot, they come to arcs and they go through their adaptions. The characters can help one another, or destroy one another in their development and this becomes their development.

As you roleplay and explore a world, consider everything of your character and how the world is affecting them. When a character begins to grow and change like a real person, that's when they truly become a character in their own right, and a well-developed, thought-out and dynamic character is the first mark of an excellent roleplayer. Don't plan to make your characters dynamic or interesting, however. Seeking to do that will only deflate their growth. Events change people, not forward thinking. Overtime you'll learn how your characters change and development and will be able to apply this knowledge to the creation of a character, colouring their backstory with events to build and play with a wonderful and deep personality. In essence, this is the fundamental core of roleplaying.

Of course, the best things about your character you can learn from other people. If someone says to you "that character is a total Mary Sue!" don't get offended and flustered, just ask them why. What is it specfiically that makes your character a Mary Sue, and take onboard the criticisms of others, try to understand their views of your character and apply it to the creation of them. After all, a third person perspective on your characters can make all the difference. Though, that's not to say that every criticism is valid and you should happily use it. Knowing who's legitimately being helpful and who's just being argumentative is a skill you'll learn over time. Just be patient with people, you never know who is going to give you a golden nugget of advice.

Chapter Three: Competitive Roleplaying & Combat

As you make your way through roleplaying, you'll come to find that others may talk about battling one another in a competitive match. One on one roleplaying is nothing new and it can be an exciting and rewarding style to get involved in. However, you will eventually learn that competitive roleplaying is quite different stylistically from regular collaborative roleplaying. It focuses solely on combat and pits the writing skills of two roleplayers against in each other in fictionalised combat. Is this combat the same as fighting in a regular collaborative roleplay? Not exactly.

In collaborative roleplaying you will find that action and combat are often important elements. A fight is fairly straight forward. You would control your character as you would normally, describing their attacks and such, however, there are some rules. For example, unless the GM (Game Master) has stated beforehand, you cannot simply state that you have attacked, hit and damaged an opponenet. You would state only that you had attacked and then the other player or GM (Game Master) would have it in them to take the hit or deflect/avoid if it were possible for their character to do so. Obviously, if in the narrative there was no reasonble method of escaping the attack, then yes, they would be forced to take it the damage. If the hit connected, then you would use your following turn to descibe the extent of the damage with the attack. This would continue until the battle is won, back and forth between fighters. Fairly straight forward.

Competitive Roleplaying is slightly different. In it, there is no GM (Game Master) and there is usually only two people participating. In this type of roleplaying, you are following more or less the same rules as above but the fight is not necessarily always won by killing your opponent. Often a judge can be brought in to evaluate the fight as a neutral third party. Judging a fight is more than just seeing how each person did in battle, but is also a direct examination of their abiities as a writer and roleplayer. The grammer and prose, their tactics and writing style, it all comes together in the judgement and sometimes the one who died in battle may be deemed the more deserving victor.

Unlike with regular collaborative roleplaying, your character sheets will definitely be more restrictive. Often rules are agreed upon by both fighters before the match is begun and these rules may govern the abilities of the character. For example, a common rule is the removal of all "Chronomancy," the ability to control time. Another common omitted ability is that of teleportation, or the use of projectile weapons like a gun. In some cases, though, restrictions are placed upon these abilities and weapons to make them a fairer weapon in combat.

The restriction or freedom of certain abilities or even all of them can lead to fights and characters (depending on their restrictions) being ordered into Tiers. Typically, tiers are numbered 1 and upwards. These tiers and their definitions vary from person to person, so I feel it isn't best to be too specific when discussing them, but as a general guide I will outline four tiers:

Tier 1: This is typically the lowest Tier. Imagine someone like Bruce Lee. A regular human with no special abilities, this is the concern of Tier 1.

Tier 2: A slightly more powerful character, they may have some abilities, powers, or extra strengths.

Tier 3: Quite powerful. Tier 3 is roughly the equivalent of Superman or other superheroes.

