Online (Forum) Role Playing

From Laffinnome

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0279

A Brief Word From Johnn

Forum Gaming

This week’s article from Laffinnome is about roleplaying online through forums and message boards. This is a great format for folks who enjoy reading and writing, who can’t find a game in another format, or who are too busy to block out entire evenings for gaming. I hope you enjoy the tips and give forum gaming a spin sometime.

If you know of any forums and sites that accept new games, new players, or newbie players, send me the links and I’ll let the readers here know about it.

Get some gaming in this week!


Johnn Four,
[email protected]

Online (Forum) Role Playing

Role play is called such because the player plays a role: you are thinking, doing, and saying things according to the adopted personality you choose. You are not just writing or reading about the action, you are one of the participants in the action.

Picture yourself being an actor in a improvisational show in which you can only act for yourself, and you do not know what the others will do or what their responses to your actions will be. This is what role-playing is: becoming a fictional person in a fictional setting, ready to interact with fellow participants.

How To Begin

Creating A Character

To participate in any action you have to create your personal character. We all know about our real life insufficiencies, but do not try and make up for them by creating a fantasy character that is perfect! If you do, you will soon discover that no one wants to play alongside a perfect character, since they always will be stuck in an inferior role next to you. As much as you want to be a hero in your fantasy world, so does everybody else.

For example, a new player creates a sorcerer character and gives him unbeatable powers. All threads involving him would quickly end with some post saying that his powers were unbeatable and thus he defeated whoever was his opponent. It’s not long before nobody replies to his posts anymore. Nobody wants to join a thread in which they can only be the losers.

Design your character to be at least slightly realistic. Of course, it can be different from who and what you are in real life, but according to the environment the story is set in, you need to give your character a few insufficiencies.

Introducing Your Character

If you are joining someone else’s thread, just follow the example of the thread starter as to what information to post about your character, or just post a basic character introduction.

Here’s an example of a basic introduction:

  • Name: River
  • Sex: female
  • Race: human/elf
  • Occupation: bard, some minor healing spells and thieving abilities
  • Age: 20s
  • Appearance: tall, grey eyes, blonde hair
  • Weapons: poisoned darts, composite recurving bow

If you are starting your own thread, keep in mind that what you post about your character will not necessarily determine how other people introduce theirs. For example, if you want to be certain that everyone describes what their characters are wearing, do not just include this information about your own character and expect them to follow suit. State in your post that you would like this information included.

Joining An Existing Thread

If the GM has not posted any specific information on how to join the thread, such as saying you should just jump in, or that you need to PM (private message) them if you wish to join, proceed as follows:

  • New threads (less than 20 posts) without casting calls – you can just jump in (beginning by introducing your character, of course).
  • Older threads without casting calls – the plot line of the story has most likely been firmly established, making it harder to introduce additional characters. However, if you can find an opening for your character, go ahead and PM the GM requesting to join (make sure to include the details of your character, and how they fit into the story line). You might not get in, but it never hurts to ask.
  • Threads with casting calls – post to the casting call, then wait for the GM’s approval of your character before posting to the main thread.
  • Threads labeled ‘closed’ or ‘invitation only’ – these are threads created for a specific group of people, and are not open for you to join. While this might seem unfair and exclusionary to some, there are often perfectly legitimate reasons why others might prefer to start, or participate in, closed threads.

Starting Your Own Thread

If you’ve got a good idea for a thread you can start your own. In your first post (whether to the main thread, or to a casting call) you need to name your thread (that’s what goes in the ‘Subject’ field), and to explain your idea for the story line, location, and so on. If you are not bothering with a casting call (there is certainly no need for a casting call, and many GMs prefer not to use them) then your first post must also introduce your character and begin the story.

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How To Participate In A Thread

The Mechanics Of Posting

a. Identify What Character You Are Playing. If you’re playing more than one character it is essential that you clearly define which character you are acting and speaking for. Do this by putting the character’s name before their actions like this:

Slowly shaking his head back to consciousness, Bordo opens his eyes and looks around for his companions. “Hello? Anyone still around?” Realizing he is alone, Bordo figures the group must have traveled on, thinking him dead. Muttering to himself about fair weathered friends, Bordo casts around for a moment until he finds the group’s obvious trail.

