Telling Stories: That’s what I want

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

The most tragic cases of roleplaying boredom that I’ve seen are the ones that could be averted simply by letting your characters do something.

“But I do let my characters do things!” you protest, despite the fact that I’m not necessarily talking right to you at the moment.  “I go to every roleplaying event!  I hang out in agreed-upon hubs!  I have a whole lot of backstory!  I’m just bored with just sitting around and chatting!”

Exactly.  Because you’re not doing anything.  Because you’ve somehow mistaken presence for participation and forgotten that the key to roleplaying isn’t showing up to someone else’s event but in having your own things that need to happen.  You lost sight of your characters having agency in their world and being the architects of their own fortune and (frequent) misfortune, and as a result all you’re left with is derping around in a bar waiting for someone else to act.


“Don’t mind me, fellow roleplayers, I am simply passing through! I am a player of roles as well!”

My wife was going through a similar sensation recently.  She just didn’t feel like she was engaged in roleplaying any longer, that it was basically her being a hanger-on while a bunch of other people did things.  So I asked her, quite simply, what her characters wanted to do.  What they were interested in trying to accomplish, what they thought was neat, what seemed important to them.

That set everything in motion, and before she knew it she suddenly was engaged again.  It wasn’t that she had fallen out of love with the activity itself, it’s that for a stretch of time her characters were just passive observers.  They showed up for roleplaying events, they spoke with others in-character, but they didn’t have any motivations or goals.  They were just there, doing whatever was necessary as the currents of life pushed them hither and yon, generally being boring to play because they were being boring.

Seriously.  Who do you want to watch in a movie: the guy who spends the whole film sitting by the bar waiting for someone to come up and make things happen, or the girl who leaves the bar promptly and steals a car because she needs to get to her next destination now?

In some ways, this is the introvert problem as a roleplayer.  I mean, this is how I behave at parties in the real world, looking vaguely forlorn in a corner and hoping someone comes up to me because that’s less shameful than accidentally talking off someone’s ear when all they really wanted was access to the ranch dipping sauce.  But it doesn’t need to be what happens when you roleplay, and you don’t need to stand around hoping for someone to strike up a conversation.  You can do more.  It’s even pretty simple.

Figure out what your character wants, or what you want for your character.  The two can be separate.  If could be that your character is perfectly happy where she is right now, but from your standpoint it’s boring or inappropriate.  It could also be that your character has a big overwhelming want that you’ve been ignoring because the time isn’t right for whatever reason.  Either way, figure out where you want to be.

Assemble a loose roadmap.  This doesn’t mean that you need to figure out everything between you and your goal, but you do need a loose idea of what has to happen during the intervening steps.  If you want your character in WildStar to start working as an information broker, you need her to start building contacts, gathering facilities, and eventually making contacts with people who would want to purchase that information.  You don’t need to know how she’s going to do that yet, because it leads directly into…

I don't know why I grabbed this shot, but I'm glad I did.

Keep your eyes open, see?

Figure out who can be useful or relevant to parts of this roadmap.  If your list of roleplaying friends is long, this list is long.  If it’s short, well, same deal.  To use the previous example, maybe your character has met an Aurin assassin that she rather likes and a Mordesh alchemist with tenuous relations.  These characters could both wind up embroiled in your character’s overall schemes, either as helpers or antagonists depending on circumstance.  Maybe the Aurin could provide or gather useful tidbits during assassination, maybe he’s sharply opposed to the idea, maybe he would wind up relying upon your character for more information regarding his targets.  The point is that he could be tied in, that you can give hi something to react to in a roleplaying environment.

Start moving.  You know what you want to do, you know who you want to be involved with, you know what you need to make happen… so make it happen.  Move forward.  Don’t equivocate, just get up and get involved, that’s all there is to it.

In an ideal environment, you wind up with a lot of different people doing this with their characters, actively pursuing new goals in ways that play off one another entertainingly.  Your character is become an information broker, yes, but that Mordesh alchemist agreed to help her in exchange for a favor.  As it turns out, that favor involves testing diseases on a population that might not deserve it, but your character is sworn to silence.  So perhaps she surreptitiously shares tidbits with someone else, which ties into their goals, all while the Mordesh is pursuing her own goals of perfecting a version of the contagion to affect the Cassians alone…

It’s understandable to be nervous about it, and it’s not something you have to do constantly.  Sometimes you seriously do just want to kick back and let other people bring roleplaying to you, and that’s fine.  Everyone’s entitled to being relaxed at times.

But if you find yourself sitting down and almost dreading the idea of roleplaying, maybe it’s time to take a step forward and give your characters the agency to affect their world.  No one has fun constantly being the hanger-on for a group of people doing interesting things.  So dust off your own goals, take a deep breath, and have your character go in to make some noise.  You’ll have more fun that way.

Feel free to offer feedback in the comments below or via other contact methods if you’d prefer; I’m happy to listen.  Next week, I want to talk about the importance of sexuality and how important that side of your character can be to understanding.  The week after that?  What to do when the game mechanics catch up to where you already are.

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.

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