Storyboard: The way it was for three years

Going back in time.
Roleplaying is the same as it ever was. People are still shoehorning in lore characters into backstories, someone is a sparkly magic vampire, and you can still turn a corner in a tavern to find two people with a decided lack of gear or public shame. (In Second Life, that corner is the one you turn to download the game.) But I've had three years of talking about it, so it's at least a little different than it was.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's better.

Every year I like to take a look back at the past year, talk about what worked well, what didn't work at all, and what I'd like to do in the future. So it is for this year, complete with a nice big surprise down at the end there. Regular readers may be less surprised, but you can just bear with me.

Sometimes it's all so simple and perfect.Where I went right

This past year held some of my all-time favorite columns. Questions to ask about your character. In praise of stereotypes. Being the problem player (and its close cousin about no one getting your character). Plot skeletons. Playing to the medium. Dark pasts. Hobbies. Some of them generated a bit of discussion or cries of contradiction, but I look back at those and others and nod at myself in satisfaction. When I was on, it went well.

Some of these were personal pieces, in a way, written as responses to situations I'd encountered over the year that I felt wouldn't benefit from my arguing a point at the moment. (It's also nice to calcify certain ideas that I can point to a reference in the future.) Others were just thoughts that I'd mulled over for three years that came together beautifully. There wasn't a cohesive theme to them, however, just several individual pieces that hit important topics, most of which don't seem to get covered all that often.

Sometimes, it's a prelude to loss.Where I went wrong

I'm just going to go right ahead and say that I had two attempts at making a meta-series this year, and I'm not happy with either of them -- mildly unhappy in one case; very unhappy in the other.

The RIFT project wound up being five weeks of columns that didn't really establish anything. It provided absolutely no new conclusions, offered no new insights, and generally didn't do much either than filling space for a while, at least as I judge it after the fact. It was entertaining to read at the time, I hope, which is its one saving grace. Lesson learned: Going in with a project to see what happens doesn't produce anything approaching a solid narrative or a point of interest.

Meanwhile, the abortive series on profession discussions was obviously meant to bookend the archetype discussions from the first year, but while those generated discussion, these seemed to stymie it. I don't actually know why, although I wish I did. My guess is that there wasn't enough to separate the two concepts easily, and I wound up tackling the concepts in such broad strokes that the whole thing didn't work.

But wait, there's more! I also made a concentrated push this year to be more topical, with... varying degrees of success. Writing about Guild Wars 2 was thematic, but it sure didn't make for a great column.

I still think Rielene has legs, but this wasn't the right place.Looking ahead

There are two major lessons that seem obvious, and the first one is that my two attempts at running meta-series did not work. Recapturing what did work is not a good idea, nor is tying a project to the column a great idea. So I need to try a different technique this year.

More than that, however, I feel this year involved a lot of swinging for the fences with mixed results. When I hit, I hit hard; the misses flopped pretty badly. I'd like to get the column into a more steady groove this year.

This means two things for me. First of all, there are some big blank spaces that almost never get covered regarding roleplaying, concepts and the like that matter but just don't get any discussion. There aren't guides, there aren't suggestions, and there isn't even acknowledgement within the community. Some of those fields are ripe for discussion.

But the other major area I can look to is going back and revising things that I've already worked on. After three years, I'm a much better writer, and I've acquired even more experience to draw upon when it comes to explaining how RP can work. The columns on villainy were my first stab at revisiting a topic and doing a better job the second time around, and I think it came out pretty well. No one screamed murder about me covering something I'd addressed before, either. I don't like writing columns that I've already written, but there are some examples that I think could benefit from a new and more mature approach.

Oh, and I still need to revise that header graphic. After three years, I have grown to hate it.

And now, the library!

I've written about a lot of stuff over the past three years, and some of it's perpetually useful. Not all of it, but the vast majority of it. Unfortunately, since it comes out in the form of a weekly column, the organization is lacking. Especially since I like to not run two parts of the same column back-to-back because I am a horrible human being.

So let's make that easier: Introducing the Storyboard Library.

If the goal here isn't immediately obvious, let me spell it out: I'm aiming at having an easy-to-access central listing of all the useful Storyboard articles in a single place, organized by topics and rough themes. It's not perfect at the moment, but that's one of the bright sides of having it in a static place, so I can refine the layout and get it just right over time. And it also makes an easy way to tell at a glance what has or hasn't been covered.

Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about it.

Feedback regarding the year behind us, the year to come, or the Library can be left in the comments below or mailed to eliot@massively.com, just like always. Next week, I want to jump into the fourth year of the column with something nice and meaty: stupidity.

Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.
This article was originally published on Massively.