This method can also be used instead of putting IC (in character) before the post, and is a good habit even if you have no OOC (out of character) comments to make, since it will make certain that everyone always knows who your character is. (In threads with lots of other players, or ones that have just started, it is easy to become confused about which characters everyone is playing.)

b. Distinguish Between Actions And Dialogue In your posts make sure to differentiate between dialogue and descriptions/actions. This is done by using quotes (“) around dialogue in the same way you would if you were writing a story. Other ways to do it include using double colons (::) or asterisks (*) around non-dialogue. The previous example was written using quotes; here is an example of that same post written using asterisks:

*slowly shaking his head back to consciousness, Bordo opens his eyes and looks around for his companions Hello? Anyone still around? realizing he is alone, Bordo figures the group must have traveled on, thinking him dead. Muttering to himself about fair weathered friends, Bordo casts around for a moment until he finds the group’s obvious trail

c. Distinguish Between OOC And IC Dialogue Try not to post too much OOC dialogue when role playing, but when you do have to post some, make sure to indicate it’s out of character:

OOC: Hey guys, sorry I’ve been away, can’t wait to get back into this…

Slowly shaking his head back to consciousness, Bordo opens his eyes and looks around for his companions. “Hello? Anyone still around?” Realizing he is alone, Bordo figures the group must have traveled on, thinking him dead. Muttering to himself about fair weathered friends, Bordo casts around for a moment until he finds the group’s obvious trail.

d. Stay Involved With The Story Line Try to keep your posts involved with the main storyline; nothing is more annoying than to see the flow of a story interrupted by unrelated side-plots. That’s not saying that side-plots aren’t good, they often are, but things should keep moving along the main storyline as if you’re reading a novel. Think of it this way, Stephen King may introduce a character that ‘seems’ to be out of nowhere, and ‘seems’ to have no relevance to the rest of the story, but you know that the character will turn out to have some sort of relevance to the main plot.

Interacting With The Other Players

a. Read All The Posts It is essential that you read everyone else’s posts! Read all the posts in the thread before you post to it for the first time so that you understand the storyline before adding to it. Also, always read all the posts since the last one you posted before posting again. Not only is this the only way to maintain the continuity of a story, you will also find that the other players in a thread will respond much more positively to you if you know what’s going on in the thread before you add to it.

b. Do Not Invalidate Another Player’s Posts You must never directly invalidate what someone else has said. For example:

Character A: “That’s a nice hat you’re wearing.” Character B: “I’m not wearing a hat.”

B cannot deny the existence of the hat once A has mentioned it. If B does not wish to be wearing a hat, they will have to get rid it somehow. For example, an acceptable reaction (if B is a mage) would be:

Character A: “That’s a nice hat you’re wearing.” Character B: Snapping his fingers and saying, in a loud voice, “Grizlo!”

This causes the hat to vanish, at which point he replies, “What hat? I’m not wearing a hat.”

c. Remember That You Do Not Control The Plot When playing, remember that all players have equal rights (unless agreed upon differently) in influencing the development of the story. This means that just because you want the plot to go in a certain direction, it does not necessarily mean it will happen. You cannot force everyone else to do things the way you want. You have to use your intelligence and creativity just as you would in real life to influence the scene.

e. Do Not Act For Another Player We all want people to react the way we would like them to so we can get on with our own plans, but you cannot decide how other characters will react to your actions. You cannot make decisions and act for others, you can only act for yourself, and you can only speak for yourself. This is an extremely important rule to remember, not only because it is often tempting to break it, but also because breaking it is guaranteed to tick the other players off.For example, I was playing a mighty bad girl and was holding the leader of the good guys captive in my castle (the person playing the leader of the good guys and I had privately worked out a really nice plot line of how he could free himself without me going against my bad, wicked nature). The next thing I read on the thread is that another player had “…sneaked into the castle [which was protected by numerous magic spells: the reason why I could be taken captive] and passed the guards [my guards at that time were a monster army], then I took the captain of the guards captive and forced him to lead me to the witch’s quarters. Quivering in fear of this unknown stranger before her she threw herself at my feet, sobbing and begging for mercy. I then went to release the Commander. The witch surrendered herself, her castle and her army.” Needless to say, I was not pleased with this player’s behaviour!However, there is room for flexibility in this rule. Sometimes patterns of behaviour can be taken for granted, given the development of a character and a story. The degree of this flexibility will vary widely from thread to thread. Once you have developed a ‘feeling’ for the characters (and their creators!) you become confident in anticipating player actions and reactions, allowing you to involve them in your posts to speed up the action.

e. End A Post on An Active Note Give your fellow players something to work on, invite their reaction.

f. When Leaving A Thread For An Extended Period Or For Good Write your character out of the action or find someone willing to replace you. Don’t abandon your character and force others to take it over for you.


When it comes to combat, you need to get to the point with the move and make it, but there are no auto-connects and no auto-kills. Here’s an example of an acceptable move (with basic characters):

Character A runs forward and swings his/her sword at character B.

