Telling Stories: Getting back to roleplaying

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo.  I'm not always good at those.

Don’t call it a comeback; I’ve been here for years.

Yes, we had a blip last week, but I’ve been writing about roleplaying for the past four years, and I’m not about to stop now.  So I’m picking up where I left off with Storyboard, still doing my best to give people a place to read about roleplaying, a weekly place for suggestions, ideas, and guides, and every so often a link hither and yon that leads to an archive trawl which will include readers telling me that I am a monster for doing this.  Won’t that be fun?

I really hope you think so.

Now, while I could pick up exactly where I left off (and was initially tempted to do just that), the first installment really does deserve a little more grandeur than that.  So let’s talk about getting back into roleplaying when you’ve been out for a long time.  Maybe it’s been a while in your game of choice, maybe it’s been a long while period, maybe you roleplayed around a kitchen table years ago but now you’re jumping into roleplaying in an MMO for the first time.  Whatever your situation, let’s talk a little bit about getting back in when you’ve been out of the game.

From Final Fantasy XIV (Square-Enix)

Smaller than you, but not small despite all that.

Start small

Your best memories of roleplaying probably involve some crazy shit going down.  Mine certainly do.  Long sequences of betrayals and alliances, manipulations, adventures, all sorts of things.  So if you’re getting into roleplaying again, you’re looking to jump in there again.  That was the fun part, after all.  When you get back to the heart of roleplaying, that’s what you’re interested in.  That’s the hook that brings you back, to quote Blues Traveler.

Here’s my suggestion for you: don’t do that.

Even if you were a track star back in high school, you don’t immediately get up off of your couch and try to run a 5k without practice unless you like collapsing after a few minutes and probably throwing up.  You ease yourself back into it.  You train.  And you start by running a little bit.  Just because you could at one point run that race without a problem doesn’t mean you’re still able to.  Just because you could at one point juggle all the storytelling needed for in-depth roleplaying doesn’t mean it’ll just come back without any effort or lag time.

Start off with the simple stuff.  Little character interactions, vignettes, no overarching plot or urgent development.  Let yourself ease back into the waters, then start worrying about more advanced stuff once you feel comfortable in the water again.  Starting off in the deep end is a good way to drown.

Assume nothing applies

The first version of Final Fantasy XIV saw me come and go with some frequency.  Not because I didn’t like the game, but there was only so much of it that I could take at a stretch.  The result was that I would jump out of the game for months at a time on occasion, and a lot had changed since the last time I roleplayed.

As a result, I couldn’t walk into the game and just assume that what was going on before still applied.  People whom I’d been close to before might have moved on and developed other alliances.  In some cases they even resented my character.  It was not exactly a victorious reunion every time, in other words.  And that was all right, because I knew that going in.  I knew that I was coming back, and quite possibly what I had enjoyed before wouldn’t be the case any longer.

Much like the previous point, you can’t just jump in where you left off.  You have to be ready to explore a changed environment, one that might not be inherently welcoming and often leaves you forced to make entirely new friends.  Accepting this and welcoming it is a step to enjoying your return.  You can’t assume that things will be the same as they were before you left.  Sometimes that means that the plots you really wanted to explore aren’t going to happen.

This is part of the lesson, then.  If you want to go back to wrap up a specific storyline, it might not happen.  If you want to go back just to enjoy the experience of roleplaying, that’s more likely to be successful.

From Star Wars: The Old Republic (BioWare)

Hello, nice to meet you, please be my friend.

Meet other new people

“But I’m not new!” is the obvious protest.  And it’s probably true; you might have a lot more experience than the other “new” players you’re dealing with.  But you have to go in with the assumption that you’re new.  You have to make connections with new people, present yourself as new, and be ready and willing to start exploring the game as if you were entirely new.

Even if you’ve been playing the game for years.  Even if the only thing that took you out of the game wasn’t really anything you chose.  Even if you were still playing the game during the time that you got out of roleplaying, just not staying active in the roleplaying community.

However much of a veteran you might be, you can’t treat yourself as one when you’re getting back into the game.  Just like you have to let go of the past, you have to embrace the future, and that means embracing something novel.  It means embracing novelty in general, not just the familiar.  You need to be ready to do something unfamiliar.

Which is hard for human beings to do by our very nature.  Our first impulse is to fall back on the same old patterns that we’re used to, which means trying to re-invest ourselves in the groups we used to run with.  Unless you decide to start embracing the idea of doing something novel, meeting new people, establishing new connections…

Coming back, in a way, is really a new start altogether.  But when it’s done well, you can start something entirely new while still carrying pieces of the past with you.  It makes the future even richer.

