Thoughts on RP – The “Numerology” of Role-Play

Thoughts on RP

Over a few(!) years of role-playing in World of Warcraft, plus a slew of other games both massively multi-player online and table-top, I’ve seen a lot of examples of “done well” and “could have done better”. I’ve certainly developed preferences for things that make for what I consider “good RP”, and I’ve been told a few times that I’m fun to RP with. So, I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you on the odd chance you find them useful.

In my previous post on this subject, I talked about “RP Dice Battles” in MMO gaming with a focus on World Of Warcraft. In this post, I’m going to talk about one possible reason why some people find their RP either runs dry or feels stale suddenly — numbers.

The “Numerology” of Role-Play

Role-play of any kind, in any gaming system, is a social experience. You are part of a jointly-shared creative process where each participant brings at least one semi-developed, fictional identity to the scene and tries to represent how that “person” would likely behave given the events “they” are “experiencing”.

    It’s a collaborative moment that when done well is invariably greater than the sum of it’s contributors.  You get to live the life of the hero, villain, noble, drudge or whoever your on-screen character is supposed to be.  It’s an exploration of what the world is like and who the people who live in it with your character are.

Unfortunately an easy mistake to make is to stay in the shallow-end of the pool, in terms of the number of relationships your character has forged. If you are focusing your RP around one other character with your character, and the player for that character stops playing … then you are stranded. This is an all-too-common outcome of romance-based RP … and then the player remaining has to make the awkward excuses for what happened and why their character is suddenly adrift.

    In the time I’ve been role-playing in MMOs, I’ve noticed a pattern in what I have come to call the “Numerology of RP”. In short form, 1 is bad, 2 is better, 3 is best.  More than that really isn’t and I’ll explain why.

1 Other Player

As discussed above, this rarely works out well. If all of your RP options and avenues are tied to just one other player, if they are not currently available, you don’t have anyone for your character to “in character” (IC) hang out with. While we almost all start in a “1 to 1” RP environment, usually when just joining and RP guild or hanging out in a new RP hub, you need to work to move past this point.

It is really frustrating to have to avoid playing your favourite RP character for a couple of weeks while you wait for someone to log in and be available. Incidentally, if the person you are RP’ing with is making it hard for you to RP with folks other than them — that’s called a warning sign. Consider heeding it.

2 Other Players

Beyond obviously doubling the amount of available scene time you can get, this arrangement tend to have the knock-on effect of meeting other people through the two characters which yours RP with. In addition, you’ll find that it becomes much easier to explore your own character as well as the others with you, simply because there are more questions being asked and more IC judgements being made.

3 Other Players

This, to me is the “Goldilocks Zone” for RP. Keep in mind, RP in an MMO is normally done by typing and reading. Most people type at speeds in the vicinity of 40 words per minute. That is this sentence and the previous two.

In other words, there is a lot of waiting for the other players. On the other hand, there are no body-language cues that say “hey, I want to say something here”. Everyone sees what was posted as an emote, as spoken text, or combination thereof, and then starts composing their reaction. Quite often at the same time in most cases.

So if you have three good “RP buddies” to game with all in the same scene, then you are pretty much at the limit of what the media can easily handle and remain coherent as a conversation. Yes, I know you can have much larger RP scenes, such as story-telling circles or night clubs. However, the nature of those types of RP is one primary player doing 70% of the talking or emotes, and everyone else making short and succinct replies.

    The really in-depth RP — the sort of things where you save your chat logs and cherish re-reading them five years later — usually happens in smaller settings.  

It also gives you some “fault tolerance” to your RP. If someone has connection issues and disconnects (“discos”) during a scene, or is having an attack of “Real Life”, you still have two others to RP with. The nature of 3:1 RP is that it tends to be the most fluid … exactly who the “3” is may change substantially over six months of real time, but it will rarely feel jarring, since there is a high level of inherent continuity as I described.

4 Other Players

This is where the nature of the type-to-talk / type-to-express media starts to break down. If you have a total of five players sitting together RP’ing, quite often what is really happening is that one character is just listening, and the rest of the RP is a pair of 1:1 sessions that interject in each other’s conversations.

If one of the players is commonly a “para-poster” — that is, they type entire paragraphs before pressing send — they will tend to dominate the conversation by virtual of “wall of text”. Sometimes these larger scenes will just happen organically, and that is okay. When you are in them, try to figure out who is not getting any “screen time” and have your character engage them with a question of some kind.

Onwards and Upwards

The greater the total number of players in a scene beyond five, the more and more likely that it’s really a scene of smaller groups. So, 6 players tends to be either 3 1:1 or 2 2:1 groups. Likewise, 8 players tend to “clump” into 2 2:1 groups, with the other two players just listening in and only really contributing periodic short comments or emotes.

The big advantage to having a larger and larger group of people involved in a scene right now, is not actually found right now. It’s found tomorrow, the day after, and even the day after that as other scenes resulting from this one take shape with subsets of the larger group, usually 2:1 or 3:1.

This is where Guild or Hub RP events, scheduled in advance, can really have a favourable impact on your own RP. Every character involved will have their own point of view and opinion on what happened. Even if “the good guys” win, everyone on the “good guys” team will have something to say about the ramifications of that win.

    Always look to include others in your RP, and specifically look to include others you have not RP’d with lately in your scenes.  New minds and new stories coming into a scene revitalize everyone’s RP experience.

If you are in an RP-guild, look for opportunities to get folks from another guild to hook up at events and hubs. Your guild story leaking into theirs, and vice versa, can cause some wonderfully spontaneous results while at the same time perhaps introducing you to new styles, looks and feels for RP. You might even find someone to invite when the next 2:1 scene really needs one more person.

Your Thoughts

What are you experiences and thoughts on the “Numerology of RP” as I have described it? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you.

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