What IS roleplay? – Roleplaying and Fiction Writing for Dummies (and Smarties)

By

Roleplay

verb (and noun); “to act out or perform (the act of performing) the part of a person or character”

Welcome to the first post of my series, “Roleplaying and Fiction Writing for Dummies (and Smarties)!”

In this series, I will be covering the basic and complex topics of roleplay and fiction writing, including (but definitely not limited to) how to make character, how to world build, how to come up with original plot lines, how to fight off writer’s block, and even how to handle writing with ADD. There are so many topics that I plan to cover! I encourage you to comment and ask questions so I can cover them in future lessons!

This series is aimed at ALL roleplayers, game masters, and novelists, whether you are brand new to the world of RP/writing or you are extremely experienced. If you have any tips that you’d like to share about your time as an RPer, GM, or writer, please comment so I can include your tips in the future lessons! If you’d like to be updated on when lessons are posted, I urge you to follow this blog! You will be notified via email any time that I post. There is also a Facebook Group dedicated to this series. You can become a member here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/378530445845423/

Even if you are someone who has never roleplayed before in your life, you have most likely heard about it. Some of your friends may toss around some seemingly random jargon about “what happens in character stays in character,” and you may have even overheard that they fought a dragon last week. Seriously, why wasn’t that all over the news??? The full truth is that you are entirely (most likely) safe from dragons, and your friends were taking part in an awesome game called Dungeons and Dragons. Whether they defeated said dragon is unknown, but I assure you they were having fun either way.

On the flip side, the term “roleplaying” sure does get thrown around a lot when people talk about spicing up the bedroom, so you may think it is bold of me to be explaining exactly what goes down. The truth is, I’m not talking about that kind of roleplay. Many new roleplayers believe that roleplaying is only related to bedroom play or some frisky texting between your date. While that is a form of roleplaying, a high majority of roleplay has literally nothing to do with the bedroom, and I apologize in advance for not even covering that topic in any of my posts. The fact of the matter is that roleplaying comes in so many different forms, and for beginners, it is essential to understand that roleplaying does not revolve around sex.

So, what IS roleplaying? Why do so many people enjoy roleplaying? What is the point? How does one even start roleplaying, and how do they do it correctly? Well, I am here to answer those questions, and hopefully in time, you may come to love it just as much as I do.

There are three categories of roleplay:

  • Life
  • Vocal
  • Text-Based

Life Roleplay

Examples:

  • Acting
  • LARPing
  • Cosplaying

Since you are on the internet, I’m sure you’ve seen a movie or TV show at some point in your life. You may have also been to some sort of medieval festival or a Comic Con. If you’ve done any of these things, you’ve witnessed life roleplay.

Acting

Live-action roleplayers use their entire body to become a character. They act, talk, walk, dress, and overall embody the character they are playing. This form of roleplay requires an incredible amount of skill and self-control. As an example, John is a happy-go-lucky fellow who laughs at nearly everything, but his character is someone who hates everyone, never laughs, and doesn’t have a good bone in his body. John must completely shut off his normal personality to instill the personality of his character. Many actors are the opposite of their characters in terms of personality. It’s these actors, who can pull off such a task, that I really look up to.

Acting is one of the best examples of roleplay I can explain to people who have no clue what roleplay is. When actors/actresses get a script, they are charged with the task of putting themselves in their character’s shoes, which is what roleplaying is all about. With acting, however, not everyone can pull off a certain character. Therefore, casting is so important in movies, TV shows, plays, etc. Some people will act exactly like the character would, while other actors may fall short. In this form of roleplaying, it’s very important for the “player,” the person who is playing the character, to be an appropriate choice. When casting characters, it also may be very important to the screenwriter, director, and producer to have the person look like the character as well. It’s because of these facts that life roleplay, especially acting, isn’t for everyone (including me).

LARPing

Even if you’re new to the roleplay world, you may have heard the term “LARP.” LARP stands for “Live Action Roleplay.” Essentially, it is the same as acting, but it is done usually at conventions or festivals. When a LARPer steps “into character,” they stay in character for as long as they are in the presence of other people. While actors get a chance to be themselves after the cameras stop rolling (or they go behind the curtains), LARPers typically act as their character without breaks.

