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All the World's a Stage: 4 ways you know you've jumped the shark


I recently revisited an old roleplay stomping ground. It's a vampire game, so it's not the kind of thing in which one expects high fiction. The vampire genre tends to be good gothic goofy fun. It's a "darker" kind of roleplay, which generally just means that people keep straight faces and focus on telling stories of personal angst and misery. I won't go so far as to say it's serious business, but it's pretty close to it. Which is why I was totally shocked to find out that the collected vampire organization was getting ready for its big national pajama party. No, really.

Now, I'm not quite saying that Nero's playing his fiddle, but that struck me as pretty silly. Folks took this big pajama party pretty seriously, though. Ancient, elder vampires were seriously discussing footies. Now, I'm pretty sure it was all in the pursuit of fun, but it sounded to me like Fonzie was starting his engine, and getting ready to jump that shark. This kind of thing isn't unusual. Another roleplay game -- a standard sword and magic game -- went belly up when Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise showed up.

Sometimes, roleplaying campaigns just run out of steam. It's not anyone's fault, really. The best ideas have been used, the characters have grown up, and the stories have run their course. And then, after the best part of the campaign has been achieved, things start getting a little silly. Here's how to tell you may be jumping the shark.

Reusing the same plot

This week in your server's roleplay scene, the big story going around is how Bob the Paladin was forced to confront his dead family in Icecrown, all of whom had been converted to Scourge minions. Bob gets together with Frank the Rogue, who was also forced to deal with his dead mom and dad last month. Bob and Frank decided to get together with Alice the Mage, who found her dead children in Icecrown a few weeks ago. They form the Your Dead Family support group in Stormwind, where roleplay characters get together to discuss their feelings about this plotline and grow as people.

Now, some plot repetition is inevitable. People die, get married, have children, and are confronted with horrible things. It's an old joke that there's about a half dozen plots, and everything else is characterization. But when you get to the point that the same group of characters are encountering the same challenges week over week, it might be time to put the campaign down and restart characters.

Fundamental lore characters know you personally

It's Tim the Warlock's birthday. All of his friends are getting together to throw a party. It's going to be awesome. Gnomes are going to pop out of the cake and fireworks are going to go off at the strike of midnight. Even better, Thrall is going to drop by in the evening to bring Tim a present. Thrall and Tim are BFFs after a little adventure last week.

Okay, that might be a small exaggeration, but I'm sure we've all seen this kind of thing before. A character related to Illidan, the person who really killed Gul'dan, or something similar. Usually these concepts get a little bit of ridicule. And whether you think that's fair not, if a group of roleplayers who would normally eschew that kind of thing spontaneously starts sprouting relationships with WoW fundamental lore characters ... well, it's a good sign you're jumping the shark.

You start crossing genres

I once walked into Silvermoon, where a group of roleplaying Sindorei were screaming and running around in panic. I stopped one and asked, "What's going on?" The Sindorei roleplayed turning around and pointing to the distances, where an orc was slowly approaching. I then got the fateful whisper, "it's a stand in for Godzilla." In the time it took me a moment to process what the blood elf had just told me, the orc came nearby and emoted that he "breathes nuclear fire over the Silvermoon protectors."

Don't get me wrong. I love me some Godzilla. But I'm pretty sure a giant Tokyo monster stomping down the hallowed halls of Silvermoon is pure World of Warcraft genre. I am not a member of the pure-sword-and-magic camp, but I'm still positive having the named actual Godzilla is outside the norm.

Crossing genres is a pretty big sign that your campaign is jumping the shark. It happens because the creative personalities are struggling to find something new and different. All the stories are getting repetitive, all the normal genre elements have been used up. You go outside the genre to find something a little fresher.

You get silly

I started off this post discussing the vampire pajama party, so I don't feel like I need to over-explain the idea that if your campaign gets silly, it might be time to reset. However, I do want to mention that the vampire PJ-fest is a mild example of games getting silly when running long in the tooth. I've seen a group of roleplayers decide their characters would play another tabletop game in character. So, a group of Azeroth's finest got together to role the dice and make some saving throws.

What do you do about it?

I have talked before about the need to eventually end your character. Campaigns and on-going stories also need an end. As I've outlined above, they can jump the shark. They get silly, they get out of bounds, and they can eventually end up breaking genre. When the campaign is struggling in these ways, let them end. It doesn't mean you can't still roleplay. It just means you start things over; you get started anew. We'll talk more about how to do that this week.

In the meantime, let me know the different ways you've seen roleplay games jump sharks. These tend to be some of the best stories.

All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. You might wonder what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, or to totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying, or even how to RP on a non-RP server!

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