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Storyboard: Time is not on your side

Storyboard: Time is not on your side
Eliot Lefebvre
Eliot Lefebvre|May 6, 2011 5:30 PM
I don't know about the rest of you, but these days it sometimes seems like I just don't have the time to roleplay any longer.

Don't get me wrong -- I love roleplaying with a passion normally reserved for romantic partners, or in rare cases, a particularly awesome game. (Or potential romantic partners within a game, but there's a time and place to talk about Merrill, and it's not here.) But by any deity you care to name, roleplaying can be a time-consuming and tedious affair. It's not such a big deal when you're in college and your primary responsibilities consist of actually attending your stupid Thursday class this week, but at this point, I'm lucky if I'm logging in by 8 p.m. and I might be up for another three hours at best.

That being said? I still find the time to get a lot of roleplaying in along with playing the actual game, and it requires a delicate dance between saving time and glossing over the unnecessary. So today's column, coming right before the one-year mark, is all about finding the time to actually sit down and roleplay in a functional fashion while still getting to sleep and shower.

Let the boring stuff happen off-screen

Ms. Lady and I do a lot of roleplaying with a lot of characters and a lot of backstory. And we manage it, in part, by letting a lot of character interactions take place out-of-game. Heck, some of them take place by having one of us say "shouldn't Mike and Joan be hooked up by now?" followed by the other one saying "yeah, that's happened." And we fill in the blanks implied by that with a bit of discussion.

Now, not all of your roleplaying relationships are backed up by a real-life relationship, naturally. It's equally likely that most of those relationships do not include someone whom you live with on top of that. But there are still a lot of ways that you can take roleplaying out of the realm of the game, and for the interactions in which no one is doing much of anything? That can work just as well.

Yes, it means that other characters can't walk in on the scene, and yes, there's a certain amount of handwaving involved. But remember, our goal here is to cut down on time spent overall so that you can focus on the really interesting bits of character interaction, which means trimming the scenes where you already know the outcome down to the bare minimum. (We all have a lot of scenes that run like that -- sure, Max might be trying to convince Tom that Annette is evil, but OOC we all know that's not going to happen.) And that leads directly into the next point.

Brevity is the soul of wit, communication, and getting through the scene

Remember the Dilbert strip in which the boss talks about how the company's going to have the training pre-meeting that ends with the characters sitting down for the preliminary pre-meeting? I have seen roleplayers do precisely that, and while it often goes hand-in-hand with trying to tell way too much story, it's also a sin of having far too much time on your hands. If you're building up to Max and Tom fighting over Annette, don't waste two straight weeks with Annette and Max sniping at one another. Jump to the most interesting interactions and start from there.

This does in part kill the buildup, but again, we're talking about a medium in which time is of the essence. Your fellow players are working on what amounts to borrowed time, and you want to get the maximum impact in the minimal time. If you're building toward something, cut down that buildup to the minimum necessary -- and when possible, cut it down a bit from there. Odds are that if it's a big interaction, you'll have plenty of time between when the scene becomes necessary and when you'll actually get to have it, which lets idle background RP fill in the necessary rising action.

And when you get into a scene, for the love of anything, make that scene snap. Type your responses quickly and don't waste a whole lot of time with flowery speech (unless that's one of your character's things, anyway). Keep it punchy and active. If the scene starts to drag a little, jump ahead and move along. As a general rule, if I've spent an hour and a half roleplaying, I feel like I had fun the whole time. If I've spent three hours, I'm waiting to finish up something that could have been done two and a half hours faster.

Avoid entangling nonsense

This one should be basic logic, but I think it's something that's harder to do in practice than in theory. Someone will come up with a clever idea for a roleplaying event or ask you for something that will require a long-term steady commitment that you can't necessarily make -- and you agree to do it anyway, because hey, good RP! That's what counts, right?

No. If you are getting involved in something you don't actually expect to be around for, you're actually making things worse for the people who do have the time. And you're also shortchanging yourself, making roleplaying into a commitment that you can't always fulfill instead of a fun activity. If you want your time spent in-game to be fun and filled with good roleplaying, you have to avoid getting yourself involved with things you don't really have time to participate in.

This also goes in reverse, too. If someone is starting up one of those decisively long-winded roleplaying ventures described above, clock out early. Learn to recognize when an event will last for another half hour and when it will be another three, because in the latter case, you should bow out early. Don't get caught up in the urge to find roleplaying where you can't really access it.

Next week, it's time to look back over the past year of columns and decide on what worked, what didn't, and what I would just as soon forget I even tried. Until then, leave comments in the comment field, or mail them along to eliot@massively.com, like always.

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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