Whaddya mean: a backstory? Every roleplay group leader gets asked this question when they request a character bio or backstory from a new member.
Your backstory is about who you are and why. Many roleplaying groups insist you come in with a fully developed backstory that gives your entire history from childhood on. Some will accept a brief synopsis that is more about how you got there. Both lay the foundation for who your character is in their world and how you came to be that way. The idea of creating a whole life history can be very intimidating for a novice roleplayer; take this into consideration when you choose a group to join. If you lay your whole life out on paper, you can easily limit your character growth as you move forward and learn.
While it may be attractive to be the daughter of a deposed monarch who seeks to avenge her parent’s death and has come to this realm seeking alliances to do that, it severely limits your interaction possibilities. The more you say up front; the more you have to live up to and support with your roleplay going forward. If you really must be royalty, think about being royalty in disguise and do not define your goal. You will open a much wider field of possibilities. In general, produce the minimum backstory the group will allow. Some roleplayers write pages and pages of history or use up every tab in the Picks defining their story. If you have the creativity to do this, by all means go ahead but try not to back yourself into corners from which you cannot escape.
The most flexible backstories are those that say the least. It can be as simple as my original The River Lands backstory: “Fitheach is a high elf, long separated from her family, who has been wandering for many years and has now found her way to the River Lands. She may have secrets to hide.” This leaves you wide open to change almost anything except your race and you should not change your race in the same character; that is against most group’s rules. This backstory has not defined any rank, nor told why she has been wandering or why she came to the River Lands. It implies there is more to be discovered.
With a backstory this simple, you can embellish your history as you go along; adding details that you like when the conversation allows. It allows you to grow your character’s history as you grow in your roleplay (rp) abilities. In my case, since I chose to be a druid healer in RL and studied to pass each level of that guild, it gave me time to consider why I became one. And that led me to reveal that I had run away from a family of elf mages who forced me to study magery when I had no gift for it. It still allows me to drop small details of my wandering as time goes on. It is the details that develop your character over time and dictate how you act and react in a group roleplay.
Here are a couple of web links that give additional help in backstory creation:
Now it’s time to make it happen! You’ve done all the groundwork to establish your character, chosen a race, determined your alignment, written a back story. This is when you pull together everything you have built and create the character you intend to be. Remember your alignment and how it will drive your behavior. Your race will also affect how you act, an elf will be more reserved, a dwarf grumpy, a fae will be hard put to take anything seriously. Your back story plays into any personal information you might share and also may affect how you react to situations.
Maintaining your character’s personality is most important in these early days. This is the time you establish yourself in your roleplay group and consistency is key. If you scoff at authority in one rp and then kowtow immediately to them in the next you will establish yourself as nothing more than inconsistent. You can be subtle; let people see over time how you react to authority. Or be obvious and push back at them as soon you encounter any structure but be consistent. Freeform roleplay is like street theater and maintaining your persona through all the interactions that occur can be extremely difficult. Concentrate on a few key behaviors and let them establish who you are to your chosen group.
If the roleplay is scripted, you will have more time to develop your style. The plot will be laid out in advance and you will have a set part to play, just make sure that part reflects who you intend to be. In real life theater, actors are trained to use repeated actions and mannerisms called business to help establish their character. If you trip over every doorsill, you will soon be known as clumsy. If you stand aloof and look down at everyone, you will be seen as haughty. It is that easy. Are you a rogue? Stay in the shadows; look furtively about when you do move. A pirate may swagger about boldly and speak loudly. Just describing your actions will help establish your character.
Choose your clothes to reflect your character as well. If you want to be a down home sort of person do not deck yourself out in velvet. Go for the linen and denim or homespun depending on the style. Elves and fae generally need clothes that are more fantastic; rangers need leather and perhaps armor. Vampires need black and red Victorianesque or modern clothes. Shop or create with your character in mind, your wardrobe is as much a part of your character as your alignment and frequently more visible. A signature piece of attire can help build a character as well as a repetitive piece of business. That sword handed down through your family, a distinctive hat, always going barefoot. Sometimes what you do not wear is as noticeable as what you do.
You’ve done your homework researching and testing to define who and what your character is; now it’s time to make it real. Jump in and start to build a portrait of exactly where you fit into the roleplay. By your actions and appearance establish a personality and a place for yourself and have fun!
Next issue will feature Roleplay Combat.
Once you’ve found your group and learned the rules, it’s time to settle on your character. If races are part of your group’s roleplay, this is the time to choose one. In addition, you should take the test and determine your alignment, it will guide your roleplay and clue others in on how to react to you. These two essential decisions can fuel your backstory and set the scene for how your character will behave.
