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Nevermore: Harry Potter 1980's RPG // A Guide to Forum Roleplaying Games

A Guide to Forum Roleplaying Games

NOTE!
Please don't copy this guide for your site, this took a long time and a lot of energy to write and some sections include also my personal opinions that you may not agree with.

Thank you. :)

- Kieran

Roleplaying Game = RPG


| HOW IS IT PLAYED? | RPG TERMINOLOGY |
| CONTENT OF A GAME POST | TRACKERS | DETAILS |
| JOINING AN RPG | CHARACTER CREATION & QUITTING |



~ HOW IS IT PLAYED?

- Forum roleplaying is interactive creative writing that happens on a forum in the internet. Every player has their own character or characters which they write about in game events with other players' and their characters. You are your character's eyes and ears. Getting into your characters as you write about them is essential in order for it to be purely roleplaying, but it's not required. There are both types of players; those who get into their characters and those who simply write, as it only affects you. So go for whichever depth feels more natural for you. Even when simply writing, forum roleplaying is tons of fun and a great way to develop as a creative writer.

- Most often the stories are written in third-person point of view, ”he/she”. In some roleplaying games there may be an option of writing in first-person, as in ”I”. It depends on the administrator's decision.

- Some have compared forum roleplaying to stories where the writers advance a story in turns and write all the characters equally. But in a forum roleplaying game you mainly focus on your own characters and their doings – interactively seeing to what the other player had their own character say or do. Writing about another player's characters as if they were yours is called ”god-modding” and is generally forbidden, but more info on that later.

Interactivity is the key element. In example; if the co-player writes their character or a side character to yell at your character, your character has to hear and react to it - unless something realistically prevents them from hearing it. Reacting to every single little thing is not fun nor realistic, but neither is ignoring everything as if nothing even happened. Interactivity is what builds the story and takes the plot forward, which is why it shouldn't be forgotten but also not be over-done.



~ RPG TERMINOLOGY

God-modding is touching another player's character in a game post without first asking the player's permission. In example, having your character take their hand, hurt them or writing them to move from one place to another. In most roleplaying games little god-modding (ie. taking by the hand) is allowed while anything major needs a permission first, and anything extreme (such as killing or causing a permanent injury) is prohibited.

The god-modding rule varies between RPGs, so it is advised to read it carefully for the one you're considering to join. God-modding occasionally may be necessary in order for the plot to run smoothly, so don't avoid it too much. If the RPG's rules don't have this matter specified, you could simply ask the co-player before starting the game event, as for what they allow with their character ans what not.

OOC means out-of-character and IC means in-character.

Metaplaying is using out-of-character knowledge about the game's world to solve a character's problem or to explain their behaviour in a game event. Naturally, that's usually not allowed as a person couldn't realistically solve their problem with or be affected by something they don't know about.

Play-by or Face Claim is a public figure, (an actor, singer, model etc.), whom a player has chosen to represent their character as in whose photos they use for the character's appearance and possibly for the character's voice.

There are more terms out there and some RPGs may use different terminology, but these are some of the most common and relatively timeless.



~ CONTENT OF A GAME POST

Generally:

There should be a reasonably amount of activity in the game post as simply standing around and talking can become boring in a long run. Long discussions are just fine, of course, as long as the surroundings and gestures of the characters are kept a part of the story as well, and drawing in side characters and side events is a good way to enrich and bring depth to the situation or the post in general. Also, be reasonably descriptive about your characters emotions, reactions and thoughts as the characters are the heart of any story. Too much detail however can drag the story and get boring, too. Even a bit more experienced creative writer knows how to balance these matters and others learn by writing with the intent to develop one's skills.

Trust the reader, and acknowledge the co-player's contribution in a constructive way:

Avoid repeating things that have already been written. When the co-player writes their character to say or do something, don't repeat the same info in your post. It would be frustrating to the co-player and to the reader, and more importantly it wouldn't develop you as a writer as you'd be gaining material and length for your post from someone else's writing no matter how much you'd rephrase it to be from your character's point of view. Your character can react to the event or dialogue in other ways. As the game event advances the posts blend together, even though on the forum they're technically lined up.

