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News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers

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What is Open Role Playing?

Captain Dick Sprague<br>Commanding Officer of the <a href="http://ships.independencefleet.com/ChuckNorris.php/">USS Chuck Norris</a>

Captain Dick Sprague
Commanding Officer of the USS Chuck Norris

That’s a question I get a lot when people read or hear about my game, the USS Chuck Norris, as it’s quite different from most other sims out there.  But before I answer that question, I should first explain what the Chuck Norris is to set up the proper context.

The USS Chuck Norris is a play-by-email sim, but we use the NOVA system from Anodyne Productions that came out a few years ago.  Play-by-post seems to be the most popular term today for this type of game.  We launched on January 2nd, 2012, and are a member of Independence Fleet.  There are currently 16 active players on the Chuck Norris, and many have been with us for more than a year.  Although, we also have quite a few players that have been simming for less than six months.

With that out of the way, I’ll finally answer the question!  Open role playing is a system in which all role players are permitted, and encouraged, to write about and for the other player-controlled-characters.  Yes, you read that correctly: everyone writes for everyone.  I can nearly hear the collective gasp through my laptop!

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that open role playing is not necessarily better than traditional role playing, where players only write about their own characters without the permission of others.  Conversely, traditional role playing is not necessarily better open role playing.  Each has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.  Some players might be better suited for one format over the other.  Still others might even prefer a mix of both.

USS Chuck Norris

In open role play, you yield some control of your character.  He or she may be your creation, but everyone helps define him or her as the game/story progresses.  Some people view this as negative.  Here’s why I like it:

  • It allows for a more cohesive story as players have all elements at their disposal for every post.
  • You get a say in the development of other characters.
  • It helps better develop your own character.
  • It lessens the need for NPCs.
  • It fosters more creative posts.

How did open role playing come about?  I don’t claim to pioneer the use of open role playing.  In all likelihood, the concept has developed independently in multiple places.  In fact, I bet others even call it something different.  But here’s how it happened for me…

Utopia Fleet logo created by Annika McKenzie

Utopia Fleet logo created by Annika McKenzie

I started simming in old Utopia Fleet back in February 2000.  My first assignment was as the Chief Medical Officer onboard the original USS Sunfire.  It was a play-by-email game run on eGroups (later known as YahooGroups).  My captain’s previous experience had been exclusively in chat sims in Allied Federation’s Fleet.  Needless to say, he wasn’t the most involved Captain and we were left mostly to our own devices.  And ALL of us were brand new to simming.  This isn’t to say that my Captain wasn’t a good one.  Far from it.  He just had a different style.

Without significant command guidance, the Sunfire’s role playing style developed very organically.  (On a side note, we ended up creating a hybrid script format for posts that combined standard prose with the chat lexicon our Captain took from Allied Federation’s Fleet.  Okay, no more tangents.)  For whatever reason, none of us seemed to put a lock on our characters.  In fact, most of us were asking others specifically to use our characters in their posts!

I felt more involved when others used my character.  It made me feel like I was more part of the game: I was better connected with the other players.  I also really enjoyed using the other player’s respective characters in my own posts.  It gave me more freedom to craft the story and to take it in unexpected, more creative directions.  Together, we pushed each other’s boundaries and moved the story in highly original ways that otherwise wouldn’t have happened in a more restrictive environment.   It actually never occurred to me (or anyone else apparently) that I should be the only one writing for my character.

USS Sunfire

In the 14 years since (wow, has it been that long?), I’ve commanded/hosted 10 different games (two as Charles Star and eight as Dick Sprague).  Eight of those ten were brand new sims that included mostly, if not all, players that were completely new to simming and online role playing.  I’m proud to say that six of those eight are still active today (USS Sunfire-D, USS Liberty-B, USS Challenger, USS ConstellationUSS Javelin, and the aforementioned USS Chuck Norris).  In each of those games, I used the open role playing style that I had learned back on the old Sunfire.  Most of Independence Fleet’s early sims also ran open role play systems (even though we didn’t call it that).  It was all we knew, and it was great fun.

I’m not saying that open role playing is for everyone.  Indeed, it’s definitely not for some people.  I do think, however, that it’s underused in our community as a whole.  If you’ve never considered the idea of open role playing, why not give it a shot and see what happens?  You might surprise yourself.

