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Ruminations on the nature of Roleplay

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#1 Jake Conhale

Jake Conhale

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Posted 11 January 2013 - 04:26 AM

I've been in this game a while now, but haven't been active for several years. I say this simply that if these points have already been covered, forgive me for being repetitive.


As I said, I've been here a while, but not from the beginning. Indeed, I only found out about the whole community when I stumbled onto the ERP Members only server when, for whatever reason, it wasn't passworded. I got involved, clans came and went, people had fun, and along came the first RPG-X mod. Now, around the same time this mod was first being developed, I'd had an idea to create a Stargate focused RP group, as groups such as SFEF and ERP had really already cornered the Star Trek RP environment.


At about the same time, there came word of a Stargate FPS in the works, which caused me nothing but glee. Star Trek RP had already been demonstrated to work just fine, why couldn't Stargate? I'd corner that market, found the first clan, and all would be well on that front. Ego aside, I did have high hopes of getting in early and building something, not so much for the glory or power, but for the satisfaction of building something.


In preparation, I tried creating various stargate roleplays, which I found to be much more difficult than I had expected. I came to think that Star Trek, due to it's episode nature and well established general tone and rules, was simply more open than the Stargate universe. In Stargate, other cultures either boiled down to the evil Goa'uld, cultures based on ancient history (of which I was not exactly the most knowledgeable of), or other kinds of single-hat civilizations. While there was a similar opening premise (people boldly adventuring into an unknown environment), there wasn't as much play.


Now, I think, it wasn't so much that as it was that Startrek is more... dynamic in it's own way (or at least more established). The Star Trek roleplays I'd been in had, for the most part, seemed "you are in this situation, react and improv your way to an ending" which is all well and good if you have the proper tools, but it does get more stale as time goes on. Star Trek's later nature of being able to make almost anything work through technobabble left almost everything possible if you made it seem hard enough to achieve.


Also, roleplays are significantly different from Star Trek or Stargate episodes. Every episode is a story, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. The plot could impact larger storylines, but each episode itself was self-contained. It also (and this is the important part) had a message in it, something to keep the audience talking afterwards.


Each episode deals with an issue, a topic - how does this work, how would people respond to this, what are the implications of such? Encounter at Farpoint, for example, deals with why humanity may be worth saving. Yesterday's Enterprise deals with faith and sacrifice. Measure of a Man has no facade but gets right ot the point of trying to define a sentient lifeform and how can we recognize such. Some are preachier, some are more subtle.


Characters are established, we learn about them, interesting questions are raised, and the audience's minds are entertained. "Is this right?" "How would I react?" This is not to say action for the sake of action can't be entertaining. The Equinox two parter, for example, is entertaining, but not the most satisfying of episodes. It was well known the Equinox crew, once revealed to be the "bad guys" in that situation, would be somehow defeated, but beyond that, what's the message there? Was Janeway pursuing them because the plot required it or was there an actual character motivation there? (my view is something to the effect of she viewed Ransom as an hero, tried to impress him, and when she found out he wasn't so perfect she got angry at him not living up to her expectations).


Character development, on the other hand, only works if we're invested in the characters, which in a TV show is based on the idea that the characters are sufficiently interesting to warrant tuning into the next episode and seeing where the character goes from there. Movies, on the other hand, are stand alone and have to have more extremes. ST:TMP fully illustrates Kirk as being unhappy and out of practice, by the end he's back in the saddle (not to mention Spock regaining his soul after melding with V'Ger) Star Trek Generations revolves around Data's emotions and Picard's family life, destroying everything and then giving him everything.


Point being - RPs can be fun, they can be satisfying, but unless there's a larger issue at stake, who cares? Yay, we just saved our ship from an evil space pitcher plant, we are awesome! But what then?


This, of course, is where the CO comes into play, the dungeon master, the man with the plan. This helps with variety as he can course-correct the plot into specific and different directions than previously enacted, but it still doesn't keep things going long term.


For example - how many different ways can one play the "starship responds to distress call" plot?


I think I begin to understand why it seemed that ERP's seemingly unspoken rule that 7 out of every 8 RPs MUST BE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT (Performing a standard science survey, overhauling the engine, or just characters on their break chatting in the mess hall). Things become deeper, events become persistant (characters can build themselves by remembering past events, reacting differently) This doesn't need to be with the same people every time, just deepening the character can do wonders for a standard plot as it's more important to the player (who, when you get down to it, is the audience in this case).


Serial RPs can be fun, but they require larger planning, depend on players being able to attend, etc. If they take too long to get going, then the really interesting bits may never come about.


I'm not sure what my overall point is in this wall of text, just some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head lately. To paraphrase Jack Crusher, I hope this made sense to you, I'm not sure it did to me.



Check out Stargate Roleplay at http://s4.invisionfr...rgate_roleplay/

#2 Grizz



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Posted 11 January 2013 - 10:00 PM

Character driven stories have mostly been at the heart of my Serial Roleplays. I don't feel that I have earned the right to put a group of people in certain situations if they don't care enough about each-other or if we as players don't care enough about the characters we are playing and are surrounded by.


It can be surprising how much an SRP can run by itself once you have an ensemble which clicks. If a storyline doesn't require a full two-hours to play out, throw some free time on either side of the main action piece and just let it flow. You will know when you're at a good place when nobody on the server is standing around not knowing what to do. If they're invested in what they're doing and the character they're playing, they won't need to wait for instructions. 


In recent endeavours, I have made a note to devote episodes and storyline to single characters who I don't see as being as fleshed out as I want to be. Working with that member to push forward with that character can work a charm in bringing them in the fold a bit more. Until a certain mapper declared that all of his work is not permitted on RPG-X, I spent five years planning roleplays on the same map. Different members and characters came and went, but the desire to bond the crew together in interesting ways always remained and it always worked.


As for the plots themselves, it's often a good idea to look outside of Star Trek for inspiration. Not everybody does that, which does lead to the staple "distress call" roleplay, or the "borg invasion" roleplay... or the "decloaking romulan nebula off the starboard bow with supermassive weapons" roleplay. I recently took all kinds of concepts from the likes of '24' and 'Person of Interest' to build story hooks in each episode. I didn't know whether it would work or whether it would be seen as a cheap trick to keep people playing. But from what I can tell, it was a success - and it lent to building towards rather climactic set-pieces as the story pushed forward.


But even that wouldn't have meant much if existing characters didn't have much of a presence, and the members involved were not invested in the SRP. 


Swings and roundabouts.

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