How to Suck at Role-Playing: a Step-by-Step Guide

How to suck at roleplaying

There have been many, many articles written — both here on the Ongoing Worlds blog and elsewhere — about how to improve your roleplaying, how to be a better gamer and how to improve your writing.  In the interests of a fair and balanced approach, I felt it was time someone wrote a step-by-step guide on how to be an awful roleplayer, how to flat out suck at this past-time we all enjoy.

Of course, there are so many ways in which one can be a bad roleplayer I can’t possibly touch on all of them.  And quite frankly, I don’t have the attention span to do it.  I’m deeply into the new Tomb Raider game, so you’re lucky you’re getting this much out of me.  Feel free to add your own examples in the comments section or, better yet, write a sequel to this article and submit it to Ongoing Worlds.

Anyway…

Without further ado, a step-by-step guide to being a horrible roleplayer!

1. Character Creation

Creating your character is an incredibly important step.  Of course it is — without a character, you can’t really roleplay, right?  The real problem with roleplaying is that in the majority of games, there is such a broad spectrum of acceptable character types that you’ll need to put in a bit of extra effort to find one that makes little sense.  A good way to approach character creation is to completely base your character on your favourite character from an unrelated movie, tv series or video game.  Joining a Doctor Who RP group?  Base your character on Hellboy.  Playing a Star Trek game?  It’s perfectly okay to create Boba Fett, just don’t call him Boba Fett.  Joining a Twilight group?  First off, excellent choice, as this decision alone puts you several steps ahead of the rest of us.  But for your Twilight character, go ahead and use Merida from Brave.

And do not forget to pump up your character’s cool factor by giving them plenty of bionic enhancements.  Eyes are fine, as long as they include every type of advanced optic system available, but don’t forget to go for the legs and arms too, or you’ll miss out on having super speed and super strength.  If your game is set in the modern world or in the past, it’s all good, because your character can be a time traveller from the future.  The important thing is that you create a character cooler than anyone else’s, with enough special abilities to solve as many problems as possible.  After all, you are the main character of the game.

Just as important as having cool powers is having flaws.  Your character must have flaws in order to be interesting.  Things like being so beautiful that everyone falls in love with them, or being such a genius no one understand them… these are fantastic character flaws and they are very necessary.  By creating a character with flaws such as these, you’ll avoid having to worry about developing your character once you start to play and can instead focus your energies on being awesome.

Oh, and don’t forget to wear a leather trench coat at all times, and mention that fact as often as possible.

2. Interacting with Others

Interacting with other players in-character is kind of the weakness of roleplaying.  As great as it would be to just do this alone, the nature of the beast is that there will be other people around.  However, don’t lose sight of the fact that this game is about your character, not theirs.

While it may be a good idea to skim posts written by the other players to see how frequently they mention you and to get an idea of setting, etc., it is really not necessary to fully read what the other players are writing.  As long as you have a general idea of what other characters in the game are doing, you’re fine to proceed with whatever you’d like to do.  This is true even if you are “tagged” or directly addressed in another player’s post.  Should this happen, your best course of action is to very quickly at the start of your next post address that contact and wrap it up in a few lines so you can quickly redirect your character away from further interaction and ideally get wrapped up in a scene involving your own NPCs.  Don’t prolong the interaction by leaving tags or openings for the other player(s) to further develop the scene.  This just makes things more complicated and takes away from time you could be spending having your own characters talk to each other.

However, should you choose to initiate any interaction, the other players may need prodding to respond if they haven’t done so within a couple hours.

3. Character Development

Since, as we saw in Step 1, you have created a character who is the epitome of cool, you do not need to further develop this character.  They should remain the same throughout your game and furthermore, nothing that happens should have any emotional impact on your character.  They’re way too cool for that.

4. Dealing with Plotlines

Plotlines in roleplaying are a necessary evil.  Not everyone has a cool enough character that they’re comfortable continually writing about their own subplots and relationships and amazing backstory.  It’s sad, but it’s true.  For those people, most games have an overarching plotline to follow.

To keep these people from becoming too jealous, you should make an effort to connect your own plots at least tangentially to the main plot.  For example, in your Star Wars RP, let’s say the Rebel Alliance has called a meeting to strategize about an attack on a Super Star Destroyer.  Make sure you have your character Chukno’Riss Fett attend the mandatory meeting BEFORE you and your Wookiee sidekick go off to hunt down the six-fingered Trandoshan who murdered your father and stole his smuggling ship — the Centennial Osprey — back when you were only five.  As long as you make that effort to connect your plot to the one the other players have for some reason latched onto, you’ve done all that is really necessary.  After that, you’re free to to do your own thing.

Always remember that it’s your plots that keep the game interesting and it’s not terribly important to support the main story arc.

5. Cross the Streams

Many of us have more than one “universe” we love, so don’t be afraid to cross the streams and bring elements of another universe into the one in which your current game is set.  For example, the Hellmouth from Buffy would be a totally wicked addition to any Twilight RP and Robotech’s Veritech fighters would be awesome alongside an X-Wing squadron in a Star Wars game.  The other players in your game will love this kind of “easter eggs,” especially if you’re in a Star Trek game.  If there’s one thing a Trekkie loves, it’s having elements from Star Wars, Battlestar Galatica and Doctor Who brought into the world of the United Federation of Planets.

By including elements from other franchises of the same genre, you’re adding to the richness of the universe in which you RP.  Some people would suggest that having your Starfleet Security character own a lightcycle from Tron, or having your member of Torchwood go up against the Sinestro Corps is silly crossover stuff, but they don’t understand.  All you’re trying to do is make sure you can do a bunch of cool stuff with your character and not get bored by always doing the kind of thing you would expect to be doing when you chose to join the RP group you did.

6. Take a Break

Let’s face it, being a creative powerhouse is tiring.  Even more so when you are both the best writer in the group and have the coolest character.  So don’t be afraid to take a break every so often.  Just stop writing for a couple weeks.  If you feel like it, you may want to tell the GM that you’re taking a break, but it’s really not necessary.  Once you decide to return to action, don’t worry about reading anything that was posted during your break — all you need to do is send an OOC message saying you haven’t read any of it and you want someone to summarize for you so you don’t HAVE to read any of it.  It’s only fair, since they’ve already done the reading.  Plus, if you can get someone to summarize, they’ll usually make a point of telling you where your character was mentioned or tagged.  Then you have a much easier job deciding whether you even want to respond to those interactions.  It’s a win-win scenario.

And there you have it — six core steps to being an awful role-player.  You are now armed with the base knowledge you need in order to be the kind of player that makes the rest of us cringe every time we see a new post show up bearing your name.

Please be a good roleplayer.  It’s really not that hard.

Or just go write fan fiction and leave us alone.

Okay?

Okay.

This article was written by David Whale, who roleplays at Starbase 118. He blogs over at www.whalewriter.com.

  • Alex

    I s’pose, basically, if RPing is done savvily, with consideration for others, and without being obnoxious, it’s all cool.

    I think (and have been encouraged that) slithers of back-story are interesting/useful/exciting. I guess that – again with the non-obnoxious thing – as long as it’s done for motivation-explaining reasons and character building – not just because you’re bored with the story and want to thoughtlessly tangent off – then it’s groovy.

    • Alex

      Just wanted to add: I wasn’t referring to anyone specific, the first
      bit was kind of a question. I was just talking generally (and wondering
      about my own posts coming across as irritating)! Also, I’m sure that
      lots of people make mistakes at first then learn what’s appropriate etc,
      so the generally trying to be considerate of other members thing covers
      that, I guess 🙂