As an example, at a medieval festival, LARPers may dress up in knightly attire and walk around with swords (fake or real) with their head held high. When approached, they may speak as a knight. If you were to come up to one of them and produce your phone, the “knight” may gasp in surprise, snatch your phone away from you to get a closer look, and dub it a mystical contraption. Others may shun you for wielding a “wizard’s object” and demand you leave them alone. Meanwhile, they likely have a phone under their costume or back in their locker. In the moment, they do not act as their 2019 self, but as someone who lived in the middle ages.

LARPing does not have to be all about past times, however. Other LARPers may enact a character of their own making from a futuristic setting, or they may dress and act as their favorite character from a franchise. This brings us to my last example of life roleplay: cosplay.

Cosplay

Like LARPing, when someone cosplays, they dress up like a particular character. In the case of cosplay, however, the character is usually (but not always!) from a franchise, tv show, movie, book series, etc., like Disney or Marvel for example. Cosplay is a way to show support and interest. Unlike acting and LARPing, however, cosplaying does not always mean the person has to act like the character they are portraying. Much of the time, people only cosplay for the fun of wearing, and even creating, an elaborate costume (hence the term COSplay). Cosplay is really about the art of costume designing and the fun that comes with dressing up.

(I won’t lie, I have cosplayed quite a few times-badly, I might add.)

Vocal Roleplay

Examples:

  • Voice Acting
  • Table Top Roleplaying Games

Vocal roleplay is like life roleplay, but instead of someone using their whole body to act as the character, they use, you guessed it, just their voice! Some people may prefer to talk AND walk as their character, but for others, just talking will do.

Voice Acting

For those people who do work in voice acting, they are the life behind some of our favorite cartoons and rendered movies. They are the reason why Mickey sounds like Mickey, and why we can recognize the Joker’s laugh. It takes incredible skill to pull off certain voices, especially when the character’s personality is completely different than the voice actor’s. It’s because of this that, once again, voice acting may not be for everyone.

Just like life acting, voice acting can come with certain draw backs. In the case of voice acting for shows or the like, the casting crew will want someone who sounds like the character. This usually means that, like life roleplaying, female characters will be voiced by females, and male characters will be voices by male characters. Casting may want a voice actor with a certain pitch or roughness to their voice.

Table Top Roleplaying Games

Ah, table top RPGs (roleplaying games). Table top roleplay is where it all began for me. It’s why I have such a passion for roleplaying in general.

A popular way to roleplay Table Top games is-shockingly-at a table. Never could have guessed, right? One of the most well-known Table Top RPGs is Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). With D&D, a group of people may sit at a table in someone’s house and pull out a large map of a made-up land. Some D&Ders set up miniature buildings and statues of creatures on the map to make the game feel more “real.” The players will play characters of their own making, speaking their character’s actions. They may say, “my character will walk down the corridor and take a left, and then he will check the ground for traps.” Players may or may not speak (as best they can, that is) in their character’s voice.

The best part about Table Top RPGs is that nothing holds you back from being any sort of character that you’d like. A player could look, act, and sound completely different than the character that they are portraying yet still play the character perfectly. If John, the happy-go-lucky fellow playing a hateful character, has a hard time with scowling at people and keeping a straight face, he may have a lot more fun with Table Top roleplaying than life roleplaying. John does not have to scowl in real life, he simply has to say that his character is scowling, and his voice does not have to sound at all like his character’s. You may wish to play an over-sized male ogre who has the deepest voice one has ever heard, while you yourself may be a petite female with the voice of an angel. There are no limits to what your character must be, and that’s the beauty of Table Top.

Typically, with Table Top, the player oversees a character that THEY create, unlike most of the other forms of roleplay I have talked about so far. With acting (life and voice), the person is usually given a script of a character that someone else has written already. With Table Top, you are in full control of your character’s choices. You learn about your character along the way, and while you may know their backstory, you are the one that gets to see their character development first hand. In the cases of actors, if they believe that their character is doing something that isn’t fitting, they would have to take it up with the screenwriter. In the case of Table Top, you can make on-the-fly decisions for your character and shape them into whatever you want them to be.

I personally think that everyone should try Table Top roleplaying at some point in their life. It is a beautiful and amazingly fun way to express yourself and your creativity. There is a such a huge opportunity to be yourself in a different setting or to be someone you hate just for the fun of it. Not only is it fun, Table Top RPGs also allow you to make great friends, gain skills like team building and communication, and give you time to shut the real world out of your mind while focusing on something completely different.

