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Telling Stories: The space between “can” and “should”

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.Let me make two points that are so self-evident they should be entirely unnecessary, and yet they come up time and again.  The first is one that has been discussed to death: You can make any sort of character for roleplaying that you want.  The second is equally obvious: There are a lot of things you should and should not do when making a character.

These are not contradictions.

It can be hard, at times, to separate the two.  But the entire purpose of this column, and the one I did before this, and any subsequent columns on the same topic I do after this is talking about what you should do.  A column talking about what you can do with roleplaying would be extremely short and boring, consisting of exactly one entry (“you can do what you want”) and offering no useful advice.  But among all the things you can do, there are a lot of things you should or should not do, and just because something is in fact possible does not make it a good idea.

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Telling Stories: You are responsible

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.You all know that I absolutely hate the idea that roleplaying is some silly thing that has no consequences or stresses.  This would be because it’s absolutely not true, and it’s harmful to everyone trying to roleplay with you, but it has even further reach than that: it destroys the idea that you have some responsibilities to your fellow roleplayers.  And you do.  You have several responsibilities.  There are things that you should do when you are roleplaying that obligate you.

Obviously, you’re just trying to have fun.  But just like organized PvP or raiding or any other sort of regular activity, that does not mean the fun is without some level of responsibilities.  So let’s talk a little bit about what your responsibilities are simply as a roleplayer, even if you’re not running a whole lot of large-scale events or involving everyone you meet in storylines.  Just as a roleplayer interacting with other people, it’s reasonable to assume that you can be responsible about certain things.

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Telling Stories: I have sunk so low

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.Your character did something very bad, and now she needs to pay the price.

Every character screws up sometimes.  I’ve talked extensively in the past about the fact that characters need to be able to make mistakes and fail at various point, and I stand by it; a character who never fails is a character who isn’t interesting to hear about or interact with.  You will fail.  Just like in real life, your characters will wind up making bad choices, backing the wrong horse, and trusting the wrong person.

Next, the part where she picks up the pieces.

A failure that doesn’t have impact on your character’s life is functionally nothing; you want every failure to have some long-term impact.  That means that every failure stings, and things don’t just go back to normal the next morning.  Sometimes they don’t ever go back to normal.  When something gets broken badly enough, it doesn’t get fixed, and sometimes the broken parts will just be lingering with a character for a good long while.

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Telling Stories: The tone police

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.Just because two people both roleplay doesn’t mean that their roleplaying is compatible.

What I try to do with these columns is give you a picture of how to be a better roleplayer and offer some character-development food for thought.  That’s the long and short of it.  Best practices, good ideas, verisimilitude, all of that.  I very occasionally touch on stories that are pretty played out and hard to take seriously, but the reality is that if you and your friends are comfortable roleplaying half-dragon vampires over in Star Trek Online, more power to you.  Enjoy yourselves!

Not everyone is willing to be cool.

Tone policing is essentially the act of going around and telling people how they should be roleplaying based on your personal idea of what characters should be like.  It’s imposing your own rules on what someone else is doing.  It’s also really shitty behavior that gets sort of glossed over on the flimsy pretext of “but I care about roleplaying” as if that somehow excuses you from making other people’s play experience demonstrably worse.

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Telling Stories: Repair tools

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.So your character got just plain screwed up.

I’m a big advocate of the idea that however bad things might get with a given character, you can accept the imbalance and move on.  Like a cat, characters don’t need a great deal of herding.  But just like you may have to eventually address the fact that your outdoor cat stinks to high heaven and does need to be washed, eventually you might have to sigh, grit your teeth, and realize that something is rotten in the state of your character.  You’re going to need to repair.

Fortunately for you, there are tools in place to help you do just that.  Somewhat less fortunately, those tools range in overall utility from being super helpful to being kind of severe.  So let’s talk about your tools, the long-term effects of using these tools, and try to provide a framework for deciding which option is right for correcting your particular problem without the usual costs of labor.

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