OngoingWorlds blog

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


What is Open Role Playing?

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.