Halicron's Rules For Good RP (which be more like guidelines)



    • A Bunch of Rules For Good RP.

    This was first drafted by a good friend of mine. This is to those people who genuinely want to be good RPers, and recognize that it's hard work and requires constant self-improvement. I've added a bit onto this list and edited it for diverse games, but the core of it remains hers.


    Lots of people complain about not finding good RP, but don't tell you what they're looking for. So, I'm going to try to give some helpful advice. Take what you need and leave the rest, as they say.

    I have a theory, though, about why people fall into certain kinds of RP and can't seem to grow beyond that point. The two kinds of primary RP are A: bar RP and B: combatives. Both kinds of RP naturally give your character something to do. When you are drinking, you have your next pose handy -- take a sip, order another drink, whatever. When you are fighting, you have your next pose handy -- draw now, shoot next. So, the secret to improving your roleplaying is to figure out what it is about those two kinds of RP that make it so easy and translate it into other things.

    When I first started RPing back in the Ice Age, I sucked. People were nice enough to give me massive amounts of help along the way. This post is a "pass it on" sort of philosophy, not an "I know better than you" thing, so, if it feels that way, please accept my apology ahead of time.

    1. Try to address the environment around you. Setting aside the issue of living with angry green giants, space aliens, talking animals, or ray guns (after about the first week it gets old RPing your shock to this), there are tons of other things around you to RP off of. Think about the weather. If it's raining, how would your character respond to it? If it's really hot, what do you do IRL and how can you describe your character doing that. For example, my character always -hates- the heat so she constantly tugs her hair up in a makeshift bun and she constantly drinks slurpees when it's hot.

    2. Agree upon the use of tense and stick to it. A silent consensus is that Roleplay is done in the 'active' tense-- 'He goes, she walks, they leave'. Some people prefer the narrative tense, or past tense-- 'They left, he arrived, she went'. Figure out what tense you want to use, and be consistent about it. The preference might be to use 'you', as if speaking directly into the camera. I advise against this for several reasons, mostly because it makes reading logs later feel weird.
      This is a sticking point for many people, and I get it-- everyone has a preference. But when a scene uses 'you' it makes for a bad read, because now it's forcing the reader into the role. And that's actually very jarring, particularly when 'you' find yourself doing something 'you' don't want to do-- or worse, having something done 'to' 'you' that you, or 'you', don't like. Confused? Good. Don't use 'you' and you'll be fine. Failing all else, use the third person, active tense, limited form-- 'he, she, they, it'.

    3. Avoid telepathic poses. "Thought poses" -- poses that tell us why your character is doing a thing -- are often considered weak RP because they assume that the audience can read your character's mind. Much like spices, omniscient lines are best used sparingly, and in a context where it refers to a shared experience by all participants.
      When you describe your character's mood, focus on what is observable. Use adjectives liberally. There are disapproving scowls, downcast gazes, broad grins, coy glances...the list goes on. This gives the other writer something to work with. It creates more nuance in their response. If Jane normally smiles a lot, then a scowl is especially out of place. If she's normally energetic, then a lethargic wave can convey a different emotion than a tensed headshake.
      An example of a weak 'telepathic' pose:
      "Jane is walking across the park. She's upset by her boyfriend from earlier. She sees her friend Wendy and wonders if Wendy is going to cancel their plans. She hates the way Wendy dresses and even though Wendy really offended her with her casual text, she decides not to say anything. She waves at her even though she doesn't want to talk to her."
      Great for a story, lousy for cooperative writing. This pose doesn't give Wendy's writer much to work with, because it doesn't convey any information to Wendy's character about Jane's mood. And it's passive-aggressive, because it's now a way for Jane or her writer to show contempt for another character without giving anyone else a way to respond. "I was gonna say something but I decided to take the high road" only works when, y'know, you don't say something.

    4. Try to develop some character quirks or routines. They will tide you over when things are dry. It's part of the reason why so many people smoke. It gives them something to RP. Some people are always journaling or playing guitar or sketching. I know one character who always cleans his glasses or peers over them or takes them off and hooks them on his shirt and then forgets where they are. One of my characters is always twiddling her fingers. Developing quirks not only makes your character richer, it gives you stuff to RP and it gives other people stuff to respond to.