Such a move leaves the following options for your opponent:

  • Character B has the opportunity to block
  • Character B has the opportunity to counter
  • Character B has the opportunity to accept the hit
  • Character B has the opportunity to run away

All of which are acceptable reactions that keep the role playing environment fun for everyone while still allowing player-to-player combat.

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How To Write

What follows is a brief discussion of good writing techniques.

Why should you care about this when you just want to RP (role play)? While following the guidelines above helps threads run smoothly, they will not make them fun or interesting. The responsibility for this lies with every player involved in a thread. It also depends on the quality of their posts. This is where writing skills come in. No matter how good an imagination you have, if your posts are boring, or your grammar and/or spelling are so bad that your posts are incomprehensible, then you will not be helping to make the thread fun.

Avoid Boring Other Players To Death

Consider the following post by player 1:

*enters the room and shuts the door What do you mean I owe you money?

This post follows all the basic rules of role playing, but it’s about as much fun to read as the ingredient list on a box of All Bran. If this is what your posts look like then no one is going to enjoy role playing with you. Compare the above example with this alternative post, describing the same scene, by player 2:

Slamming the door as he entered the room, Alphonso rounded angrily on Hawthor, the imperious looking elf sitting at the table. “What do you mean I owe you money?!” he shouted, waving the paper IOU he had received in the elf’s face.

By including descriptive details, player 2 draws the reader into the scene, making it seem real, and thus making it interesting. Descriptions are the key, and every action, observation, or comment is an opportunity for you to make your character come alive. Use these opportunities!

Let’s say your character, Alphonso, is shutting a door. Here are a few things you could describe through this action:

*how he shuts it * why he shut it that way * what sort of door it is * what notice, if any, do NPCs take of the door shutting

One caveat to this recommendation is that, unless you are just going for comic effect, do not go overboard on the descriptions. Too much describing will make a scene farcical rather than alive, and will make it difficult for readers to figure out what is taking place. For example, consider this post by player 3:


Slamming the stultifyingly solid wooden door, decadently carved with figures of voluptuous naked women frolicking erotically with well endowed satyrs, into its cold steel frame like an enraged beast, as he swept authoritatively into the room; Alphonso wrathfully rounded upon Hawthor.

The almost frightfully tall, and diabolically imperious- looking elf was sitting sheepishly at the small iron table in the corner of the elegantly furnished chamber, and sipping prosaically from a fine bone china cup, upon which the arrival of the dark, slaughtering hordes of Hell upon the golden beaches of Illian was depicted in loving detail.

“What do you mean I owe you money?!” Alphonso exclaimed vociferously, his flushed face contorted into a mask of seething fury, while waving the paper IOU he had received that morning in the elf’s pale, but excruciatingly handsome, dignified face.

Player 3’s post is certainly not boring, but it packs in such a ridiculous amount of description that the character’s actions are getting lost amidst the ‘frolicking maidens’ and ‘slaughtering hordes’.

Pick A Tense And Stick With It

Pick one and stick with it in all of your posts. Not everyone in the thread has to use past tense or present tense. However, if you start with past tense, stick with it and don’t use a different tense every other post.

Point Of View

What point of view should I write it in? Should it be first person or third person? It doesn’t matter what POV you use, just pick one and stick with it as well. It doesn’t matter what everyone else in the thread is using, just keep yours consistent.

A caveat for both of these points: If the thread has been predominantly one tense or POV, then it’s usually more comfortable to pick those up and run with them.

Use Standard Formatting

You are part of a story, so it should be written as a story, not because the great Laffinnome says so, but simply because people will be reading this, including yourself. Using paragraphs and standard writing will go a long way to making a better RP. This is a clarity issue, not a style issue: you’re communicating not only with me the reader, but also with other players, and you don’t want them to misunderstand you. Clarity is more important in an RP than individuality.

Mechanics Of Writing

Icky things like spelling, capitalization, grammar, and punctuation. No one expects perfection. No one expects anyone else to go out of their way to make sure everything is as good as it gets. The expectation is, however, that you try to use your best mechanics rather than just throwing something down and posting it. You aren’t working ‘real time’ here. You have enough time to stop and read over what you’ve written to correct glaring errors. If you don’t trust your proofreading skills, paste what you’ve written into a word processor and run a spell check on it.

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You are writing a story, key word: story. What are stories? They are long strings of words arranged in an understood format to advance a plot and develop characters. A role playing thread is an ongoing story written by a group of people working together to create something that’s enjoyable and interesting.

Now I’ve gotten that off my chest I have only one more thing to say: have fun!

