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Hyperspace Beacon: Advice from a master


I had the pleasure of playing Star Wars Galaxies with Brian "OddjobXL" Rucker for at least five years before his unfortunate passing last week. We never met in person, but he was a great influence on my life despite my having only recently found out what he looked like. One of the great things about the internet is that personality really shines through when you don't have a preconceived notion of who someone is based on how he looks. Brian was one of those people whose personality stood out from the rest of the community because of the stories he created and wisdom he imparted to others.

When he played SWG, he posted quite a bit as Mandash Grim on the Starsider Galaxy roleplay website; when a good chunk of those players decided to give Star Wars: The Old Republic a go, he moved with them to SWTOR-RP. On this forum, he talked about how SWTOR influenced RP, even though it was not exactly the way he envisioned it.

It's hard to summarize in a thousand words his gaming philosophies, which had such an influence on me, but I'd like to highlight a few key things he wrote that I believe summarize his feelings on something everyone reading this column probably loves: Star Wars MMO storytelling.

Hyperspace Beacon: On roleplay zen...
He was first and foremost a roleplayer, a person who took his character seriously and passionately. He had six guidelines for himself for making roleplay better.

1) My character belongs to me; your character belongs to you. We don't have to RP together if our styles of RP or the narrative goals of our characters don't mesh. We're not bad people or elitists if we recognize this. It means we're smart people who recognize the best time to say "no" is as soon as possible.

2) Never tolerate pressure to conform, especially if it violates the above rule.

3) Know the setting and use the setting as an inspirational device to create characters and situations that evoke the setting. Never use your knowledge of the setting to make another player feel foolish because odds are it only makes you look like a jerk. Be prepared to recognize that other people may have distinct versions of the setting themselves and that they could be right about some things or wrong to an incompatible extent. If disparate visions create too much dissonance to sustain suspension of disbelief, see rules 1 and 2.

4) Be patient with new roleplayers and non-roleplayers. That's where we all came from. However, we're under no obligation to entertain others if we're not being entertained back. Some players are gifted with the great compassion and patience to be wonderful helpers. Some aren't. Know which you are, help if you can, but if not, avoid nasty comments and get back to your own business. Catty asides reflect poorly on you, and veteran RPers will assume you are insecure in your own abilities if you appear compelled to trash less-experienced roleplayers.

5) If you're not having fun, take a break. Maybe a long one. While we do make friends and form longlasting communities here and in other MMOs, ultimately, this is just a game. It's not real life. When people or situations get you down or stressed or bored or irritable, maybe you just need some quality time away from the game. It'll be here when you come back, and people always seem happy to see someone who's returned after a long absence.

6) Pay attention. If you can, use a character's name, make reference to his past, or banter cleverly based on something the other person's said to make people feel drawn into the RP all the more. Ultimately, wealth in a roleplaying community isn't based on items or credits but on connections and reputation both IC and OOC. Each time you go out of your way to acknowledge someone, you're giving him a tip -- the same when someone singles you out for some comment or RP. Even when meeting new people, try to draw them out. Get them interested in what's happening, and often, the best way to do that is to ask them about them.
As roleplayers in MMOs, we cannot discount our roots in pen and paper RPGs. When the internet hit, MUDs and MUSHes influenced the RPG as well. Brian was there to see it, and he was deep in the trenches. When MMOs made their break into the roleplay community, Brian took to those as well.

A roleplayer on SWTOR-RP commented that anything on top of a chat box is icing on the cake for roleplayers. Brian's repsonse summarizes how I feel about MMO roleplay as well.
That line of argument I usually respond to by saying, "Then why aren't we all still playing MUSHes and MUDs?" Or IRC for that matter. They're still out there. The quality of RP is arguably much higher on more MUSHes than MMOs. Widgets and doo-dads do matter to us. We're looking not only for roleplay but to be entertained even when there isn't actual live roleplaying going on. We like actually seeing our characters and their worlds, too!