Many groups recommend not choosing a race until you are sure what you want to be; race is the one thing you cannot change in most groups. Not all types of roleplay use specific races with special characteristics. You will find multiple race choices most often in Medi/Fantasy, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Historical roleplays. If your only option is human of a specific ethnicity, you can move on to how to play the character and alignment.
Race is not just a specific appearance, but also involves special characteristics and abilities. These may include enhanced physical abilities like flight, keen sight or hearing, unusual strength or intelligence. It may also either limit or add special skills. Fae cannot typically be mages since they are creatures made of magic. Drow do not function well in the daylight but can merge with the shadows to be invisible. Vulcans are emotionless but can perform a mind meld with another being, Klingons are strong warriors, but have short fuses.
Medi/Fantasy and Fantasy have a wide range of different races, some groups even have a chart to help compare the races they allow. Here is an example for Fantasy.
Sci-Fi offers humans and multiple aliens and often has hybrids of these options. Star Trek based Sci-Fi will include the races used in all of the iterations of the series that the group allows. You may see Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, Bajorans and other interstellar species. Sci-fi based on different premises, such as Star Wars, Firefly or Dr. Who will include a completely different set of possibilities.
Historical roleplays tend to use human characters with normal ethnic characteristics. Roleplay based in the American frontier will usually offer settlers of various ethnic groups and Native Americans of multiple tribes. Ancient Roman roleplay typically includes any of the nations and tribes fought or conquered by the Roman Legions. Vampire, Zombie and Post-Apocalyptic roleplay may not have different species or races as much as different types of character to choose from, although some vampire groups include Lycans and other shape shifters in their approved characters.
Becoming a character involves more than making yourself look like the race or part you have chosen, although that is an essential thing to do. You must be able to act the part as well, even to the point of speaking the language if there is a good dictionary or translator available. You can just drop the occasional word into your speech or make an entire statement in your appropriate tongue, just be sure to also translate it so everyone understands what you have just said. And of course, you must exhibit behavior typical to your chosen role. If you want to be a cute sweetsy personality, avoid dwarves, Klingons and Celtic barbarians, it just won’t fit. We’ll talk more about building a successful character in the next article.
Many roleplay groups require that you take an alignment test online before applying. One of the best known tests is at http://easydamus.com/alignmenttest.html. You are supposed to take the test as your character, and you will receive a result with one topic from each of 2 classifications. It is easiest for a beginner to maintain a character with your own personality so bear that in mind as you take the test.
The classifications are:
Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic
Good, Neutral, Evil
You can be classified as Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral and Lawful Evil; Neutral Good, Neutral Neutral(True Neutral) or Neutral Evil; and Chaotic Good, Chaotic Neutral and Chaotic Evil
The explanations for each combination are on the website, an example for my own Chaotic Good Classification would be:
Chaotic Good- A chaotic good character acts as his conscience directs him with little regard for what others expect of him. He makes his own way, but he's kind and benevolent. He believes in goodness and right but has little use for laws and regulations. He hates it when people try to intimidate others and tell them what to do. He follows his own moral compass, which, although good, may not agree with that of society.
You can see how this information can contribute to developing your character’s personality and help your fellow roleplayers to interact with you. Use it to direct your actions, especially in conflict situations of any type. If you make your choices fit your alignment, your character’s behavior will be consistent.
The next article will delve into creating your backstory and making your character more memorable.
WooHoo, it’s your first PvP (Player versus Player) roleplay combat and boy are you ready! You have a cool sword and you are ready to fight. You hide in the shrubbery and watch the mini map, seeing a yellow dot approaching. It’s Ralf, one of the opposition rangers, a perfect target. When you see his dot nearby, you lunge out, sword waving and plunge your blade through his chest, killing him instantly. Your shouts of triumph are muted as you notice the roleplay has stopped and everyone is glaring at you. What’s wrong? You just broke 2 of the cardinal rules of roleplay etiquette. What!?
If you see action based on minimap dots or IMs, do not race to the rescue. Do not plan action based on information from your mini map or the OOC (out of Character) chat. In this case you used the mini-map to give you an unfair advantage, both by recognizing the player who was approaching from his map ID and by using the map to pinpoint his position.
Meta-Gaming also involves other ways of using information obtained outside of actual roleplay.
If you use information from a person’s backstory that they have not relayed to you in character (IC), that is meta gaming. Addressing someone before you have been introduced or at least overheard their name is also a form of meta gaming. You should never address people by name based on what you see. You need to be introduced or at least overhear their name during the RP. They may even be playing a different character than their captioned name.
