A Basic Guide to Roleplaying

RPing, godmoding, powerplaying, OOC, BIC… Just a few of the terms explained in this outline of the story creation game.

[Author’s Note: This is a guide to the type of roleplaying usually done on online public forums, specifically Neopets, the site I was most familiar with at the time. It was originally written in 2009 for a college English class. As such, I’ve not altered the text in any way, so forgive its lackluster quality as I believe the information contained within remains relevant.] 

Bones snap, crackle, and pop as I stand and stretch. Casting a bloodshot eye at the clock in the lower right of the computer screen, I shrug. 2:00 am. No big deal. The white Instant Message tab on the Start bar blinks orange. I resume my seat, adjusting the pillow I had earlier placed there for comfort, and take a swig of the ever-present can of soda before clicking on the orange rectangle. The program bursts into view, lengthy lines of red and blue text dominating the entire box.

“We’ve been IMing for hours, y’know that?” I type, watching the small black text change to red when I click, “Send.”

My friend’s blue text appears. “Yup. Hey, have you ever been on a roleplay board?”

“A board? Like a 2 by 4?” I giggle to myself.

“No, on this roleplaying website.”

“What’s roleplaying?”

“You don’t know?”

I suppress a sarcastic remark. “No. Should I?”

A little emoticon pops up, displaying a yellow smiley face banging his head on a desk.

Roleplaying is not as complicated as it sounds. Not worthy of forcibly dislodging vital brain parts, anyway. It is just playing a role. Acting is a form of roleplaying. Cosplaying is roleplaying. Lying can be classified as roleplaying. The type of roleplay I engage in is called virtual roleplaying, because it is done on the Internet, on message boards.

The virtual equivalent of a bulletin board, people from all over the world can write messages to other people on these boards. Usually people chat about random topics, like the newest Harry Potter book or the current horror flick, but there are boards for anything and everything.

A roleplay board has people play a character: a knight for a Medieval Times roleplay, an Argonaut for a Greek Mythology one, etc. and the characters are used to tell a story. For example:

Person #1 — The Amazonian began chasing Theseus.
Person #2 — Theseus ran for his life, stumbling and ripping his toga on the jungle branches. He screamed, “Oh dear Neptune!”

Depending on the rules of whoever made the board (the board creator) people can play existing characters (original character), such as Lancelot or Jason, or make up their own, like Bob the squire or Larry the cabin boy. People tend to roleplay made-up characters more often as they can change the personality, the appearance, or anything else to whatever they want, unlike having to stick with the predetermined structure of an original character. Unlike original characters, however, made-up characters must be introduced to the rest of the board, as no one besides the creator will know anything about said character. This is accomplished in the introduction, the first post.

Introductions can be set up in two different ways: list form or paragraph form. A list is simply a generic listing of a character’s physical and (sometimes) mental nature.

Name: Bob
Age: 26
Gender: Male
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Blue
Personality: Mysterious and withdrawn
Occupation: Detective
Currently: About to break into a store looking for a fugitive criminal

Serious roleplayers prefer the longer, more detailed format of paragraphs. All important information is included, but in a more subtle, interesting way. It is much more effective than a list as it can describe details and express the personality in a way a list cannot. Usually these are done after a setting has been established (e.g. a random New York street at night).

The street was silent but for the incessant hum of the flickering neon lights loosely bolted to the nearby liquor store. The random bursts of light illuminated the gloomy venue strangely, accentuating the sharp shadows of the crowded buildings. A tall, lean man slipped from behind a dumpster into the street. His booted feet lightly tapped the broken pavement as he strode in a quick fashion across the road. His trenchcoat swung open from the sudden movement, revealing jeans and a worn-out Yankees t-shirt. Calloused hands clenched the fabric together. Sweeping long, messy, brown hair out of his bright blue eyes with a shake of his head, the man paused before the liquor store. He exhaled, licking his lips. A boot abruptly jerked into the air and smashed right through the store’s double doors.

The more original the character, the better. Roleplayers are extremely vicious towards clichéd characters. Not every teenager is rebellious, nor is every blonde dumb. All-powerful, “popular” characters are not good, either.

Once everyone has finished their introductions, the roleplay begins.

Person #1 – Bob stepped gingerly over the shattered glass into the store. His piercing gaze scanned the store suspiciously.
Person #2 – Larry leapt out from behind the counter, brandishing a gun. He pointed it at Bob, trembling.