Tier 4: The most powerful. This is probably one of the more encompassing Tiers as it can cover anything from Tier 3 onward, meaning very powerful superhero to literal God. The level of power here doesn't have a ceiling, and for that reason Tier 4 characters are often left out of combat.

These tiers are often summarised in terms of LOW, MEDIUM and HIGH tier. For example:


Understand, though, that these definitions are not universal, and what constitutes as Low, Medium and High tier can differ slightly or vastly between website to website and even from player to player. Before beginning a fight with another if you're unclear about the power tiers of the characters to be used, speak to the other player and try to get clarification as to how you both define tiers. This saves a lot of trouble later on.

It's always best to agree before a fight on your exact definitions of power if the subject of Tiers arises and you are unsure of where you character sits exactly.

A competitive fight is much like chess if you described every move in roleplay format. You're considering your move, your attack, the outcome, and the possibilities your enemy has for retaliation or avoidance. Consider all moves and try to learn as much as you can with your attacks.

A good fighter knows how to gather information. Every attack you do does not need to be an attempt at a killing blow, it doesn't even have to be intended to harm at all. Suppose you want to know how your enemy deals with a full-on attack. You may wish to get close enough to throw a punch of two just to see if they use a specific technique, ability or tactic when you get near. So, indeed, competitive roleplaying is more like chess than story telling. However, don't forget that the writing is an important part of it. The way you describe your fight and how you weave the tale is an important skill. If no one can read your posts because you don't write very well, you won't be considered a very good roleplayer. Don't let that discourage you. After all, writing is a skill and needs practice.

Chapter Four: Competitive Roleplay Strategy

When facing an opponent, especially one of greater experience and skill, strategy is going to be your fiercest weapon. In the end, you could have all the powers and abilities in the world, but if your tactics aren't solid, then you will lose every time. A basic understanding of tactics is something most people learn over time by playing several matches, it's a learned skill, but one I feel should be explained and studied in greater depth by inveterate and inexperienced players alike.

Earlier, I compared textual combat (competitive roleplaying) to the game of chess. Before you even consider taking a turn, you have to consider your enemy and everything you know about him, even if all you know is his character sheet. What will he do if you strike with a long-ranged attacked? Is he more likely to examine your attacks or retaliate quickly? These are the things you'll need to think about.

Ultimately, you need to be able to read the other person as easily as you read the words he writes. This is something that can't be taught and must be learned, sadly.

In my battles, I have come to see that people will (often) fall into three categories or Architypes (note, these are very general Architypes designed to give you an idea of various different playstyles and strategies you will encounter):

The Observer
An Observer will seldom be the first to attack, and often will actively avoid combat as much as possible. This Architype is one who will study your every move, goad you into attacking them and build up a well of knowledge about your style and tactics that they can use against you.

Strategy: The best method of stopping an Observer is to attack them very quickly. Don't allow yourself to use every move at your disposal, this feeds their tactics. The best method of attack against this style is to be very aggressive, don't allow them time to analyse and plan.

The Knight
A Knight is a strategist at his heart. He knows how to attack, but focuses his tactics almost entirely around building a correct defense to nullify and avoid your attacks.

Strategy: The defensive type is one who is a little harder to defeat. They do like to retaliate from the safety of their defenses and with the element of surprise. Be on your toes and prod their defences for weakness. Try to lure them out of safety and always have a plan.

The Brawler
These fighters use their strength and experience of battle to weaken and destroy. They will often be the first to attack and will seek to end the fight as quickly as they can. Often employing physically strong characters, Brawlers like to keep pressure on their enemies and will seldom allow them time to recover from an attack. However, don't mistake their relentlessness for recklessness, the best Brawlers are veteran fighters and will be creating many strategies on the fly, they like to keep a plan in mind and hate distance between themselves and their target.

