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09-06-2008   #1 (permalink)
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Default Role-Playing Forum Guidelines and how2rp Guide

Role-Playing Forum Guidelines and how2rp Guide

Abstract:

The purpose of this document is to inform the reader of the basics of how to use this section of the forums, describe the norms and taboos of play-by-post role-playing, and provide a general briefing on how2writeGewd.

None of the following are truly rules per se, merely guidelines and suggestions.
How to use:

It should be obvious that the role of and role-playing forum is to facilitate collaborative writing, but how exactly to use such a medium may be confusing to newcomers. Consider the task of writing an essay without being given a topic. How would you go about such an endeavor?

1. Thread formats

For starters, you would have to consider designing your own topic for the essay, along with a form that is appropriate for both the context and the topic you have chosen. I cannot really help with with the former, but common forms for threads include:

1. Quests

The overarching make-a-story category, for all your "recover ancient/lost/sacred artifact", pilgrimage to _________", "overthrow evil empire", "save the universe" needs.
2. Spars

If quest threads could be considered PvE, then spars would be considered PvP. Spars can be friendly, or to the death. Many spars are 1-on-1 for the sake of cohesion, any more people and it becomes...
3. Free-for-all(FFA)/Chaos Spars

Just as the name implies, FFAs are PvP battles in which 3 or more combatants engage in a brawl with varying amounts of teamwork, often none at all.
4. Static Locations

Probably the least common of all thread types, a static location thread can take the form of a local tavern, an established military academy, a bank, whatever, operated by a player.
These are suggestions as to thread form. By no means are you bound to using such forms, nor are you required to label your threads as such.
2. Creating a thread

Alright, so you have a basic idea of how your thread is going to be structured. Now the question becomes "how do you start it?". To be simplistic, when you create a thread, you are charged with many of the responsibilities of a dungeon master.
"Dungeon Master" or "Game Master" is a term carried over from pen-and-paper role-playing games, referring to the person in charge of creating and maintaining the world that the rest of the players play in. The importance of the DM is somewhat lessened in the electronic medium. Depending on the thread type, the GM's role may still be fairly important (e.g. quests, static locations), or almost irrelevant (e.g. spars, FFAs). Regardless of this however, the opening post of anything thread must always include a few things.

1. Location

Nothing can happen without a place to happen in! Even an infinite void going outwards in all directions is a location. For many threads, the location will change, but that is discussed in later sections, so we'll break off here.
2. Time period

Unless the thread is intended to be anachronistic, there should be a distinct time period or era defined in the first post. You don't necessarily have to say it directly (OOC or otherwise), just give a general impression.
3. A "hook"

Not as important as either of the above, but if there is something that you can use to draw in other PCs, you should make some note of it. While this sort of thing is best done as soon as possible, many people will choose to develop it as the plot thickens, so to speak.
4. Motive

Similar to #3, motive refers to your own character's reasons for participating in the thread. Again, it's fine if you want to develop this as things happen, but because the thread creator's character is often a major driving force in the story, it is somewhat more imperative that you establish this earlier on.
5. Introduction of your character

...Yea, I ran out of creative one word descriptors. Sue me. This is exactly what the name says, the first post should introduce the OP's character while tying together #1-4.
Shortened, #1 and 2 refer to creating the setting, and #3 and 4 refer to creating the conflict, both of which are vital in any story.
3. Joining a thread

Of course, not everyone wants to take on the daunting task of creating a thread. Fortunately for this group, thread participants are just as important as thread creators. Keep in mind however, that just because you fit in this group, doesn't mean you're excluded from some DM duties. Even in pen-and-paper role-playing, the actions of the players are a major determinant in how the world evolves; it is by far more so the case here.
As a player, your role is mostly to add on to the DM's story, and to help the DM bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here. A participant's first post in any thread should introduce their character, explain how and why they are where they are, and respond to plot hooks (if applicable).
4. Maintaining a thread

With the introductions done, the thread is now set begin. I will not tell you what exactly to do in that respect, as that is completely up to you. However, I will make note of some problems that might occur as well as possibly remedies for them.

1. Inactivity

Probably the leading problem plaguing this medium. Inactivity refers to failure to respond to a thread for an extended period of time by any participant. This problem is comparable to someone breaking off mid sentence in a conversation and just starts staring at nothing, ignoring all response. As this analogy illustrates, it becomes impossible to continue the conversation, or in this case, the story, should such an event occur. Ideally it would never happen, but since the real world is anything but ideal, here are a few ways to deal with this problem:

a. Arrange for a substitute

The person going to be inactive can ask for a more active person to take their place, accepting all decisions that the substitute makes. This obviously must be done ahead of time, and the substitute should be someone the absentee knows and trusts.
b. Exit, stage left!