So if you're willing to grant that, then arguing for yet other bells and whistles that help us do our job as roleplayers and create more immersive and creative situations for ourselves makes quite a bit of sense: speech balloons, appearance tabs (for designing "at will" cosmetic looks), highly customizable avatars and personal structures, chairs one can sit in, sandbox economic/political/combat environments, and the ultimate prize for creative roleplayers: player-generated content tools.
I enjoyed watching Brian's opinion of the "guided tour" that BioWare gave us change as he learned more about the game. Ultimately, I knew it wasn't the sandbox he enjoyed and that he would eventually leave the game once the story was over, but he admitted that the leveling experience in SWTOR was unlike that in the other MMOs he'd played.
I'll confess to not having played much beyond a couple of classes so far. I find myself actually wondering what's coming next or how my (BioWare's) character will handle a situation. That never happens in MMOs. Usually I'm blazing through as fast as I can, so I can get to the "good stuff" -- max level, kick back, roleplay. Here, the action is in the adventure.

RPers have a habit of saying "slow down, smell the roses" or "it's not the destination; it's the journey." Usually, that's a load of crap. It's about RPers not wanting to grind up levels; it's usually boring as hell, so they quit to RP instead. Here, not so much. There are actual roses to smell. And the journey is the destination for many. Maybe even for me.
Star Wars: The Old Republic changed what I thought roleplaying was. And to be honest, I don't think I can express this change better than Brian did.
The most important element of any roleplaying game, however terrible, is the quality of the gamemaster and his players.

BioWare tells great stories. Lord Adraas -- and I'm betting other RP servers -- has attracted great players, not just the folks here reading this but the random dude out LFGing on the grid right now who doesn't even know this site exists.

I'm finding myself just drawn into to the stories and quests BioWare's scripted and taking them and their characters (any character whose dialogue I'm not writing isn't mine) at face value. I'm running into PUGs and random individuals, teaming up with them, and just adlibbing lines between cutscenes like we'd been roleplaying together for years. We are BioWare's characters. We're just going with the flow, and it works. In fact, the quality of the interactions we improvise within the context of BioWare's adventures and characterizations is beyond much of what I've seen in more traditional RP-friendly contexts.

This is the new normal. This is coloring inside the lines. This is SWTOR RP orthodoxy. It's not what we're used to. It might not even be what we're really looking for. But it works. It's everywhere. It's easy enough that even non-roleplayers find themselves jumping in and acting in character without realizing it. Old pros find colorful ways to embellish the RP and show off their skills. And thank God, it gets us out of the cantinas and into action. Good old-fashioned adventuring!

Now, I'm still a guy who prides himself on originality and creativity. In the long run, I'll be heading to the next good sandbox with loads of RP-friendly tools for myself and for other creative folks to play with -- the next SWG, if you will. But you know what, kudos to BioWare here. This could be the gateway drug D&D used to be for tabletop roleplaying. You don't even have to be a roleplayer to roleplay in SWTOR, but it helps. And when you're ready for something that gives you room to flex your creative muscles a little more... hopefully that MMO will be out there waiting.

BioWare's stories are making roleplay easy again. I don't have to think about it too much, analyze, edit, nor consider; I just do it. This is not a bad thing at all.
I want to share this last thing not because it's some great nugget of wisdom but because I get a little choked up every time I read it now. As I said in the beginning, we all roll with a lot of anonymity when we're online. It's a rare thing for a gamer, especially a roleplayer, to open up a bit about his real life. In an effort to get the old SWG roleplay community to work together more, Brian shared a bit about himself to the rest of the community.
I'm an old gamer. I've been roleplaying since there was roleplaying (except during brief periods when I was "too cool," but I got over it). I was raiding dungeons long before PCs became a household appliance. I remember how exciting Pong was and still can't believe my eyes when I log into something like SWG or wander around in Oblivion. But I've been along every step of the way.

As for my real life, well, I work for a family printing business (specializing in appellate litigation -- if you don't know what that means, don't ask) which is a nice and cozy situation. I've been here for over 10 years now and likely will be until they plant me in the ground. I'm single, though I've had a few close calls, and I've realized I'm just too ornery and selfish to be any other way -- plus, look at all the free time and spare capital I've got on hand! Growing up is so overrated.
I believe the ultimate goal for anyone in this life is to leave it a little bit better than when he came into it. I think I can speak for everyone when I say, whether you knew him as Mandash Grim, Cicero Harper, OddjobXL, or just Brian Rucker, you are better off for having known him.

Clear skies, Cap'n.

The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!

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