    5. Use props. Well, glasses would be a prop, as in the example above. Again, in bar RP, having that mug of beer is an easy thing to pose. Using other props, though, makes your RP much stronger. Example: Go to the library and borrow a book to walk around reading. Or, don't read a book, just watch people while you hold the book up or put the book on your face while you take a nap and then make the book fall when someone wakes you up with a loud noise. Send text messages to people or scream at a score from your Sports Team as they sports their best.

    6. Be descriptive. Use multiple senses -- scent and sound often get neglected in RP. Describe your body. Everyone's pretty good at emitting their sexy body or big muscles, but think beyond that. Example: Scratch your day-old stubble. Describe the way your robes sound when you walk. If you have a cup of coffee, remark on its scent. Describe chewing on a sugarcane stick -- how would that look like to other people?

    7. Divide up your actions into small pieces. Smoking a cigarette has several smaller actions involved. Getting your pack of cigarettes. Packing a cigarette. Getting a lighter. Lighting up. Taking a drag. Five lines to get to the first drag, and every one of them potentially useful for expressing a hook or nuance. You don't have to use five lines-- you can do it in one sentence if you need to keep the pacing tight. The rule applies better to prolonged activities. If your character is a gearhead, you might pull up HowTo.com and go through the steps of stripping the head gasket off the engine block they're working on. You can have an entire conversation while elbow-deep in the car you've been restoring off-camera.

    8. Pre-posing: By this, I mean, try to plan a little bit of what you're going to do in your next pose. You might end your last pose with "He picks up the phone and dials a number," and then ahead of dropping your next pose, you can rough out some of the conversation with the NPC on the other end. This can cut minutes off your response time and really endear you to the other players if you know how to 'write ahead'. It's a particularly useful skill for the person writing the big scene narrative. By the same token, don't just type your whole pose up and drop it right after the one ahead of you- that tells the person ahead of you in the order that you really didn't care what their pose involved.

    9. Be a giver. Give your RP partner something to play off of. These are usually called "hooks," or RP hooks. A hook is an element in your pose to which the other player can respond meaningfully. Fighting is loaded with RP hooks. I swing at you, you get to pose shooting back. Bar RP is loaded with hooks. "Can I buy you a drink?" for instance, or "Oops, I just spilled my drink." Making RP hooks in poses beyond this takes some creativity. Think about RP as playing catch, not tennis. Catch is no fun unless you toss the ball in a way that your play partner can catch it. An RP hook lets your play partner catch the pose and toss it back to you. Give them weather, crowds, drunken solicitors or hanger-on bargirls. Give them a chance to help your character or something to laugh at when you trip and pratfall. This is particularly useful for players who emote mute or stoic characters, because it gives other people a means for continuing the scene that doesn't necessarily revolve around trying to drag a conversation out of Gork, the mute sentient rock alien.

    10. See step 9. This is seriously important. Without an invitation to interact, other players feel like they're just extras instead of a supporting role.

    11. Get a sense of timing. I try to keep a pose down to an actual timeframe, 5-10 seconds worth of action, 30-60 seconds worth of talking (unless your character likes lecturing). In action scenes, posing a very lengthy series of sequential actions can throw everyone else off their game. It ruins the pacing for a lightning-fast swordfight in the street if in your pose your character has to stop, shout, run to the car, unlock it, open it, get out his gun, find his ammo, load it, run back, and shoot. That's like... eleven things he did. Matching effort in poses is important-- giving someone a short two-line reply after they just dropped a nine or ten line pose full of hooks will get reactions ranging from ambivalence to outright offense. That said, there are no extra points for word count. It's better to drop a short pose and an apology than make people wade through 50 lines of purple prose about a bag on the wind.
      Break up your conversations. Fifteen lines of continuous speech implies that the other character is silently just letting your character talk and talk and talk. If nothing else, stop to take a breath once in a while, sip your coffee, flick a pencil at your partner. Whatever it takes to break it up.

    12. Make RP for others. The most popular roleplayers are the ones who step up and set a scene that everyone can enjoy. Goes double for scenes that make the other characters the star. Invite people to RP by offering them a scene for -their- character, not just for yours. Tell a mechanic character you need help fixing a car, or ask your computer-savvy ally to hack into this PDA you stole. It folds them into the larger narrative you're supporting and makes the character feel useful and the other writer, appreciated. Few people enjoy RP when their sole purpose is to stand around admiring how awesome your character is.