Every person must stick with their own character. Someone cannot just take control of someone else’s character. This manner of foul play is called “powerplaying.”

Person #5 – The gun lay innocently on the floor, glimmering under the fluorescent lights. Diana, after a quick look around, snatched it up, and crawled back to the safety of the freezer.
Person #4 – Henry came around the corner suddenly. Diana dropped the gun and Henry picked it up and shot her. She died.

Most likely, Diana’s roleplayer did not want her to drop the gun, thus dying, and if even if they did, they would want to do it themselves, probably with more dignity.

Another dirty trick is “godmoding.” Like powerplaying, it involves a person’s character.  In essence, it means a character should not suddenly have powers or abilities that were not designated to them in the beginning.

Person #3 — Susie tripped over a large box, falling to the ground with a loud smack. Hair frizzled, she looked around for the killer.
Person #4 — BANG! Henry fired at Susie.
Person #3 — Susie did not care. She was invulnerable to metal. The bullet just bounced off her skin.

Unless Susie was given such an invulnerability in the introduction, she should not have it now, and thus, the roleplayer is godmoding. The term derives from having a characater be like a god, with no weaknesses and/or knowing things that they should not. The latter is difficult to remember, because even though the roleplayers know that Bob was wearing a Yankees shirt under his coat, their characters do not, because Bob had not shown his shirt to anybody yet. Godmoding can be done not only in character, but out of character as well.

Person #3 — Susie tripped over a large box, falling to the ground with a loud smack. Hair frizzled, she looked around for the killer.
Person #4 — BANG! Henry fired at Susie.
Person #3 — OOC: Oh btw, Susie’s invulnerable to metal.
BIC: The bullet bounced off Susie’s skin onto the floor. Susie grinned maliciously.

The acronym “OOC” stands for “Out Of Character.” Such a term is used when the roleplayer wants to communicate something to the other roleplayers, human to human, not character to character.

Person #2 — OOC: Be right back. Have to take out the trash.
Person #1 — OOC: O.K.

“BIC” means “Back In Character,” used after OOC to show that the roleplayer is writing for their character again.

Person #2 — OOC: Back
BIC: The pie was so delicious. Danny had never tasted such a delectably delightful dessert in all his desert-wandering days.

Though the fact that powerplaying and godmoding are generally frowned upon, the board creator will typically add these to the list of rules that starts a board. The rules are usually straight forward, “No PPing, No Gming,” etc., but can be delve into specifications depending on the creator’s preferences (“No profanity, no nudity, only two powers,” etc.).

Along with the rules comes the setting and sometimes a plot. If the setting is deemed to take place in 1492, in a Spanish dungeon, at night, then all roleplayers must place their characters there or somehow end up there in the introduction. The setting can change throughout the course of the roleplay, but the whole roleplay must start where the board creator says it starts. A setting usually ties in with a plot. A plot is simply a rough outline of either the world in which the story takes place, and/or the path the story needs to follow.

Plot: The government is chasing down mutants (humans with supernatural powers) in Los Angeles with fiery tenacity. Some of the mutants have split into groups for safety, planning to make a run for San Francisco to the secret mutant base on Alcatraz Island.
Setting: Los Angeles, 12:00 am.

The more detailed and lengthy the plot, the longer it tends to last. Roleplays can be carried out for weeks, even months, depending on the people involved and their capabilities to commit to it. Long-term roleplays are usually performed on forums that do not purge their boards after a day or so, or the roleplays are carefully copied and saved on the computer for continuation. Short-term roleplays can last only for a few hours and are carried out to try out a new plot, character, or simply to relax and enjoy a good compilation between friends.

Roleplaying can seem stressful at first, with strange terms and new rules to learn, but like a great many things, it is easier done than said. Lurking on roleplaying boards (that is, reading others’s posts, not personally posting) is a beneficial way of learning the proverbial ropes. Also, the more roleplaying a person does, the better they become, not just at roleplaying but at any type of writing. My personal writing skills skyrocketed when I started roleplaying, because I got criticism from others, telling me what was wrong with my characters or my style and also how to fix it. Once I got the hang of it, roleplaying became a welcome diversion from a stressful time and wonderful way to spend time with friends.

“This is actually pretty fun!” I type excitedly. I glance at the clock. 4:00am.

“Yeah. I like wolf rps myself.” A grinning smiley face appears by my friend’s username.

“So you can roleplay whatever, right?”

“Pretty much. It gets pretty addicting.”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I’m not gonna become an expert at it or anything.”

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