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Guide to the Craft of Role Playing

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Guide to the Craft of Role Playing

Post by MrsGrizzley on Tue Aug 24, 2010 3:16 pm

A Guide to the Craft of Role Playing


Role Playing is not something which just anyone can do well on their first try. Let me make that abundantly clear. The ability to write, and to perform through that writing, is a skill and an art and it takes practice.

As an artform, Role Playing is about communication and entertainment. If the writer and the reader are not having fun, then there is something terribly wrong somewhere. Particularly when each player is simultaneously a writer and a reader. The skillsets involved in both roles are dramatically different. Some very good writers are horrible readers and some excellent readers simply cannot write. To be able to do both is something that takes time and practice.

But it's worth it.

There is an energy to community fiction like Role playing that is unmatched in any other form of Entertainment Communication. Watching a movie or reading a book or playing a video game simply does not give the same thrill as participating in the unfolding of a plot and a story and having a lasting effect on the development of a setting that is possible with role-playing as part of a community.

When it works it is as addicting as any drug. When it doesn't it can sap the will and the creative focus worse than buzz-kill parents any day of the week. But in order for the process, the give and take of creative effort, to work, there need to be some fundamental aspects addressed in terms of the medium which is used, the text of a Post.

The Aspects of Role Playing

Role Playing utilizes three Aspects in order to communicate a Purpose, Setting, Action, and Dialogue. The vehicle used is Description. If there is a failure in any of these Aspects, Purpose is lost and the post fails.


Setting is simply where the character is. This can be described in few words, a simple sketched background of foreshortening lines and a few shadows and highlights, or it can be an intricate composition down to the shadow of the leaves on the ground from the light filtered through the branches of an overhanging tree. How much of the setting is described has an effect on how important that setting is deemed to be.

Setting is of vital importance because it provides a "stage" for the Action. Without that stage everything that happens occurs in a vacuum and does not affect anything. There is no larger "world" to affect and it makes envisioning the Action that much more difficult.


Action is what the character is doing. From reaching up to scratch an itchy nose to picking up a weapon and attacking with it, to just about anything that a character would need to do.

Action must be clearly described and focused because this is where a great deal of communication loss takes place. If the Action is unclear then the post becomes exceptionally difficult to reply to because your reader doesn't know what exactly to respond to. If you are making an attack, your target has to know that they are the target and what is approaching them so that they can respond accurately. If you are walking across a room, then that must also be clearly understood.


Dialogue is what the character says. "Do you hear the words that are commin' outta my mouth?" Dialogue is as much an expression of the speaker's character as it is a set of words designed for communication within the context of the RP.

Dialogue most often fails when it is not clearly separated from the Action or the Setting, through failure to observe grammatical guidelines or such. Some players separate Dialogue into a paragraph of its own and further mark it away from regular description through the use of color or font to differentiate speakers.

But even when these tricks and devices are uses, there are rules that need to be followed or Dialogue cannot be clearly understood, particularly when there are several speakers in a given post and their lines are all presented in the same paragraph.

The rules for Dialogue are very simple. Accurate use of Quotation Marks and descriptive tags such as he said or she said. It is also recommended that if the speaker changes, that a new paragraph is started. It lessens confusion. This is where a good background in Creative Writing and Literature classes can come in handy, but barring that observing how conversations are handled in your favorite books can help, too.


Description is the vehicle used to communicate the fundamental aspects of Role Playing. It is a very broad term that is used to refer to the issues of word choice, redundancy, use of adjectives, adverbs, synonyms, and so on.

Most Role Playing sites will state openly that the use of a thesaurus is vital. It can be if there are issued of redundancy in phrasing, but not all words mean exactly the same thing. What is more important is using the right words and using them properly.

In terms of Description, more is usually better, but there is a point where something good becomes too much and has the opposite effect from what is intended. Most of the time this isn't even from a player using words they don't understand, but from writers using words their readers don't understand.

In this day and age of medical dramas and crime scene investigators, some use of specialized terminology is acceptable. But just because each and every muscle in your body has a specific name does not mean that you can use those names without causing your readers to resemble superdeformed characters with halos of question marks. It's a matter of audience.

Yes, this is where I, myself, struggle. I have a working collegiate vocabulary and I've had one since Elementary School. It is very easy for me to lose my audience in my word choice without intending to. Moreover, I have so much experience in writing that it is sometimes difficult to return to an earlier point in my progression in terms of readability.

My Guides are, sadly, proof of that. But I digress.

This is also where the use of a dictionary and a spellcheck system can come into play, because if the words you are using are not the words you meant to use then there is confusion and confusion makes things complicated. Not all words that sound the same are spelled the same. To, Two, and Too are the biggest offenders and I have fallen prey to them myself on occasion. Discrete and Discreet is another pair of difficult words, one is a form of rock and sediment and the other means to be politely understated.


Each of these three Aspects can fail, no matter how brilliantly written and described, if they do not support the Purpose.

Spending three paragraphs describing a tree is a waste of time and space unless there is a reason for that description. If the tree is Important to the plot or the character in some way, if the one doing the describing is a Dryad who has been away from her tree for too long for instance, as long as there's a reason for the description, then it can work to the advantage of the whole.

Offering close-ups of that nature is a means of controlling the reader's gaze, emphasizing something which is Important and needs to be noted. So unless it has a purpose other than underlining how broad a writer's vocabulary is, less is sometimes more, particularly on the Internet where attention spans make sugar-buzzed toddlers look dedicated.

Next time: Crafting a Role Playing Post

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