The biggest problem with Table Top roleplay is scheduling. Getting a group of people together in a room for a few hours every week, or even once a month, can be extremely difficult. Because of this, in more recent years, a new kind of “Table Top” roleplay has emerged. Now, you can play games like D&D through websites like Roll20 (not a sponsor! It’s just an amazing website) to play with friends from anywhere in the world at a time that fits all your party members. You and your friends can all chill out in the comfort of your own houses (pants are even optional) and roleplay with each other to your hearts’ content!

There is so much to Table Top RPGs that I cannot cover in just one post. I will be creating a long series of lessons that cover Table Top topics. I will help you with character designs, backgrounds, and even some basic mechanics of D&D.

Text-Based Roleplay

Examples:

  • MMO RPGs (including voice RP)
  • Forums and Groups
  • One-on-One
  • Writing

The last form of roleplay I will be covering is my area of expertise: text-based roleplaying. While life and voice roleplay require you to speak or act, text-based RP gives you the advantage of sitting quietly somewhere while still being able to portray someone else. Personally, this is my favorite type of roleplay. While I may have started my RP journey through Table Top, most of my roleplay time has been on the computer. I’ve roleplayed at home of course, but I’ve also roleplayed waiting in airports and on road trips, during downtime on vacations, even in line at the grocery store as I wait for the person in front of me to figure out why their card is being declined. Most text-based roleplay can be done from literally anywhere.

MMO RPGs

MMO RPGs, or Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games, is not only a mouth full (no wonder why it’s shortened), it’s an incredibly popular way to roleplay. Typically, when playing an MMO RPG, you will have a depiction of your character as a 3D avatar. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of MMO RPGs out there, and newer Single Player games even add a Multiplayer option after the game has already been released. Some games are much more roleplay-oriented than others.

RPGs do not have to be Massive Multiplayer Online games, however. There are thousands of games that are single player Roleplay Games, where you are put into the shoes of the main character and must make choices that the game provides. These kinds of games are relatively straight forward, and I will not be covering them in my lessons.

Note: Some of the most popular MMO RPGs are World of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online. Even Grand Theft Auto V has become a roleplay hub. Some of these games, however, are more in the category of “voice roleplay” more than text-based. Console (Xbox and PlayStation) games are very hard to roleplay on via text, so it usually left to voice. A lot of roleplay is done over a headset and requires you to speak.

With other games, like my personal favorite, Neverwinter Nights (NWN), which is played on a computer, roleplay can be solely text based. Since NWN is my favorite game of all time (and where I met some of my closest friends AND my husband!), I will talk about it quite a bit when I am referencing online sever roleplay. In NWN, and other games like it, there is an option to play on an online sever. I will explain more about what servers are in my next post, which will cover a bunch of different roleplay terms, what they mean, and why they are important to know. For now, all you need to know is that a roleplay server is a place where people from all around the world can log in and roleplay with each other. Simple as that.

Playing MMO RPGs is one of the best ways to meet new people. As I stated above, I met my incredible husband through a roleplay server, as well as many of my best friends. You may find that, on roleplay servers, some people roleplay better than others. You may find that some people have vastly different roleplay styles than others as well, and that is great. There is not just one way to roleplay; however, there are incorrect ways to roleplay. That is exactly what this entire series is all about: how to roleplay in a way that is fun for not just you but everyone that you play with!

Forums and Group RP

A forum is a kind of website. Some businesses use forums to get their employees involved in conversations. Schools sometimes use forums for the same reason. A roleplay forum is built the same way, but instead of relating to work or school, the purpose of the forum is to get a wide variety of people roleplaying together.

Usually, a forum will have a specific topic of roleplay. For our made-up example, we will consider a starship. The site will have sections of the forum dedicated to certain locations on said starship. The players who are members of the forum will each have a character, or characters, to play for themselves and will be allowed to post in certain “areas of the ship” where their character would be allowed to visit. In this kind of roleplay, it’s not uncommon for admins (the people who own the forum) to first approve of your character. After all, a brand new roleplayer would likely not know how to accurately portray the captain of the starship.

While roleplaying on forums, it’s very common for players to write several paragraphs about what their characters are doing in the area [of the ship] they are in. While MMO RPGs may have a small text bar for players to type in a few words or sentences, forum roleplay may revolve around very long descriptions. You also may play with only a few other roleplayers, or you may play with thousands. It just depends on the forum.