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks

Not All Monsters Are The Same

From Aki Halme

Unless there’s a specific reason for doing so, such as a military unit wearing a uniform and acting under the same orders, avoid making the monsters exactly the same. Even a minor tweak to the expected gives the monsters personality, making them more than punch bags full of experience. For example, add a left-handed orc to the group. Or, as the battle is about to begin, a group of monsters shouts a challenge and roars in rage, except for one that remains calm, bows, and politely salutes the PCs with its weapon.

Is that particular monster special? It could be, or perhaps it has seen someone it looks up to do something similar, considers such a cold-blooded thing to do, and is emulating its hero. The monsters charge, except for a few that hold back for various reasons, such as tactics or special gear, but also cowardice, a grudge, or slipping in the mud. An orc squad leader falls, and amongst the spoils of war is found a well-hidden daffodil.

Why was it hidden? Why was it carried in the first place? Perhaps the orc simply liked daffodils, and orcs consider liking flowers to be un-orcish. Perhaps there’s a story behind it, and the PCs might or might not learn what it is.

Make a routine out of adding the little details that stand out. Doing so puts the GM as well as players in the mindset of seeing the monsters as creatures rather than statistics. Real life does not come in neat packages, some questions are always left unanswered. Those hints can later be used by the GM as story hooks if and when appropriate.

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Fire Tactics

From Drew Johnston

The most common use of flame is generally applying it to flesh or buildings, but it can be put to more creative uses by clever enemies.

  • Barriers. A little kindling, some Greek fire, and a torch can be used to make a quick barrier on the battlefield. In a similar vein, fleeing monsters may drop flasks of burning oil to hinder pursuing adventurers.
  • Exposing Hidden Enemies. Certain groups may have no misgivings about setting fire to a forest or grassy field to expose thieves and spies, or as a precautionary measure to prevent rogues from hiding within.
  • Concealment. Often, the smoke created by a conflagration can be just as useful as the fire itself. The smoke from several large bonfires can be used to shield a camp from archers, or to create a distraction. It can be especially bothersome to airborne units.
  • Communication. When better means aren’t available, smoke and firelight can be used to communicate to nearby allies. Smoke signals can be employed during the day; at night, natural and magical means can be used to create colored flames. What appears to the players to be a campfire may be a signal to launch an ambush.
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Add Atmosphere with Props

From Minstrel

Just dropping a line to say thank you for a great zine and good job. You can’t imagine how much you and all contributors helped me to shape up my GM’ing. I decided to show my gratitude with sharing a small tip on building atmosphere around the table.

The gaming table is usually filled with dice, manuals, character sheets, possibly a calculator, an iPod, and other modern paraphernalia. Maybe you could spice up your gaming life by “casually dropping” a dagger there. Hourglasses, crystal balls, wands, and figurines are all possible. Hiding contemporary gaming equipment and appliances behind medieval artifacts makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. Add candles for lighting for a greater effect. Make sure you have a flashlight for reading though.

Many of my friends use special, hand-made string purses (dice pouches) for their dice. They’re usually made of leather or suede and it’s easy to sew one for yourself. If you have some time on your hands, maybe you should try to make one? Dice can also be stored in small ornamented boxes.

Dressing up can also be a good idea. I had a friend who wore hoods for gaming sessions and another friend who came dressed up in medieval-like dresses and shirts. I, myself, am thinking of getting a pipe and posing as a Gandalf rip- off. Ladies, don’t be shy on the shiny, cheap dragon and unicorn jewelry! Men, find some belt buckles, pendants, and signets. Many of you probably have things left over from LARP costumes: linen shirts, capes, gypsy shawls. Why let them gather dust in your closet when they can help expand your roleplaying experience? Ask your host before coming armed with swords and staves, though.

This idea applies not only to fantasy. Playing post- apocalyptic RPGs? Get out that army surplus gas mask, that rusty, old fishing knife, and dress up in your best camo shirt and bulldog collar! Vampires? Wear black, and more black, then hit the lights. Don’t overdo it with the fake fangs, otherwise the others won’t understand a thing your saying. I don’t know of any genre that can’t be enriched with studded armbands.

Where to find such things? Just need to regularly scour your local flea markets, garage sales, second-hand clothing stores and such. There are probably some shops which sell some of these items (dice pouches especially), but I shudder at the thought of the prices. If you’re handy with the needle and thread, maybe you could just make some yourself.

One last thing: it’s impolite to throw dice at other people. Throwing knives, hollowed out grenades, other props and attacking your fellow players with daggers, swords, staves and air soft guns is just downright criminal.

Bye, have fun, don’t die out there, and thanks again!