Storyboard: In the thick of it

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|02.04.11

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Storyboard: In the thick of it
Talking amongst ourselves only goes so far when it comes to roleplaying. Eventually there comes a time when you have to get up and get your character moving, or you're going to wind up playing a Federation captain whose mission is to explore strange new ways to sit on Risa without doing anything. And while you can certainly treat the leveling process as a sideline to the interaction, why would you want to do that?

Roleplaying in the midst of content isn't just a good idea, it's a great way to build character and really get your mettle tested. It means that you have to adapt to a different style of roleplaying, one that doesn't have the space for long-winded speeches or discussing the intricacies of your past. It seems so natural, but I know an awful lot of roleplayers who haven't tried it. But we're not just going to put forth a call to start getting out into dungeons or fleet actions or task forces with roleplaying partners -- no, we're going to talk about how to do it so that you don't wind up getting decorated with your own viscera.

Practice typing

This is probably the most boring piece of roleplaying advice you ever have seen or ever will. I mean, honestly, practice typing? Don't read up on lore or figure out new permutations on character archetypes, just practice typing? Even Mario can't make that sound fun.

But it's still a good piece of advice. The ability to type quickly will help with every aspect of the game, but far more importantly, it's a boon in all sorts of roleplaying. The slower you type, the more you slow down the pace of a given scene, and the harder it is for other players to keep interest. Even if you're just sitting around and discussing in-game politics, being able to type quickly and respond quickly will keep things humming along nicely as opposed to slowing to a crawl while you take the better part of two minutes to respond to a simple question.

Seriously, I've seen those people. And they were charming players, but it was really hard to keep a scene going, because the conversation would keep getting mired in long and awkward pauses that killed any sense of forward motion.

Obviously, when you're in a high-risk situation with other players, typing quickly is going to be the order of the day. Practice is the best way to get better, and unfortunately, those typing tutor programs really are probably your best bet. I say this as someone who hated bothering with them as a kid and can now type almost as quickly as I talk, so there's something to that.

Keep it simple yet again

I will admit that I have a tendency to ramble just a bit. That's true in columns, and it's true when roleplaying, when I'll have characters who will orate for hours if given the proper motivation. So that's another reason to try roleplaying in the middle of things, because you need to shut up and not die.

Getting better at typing helps, sure, but it's not going to change the fact that you don't have time for long speeches. You don't even have time for moderate speeches. Sometimes, you barely have time to mouth off a witty catch phrase before charging into battle. And if you stand around trying to be verbose, the game will remind you that the time for shaggy dog stories is not right now.

The thing is, brevity actually helps bring out more of your character, not less. Restrictions breed creativity. If your character doesn't have the time to rant off for 10 minutes to show he's verbose, he could just use a word that hasn't been used in an actual conversation since 1875. Ironically, by removing most of the space for frills, you actually open up space to define your character.

React accordingly...

You know that it's just a game. Unless your group of roleplayers is far more meta than those I know, your characters decidedly do not know this. They're not going to see a boss and automatically think that it's a pretty easy fight; they're going to see some huge guy with a cyborg arm and flames shooting out of his back. Instead of treating it as a routine run through a mission or quest or whatever, let yourself be in the moment.

What would your character actually think upon seeing the odds against her? Would she panic? Break down? Try to bolt and run? Charge forward? March onward with a quivering lip and trembling hands? Stop seeing that your target is half your level and start seeing that your target is someone any normal human being would find pretty frightening to face down.

There are a lot of people who are excellent at portraying a character's reactions and personality but not so great with doing so in real time. And it's hard to do when you've trained yourself to think of enemies as poppable blobs of experience points and loot. Taking a step back and forcing yourself back into the in-universe mindset can make even the most mundane run through low-level content take on a whole new level of significance.

... But it is still a game

Yeah, sometimes you're going to have to fudge things. To use Star Trek Online as a perfect example, you probably are going to have to just overlook an ally's ship blowing up, unless you want to spend the next month or so sitting in drydock and pretending to wait for a replacement. You might also want to fudge, say, the higher-level character absolutely massacring everything around you because it was a low-level content run, thereby reducing the entire experience to a farce. The time your City of Heroes task force wiped twice from a mistaken pull and the fact that you'd already done the task force is similarly fudge-worthy.

It's not fair to say that these aren't issues -- run the same content five separate times with five different people, and which one was the "real" run? But it's not worth giving up roleplaying in a more dynamic environment just because you have to handwave a few details away. The important part isn't whether or not you were in one dungeon or another; it's what everyone acted like under pressure and what that might mean for future developments.

Originally I was going to use this week to talk more about setting up dynamic scenes, but there was a lot to say on this topic, so we'll come back to crafting more dynamic scenes later. Not next week, though -- next week it's time for us to take a look at an archetype out of the limelight and yet intimately linked to pretty much every story of character growth. Until then, you can let me know what you think in the comments or via mail to

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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