    13. Know your character. Especially on games where you have the luxury of stats to define a character, don't try to be awesome at everything. There's nothing wrong with having a phenomenally strong or tough character- just don't act suave and debonaire with your negligible personality bonuses, or convey nuanced philosophical thoughts adroitly with an 'average' sense of wisdom. By the same token, a character with middling physical coordination shouldn't be seen doing things like walking a tightrope or juggling chainsaws. Flaws need lovin', too! I have one character who can't carry a tune in a bucket, and one who's freaked out by spiders.

    14. Be time-courteous. If you're multimushing, let people know. If you need food, let people know. Most folks are very willing to accommodate a bit of laxity, but it's courteous to inform them of that fact and, if things are really bad, to drop out of the RP rather than holding things up while you get your affairs in order.

    15. Avoid powerposing. Hooh boy. This will absolutely kill RP.
      Powerposing is when you roleplay out the reactions of the other characters. I've just dropped RP where I was powerposed intentionally. It's rude and obnoxious, and it means that you might as well not even be in the room because the other player is writing your character for you.
      This can range from "She spills her drink in your lap, soaking your pants", to "He takes out his blaster and blows a smoking hole through <so and so's> forehead." Even if Darth Vader has Han Solo tied and bound, he should absolutely never pose something like "Vader presses the button, and Solo is frozen in carbonite." He tried the same thing with Luke after all, and Luke lept away at the last second. Always give the other player a chance to dodge, bargain, fight back, scream bloody defiance and in the end, if necessary, die.

    16. Play in theme. Stay true to the core material. Playing at Star Wars? Drink jaffa juice instead of cola and play Sabaac instead of poker. Superheros? Use an sPhone from Stark Tech and get your news from the Daily Planet. Dragonlance? Wear the latest fall fashions that match rider to steed in the best foliage patterns. It doesn't take much theme flavor to have other players consider you desirable for RP and seek you out. Then if we're all lucky, they'll emulate you and you've added to the game's flavour.

    1. In Context Actions = In Context Consequences. ICA=ICC is a hot topic. Before you even get into a scene, you need to discuss with other players what the goals are. Is the plot more important, or the characters? Are you following a script or is the end-result not yet determined? When conflict occurs, that's a good time to pause the RP for a quick talk about how things are going to go down. Discuss and know where to draw the line, because nothing ruins a scene like a player suddenly realizing their character is going to get run over roughshod.
      The way this is abused, the one that drives us crazy, is when a player demands you write your character doing something they wouldn't, in order to accommodate their RP. Want to kick Godzilla in the balls? Go for it. But it's unreasonable to then demand that the GM or player writes Godzilla in such a way that you don't get eaten on the spot. You're now demanding they invent a reason for their character or NPC to do something wholly inappropriate to their personality.

    2. And then there were NINJAS! Ever seen someone 'scenebomb' RP? You'll know it when you do. It's when with no real prior discussion, a writer introduces an element to the scene that your character can only react to a certain way-- and that way is to focus all the attention on the new player. A common one you see is 'Bill walks up, then gasps and faints to the ground'. Unless you're playing an amoral savage, if Bill's a friend, your character MUST get up to respond to that entrance. Ever been at a party with someone who felt like they weren't getting enough attention, and they spilled a drink on themselves? Yeah? Don't be that person.

    3. Players are not their characters. There's no easy way to say this-- drama kills more games than any other issue. Drama happens when people don't communicate. Characters in stories will develop loves, hates, enemies, friends-- conflict is the key to all narrative, and should be embraced. But we can get very attached to our characters, so it's important to at least understand your RP partner's feelings. What spoils narratives is when writers avoid 'plain talk'. "Hey, our characters have started dating/fighting/hunting each other. Where do you see this roleplay going? What goals do you have for your character that you'd like to achieve?" Not terribly sexy, sure, but it works a trick for avoiding a blowup when the RP goes sour. Writers of villains need to be doubly, triply sure to communicate frankly and reassure others that their villainous actions in the game are part of a story, and not just dickishly hurting characters for the hell of it. If you can't have a frank OOC talk with a player about planning relationships or villainous plots, then you should look elsewhere for that sort of RP.