Think of the game event as a full-blown story, and not just your next reply. What if you were writing the whole story all by yourself? You likely wouldn't write the same detail again in the next sentence or after a few sentences just because it's looked at from another character's point of view. Or at least you'd likely refer to it in between the lines rather than directly repeating it.
Of course repeating can't be completely avoided, but it's recommendable to keep it as indirect and minimal as possible.

Game event and advancing situations:

Don't hurry or advance a situation too far in one game post, so that the plot would flow nicely and situations wouldn't be left only half reacted. Patient plot advancing pace and diving into your character's head makes an enjoyable game event for you and for the reader. Sometimes the inspiration may be so great that you can't help taking the plot a bit too far ahead – it's okay, it's not going ruining anything. But it would be best to usually keep the plot pacing reasonable. Whatever pace best suits you and your co-player is found while you play. Sometimes it's best to advance the plot slowly, and sometimes the better option can be skipping ahead in time at some suitable point. These matters can be discussed with the co-player at any time.

A good and rich game event may include side paths and side plots; the characters don't constantly have to share a situation but they can part ways and do their own things for a while, for a few game posts, and then at a later point reunite. There's no need to avoid it as it can often happen while improvising. Even if you had a plan for the event's plot, let the game event flow also on its own, to get deeper instead of obsessively heading towards the next planned plot point. Of course the overall plan or final goal should be kept in mind, but don't unnecessarily run past all the possible side paths. If something starts to feel like a wrong direction or like a bad idea and you don't want to work it out by writing further, most forums have unlimited time for editing posts. So you can back-track to the desired point, to wipe out and rewrite.

Consider how to advance discussions and subject changes in the game event. It's important for the natural flow and for the clarity of reading it. The ideal pace in a discussion-heavy situation is one subject matter at a time, and to carefully consider if your character really needs to immediately ask or say something that popped up in their mind from the other character's line. Matters can be returned to later and any completely new questions or comments are better left to the end of your post, not thrown in the middle of the currently on-going dialogue.

As in, avoid the unnecessary double discussions as they are very confusing and bad for the story's structure. After all, there are no limits to how long a game event can be – it can go on as long as it takes for you to feel that everything you want has been said and done. The editing possibility is valid here, too; if your character absolutely has to say something at a specific moment but the co-player already wrote something after it, you can ask the co-player to remove it and add it in later, tell them about your intention and wishes.

You're itching to post your next reply, or you can't think of anything:

In a forum RPG that function in the offline style there is no need to hurry in replying to a game event – no one expects a reply immediately. If you feel like your inspiration or energy level isn't enough at the moment to dive into your character or the situation, by all means leave the replying to a later time. It's recommendable also if you're itching to post your next reply, unless you already have a very strong vision about what to write next.
Because reading the co-players reply maybe even a couple of times with thought, throwing around the thoughts and visions in your head for a few days, and writing your reply little by little etc. can do wonders – your character and the game event's plot can become so much more enriched and exciting than it would've by hurrying.

Replying immediately or during the same day isn't forbidden. It's just that patient visioning and slower replying pace can prove to be much more enjoyable to all participators. But even that has its limits; because if a game event constantly freezes for weeks or even months at a time it easily kills the muse for the co-player and maybe even for you. It also makes developing characters really difficult. So a player should be reasonably active. If you feel like a reply may take many weeks to come, it'd be polite to notify the co-player about it.

It's best not to stress about a game post. Even the best writers sometimes turn in short posts and sometimes long posts, sometimes deep and sometimes superficial stuff...Sometimes it's easy to produces your best writing while sometimes you're barely satisfied with it – and that's okay. A game event is a story just as much as any story on a fiction writing website, but it should not be any sort of competition. It should remain a fun and relaxing hobby. All RPGs allow extended absences as long as you post a notification about it beforehand.
So, make a reasonable effort, have fun, and take your co-players into consideration because forum roleplaying games' essence is cooperation between the players.

Admins and players have personal preferences for a pace; some require 1-2 posts per day or 1-3 posts per week, while some can easily wait for 1-2 weeks or even longer for a reply. To decide if an RPG is for you in these matters it's helpful to look into the activity rule set by the admin, and into how fast-paced most of the game events on the forum itself are as in the dates in between game posts within an event. I've noticed many admins and players in the international RPG community require extreme activity, but also that there are numerous who are laid-back about it. Personally I'm of the latter type – while on average I reply 1-3 times a week I'm very flexible and patient as a player, and laid-back as an admin as you can probably see from this text and from our activity rule. I prefer quality over quantity.