Strategy: The brawler is a close-up, in-your-face, relentless fighter. They thrive on your retaliation because it opens you up for their attacks. Keep your distance, watch for weakness, try to find a hole in their strategy and tactic to exploit. Your enemy may be strong, but you can outlast his strength with mental agility.

As I said before, these are by no means encompassing every fighter. These are very vague by design, to cover a lot of fighters but not any of their tactics specifically. This is to give you an idea of the main types of strategy you will face. It is important to try to be all and none. Developing a style of your own will come naturally, try not to pigeonhole yourself into a playstyle and don't consider an enemy stuck into one style at all times. Smart players will change their assault to keep you guessing.

Utilising knowledge of basic styles of combat, we can develop strategies around them, which means that above all else, your strategy is built on a foundation of two things: knowledge and experience. Know your enemy, and know your self better. Fight many different types of enemies to understand how their various styles operate.

If you wish to analyise and study the theory of textual combat then keep an eye out for my next submission where I will be examining various tactical and strategic methods of play as well as going into the specifics of battle and various other subjects pertaining to combat.

Chapter Five: Being A Game Master, Roleplay Creation & Running A Roleplay

One of the more exciting aspects of roleplaying is creating your own world and story for other people to enjoy. It's certainly rewarding, but the active running and management of a roleplay can be seen as a little daunting by some and impossible by others.

If you wish to become a Game Master, first, you'll need a roleplay. Developing story is the first step. Consider the world in which it is set, and ask these questions:

- What is the government like? Do they have systems of government?

- What are the people like? What languages do they speak?

- Are there different races? What are they like?

The more you add, the bigger and richer the world feels. The sky is the limit you can add as much detail to your world as you feel you have to. Then, you need to create the plot. What's the driving force of the roleplay? Do you want the story or the players to be carrying the pace? Do you want to tell them what their quest is, or let them discover it on their own?

When creating the story you must consider these things:

- What is happening?

- Why is it happening?

- How can it be stopped?

- What happens when it's stopped?

Thus, you have a beginning (the what/the why), a middle (the how) and an end (what happens after) to your story. Creating a simple "big bad" to defeat is a novel choice. Don't think of your story in terms of "cliche" or "unoriginal." What defines your story is the elements that make it up (for example, developing a deep, thought-out nemesis for the players) and the people playing it.

You have a story, a place to set it in, and then all you need is players. As discussed early on, a roleplay is created via an Out Of Character thread. You will make one, fill in the appropriate information and await players. You can place a cap on how many you want, or you can accept everyone, it's up to you who can and cannot play your game. It is, after all, your game. Though barring people for trivial reasons seldom reflects a good and respectable GM (Game Master.)

When your game has started and the players have begun their quest, it is up to you to lead them with characters and events pertaining to the story. Anything can happen. Let your imagination soar. Don't be afraid to throw your players into the heart of hardships but don't be too cruel either. A good ethos is "over the hardships lie reward." Try to instate that mindset and your players will relish the challenge be it mental or physical.

This is all well and good for the fiction side of a roleplay. However, sometimes a GM (Game Master) will have other duties. When disagreements arise between players it's up to you to settle it swiftly.

You're the responsibility of the well being of the group, and while you shouldn't be babysitting them, you shouldn't ignore feuds. A good Game Master will be helpful to those who have queries, and stern to those who cause trouble. Think of yourself as the moderator of your roleplay. Some people take this role a little too far and can exact their ego on their players harshly leading to all of them no doubt leaving double-quick. It is not your job to police your players! Giving their character a wounded knee might be all it takes to keep things in line.

In Closing

Thank you for taking the time to read this edition of the Roleplayer's Almanac. It seems a little small (well, to me it does) but I'll be coming back for updates, rewrites and amendments every couple of months to keep the Almanac fresh for everyone. If you have suggestions for additions and improvements, be sure to tell me via post or PM. Hoepfully the guide will serve to help those new to roleplaying and possibly aid those who are just looking for some tips.

Good luck with your roleplaying and all future adventures!


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