Without any preamble or warning, the person going inactive makes a "bye" post and leaves the thread. Whether they will return is up to them. This is obviously a rather problematic solution, but better than not being able to do anything.
c. Retcon

In the case the inactive person just goes inactive without any notice, the other participants can opt to retcon out the absentee's existence, i.e. the person never made a post in the thread, their character never did anything, it was all a lie, and the other characters can carry on as if nothing had happened. This is obviously a pretty extreme move and should only be used as a last resort.
2. Thread derailment

There's a saying that goes, "Too many cooks spoil the soup." Meaning that having many people with different ideas as to what to do can be... disastrous. This is a problem that plagues a lot of quest type threads, when participants all try to take on the role of the DM. While it's fine to let the participants do a few side quests here and there, or even make suggestions as to what to do, but losing the primary purpose of the thread is rather bad. If you're the thread creator, don't let it happen. If you're a participant, don't do anything that might cause it.
5. Finishing a thread

Sooner or later a thread will either die out or have to be brought to a close, but what do you do when such a thing happens? Obviously, you make a closing post and request for the thread to be closed, but what do you do going up to that point and after?

1. Resolve all conflict

Just like any story, all conflict should be satisfactorily resolved by the final posts. It's fine to leave some things hanging in the air to pick up on in another thread, but the major conflict (#3 and #4 in the Creating a thread section), should be more or less be done with.
2. Edit character profiles accordingly

This could have been done while the thread was progressing, but I thought I'd make a note on that matter here. Although it is generally recommended that people add the events of a thread to their character history, for the sake of progress and whatnot, I often find that particular norm to be somewhat bothersome. Therefore, I will often invoke the concept of the multiverse and rewrite things as I see fit. This is particularly useful when something happens and you really don't like it (e.g. character death), or if a response you made in retrospect seems silly, or if you just would prefer if things turned out another way. If another player adds to their character history in a way that conflicts with yours, no worries, the multiverse holds that all things are equally possible.
On the matter of protocol:

Knowing how to create and maintain a thread is one thing; knowing how to write a good story is quite another. This section will discuss a number of things that either go towards or against good story writing.

1. Controlling characters

A lot of people make the mistake of trying to control other people's characters when they first start out. It makes sense intrinsically; after all, it's collaborative story telling, why SHOULDN'T you be allowed to control other people's characters and vice versa? The answer is simple: you don't know the character in the same way the creator does, and thus cannot know how the character would respond to any given situation. There is also the matter of malicious use of such an ability, e.g. what would you think if someone took control of your character and had him/her/it jump off a cliff? Not only would that not fit the character (well unless the character happens to be suicidal or something), but it also causes some rather obvious problems. For these reasons, you should only control characters that you create. This would also include important NPCs, but not every NPC in a crowd.

Note however that there are some instances where it is necessary to relax this rule. For example, two swordsmen PCs engaged in combat. In order to resolve something like this in a reasonable time frame, they might arrange to finish multiple sword clashes in one post, agreeing on the details through PMs, OOC comments, or whatever.
2. In-character (IC) and out-of-character (OOC)

Posts in this forum are often divided into in-character and out-of-character sections. In-character sections are obviously the actual role-playing, in which the writer takes the guise of the character they are using. Out-of-character sections are the writer speaking, either commenting on certain parts of the thread, making notes, or just banter with the other participants. It is very important that you keep the two separate, i.e. OOC comments are not mentioned IC!

e.g. Say for example Bob just made an OOC comment to the effect that his character is actually against the party, and is planning to kill oh I dunno, George's character. George then IC-ly knocks out Bob's character so that the assassination plot is foiled. This is a blatant violation of this principle. Unless George's character perceives something that would cast suspicion on Bob's character, George should not and cannot act to counter Bob's character's plans. This does not apply only to OOC sections, but to IC sections as well; meaning that unless George's character gets clued off IC as to Bob's character's motives, it would be incorrect to go hostile, so to speak.
3. Character shields

Ah, character shields, A.K.A. PC shirts, A.K.A. plot armor, A.K.A. I AM TEH MAIN CHARACTER U CAN'T HURT ME LOLOLOLOL. Technically speaking, character shields are bad for stories, as they can potentially destroy suspension of disbelief. Realistically speaking however, most stories can't exist without using this plot device to some degree. Indeed, it would be quite lame for Luke and Leia to be mowed down in that tarzan hax over the pit with hundreds of stormtroopers shooting at them and missing by a mile scene. This is one of the things that must be used in moderation; use just enough and you'll be fine, but use too much and you break things.

