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Make your RP five times stronger with the senses

Published by under Role Play on Feb. 10. 2012.

((The RP XP with MJ #25))


Yulel slowly lifted her head and tried to open her eyes, but something was wrapped tightly around her eyes and pinching her lekku to the back of her head. A blindfold.


She didn’t remember much beyond running and gunning. That damn Gand pilot had dropped her right in the middle of a separatist hot zone and she paid the price…


By running into a tree when she was firing back over her shoulder.


Well, at least they didn’t kill me, the young Twi’lek smuggler smirked to herself.


Her eyes useless, she tried her other senses. She heard the low hum of a generator behind her, the high-pitched whine of a repulsorlift on a speeder hovering just outside the room where she was held. The echo of the speeder through the wall gave her the impression that she was inside a garage of some sort, possibly a side office.


The air smelled of sea spray and engine oil with a slight tang of electrical ozone from separatist forcefields. “Mannett Point,” she smirked again. “Figures.”


In-game emotes can be fun (/bow, /clubdance, /golfclap) or they can be over-the-top (/blush, /laugh, /flirt), but however you view them and use them in your RolePlay, they only cover one fifth of the whole picture. And barely even that much.


One of my favorite tips for fiction writers also holds true for RP scenarios. Never neglect your senses. A great way out of the corner you’ve written yourself into is to consider something beyond sight and sound and delve into a more textural experience. Utilizing your senses plays pretty big with me. You may recall I actually worked them into character creation in RPXPMJ #2.


So, let’s take a look at different tips and ideas for melding the five senses into your RP.




Sure, you can use emotes for visual clues, but I’d advise against overdoing them. Waving, bowing and shrugging are good standards, but don’t over-do your visual cues by “blushing,” “flirting,” or “coughing” every five minutes.


Remember that RP is a written art form that relies as much on description as it does dialogue. Think of the things your character would be doing with their hands or facial expressions that don’t have emotes.


For example:


ARNISS: You don’t have the missing motivator, do you?

CRYTHO: *Stares down at his feet* No, I told you I don’t have it.

ARNISS: Something tells me you’re not being truthful, old buddy.


In this example the character Crytho directs his character’s vision in such a way that it gives Arniss the clue that he’s not being completely honest. Not only that, but imagine the same scene without the exposition about what Crytho was looking at. Without it he sounds almost angry and confrontational.


Remember to describe your lines of sight if they differ from eye-to-eye contact. There can be important tells in those visual cues. Let’s look at a different example that actually draws the eyes of another character.


SYLIA: *Runs her finger down the plunging open neck of her tunic* Do you really have to leave so soon, captain?

CRYTHO: *Shakes off the daydream as he stares at her cleavage* Me? No. What? Where were we?


In this case, Sylia’s flirtatious finger dancing drew Crytho’s eyes down and invited a nice tension-breaking comedic moment.


When drawing upon visual metaphor or simile, remember where you are. Sure “As big as a house” is an accurate way to describe something, and it fits, but “as big as a bantha” calls up a Star Wars image that’s recognizable to any fan. Don’t say things like “My speeder is faster than a Ferrari.”


What’s a Ferrari?




Did you ever email or text someone and forget to take CAPS off? They told you to stop yelling, didn’t they?


Since spoken word in RP is typed, you have to use clever typographical tricks to get your point across. For example, I’ll bet you can guess which character is yelling in this example:


CRYTHO: Why are you looking at me like that?



Depending on what you’re saying and the tone you want to convey, you can simply over-use punctuation (it may not be proper English, but it’s cool in RP). Let’s look at the same conversation but make a couple subtle changes:


CRYTHO: Why are you looking at me like that!!!??

ARNISS: Because…… I know what you did with that motivator…. You gave it to… Sylia.


Now it’s Crytho who’s angry and Arniss is being defensive. See how it changes the “sound” of the dialogue?


Here are some other examples of audio cues you can play with in your RP:


RAYNOS: *Tries to ignite his lightsaber but it only makes a clicking noise*

SYLIA: Someone forgot to install the igniter, or is it the focus ring?

