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Storyboard: RP 101 - The mechanics of interaction

Eliot Lefebvre

There are a lot of times in life when you're expected to figure out the mechanics of something by jumping in facefirst. Your first time roleplaying is among them. You know about all of the groundwork you need to do before you start roleplaying, and you know about what happens when you are roleplaying, but the first time you roleplay is going to be filled with a lot of awkward half-starts and confusion over what you're supposed to do at any given moment. So it's a lot like the first time you learned how to ride a bicycle.

Yes, I was building up to the bicycle analogy; what did you think I was going for?

Part of this is because most people have The Friend Who Roleplays, who introduces you by example; you don't need to find out how it's done because someone who already knows is showing you. But maybe you don't have a roleplaying buddy or anything beyond a desire to see what all the fuss is about. Rather than discussing anything more abstract, I'm going to talk about the bare mechanics of roleplaying -- stuff to do when you start, stuff to keep in mind, and the pure mechanical aspects of conveying a character through text and a few model animations.

This is both easier and harder than it sounds.

Pictured: Cetlali trying to look innocent.  She does that a lot.Behavior before

The first thing to do is to find out whether your game has a walk toggle. If it does, toggle it. If it has the option but there's no keybinding, make one. You will be using this religiously because nothing but nothing can start killing the mood of a scene like someone casually dashing across the room at top speed to grab a drink. Not every game features this, so sometimes you don't have a choice, but find out whether you do or not first.

You'll also want to take a look at the game's emote system. There are a lot of subtleties to decipher, some of which might not be immediately obvious, but at a bare minimum you should find out whether the game has custom emotes, which emotes are tied to an animation, and which ones have a useful animation for roleplaying purposes. Nodding is often a good one to know (some games use /yes; some use /nod). Emotes convey a lot of the ambiance of a scene.

In the event that your game doesn't have custom emotes, most players will kludge it by bracketing their text with asterisks, like so:

    [Cetlali]: It wasn't really my fault! *smiles broadly, trying to look innocent* 
Always remember with emotes that less is more. If your character leans on the bar and sighs, that's good. If you type that he leans on the bar looking like a man on the hunt, that works. If you spend a paragraph discussing the crook of his elbow on the bar, you're doing it wrong.

While using your phenomenal cosmic powers during a friendly conversation is not disallowed, it's considered rude.Behavior during

So you've gone to a common shared roleplaying area, all good. You found someone there not in the middle of another conversation, and your character walked up and said an appropriate hello. You've even got a plausible reason for the characters to strike up a conversation (remember, everyone wants something, even if it's just a glass of water). Now you're talking, and your end goal is to make this as interesting as possible for both participants.

At this point, an important question should be asked: How quickly do you type?

This might seem irrelevant, but it's not. Some people are just slow typers either because they always need to look down at the keyboard or because they take a little longer to form the sentences in their heads. Other people can hammer out a paragraph in the time that it takes you to figure out how to respond to the last paragraph. In order to manage a conversation naturally, you have to be simultaneously clear on how quickly you type, how quickly the other person types, and when each character is done saying something.

The odds are more or less absolute that you'll fail on one or two of these on a irregular basis. A good rule of thumb, however, is to expect that for everything you type into chat, the other person gets to make some kind of response. If you type a paragraph accusing someone of being a nationalist jerk, really, the next word on the subject should be hers. You can also go by the 10-second rule: Wait 10 seconds after your last statement to start typing unless you're saying multiple things in quick succession.

There's also the issue of making your character's dialogue sound natural rather than forced, but that's an entirely different column. Suffice it to say that you're going to need to practice, and you should try saying what your character is going to say out loud. If it sounds ridiculous in your real voice, it'll probably sound ridiculous coming from your character, too.

Inevitably, you'll come across a need to either speak out of character or emphasize a particular word in a sentence. Most game chat clients don't give you the option of bolding every other word, so for emphasis, people usually either surround text with dashes or asterisks, as follows:
   [Cetlali]: Well, *that* could have gone better. [Cetlali]: I didn't -think- you would notice. 
I tend to favor the latter just because there's less potential overlap with emotes, but that's just me.

Talking with OOC has a lot of different standards, but double parentheses are almost universally noted as being OOC. Demonstration once again:
   [Cetlali]: (( Have to pause for a few moments; there's a badger attacking my leg. ))
Sometimes you'll see either brackets or the "OOC:" prefix used, but the above formatting is easy to recognize. Some players also universally treat text in party chat or tells to be OOC unless there's a convincing explanation to the contrary; that's something to deal with on a case-by-case basis.

Behavior research

The mechanics of roleplaying are probably the most boring part of roleplaying because once you know them, they're just there. But if you've never tried it out before, it can be nice to have at least a foot in the door for knowing how thse things work. That's my goal here.

Did it work? Did it make things worse? Let me know in the comments or mail your thoughts along to as usual. Next week, I want to relate a plotting tip that I've been trying out, so it's going to be a bit more experimental for me.

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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