Don't be afraid of your characters failing
I’m writing this after playing Heavy Rain on PS3, which is not a roleplaying game in the sense we’ve come to use the term today. But it’s definitely a game where you assume the role of different characters. The game is like a film, each scene you assume the role of a different character who has their own story, and each story overlaps with every other. The way this game is a bit different to other games I’ve played is that each character can die, and the game continues. The story is just dramatically altered because you can’t ever see the continuation of that character’s story, and any scene that includes them from that point will be different.
I started playing today in the early morning and in my sleep deprived state, I missed the buttons I needed to press to rescue the detective from a car being thrown into a crusher. The character died, but the game continues because the story continues! I’ll obviously see a very different story from now on compared to if the detective was still alive, but I know it’ll still be a great story. It actually makes the game feel a lot more rich (and a lot more tense) knowing that you can fail, and have to live with the consequences of that failure.
So how can we apply this to text-based roleplaying games?
Remember that your play-by-post game is a story that you can control, much like the characters in Heavy Rain, you have the ability to control whether they succeed or fail. You also have the power over whether they survive a dangerous situation or not – whether they live or die.
Okay, you’ll most likely not want to kill your character because of all the effort you’ve put into developing their character, but also remember that they don’t always have to succeed. It’s realistic for people to fail every now and again, so maybe have them fail a mission or injure themselves (maybe even have the real threat of death hanging over them?). Nobody is infallible.
Living with the consequences
Like I have to play on, living with the consequences that I failed to save the detective, your characters have to live on knowing they might have failed in their tasks. This adds a lot more texture to your character, and makes them seem like a real person.