RAYNOS: *click-click-click*

SYLIA: Well, stop doing that before you break it! Wow! How did you ever get to be her Padawan?


ARNISS: *Presses an ear to the bulkhead* Can you hear that?

CRYTHO: *Presses his ear to the same wall* Mmm. ((What do I hear?))

ARNISS: ((A dull hum and hissing like from a broken machine))

CRYTHO: Sounds like you got something busted in there, my friend.


Notice the ((Out of Character)) indicator to clarify the sound in the scene. If it won’t spoil anything, you can spell that out for your RP partner in your establishing dialogue:


ARNISS: *Presses an ear to the bulkhead* Can you hear that? ((If you listen, you’ll hear humming and hissing))

CRYTHO: *Listens at the wall* Man, that sounds bad.

ARNISS: See what I mean!




SYLIA: Have you been aboard the bounty hunter’s ship?

ARNISS: Only once. It smelled like rotten meat and dead things.


SYLIA: Have you been aboard the bounty hunter’s ship?

ARNISS: Only once. It smelled like sweat and cheap perfume.


SYLIA: Have you been aboard the bounty hunter’s ship?

ARNISS: Only once. It smelled like gun oil and fresh paint.


In the three examples above, which bounty hunter loans his ship out as a brothel? Which one doesn’t jettison the bodies of his victims? Which one is organized and probably anal-retentive about his work?


They say that the sense of smell is one of the most powerful of the senses. I’d say it’s probably the most powerful sense. Have you ever come across an aroma that reminded you of something you thought you’d forgotten? Home cooking? The perfume of an old girlfriend? The electrical snap of ozone that reminds you of your old train set?


Whenever possible, be sure to include odors and aromas in your exposition, especially if you’re hosting an RP event and painting the picture for other players. In the following example, which smuggler’s hideout probably includes a smuggler still at home?


1) The foyer is narrow and cluttered with boxes. A Duros blaster rifle hangs on the wall next to a rancor claw mounted on a plaque. The track lighting is dim and smudged though it’s bright enough to see. The hum of the hideout’s generator comes from a back room.


2) The foyer is narrow and cluttered with boxes. A Duros blaster rifle hangs on the wall next to a rancor claw mounted on a plaque. The track lighting is dim and smudged though it’s bright enough to see. The aroma of Alderranian stew still hangs heavily in the air.


It’s kind of a trick question, but if you think about it you’ll see that the description that includes the smell of food gives you a more immediate sense that someone is still around, or at least not that far away.




You can cover just about any aspect of the sense of touch if you remember the three Ts: Texture, Temperature and Tension. Here’s an example of each:


ARNISS: *Takes his hand off the landing strut* You probably have a hydraulic leak somewhere, Crytho. It feels greasy here. (Texture)


ARNISS: *Takes his hand off the landing strut* You should have that looked at. That locking joint feels really hot. (Temperature)


ARNISS: *Takes his hand off the landing strut* Crytho, come here and feel how loose this is. I’d say you’ve got two, maybe three more landings in this baby. (Tension)


All three examples feature a problem with the landing gear of Crytho’s ship, but you can see in the variety of exposition how you can paint a picture through sensation.


Have fun with it. Draw textural comparisons to lore objects or other things in the Star Wars universe:


CRYTHO: No, I’m not going to see her again. She had hair like a wookiee.


Everyone playing SWTOR should know what a wookiee is. The description of the woman’s hair gives you an immediate image (both visually and texturally) of something stringy, matted or dirty.


There you have it. I hope these examples inspired something in your own RP. Until you get the hang of it, don’t be embarrassed to put a note on your monitor or next to your keyboard that reads, SEE, HEAR, TOUCH, SMELL, to give you cues when you’re stuck in an RP situation.


Remember, RolePlaying in an MMO is like writing a script, novel or play LIVE as it happens. Spice up your exposition and put those senses to use.


((The RP XP with MJ)) publishes right here on every Friday! Want some extra RP tips? Follow MJ on twitter @MJswtor or write him directly at swtorliferp(at)


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