  • Mobius64

    Every time a read one of these posts about a Star Trek Rp it always makes me want to rush and join them.

    • Mrxanadu

      Me too my friend, me too

  • Daenelia at Steamhawke

    Oh, there is a term for what we’ve been doing for the past 10+ years… 😛 I couldn’t imagine any other way to write, tbh. I always get stuck in RPs that limit me to just my own character. I never thought using other characters and writing for them was odd. I always thought the other way was odd.

  • jeanne carroll

    Your article is spot on, as usaual you answer the questions with an ease and knowledge of someone that has a lot to offer..I have enjoyed being on the Chuck Norris and think her Captain and crew are top notch. I have loved the missions and the comeradery that comes with working with such a fine Captain and crew and hope to continue to enjoy this wonderful expereince for a long time to come. Thanks for letting me be on the most wonderful ship in the fleet and working with a great crew.

    Jeanne Carroll aka

    Lt. Railey Nelson
    Chief Science Officer
    U.S.S. Chuck Norris

  • Fsf Sail

    I’ll admit that I am skeptical. While I admire the level of trust that this method must espouse among the writers, it’s that same trust whose veracity I have to consider. If I’m writing a character whose personal mindset is complex, I wonder at just how individual perceptions may alter or completely miss some of those nuances?

    Don’t get me wrong; I could see in the world of shipboard function within the chain of command someone writing my character in the performance of his or her duty. (“Aye sir,” replied Ens. Sail before running off to clean the deck 3 toilets as ordered.)

    But where is the line? Do you freely write the mannerisms, thoughts, and emotions of others’ characters? I’m just really intrigued at how to do this while avoiding massive OOC discussions and misunderstandings that might eclipse the game?

    • Daenelia at Steamhawke

      If you are the only one who can write for your character, why join a collaborative roleplay (you is general you)? That is what mystifies me: creating a character that is either so complex that no one but its creator understands them, or writing a character in such a way that no other writer knows what to do with them, or what makes them tick… If a writer wants to confuse his/her co-writers like that, that just really puzzles me. To me, personally, that only indicates the writer doesn’t know how to portray their character well enough to be understood.

      And in that case: collaborative writing, which is what (open) roleplay writing is for me, is not what they want to do.

      I understand your reluctance, don’t get me wrong, and I am glad that
      there are sites that offer the sort of ‘closed’ roleplay for
      writers/players you are probably more comfortable with, but I am happy
      that I have found that our style of roleplay has survived and that I am
      reading a glowing report of how it can still be successfull, other than
      on our site.

      Variety and all that; it’s all good.

      • Donnie

        My sim has always used this style and we have never had any problems. We all write detailed bios for our characters so everybody knows how to use the other characters in the posts. I wouldn’t write extensively about a brand new character that just joined. I like to get to know them first and build slowly more and more detailed posts about them. The more comfortable I get with the characters the more detailed I can get with their mannerisms and what makes them tick.

    • Andy Locke

      I’d argue that by not writing another character’s mannerisms, thoughts and emotions, you’re doing the character and by extension their player a disservice by not making them believable

  • Donnie

    This is what we’ve always done but never had a name for it. I’m happy to finally have something to call it. Open roleplaying sounds good!

    • Fsf Sail

      Lots of interesting points made in these responses. I think I’d have to ask for a guest role in an open roleplaying environment to gain a full appreciation of your opinions.

      I have just one final question, which points me right back toward trust. What happens when someone actually does misrepresent another’s character?

      • Daenelia at Steamhawke

        A lot depends on the type of misrepresenting that is being done. I would assume that for most open roleplay formats killing or degrading another character would be a nono if done out of the blue. But sometimes a twist a writer puts on your character can lead to interesting developments. For instance, someone portrayed my character as ‘not liking young crewmates’. Not something I planned, or thought about, but it made sense in that post so I kept that as part of the character.

        But for getting it wrong that my character likes tea instead of coffee? I
        can write myself out of that one, easily. I would have the character
        reflect back on that moment, for instance,and explain that she only
        liked the tea because it was served by a rich merchant who she hoped
        would hire hert. Or that she liked that tea, because it was what her
        grandmother drank.