    4. And lastly. Spelling and grammar are very important. Read your poses aloud as you write them- if they sound awkward, they are awkward. Spelling and punctuation are simply essential. Don't abuse commas to stitch a bunch of fragments into a FrankenSentence: "He looks around, his face confused, turning around he waves at Bob, the man nods agreement, then he walks away."
      Remember that punctuation is the difference between helping your uncle Jack off a horse, and your uncle jack off a horse. Or dedicating a book to your parents, Ayn Rand and God. Don't abuse ellipses outside of speech, either: "She nods solemnly...frowning she looks... from one to the next...apparently... the discussion is making her sad..." (a rule of thumb with ellipses is one per paragraph, tops); and, finally, spelling. Everyone has spellcheck these days courtesy of google-- if you know you're a bad speller, run it through Word and right click on anything red.

    "Huked on phonix reely wurkd fur me."

    Good luck with your RP!

    (I also have personal peeves regarding the use of certain adjectives. Gently, softly, and lightly should be used as sparingly as possible in my opinion. They're over-used, and seeing someone 'softly look', 'gently hear', or 'lightly listen' just makes my brain hurt.)

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  • I feel like this should get some peer review that I don't have time to give it right this second, and then made sticky. And flashing. And possibly mandatory to read. Potentially with a quiz at the end.



  • @Derp thanks man. :D I'm still tweaking it with some notes and stuff 'cause I can actually proof it better, here, and go 'Oh yeah, that's a thing I wanted to mention'.


  • Coder

    I like it. Don't agree 100% with every little thing but as you said up front: 'take what you need and leave the rest'. Overall I think it's a good set of guidelines.

    But this: "A good RPer can turn a nod into a six-line pose."

    Really? That I'd like to see :)

    But it ties into my pet peeve, which I'm guilty of myself: enough with the smiling and nodding. Seriously, if I had a nickel for every time a MUSH character just nodded or smiled as their only action in a pose, I'd be rich.



  • @faraday said:

    But this: "A good RPer can turn a nod into a six-line pose."

    Really? That I'd like to see :)

    The question was a difficult one to answer, and it clearly vexes Bill in a way that's troubling the stout fellow. He pauses, pursing his lips, but checks himself before uttering a word. Dusky grey eyes the color of graveyard granite flicker across the street, to a gaggle of children and tolerant mothers watching like mother hens. Remembering the cigarette in his fingers he brings it to his lips and inhales, ash crackling in the silent wake of inquisition. He holds for a count and then like a smouldering dragon exudes twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils. The late winter's winds pick the ash up and carry it off and away, into the crisp sky overhead. He turns back to Denise, finally, and a tight smile crosses his face. His head dips a fractional amount-- the thinnest of concessions-- and then the smile disappears, and his cool gaze returns to unreadable speculation of passing pedestrians.


  • Coder

    @Halicron Hee. Okay, if everyone nodded and smiled like that I'd have to rescind my pet peeve :)



  • You don't need six lines to nod and smile as a decent pose. But if a nod and a smile is your only pose, are you giving your rp partner enough to work with? Clearly it depends on the nod and smile!


  • Coder

    @Halicron said:

    @faraday said:

    But this: "A good RPer can turn a nod into a six-line pose."

    Really? That I'd like to see :)

    The question was a difficult one to answer, and it clearly vexes Bill in a way that's troubling the stout fellow. He pauses, pursing his lips, but checks himself before uttering a word. Dusky grey eyes the color of graveyard granite flicker across the street, to a gaggle of children and tolerant mothers watching like mother hens. Remembering the cigarette in his fingers he brings it to his lips and inhales, ash crackling in the silent wake of inquisition. He holds for a count and then like a smouldering dragon exudes twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils. The late winter's winds pick the ash up and carry it off and away, into the crisp sky overhead. He turns back to Denise, finally, and a tight smile crosses his face. His head dips a fractional amount-- the thinnest of concessions-- and then the smile disappears, and his cool gaze returns to unreadable speculation of passing pedestrians.

    There's such a thing as to much purple prose. Length of pose !=quality of pose.


  • Pitcrew

    @Halicron said:

    @faraday said:

    But this: "A good RPer can turn a nod into a six-line pose."

