Over the years, roleplayers have developed their own unique culture and rules. And on the surface, that culture can be intimidating to get into. However, if you keep the number one rule in mind, then the experience will be more fun for everyone. Roleplay's golden rule is this: It's not about winning. Roleplay is most fun when you are creating a cooperative story with a large group of people.
Let's run over some initial things you'll want to avoid.
Meta-gaming. Avoiding the use of out-of-character knowledge for in-character purposes should be a simple concept for people. Unfortunately, it is the most commonly broken rule by noobie roleplayers. For instance, a character's name isn't really floating above his head, yet no less than three times this week, a character walked up to my character and magically knew what my character's name was -- we'll call him Shaddoe for the purposes of this column. Of course, Shaddoe had never met this other character, but suddenly I had to make a choice about whether to write him off as a non-roleplayer or attempt to bypass it in character.
Of course, that's not the only instance of meta-gaming. Are in-game classes in-character? What about level? Things like gear and species can easily be seen by your character. If Shaddoe's carrying a lightsaber, you can assume he's a Jedi, but what if that weapon isn't present? Generally, levels are an in-game mechanic to represent skill, but most of the time a person's outward appearance would not indicate his skill level.
Mistakes will be made, but before you jump into a roleplay scene, just think about what your character would actually know about other characters before leaping into the conversation.
God-moding. This term comes from games like Doom where you could modify the game so that you were unkillable and you had all weapons and all skills. Believe it or not, people attempt to do this in roleplay, too. This breaks the golden rule of roleplay, but sometimes people do this unintentionally because they lack experience.
Many roleplayers actually like to play a version of themselves in extraordinary circumstances. I am certainly fine with this. Playing myself in the Star Wars universe would definitely be fun; however, problems arise when you can't let yourself lose or when you have to be the star of the show. So sometimes players load themselves up with skills, position, or power that they really shouldn't have. Avoid being related closely with a canon character, avoid having gear beyond what you can have in game or logically carry at one time, and make sure to treat every other player's in-character skill as equal or greater than yours.
Power-gaming. Sometimes this is called god-moding or power-emoting or god-moting, but really it's all the same. Do not ever dictate to another player what his or her character does during the course of gameplay. As we are well aware, not everything can be strictly done via game mechanics. Sometimes we have to emote an action. In SWTOR, we do this with /e or /me or /emote. Unless things are agreed upon ahead of time, only emote your action, not the other player's reaction. For instance, "Shaddoe punches Darth Death's face knocking him out cold" is an example of what not to do. However, you can emote, "Shaddoe throws a punch at Darth Death's face," or to help the other player understand your intent, emote, "Shaddoe throws a punch at Darth Death's face attempting to knock him out cold."
Personally, I find this one hard not because I don't want to give other players a choice but because sometimes the emotes come out stiff and disjointed (or hokey, even) when I don't follow through with the result of the action. On top of that, it takes more time to wait for the other guy to respond to your action. I'm an impatient person when it comes to roleplay sometimes -- especially emoted conflict.
Of course, we all know that Star Wars: The Old Republic takes place in the universe created by George Lucas and the authors of the multitude of books and other literature, yet for some reason roleplayers, especially fresh ones, want to try to attach other favorite other genres to their roleplay. Don't get me wrong; I don't mind people taking inspiration from other books or media, but oftentimes, I see people making the mistake of trying to directly port characters from one universe to the Star Wars universe. Just do a search on your server to see how many variations of Malcolm Reynolds you find.
As I said, inspiration is fine. In fact, I encourage it. But be careful about how close your homage comes to the real thing. To help flavor your "Captain Reynolds" for the Star Wars universe, I'd suggest a trip to Wookieepedia, probably the best site in the universe for Star Wars roleplayers. (To all the veteran roleplayers: I understand that Wookieepedia isn't 100% accurate, but we are just using this for inspiration, so 99% accuracy is OK.) Look up smugglers; read about different smugglers in the SW universe. I bet you will find great inspiration in some of those characters, and they will have facts and personality traits that you can pull from to fit your version of "Malcolm Reynolds."
Perhaps you enjoy playing non-human species in your science-fiction setting. We all want to be special snowflakes sometimes. But the downfall of being a special snowflake is that if everyone is special, no one is special. Personally, I tend to play my "alien" characters more traditionally. Since everyone else tends to be non-traditional, this makes my character special.
If you're looking to play an alien as well, I suggest you learn as much as you can before stepping into a roleplay scene. Again, Wookieepedia comes in handy. I've done a write-ups on Chiss, Twi'leks, Miraluka, and Purebloods. Feel free to use those for reference, but I think the best resources are Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars Roleplaying Game sourcebooks. The information in those books is considered canon, which means you can use them to help build your alien character.
Unfortunately, I was only able to just scratch the surface of roleplaying in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but if this is something you're interested in reading more about, let me know in the comments. If you'd like to read more about MMO roleplay in general, check out Eliot Lefebvre's regular roleplay column, Storyboard.
As always, let me know what you think in the comments, and I will see you next week.
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!