        You can write your character out of any non-lethal situation.

        If trust is broken repeatedly, you can always have a third party intervene. Suffice it to say, that writers who abuse the freedom in open roleplay can be at the recieving end of it as well. Though it is better to resolve it by just talking it over.

        • Charles Star

          Wow, great points on all sides the issue from everyone! Sail, I’d be lying if I said that people never misuse your character in open role playing. It happens, though in my experience it doesn’t happen very often. While others’ portrayals of my character are sometimes not exactly what I would do, I generally like what they do. At the end of the day, the other players help me better develop that character.

          But you asked about when people misuse your character. I generally go to the other player and explain that my character probably wouldn’t react in that way. Instead, he or she might do X. I learn, they learn, we all learn. It ends up being pretty inconsequential in the end. No one remembers those few times where your character acted out of character.

      • Andy Locke

        I’d say that it was less about you having to trust the other
        players and more about them having to respect your character

        As Donnie mentioned earlier, you tend not to write too
        extensively with new characters, but once you get to know them, your writing can actually validate the effort their player has put into crafting the character’s persona

        While it’s true that on occasion things may go awry, as long
        as the other player doesn’t do anything too terrible (in which case it’s a job for the mods), it’s usually best to either just let it slide (who’s going to remember it in three months anyway?) or perhaps pop an email over, explaining how your character would really have handled a situation

        Ultimately communication is key – it takes almost nothing to
        email another player and ask how their character would react, and it’s
        something that I still do, even after years of writing for some of the same
        characters on Blue Dwarf

  • Five at Steamhawke.com

    Daenelia and I also started on an old Yahoo group Star Trek “Sim” in the early 2000s, and a couple of years ago we wanted to recapture that magic. Shame we didn’t find the USS Chuck Norris, because the site we ended up on used strict character control rules.

    When you can’t even mention what other characters are doing, it forces
    you into dialogue and action scenes that feels artificial, especially on
    Play by Forum RPGs. And if it’s not possible for people to contribute
    to the development of my character, then it’s not really collaborative writing at all.

    I like the name “open roleplaying”, because it certainly feels closed off when there are character control rules in place. I just want to write stories with other people, I don’t want to have to worry about rules and regulations!

  • Mrxanadu

    Open roleplaying can be a gamble, but I find that it pays off. Letting people write for other characters (so long as they respect who that character is and stick to their personality) is a great way of running a game. I let my members have the freedom of open RP-ing, and to date I’ve only had two incidents (both were by new members who didn’t read the rules).

    Also, I want to go on record saying that I LOVE the concept of a Starfleet vessel named after Chuck Norris! And a defiant at that, so awesome!

  • Gabriel Logan

    I like the standardization this entry conveys on the mechanics of open roleplay, a subject I’m hoping to discuss in a Ramble On. Though I argue you can do the same with traditional role play games where limitations are placed on PC/NPCs/PNPCs. Still, Open Role Play is a concept I’ve found highly intriguing through the years doing this.

  • Jackson

    This is an excellent article and great way to role play.

  • Charles Star

    I want to thank everyone for the great discussion below. There were lots of excellent comments on both sides of the issue. The role play community moves forward when people like YOU come together to discuss ideas and possibilities. I learned a few things myself from your conversation. Bravo!

  • crimsyn

    Interesting article… I’m actually planning on trying this out on a side mission on my simm, the USS Portland in Obsidian Fleet — I’ve got one player who was “brought up” on open role-playing. It’s one of those ideas that seems counter-intuitive, but I think that a lot of the orthodoxy in the simming community needs to be challenged if we’re to make our games better.

    • Well done for giving it a go, we always need to change and adapt with the times!

  • Kristie Corson

    Oh.my.god. I am Annika Mckenzie, the originator of Utopia Fleet. I can’t believe you have my old logo….or that I got you started. I’m so…in shock I stumbled across this!

    • Charles Star

      Hello, Fleet Admiral! It’s good to hear from you again! Yes, your Utopia Fleet had more of an impact on the community than you may have thought. Indeed, your influence is still being felt today. We chatted a few years ago, but feel free to hit me up at star [dot] idf [at] gmail [dot] com if you have any questions. Take care!