Storyboard: Putting the RP out of the G

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|12.03.10

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Storyboard: Putting the RP out of the G
Roleplaying happens in the game, that much is a given. For some players, it's a supplement to the other parts of the game; for others, it's the whole point of playing. And there's nothing wrong with leaving your roleplaying as just an in-game thing, something you put down as casually as any other in-game activity. But there's also nothing wrong with working on developing your character and her story when you aren't logged into the game, and this week, I'm going to look at some of the more effective ways to do just that.

The obvious question about taking RP out of the game in part is the question of why. It could be for any number of reasons -- maybe you can't access your main game computer at a given time, maybe you want to fill in the gaps in your character's life, or maybe you just want to make the experience of the character herself more immersive. Whatever your reasons, there are three main ways to keep your character interactive and living even if you haven't logged into the game proper.

Diaries

Not every character is of a contemplative bent. There are characters for whom stringing together a half-dozen words is a feat to be remembered. But if your character is in a setting where she could be expected to have both basic literacy and the means to practice it, an in-character diary can serve as a useful way of keeping daily logs of activities. Most games don't specifically encourage this practice, but none discourages it. Final Fantasy XIV even includes a personalized character blog for each player that can be used for just this purpose.

Keeping a diary doesn't have to be a long or ornate practice, but devoting a few minutes to it every day can let you flesh out the more mundane details of a character's life. As a result, a diary also frees up in-game roleplaying for more interesting and pressing matters, rather than talking about your character's favorite food. The biggest downsides are the time required and the fact that, by all logic, no other characters would know what's written in the diary until later. Depending on your usual roleplaying group, this might be a non-issue, or it might be a case of writing entries purely for your own amusement.

Correspondence

Of course, with the few steps required to set up a character blog, you can also set up a character-specific email. Signing up for a new Google account is not exactly an arduous task, after all, and it'll work well enough for sending letters back and forth. If you'd rather take part in some interactive roleplaying outside of the game, sending letters between your character and someone else offers definite possibilities.

Of course, a bit more preparation is required as compared to a character diary. You need at least one other person to be on-board, and there has to be a plausible reason for the correspondence to take place at all. Games in which there seems to be no infrastructure to support mail delivery certainly won't play nicely with the idea that you're in a long-running discussion via letters. If you take the steps necessary, however, there are some unique benefits to writing letters.

Aside from allowing you to build a relationship with characters outside of in-game interactions, letters give you even more chance to flesh out what happens between the quests. They also allow you to work around characters with speech impediments, linguistic difficulties, or other barriers that might impede in-game communication. Last but not least, a series of letters makes a useful meta-prop for the game -- you or the recipient can later refer back to the letter in-game, possibly even passing it off to others as a memento or incriminating evidence.

Asides

This is a trick that I've only personally used a few times, for the same reason I've only used it a few times for pen-and-paper gaming -- it's a bit complicated to get together, and sometimes it's more trouble than it's worth. The idea of an aside is to take scenes that don't require much beyond dialogue to work outside of the game, so that you can play them out at your leisure and without the usual restrictions of game clients. Instead of working the scene out in the game, you chat over your message system of choice (Google chat, AIM, what-have-you) and save the transcript for later.

I don't need to specify the problems that can arise from this, but there's a lot to be said for the benefits it can offer. Essentially, when worked correctly, it allows you to focus on the actual words passing between characters instead of the scenery. I've had many roleplaying events that had a lot of interesting dialogue, but the action of said event consisted of a bunch of people sitting around a table and not moving. Taking that into a chat client would free players from worrying about the game while typing and free up game time for actual gameplay.

Also, most chat clients allow you to see when someone else is typing. How many of us have wished for that in-game?

A word of caution

All of the techniques here help you bring roleplaying outside of the game, but for some players, the whole point of roleplaying is that it happens in the game. Not everyone likes taking part in out-of-game interactions, just like not everyone can get behind romance in storylines. Some of this comes from a simple lack of interest, and some of this comes from not wanting to read a bunch of supplementary materials in order to just play.

The most important events should be happening on-screen. Characters should not be dying or undergoing massive life changes as relayed by a diary entry. The extra material should enhance the story going on in the game, not replace it.

That's our column for this week, so as always, let me know what you think via email (eliot@massively.com) or in the comments field. As people seem to be liking the archetypes, we're tackling another one next week, but this time we're not talking about someone who hurts anyone. Not intentionally, anyhow. No, our next archetype has a much... smarter calling.

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.
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