Unlike RPGs, you do not get the benefit of seeing a 3D (or 2D, I suppose in some cases) model of your character on a forum. There is usually a section of the forum dedicated to “character biographies (bios)” that will allow you to explain what your character looks like. You may also be able to post a few pictures of your character here and give background info that you don’t mind other players knowing.

Group roleplay is very similar to forums in many ways, but group RP may be in a group chat on a messenger app or chat room instead of a forum website. Group RP usually only has a few players roleplaying together, and it may become messy if too many players are trying to roleplay all at once. Since it’s in a messenger app or the like, the roleplaying posts (what your character is doing or saying) are usually only a few sentences, as opposed to forum RP where they may be several pages long.

I won’t lie: forum and group roleplay are not for me. I have plenty of friends who absolutely adore forum roleplaying, but I have never been able to find a passion for it. That being said, the lessons I cover in this series will absolutely help those of you who love to forum roleplay. RP is RP, and the foundations are all the same.

One-on-One

Okay, so this is REALLY my area of expertise, and this is where most of my focus goes when I roleplay. I have been One-on-One roleplaying for over 10 years, mainly with my best friend and co-writer, S. Richardson. We have grown together as roleplayers and story writers in that time, and more recently, we decided to turn our original One-on-One RP into a Sci-fi/High Fantasy book series. You can see updates for that on my “Series Update” posts.

One-on-One roleplay is between two people only. While it does come with a lot more work, it’s my favorite kind of roleplay. Unlike forum and sever roleplay where you must abide by specific rules of roleplay and character design, One-on-One gives you full freedom with your characters (if your RP partner agrees as well!).

The biggest drawback of One-on-One is that you have to both follow and lead. You and your RP partner are tasked with coming up with every single character and all the plot lines. For One-on-One to work well, both players may have to play multiple characters at once, come up with original ideas to add to the roleplay, as well as follow the other roleplayer’s plotlines. For new roleplayers, this may be extremely tricky and tasking, but for more experienced roleplayers, it may be a dream come true.

I will be focusing many lessons on the trickiness of One-on-One RP. I will give some advice on how to make a diverse cast of characters, explain how lead and follow plot lines, give tips on world building, and a ton more. My goal is to help even new roleplayers understand how to roleplay One-on-One correctly and skip the awkward phase of not knowing what the hell to do.

Writing

Now, if I’m going to consider acting as roleplay, I must consider writing in general as roleplay as well. After all, actors aren’t usually the ones who “own” their characters. It’s the writers, screenwriters, playwrights, etc., that are the true heart of the characters. There would be no characters for the actors to play if writers didn’t first think them and their stories up.

Writing can technically be considered roleplaying by yourself. Shockingly, even on roleplay severs and forums, roleplaying by yourself is not at all uncommon. Writing simply goes one step further than all the other types of roleplay, and you, the player, oversee every single thing in the roleplay. Like One-on-One roleplay, you must world build, character build, and plot build as a self-roleplayer (aka writer). Unlike One-on-One roleplay, however, you do not have the advantage of leaning on your RP partner to lead when you hit writer’s block.

Since my co-author and I have both contributed so much to our own One-on-One RP individually, we also consider ourselves as stand-alone writers as well. Of course, we find it infinitely easier to write together (I think we always will), but we both understand the mechanics of what it means to be a self-roleplayer (writer) and the struggles and joys of writing alone.

I’m expecting a huge chunk of this series to pertain solely to self-roleplay/writing alone. Writing alone comes with some incredible challenges, and I hope to help those of you who are writers, or want-to-be writers, through those challenges. Subjects like world building and character building will be aimed toward writers and roleplayers alike, but subjects like how to edit your book, the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing, and what is a literary agent will be aimed specifically at writers (or if you’re like us, co-writers!).

So, what are your challenges with roleplaying and/or writing?

Are you already a roleplayer and simply looking for some extra info about the art? Or are you a brand new to the world of roleplay? I’d love to hear your stories, and I encourage you to ask as many roleplay/writing related questions that I can cover in future lessons.

My next topic to cover will be roleplay terminology. I will be explaining some simple terms that you will undoubtedly hear in the roleplay world and why they are important to understand. If you want to be updated about when that is posted, make sure to follow!