~ TRACKERS

The admin has usually mentioned in the info to what year or years the RPG sets. Sometimes only the year, sometimes more specific dates. In such case it's recommendable to put a time stamp on each game event, mark at least the month and year when it takes place in the game's universe. An exact date and the day of the week is most useful in an RPG where human characters are played.

This is important because many players want to keep a Tracker for their character, in which they list in a chronological order all game events their character participates in. . Keeping a Tracker usually isn't mandatory but always recommendable as it makes it much easier to keep the character's life in order when it comes to cause-effect matters. Deciding and marking the game event's date is also useful for drawing aspects into the event itself.

Usually one character can't be in two places at the same time. But most RPGs allow playing one character in multiple events at once, as long as they are all set to a different point of the timeline and far apart enough so they won't overlap.



~ DETAILS

- Out-of-character comments or anything that isn't literally part of the in-character bits of a game post, should be written either before or after the story bits and put between brackets [ ] or other similar symbols. That way the co-player and readers can easily see where the story part begins and ends.

- Smileys / emotion faces have no place in game posts. They should be left in the out-of-character parts of the post.

- There are two styles to write, but in either case a character's dialogue is usually written in between double quotation marks.
Style 1: ”My name is Potter. James Potter,” he stated in a bombastic tone.
Style 2: ”My name is Potter. James Potter,” *the boy stated in a bombastic tone*

The latter is more common in chat-based and/or first-person games but I have seen a few in forum RPGs, too. It depends on the admin's decision.

- If you quote another player's character in your post, you should keep the quotations marks and preferably also have it in italic font. But do note that it's often unnecessary to quote or rephrase, as the line has already been read in the previous post. Pretty much the only situation where it works is if the other character's words resound in your character's head. Creative rephrasing in narration is of course sometimes okay and even necessary, but do focus on how your character reacts to things and not to repeating things.

- Never send two posts in a row with one character unless it's a Solo RP topic. Patiently wait for another player to arrive with their character. Even in general the order in which the characters arrived into the event should remain, unless otherwise agreed among the participators.
As sometimes the flow of a plot may benefit from switching the order, but it should always be agreed upon first. Sometimes in a game event involving more than two players, someone may announce that you guys can skip over their turn once or twice.

- If at the top of the first post is stated that they're waiting for some specific player or character, it's an event previously planned between them and only they are allowed to participate. But if it doesn't say anything like that, it's an open thread for anyone to throw any character in.



~ JOINING AN RPG

When you consider joining an RPG, first and foremost read carefully all the required info and the rules. A site may have more lore on it than is actually mandatory to read before joining, so if there's tons of lore there's usually also a list of links that take you to the absolutely must-read sections.
If you still feel like it's a game for you, follow the instruction for joining that the admin has written.
Most admins require an application where you type in the required information about your character – the application form is usually attached or linked to the joining instructions.

Some admins also require an RP sample at the end of the application – it means a story passage you've written about the character you're applying for. It's actually just a creative writing sample, and some even call it a Writing sample. Others, such as myself, do not require it at all.
If required a writing sample your brain may refuse to produce any usable ideas and the sample in itself feel scary and unpleasant. But it usually doesn't have to be anything spectacular or a 1000+ word essay, and you could think of it as a nice little challenge for working out your new character; writing a character bio is different than writing about it in a creative narration.

If anything's unclear or you run into problems the admin usually answers questions and attempts to help in a guest-friendly forum on the board or a Chatbox. A site usually has an F.A.Q. section which may have an answer to a question.



~ CHARACTER CREATION & QUITTING

If choosing a canon character in a fandom RPG, (ie. in a Harry Potter RPG choosing Lord Voldemort), you should consider carefully which character you likely have the inspiration and time to play for a long time and actively - because if the player of an essential character suddenly abandons them or if the player constantly changes it seriously hurts the whole roleplaying game.

Of course even canon characters' players can quit or give up the character at any time but it'd be nice if it wasn't for simply not caring anymore or after only a couple of months. Also, for any character but especially if applying for an essential character you should never just disappear – if you feel like you must quit a character or the whole game, just let the admin know.