If thoughts are expressed as dialog, that does not mean you can use them. They must be told to you or you must get them from some legitimate roleplay source such as being told by another player who does know or reading a dropped letter or journal. Or you could ask questions based on the expression of the character revealing the thoughts.
Beginners may find it helpful to make a cheat sheet of what they know and what they learned OOC during complex roleplays to avoid accidental meta gaming.
2. Do Not God-Mod
God-modding is having superpowers, the individual always wins and cannot be injured or killed. It is also forcing the results of your action on another player without their consent. You jumped from hiding and attacked Ralf with your sword, stabbing him and declaring him killed. Perhaps Ralf did not want to die that day?
It is always the choice of the attackee whether they are injured or killed unless meters or dice are being used. Any action of that type must be discussed prior to or during the attack and it is always the victim’s right to decide their fate. If Ralf felt that this was not a good day to die, he could have caught your sword on his shield and turned it. Or he could have agreed to take the hit and been injured, how badly is still his decision.
You can never determine the results of your actions on others, nor can you be all powerful. You cannot make choices for or force things on other people. For example: In battle, you can shoot an arrow at someone, but you cannot say you hit them or wounded them; that part is their call. The more correct approach would be to say: Fiesty called upon the earth powers to soften the ground under the attacking troll, hoping it would sink. Whoever is playing the troll would then get to say if they sank and were trapped.
However, if you are interacting with NPCs (Non-Playing Characters) or extras (Minor characters created for a specific roleplay) rather than live major character roleplayers, the end result is your or the group’s choice. Many NPCs are only statues voiced by the player interacting with them or extras. NPCs are the Redshirts (stock characters) of roleplay; any day is a good day for them to die.
If you are lucky, your roleplay group will realize your error is due to inadequate training, explain the rules and let you continue. Before you go on, let’s cover a few more important roleplay rules.
It is considered rude to jump into an on-going roleplay without permission from the players. Always ask politely in IM if you may join. Scripted roleplayers will be especially annoyed if you join a prepared scene. If you are invited to join in, listen and contribute but make no assumptions about the characters, get to know them first.
Expressing thoughts can be problematic. Some groups put thoughts or emotions in quotes, carets or italics, other rely on the description to alert people. I.E., Savage thought the hobbits looked tasty instead of <<Talia wished for more cream>>.
Your viewer can be set up to make any emote comment show in italics by prefacing it with a /me or sometimes an *. Some RP groups also use the asterisk to denote thought or emotions.
When making OOC comments, every group has their own style, but it usually involves parentheses or brackets around the comment. For example: [great shot Ralf, been practicing?]
Please also avoid creating Mary Sue characters. That is a roleplay character with no faults, unbelievable skills, always perfect, always right, always wins, is sooo nice and beloved and so, so boring. Don’t go there, everyone will hate you.
Vocabulary from this article:
PvP- Player versus Player combat, usually regulated by lots of rules and a staple of many rp groups. It works best when meters are used but can be dice or pre-agreement regulated.
Meter- A HUD attachment linked to scripted weapons and sometimes animals or food. It measures the health of the wearer, records injuries and stamina and possibly hunger. We do not currently have these available.
Dice- A method of randomly determining the outcome of an event developed for tabletop RP games and used somewhat universally now. Roleplay dice are generally polyhedral and may have up to 20 sides. They can be rolled to determine who wins a combat or the degree of damage that is caused or even how many adversaries will be faced or what degree of combat skills may be used in an encounter. Dice are frequently used as substitute for metered combat. It is best if the expected results are discussed before they are used or things can get really complicated. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dice_notation
Have you always wanted to roleplay in Virtual Worlds? You can be whatever you want from a fire breathing dragon to a robot, why not act the part? However, getting started in roleplaying can be littered with obstacles. What type of roleplay? What group do I join? What if I don’t know how to roleplay, who will help me learn? (As a note, anything in italic type is a roleplay term defined at the end of the article)
Let’s start with the first factor: who or what do you want to be? Your type of character or race will drive most of your other choices. In roleplay, race refers to what type of being your character is: an elf, a human gladiator, a dragon, or a Klingon for example. What’s out there? Medi-Fantasy RP (roleplay) features races from Tolkien, Dungeons and Dragons or other games, movies or literature. Elves, dwarfs, fairies, centaurs, mermaids all belong to this genre. Sci-Fi roleplay uses characters from film and literature: humans, aliens, robots, androids. Historical RP runs the gamut from Ancient Greece or Rome to post-apocalyptic and is largely human. There are also specialized RP categories like Steampunk, Gorean and Vampire.