    Really? That I'd like to see :)

    The question was a difficult one to answer, and it clearly vexes Bill in a way that's troubling the stout fellow. He pauses, pursing his lips, but checks himself before uttering a word. Dusky grey eyes the color of graveyard granite flicker across the street, to a gaggle of children and tolerant mothers watching like mother hens. Remembering the cigarette in his fingers he brings it to his lips and inhales, ash crackling in the silent wake of inquisition. He holds for a count and then like a smouldering dragon exudes twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils. The late winter's winds pick the ash up and carry it off and away, into the crisp sky overhead. He turns back to Denise, finally, and a tight smile crosses his face. His head dips a fractional amount-- the thinnest of concessions-- and then the smile disappears, and his cool gaze returns to unreadable speculation of passing pedestrians.

    This pose would make me stab someone. It's a ton of words to say nothing, there's pretty much no content, and there is very little given for me to actually respond to. If more than a handful of these sorts of poses happened in a scene, I would not enjoy playing with the person.



  • Hey, like I said-- to each their own. Take what you like, leave what doesn't work. :) Sometimes styles don't mesh, and that's okay, too.

    Considering I just flrrpd that out in about a minute and a half with no context, I feel pretty good about it!



  • Nothing wrong with being succinct for emphasis.


  • Pitcrew

    Maybe "A good RPer can turn either a long or a short pose into something that the others in the scene can interact with, it's the involvement with the other PCs and paying attention to what's going on as well as the others in the scene that can make or break it." Or somesuch.

    Because yes, there are people who can spew 3 paragraphs about the wind rippling their hair and their eyes gazing into the distance and all that stuff (seen it) while totally ignoring most everyone else in the scene. They kind of suck. However, you can also have people who are needing to info dump and must spam because there's no way around it or they're a bit on the flowery side but do very obviously care about/pay attention in the scene even beyond themselves. They're kinda awesome.

    I suspect that people may be wincing at something listed in the "Rules of good RPing" that seems to indicate the longer the better. I do think that a two word pose being your only contribution ever indicates poor RPing, but the converse is really not very true.


  • Coder

    @mietze Exactly. A good RP'er engages the scene and interacts enough to keep the scene flowing. It doesn't have to be a six line pose to do that. Sometimes a nod is just a nod, but you can always do /more/ than nod to keep the scene flowing. You don't have to fill it with 6 lines of telepathic prose that people can't even know because it's inside their characters head, or whatever.


  • Pitcrew

    I'm a flowery poser, myself. But if I'm constantly shoving it down people's throats when they don't like it because it's my "style"--honestly, I think that means I'm a horrible RPer, no matter how awesome of a writer I am. There's a very distinct difference. I've learned to adjust myself to the enjoyment/time expectations of my companions as I can, and to attempt to not be super selfish. There's a happy medium to be found. Terse posers who like to contribute to everyone in the group enjoying themselves should do the same.

    And hopefully everyone can agree that psychic poses are very dicey, and pretty much almost always a hallmark of a shitty RPer (note, I did not say writer) when they're used to provide negative/snide commentary that the other PC can't possibly react to except to do it back. That's not present in the example given though.



  • You know what's worse than nodding and smiling? 'X ohs and nods.' 'X ohs and smiles softly.'

    Fuck. That's not even a verb! (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

    And just once I want to smile loudly.


  • Pitcrew

    Next time react in your pose as if they'd had a visible orgasm in front of you. :)



  • @mietze OK, I loled.


  • Coder

    Holy shit, those are a lot of guidelines. Can we summarize down to:

    • Play in context of the game, theme, character, and scene, in that order.
    • Play for those around you.

    Thanks.

    (edit: Added 'and character ... in that order' to playing in context. Being true to the character and telling their story is a lot of why people log in at all and should never be pushed to the side, by you or anyone else. The same is true, though, for the rest of it.)


  • Politics

    And, every once in a while, remember to ask yourself: "How would William Shatner act this out?"

    Then do the thing that is its diametrical opposite.


  • Admin

    @Thenomain said:

    Holy shit, those are a lot of guidelines. Can we summarize down to:

    • Play in context of the game, theme, character, and scene, in that order.
    • Play for those around you.

    While it is a lot of guidelines, I think the OP's intention was to demonstrate 'how' and 'why' rather than just 'what'.

    If you don't know how to 'play for those around you' then the general principle isn't sufficient. How do you put that into practice, what does it mean? What do you actually do?


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