Feedback, as it always is, is welcome down below in the comments or via the usual mail address.  I hope you enjoyed this, and I hope you’ll be here with me as I keep in on this.  Next week, I’m going to talk about character pets; the week after, it’s time to chat about roleplaying in envrionments where it’s not welcome.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

6 responses to “Telling Stories: Getting back to roleplaying”

  1. DeadlyAccurate says :

    Do you have like a complete newbies guide to roleplaying in MMOs? Like a nuts & bolts guide? I’ve come across roleplayers on Tarnished Coast before (GW2), and I try to extricate myself without breaking their immersion. Is that considered polite? Rude? Irrelevant? When the group is roleplaying, how do they talk about out-of-game or mechanic stuff, if they do? I’m not sure it’s something I’d ever want to do, but I do enjoy being on RP servers, and I try to respect roleplayers.

    • expostninja says :

      Actually, I think I’ll put “a guide to interacting with roleplayers as a non-roleplayer” on my short list for future column topics.

      To answer your question, Storyboard has a few columns on the topic, most notably here: http://massively.joystiq.com/2012/10/26/storyboard-rp-101-the-mechanics-of-interaction/

      Stepping away if you’re not interested in roleplaying is polite, possibly with a little note in double parentheses – “(( Sorry, not trying to get in your way! ))” Most people roleplaying in a public space don’t mind if you stay, though, so long as you don’t take the opportunity to spam emotes or OOC text.

    • Mira (@MiraParaMaya) says :

      As someone who has RPed for a bit, take this with a grain of salt, this is by no means a complete newbie’s guide to roleplaying in MMOs; but, generally, roleplayers do respect people who do not run around and do noisy graphical things like spamming skills or spamming messages and such.

      In most MMOs, RPers have this concept called In-Character (IC) and Out-of-Character (OOC). They usually denote OOC messages in public, readable messages with parentheses, ((like so.)) Most RPers also tend not to be IC in parties unless they know everyone in the party wishes to be IC.

      There are always different people, of course; some RPers are more intolerant of non-RPers, and lash out at names they think is not immersive. But, most RPers tend to be accepting of non-RPers, especially in MMOs where the participants are not in a controlled vacuum.

    • shessosquare says :

      The fact that you want to respect RPers is a great start! A few people have talked about not spamming emotes or skills – I’ll agree with that. However, based on your comment, I can already tell you’re already not the kind of person who would want to grief others! ^^

      I started out roleplaying in MMOs with Eliot a looooooooong time ago in WoW. I actually didn’t roleplay before at all until I decided I wanted to make a sister for one of my characters, so I just sort of dove right in, a complete newbie. I started with a loose character concept – a hunter born to a family of shamans who ran away from home. I didn’t know her birthday, her whole family tree, her favorite foods. I just had that one loose concept and let it grow through my interactions with others. Over time, Ahni became a rigid thinker with no sense of humor. She is a soldier first and foremost, loyal to her commander, her causes and her family, to the death. She is huge and muscular. She is asexual but not aromantic. And recently, we discovered she -loves- to dance.

      I didn’t know any of this when I started, but through talking with others and being quick on my feet, I let Ahni grow.

      The key to roleplaying is being open to anything (in your own comfort zone, of course) and to never try to force a situation. People get very tetchy about “godmoding” which is controlling what all characters do, not just your own character. You can only control your own character and his/her reactions to a situation. It’s his/her reactions that help form a story. You can step all over your main character but not someone else’s, basically. 🙂

      Characters will often do what THEY want to do, too. No, I’m not crazy. My current main, Qin, started out years ago being a totally badass priest gone rogue, leading a cult of undead.

      It took about a month before he decided he was a colossal fop. Obsessed with clothes and hair and appearance and whiny to boot. I kept trying to badassify him, but then wham, a week later, it was back to Fop City. But I’m okay with that. I love Qin the way he is. This happened because I was open and flexible.

      As for talking about the mechanics of RPing during RP, I tend to do that a lot in whispers ((like so)). I gave someone permission to kill one of my characters that way.

      If someone tries to RP with you and you don’t want to, you can just say in a whisper (( Sorry, I’m not playing in character now )) or (( I’m just getting a few things done, maybe next time )). Brackets are key.

      As Eliot said, start small. Get a sketch of a character and watch it grow. Be open and flexible and always respectful of others’ characters. Good luck!

      • DeadlyAccurate says :

        Thanks for all the info, guys! The next MMO I’m probably going to get into will be Wildstar, and I’ll probably look for a RP server (if that’s their intended server structure). Who knows. I might even look for a RP guild.

        Oh, and I know what you mean, shessosquare, about characters growing. I’ve played tabletop RPGs and written novels, and the one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I can’t create character backgrounds in advance. My characters become who they are over time.

      • shessosquare says :

        Oh! Then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I had the impression you were starting from the total ground up, but if you’ve written extensively and done tabletop roleplaying, then you’re going into this with way way way way WAY more experience than I had, which was none, which led to things like YOU ARE TALKING IN DOUBLE PARENTHESES HALP WHAT DO. You’ll have no trouble! Have fun in WildStar; I’m looking forward to it myself 🙂 Also with the really involved player housing system I think they will be very RP friendly.

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