Once you have decided who you want to be, it’s time to find a group to roleplay with. Starting a search with the word roleplay will show you the regions that have added that term to their description, not all of them will actually host roleplay groups. The things to look for in a group are compatibility with your choice of character, a style that suits you, and a group culture that you will fit into. Longevity is also a consideration, roleplay groups come and go with amazing regularity, you don’t want to invest time and energy only to log on and find your group has disappeared.
The genre the group uses will tell you about your character fit, style is another matter. Roleplay generally falls into either the Scripted or Free Form category. Scripted is just that: the RPs are decided ahead of time, everyone has a set role and a set outcome, deviation is generally not encouraged. Free Form roleplay usually has a basic outline and sometimes a desired outcome, but the interaction is all improvisation. Think Street Theater. Both groups will usually either Para RP or be Casual. The differences are highlighted in the next paragraphs.
Casual RP offers a normal conversational description and dialog: Saphira checked her weapons, pushed open the tavern door and entered cautiously, looking about for lurking attackers.
Para RP uses long descriptive passages (Para is taken from Paragraph): Saphira paused outside the weathered door of the tavern, pulled up the fur-lined hood of her flowing, blue silk cloak and gathered it about her. She checked that all her varied weapons were available, especially the silver mounted, Illyrian steel daggers she favored for close combat. The shadows around her deepened as the night dragged on. Finally, she eased open the door, hoping it would not creak and slowly insinuated herself into the room. Stopping right on the threshold she cast about for any hint of danger from the occupants…. I think you get the idea, but it could go on much longer than this.
The group culture is the most important choice you will make; it will control whether you are happy roleplaying with your compatriots. If this is your first roleplay experience, you also need a group that will help you learn and grow your character. The best way to determine the group’s culture is to first read their description cards and then go visit. Many groups offer open roleplay sessions or classes that let you meet people and get to know them outside of roleplay events. (For example, The Wyldwood Bayou RP Hub hosts a monthly Open Market Roleplay for the entire HyperGrid.) If they do not offer that type of experience, try showing up at a regular roleplay as an observer. Listen to their roleplay dialog and any OOC (Out of Character) comments made during it; it will tell you a lot about how they interact. Ask questions when they are not busy. If you get a curt or condescending response, you might want to consider whether they will be supportive to new players. Find out who the leader is and try to talk with them, their personality will usually reflect that of the group. Do not try to join in on any roleplay while observing; that is a serious breach of etiquette. Just listen and observe. We will talk more about roleplay etiquette in the next article.
If you find a group you like, make sure you are on board with their roleplay canon or structure: do they focus on combat and routinely kill people, is there slavery possible, does the atmosphere make you relaxed or uncomfortable? If you think you have found a home, discuss the character requirements; some groups will want a complete history or backstory for your character; some will advise saying as little as possible so you can change it later. Many will suggest that you not choose a race to begin with, as that is the one choice that usually cannot be modified. Some groups have pages of rules, some stick to just basic RP etiquette. You will likely need to complete an application form, possibly submit a backstory and then wait for the group’s approval so your roleplay adventure can begin.
Now that you are off and running, we’ll talk about things you will need to know to roleplay. The next issue will cover roleplay etiquette. We will also cover alignments, character development, and occupation and abilities. If you have roleplay questions or would like to request a topic, please contact Marianna Monetes at email@example.com.
Roleplay Vocabulary, these are terms I used:
The basic history and roleplay structure of the group, which may include the history or backstory of the group. It may also list which races are allowed, who is allowed to have a skill or power, advancement steps, leaders or founders. Other pertinent background information may come from gaming (like D&D), film (such as Star Trek) or from literature (Tolkien, for example). Deviations are referred to as outside the canon.
Literally Medieval/Fantasy, roleplay set largely in medieval times that features fantasy as well as human charters. This type of RP is usually based on Tolkien or other literature or on Dungeons & Dragons.
IC (In-Character) and
God-modding is having superpowers; the individual always wins and cannot be injured or killed. It also includes determining the outcome for other characters. This will be discussed further in Etiquette
Meta-gaming is having and acting on knowledge not acquired during roleplay. If you use information from a person’s backstory that they have not relayed to you IC (in character), that is meta gaming. Addressing someone you have not been introduced or at least overheard the name of is also a form of meta gaming. This will be discussed further in Etiquette.