See also: Godmoding, Realism.
4. Godmoding

Godmoding actually encompasses character shields, but unlike them, it is almost universally frowned upon. Why is this the case? In simplistic terms, godmoding takes the already fairly powerful concept of character shields, increases the shield's power, and adds an offensive component of equal strength.

But you might ask, why is this bad? I mean all we ever do in MMOs are things that get us closer to that plateau of ultimate power! For those people, let me remind you that this is NOT a MMO. The focus is NOT to build a god character, but to build a good story. Having ultimate power wrecks a lot of things, suspension of disbelief, dramatic tension, heck, even the overall plot is threatened when the main character, or any character for that matter, has extreme amounts of power.

Let's look at an example: Dragonball Z and it's later incarnations. At around half way though that series, the protagonists confront the chief villain at that time: Frieza. Just about every single character in Dragonball Z are overpowered, but Frieza takes it to a whole new level, at least for that time. Frieza can blow up planets whenever he felt like it, and he'd survive the explosion because he is super awesome and doesn't need to breathe or something like that. As a villain of course, Frieza is soundly defeated by the protagonists, but only after taunting out the hidden strength of them. One might blame the defeat on hubris, but Frieza ultimately does realize his folly and attempts to nuke the planet. He somehow screwed up the process, leaving the protagonists enough time to beat the stuffing out of him and leave just fine. Frieza claims that his planet busting technique is very exhausting, but somehow he fights with even more vigor after using it. This of course begs the question of "Why did he not do it again to make sure he did it right, i.e. trigger an immediate explosion?". Even disregarding that problem, there is still the matter of all the villains that come after Frieza. Said villains are all more powerful than Frieza, and thus in theory, they all had the capacity to blow up Earth and be done with it. But noooo, they had to pick dramatic fights with the protagonists that they of course lose. What the heck. How does that make any sense at all?!

Criticism of Anime aside, godmoding causes much of the same problems as Frieza and for that reason, should not happen. Things that constitute godmoding include, but are not limited to:
  • Taking down entire armies single-handedly.
  • Fighting at peak condition while severely injured.
  • Blowing up the planet/solar system/galaxy/universe.
  • Avoiding/deflecting/shielding every single attack.
There are certainly times when this rule must be relaxed, and more often than not, godmoding does not apply as strictly to NPCs (Read: Villains). And staff members may have a character set aside to deliberately godmode for administrative purposes (i.e. taking down other godmode chars IC). But generally speaking, keep your actions believable, and everything will by fine and dandy. But with this note I am traversing into the realm of....
5. Realism

As I probably implied with my earlier comment, realism, as it is used here, does not refer to the art style or making things as close to real life as possible. The latter is fairly close to the definition we will consider, just that you would have to shift perspective from yourself to that of your character. That is, realism in this context is relative to the character's world. This of course can make defining the term rather difficult, i.e. how do you define what is realistic when the world supports magic or have gigantic mechanical constructs or antimatter engines?
As humans, we can only do things by comparison, as such, the only logical thing is to model the rules of our fictional universes on the ones we have in ours. Sure, there are rules that you can forgo, but the basic stuff, like you die if you get shot in the head, grabbing an electrical cable while you're soaking wet will get you seriously zapped, forceful explosions will throw you back, etc. should be maintained regardless of circumstances. Stuff like nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, cancer is incurable, god(s) don't exist, etc. can be avoided, or not, but I'll leave the rest up to your judgment.
6. Length/Brevity

Eh, something that I notice in a lot of newbies is that they use post length to judge the quality of a post. This is wrong. I can for example, write 20+ pages about a guy doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING but standing around looking silly. Does such a post have any value? I would hope not. The length of a post has absolutely no bearing on how good it is. Personally, I would say only write as much as you need to. Not too short, not too long, just enough.
7. Style

Writing style is one of those things that you don't start with, but actually learn from role-playing. Generally middle/high school English class rules apply here, i.e. avoid spelling/grammar mistakes, proofread, separate paragraphs as needed, etc. This is not something you should particularly worry about, but do make an effort to improve upon it; everyone can.
A final thing to consider:

Remember again that in role-playing, the objective is to write a good story. Anything that would aid in that plight is almost certainly acceptable. Thank you for reading. Enjoy your stay in the role-play section!

~ML staff
 
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