It's okay to quit, although sad to lose a player, but it's simply good manners to let the admin and other players know that you won't be coming around anymore as well as why. Naturally you don't need to go into details about personal reasons, but especially the admin would like to know or else they're left wondering if it was something about the RPG that drove you away.
And if the problem is something like that, there could very well be a way to solve it so you don't have to quit – just contact the admin. Most admins would like for everyone to enjoy and be happy in the community.

It's recommendable to really think of and vision even a canon character, to add some fan vision into the biography. Maybe deepen even the personality further than what is established in the canon. Such an effort put into the character gives the admin an impression that the character really interests you in a long run. Of course not every single thing has to be though up at the application state, as every character develops through the game events and basically never stops developing...but your application may not pass if it only states what everyone already knows from the canon material.

But it's especially recommendable to put effort in it, if applying for an original character. Because it's much more inspiring and easy to start playing and link characters with a more though-out character. Also make sure they fit into the RPG's universe.

~ Questions to help in character creation:

1. Family:
The family unit is where human life begins and where we usually spend all our most crucial formative years – our childhood and teenage years. It directly impacts what kind of a man or woman your character becomes and what they end up doing in their life. Remember the old saying; ”The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”
The more in-depth you bother to vision your character's family matters before applying, the more you'll get out of them when you start playing.

* Who are your character's family members? (Relationships, names, ages, occupations, a bit about their personalities?) What is your character's relationship to them like? Why is your character's relationship with a family member X the way it is and how has it affected them?

2. Residence:
It's so much more easy to take the character around and form relationships when you know where their home is located.

* Where does your character live? Which village/city and which country?

3. Growing up:
It's a long and winding road from birth to a young child, a teenager and especially to an adult - with complex life experiences along the way.

* What has happened in their life to make them the person they are today?
And even in general what has their life been like?
Not every line has to be about something epic or grand, some mundane details are fine. A general guideline would be to think of what type of information could be useful for character linking and game event planning/plotting.

4. Personality:
The human mind is an extremely complex place. So is this world and life itself. Therefore there's tons to any individuals personality and characteristics while we never stop learning and growing as persons. In addition to the changing characteristics and increasing amount of personality traits we all have a core personality that never changes. Also, we all have different masks for different social settings.

* What are the dominant personality traits of your character? How about their weaknesses? What were they like as a child, if they're an adult now? What are their likes and dislikes? How do they behave when among only their family members? Among friends? With strangers? What interests and hobbies do they have? What are their values? What is important to them in life? What are their moral views?

5. Religion:
Everyone has some sort of religious view and it directly effects how a person lives their life. This matter may change many times during a person's life, but it's helpful to decide what it is at the current point of their life.

* So what is your character's religious view? And what is their attitude about it and towards other views that differ from theirs?

6. Extra spice:
It can be useful and even more enriching to have your character stand out in some practical way.

* Do they have any special talents?

7. Future plans:
Future's not ours to see, but most of us still like to think about it.

* What plans for the future they have? What gives them strength during the harder times in their life?

+ Write things you either have strong knowledge or personal experience of, or which you're genuinely interested in researching while playing. A character won't remain realistic and believable if you write whatever in the game events though the biography claims the character is talented or knowledgeable in the matter – or if the character has an illness or other significant life situation but you don't really know what it's like or how it works. Of course not everything needs to be perfectly realistic but many things are so big that they effect other characters too, so it's good to know what you're writing about.

These are only some questions you could ponder. The main thing is to remember that you're not creating just some character for a hobby but a fictional equivalence of a real human being in a fictional equivalence of real life. Of course, maybe you're creating a mythical creature into some grand fantasy realm that has little to nothing in common with humans and human life – still, the more you give to it the more it gives back,

Of course, roleplaying should stay fun and lighter than writing a book. It should be relaxing – but even so, the heart and essential part of this hobby is character creation and writing stories & developing them interactively. Give your character a solid base to start from and thus perhaps a better chance to grow and develop through fun and colourful game events and plotting.

Your characters are your brain children; care about what they are and become, no matter what your plans for their life might be. But above all – don't stress. Keep this hobby fun and pleasant for yourself!


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| Title graphic by Kieran | Info texts © Kieran |
CONTACT: kieran[at]luukku.com

Photos used for the graphics © photodash (London sunset)
and © Warner Bros (Harry with the wand, the Potter family portrait, werewolf howling, magical creatures, and centaur concept art)
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