((The RP XP With MJ #3))
Yulel threw her back against a wall and winced when she pinched her lekku against the hard stone surface. Drawing her blaster, she risked a peek around the corner. There were no
signs of the Republic Troopers who were chasing her. “Next time,” she muttered to herself, “You boys should get lighter armor.”
Slowly, the Twi’lek smuggler backed down the alley, blaster at the ready, and tried to force a mental map to surface in her mind, to give her bearings and direction toward the spaceport and her meeting with the Jedi Kendriss.
At a cross junction in the alley, she stopped and turned to look in every direction. The side alleys were dark and didn’t look to open back up into streets. They led to the service entrances of the businesses here. There was no way she could–
“You! Hold it!”
Yulel gasped and turned toward the trooper’s voice augmented through his helmet P.A. She raised her blaster and fired off a couple warning shots.
The trooper raised his rifle and fired off a sputtering stream of bursts that flashed and impacted with the stone walls around the smuggler. Yulel ducked and cried out as the alley junction filled with clouds of dust and duracrete chunks.
Suddenly, a tightness gripped Yulel around the middle and yanked her into one of the dark corridors. Before her brain even registered the grappling line, she was already in the arms of the bounty hunter.
“Boarsch, bring her in!” A woman’s voice shouted from the darkness of a nearby door in the alley, barely audible as the trooper continued to pepper the alleyway with blaster fire.
Yulel, unable to speak because of the gauntleted hand over her mouth, struggled to break free of the bounty hunter’s grasp but his grip was tight and it was a futile struggle, no more use than fighting to get out of the clutches of a zilla beast.
Grunting, Boarsch dragged the Twi’lek into the back room of the business and let the door slight shut with a hiss. Yulel stopped struggling and went limp in his arms.
The deep helmeted voice over her shoulder said, “Drop your weapon or I snap off a brain tail.”
Yulel let her blaster fall from her grasp. Boarsch kicked it aside before forcing Yulel into a nearby chair.
The smuggler surveyed the room. There wasn’t much to see because it was dark and she’d been forced to sit in a chair placed strategically under a bright overhead light. The items and parts she did see, however, were all marked with the Czerka logo. It was some kind of field supply shop. She wasn’t exactly sure where, but she had the feeling the bounty hunter and the woman who spoke were not Czerka employees. Then she saw the eyes in the dark, red glowing embers.
“You’re a smuggler,” the eyes said in the woman’s voice.
“You’re creepy,” Yulel replied. Her comment was met with a metal-gloved smack across the head by her bounty hunter captor. “Ow!”
The red eyes said, “Easy, Boarsch. We don’t want our captive to lose her senses.”
“What do you want from me?” Yulel spat.
The red eyes moved into the light and Yulel saw they were part of a tall Chiss woman with long black hair and deep blue skin. She was dressed in an Imperial uniform and armor. “My name is Jenla Ruf… and you are going to tell me everything I need to know.”
“I don’t have that much time,” Yulel sneered.
Jenla touched a button on the droid control pad of her left forearm. A whirring hum filled the room as a round black droid hovered forward from the darkness. Yulel gasped when she saw the needle at the end of its grappling arm.
Jenla smiled coldly. “I think you’ll find you have all the time you need.”
That’s one of the great things about Forum RolePlay (FRP). It provides players of opposite factions to interact with each other in story lines that the game may not allow. It also gives players the chance to flesh out their characters with description and exposition far deeper than quick chat window shorthand.
This week I’m going to lay out some guidelines, tips and notes for FRP to keep you busy with Star Wars: The Old Republic before it even comes out. And that, my non-RPing friends, is why you find so few RPers complaining about not getting a beta invite or whining about a game launch. To the hardcore RPers, the game started years ago with the launch of the swtor.com forums (as well as other, independent forums for RP guilds). FRP gives RPers the opportunity to test their characterizations, create stories, and flesh out the emotions and habits of their toons before they actually become toons.
Like writing a multi-authored novel, FRP can be as deep and engaging as you want it to be, and it’s a great tool for exploring the background of your character and learning about others.
THE TRULY “OPEN WORLD”
The fact that there are over a hundred threads in the swtor.com Community Creations Roleplay and Play-by-Post forum gives you a pretty good indication of how intense and popular FRP (and fan fiction) can be. There are scores of stories, many spanning multiple threads, that have taken characters through exploration, black market deals, piracy, social interaction and all-out battle. Guilds face off against guilds in stories of Republic vs. Imperial and Jedi vs. Sith combat. Businesses and cantinas are established where characters gather to exchange news and information, and conspiracies are hatched that lead teams of characters into traps.
One of the obvious perks of FRP — beyond being able to mix factions — is that your story can take place anywhere in the Star Wars universe. Not than anyone would want to go there (it was one of the least favorite stops in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), but you could stage a meeting on Manaan between your smuggler and a freelance soldier just getting his start as a bounty hunter. You can visit worlds, space stations and ships that haven’t even been imagined by Bioware’s art directors because they’re created by the players for the players, for the FRP.
Before we get into it, I want to acknowledge a couple of people who helped me with this week’s column. Granted — and as a disclaimer — I should point out that this IS a “column” and, as such, features my own opinion and point of view. You are free to disagree with me, and just because I may site sources or quote individuals from time-to-time does not mean they agree with me either. If I do happen to quote someone, I have received their permission to do so. I wouldn’t jeopardize a person’s credibility and/or reputation by disparaging them openly like this. If I ever quote you it’s because I agree with you even if you don’t necessarily agree with me. That disclaimer out of the way, I want to thank Stray and JediSmith (both of whom can be found lurking in the depths of the swtor forums), for the metric ton of input they gave me on this subject. I swear, thanks to these guys — and others, such as Nitwhit (referenced in a link below) — I have enough to fill several volumes of FRP manuals. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your input inspires me, and I will definitely have to have more articles in the future about FRP. There’s just sooooooo much to cover.
Before the “before you begin,” I recommend that you read through the FRP threads already going on at swtor.com, or check out some of the open forums of RP guilds (some are linked in the signatures of RP guild members and are open to new members or contributors). Get an idea for how it flows, make note to yourself when you notice that something doesn’t quite seem right (probably because it isn’t), and pay special attention to character interaction and control. I’ll get into detail on “how” to FRP below. I’d also recommend that you read-read-read. Get a handle on exposition and dialog by reading novels (particularly, because it’s in the genre, Star Wars novels). Sound good? Here we go….
BEFORE YOU BEGIN – PERMISSION SLIPS
You won’t “ruin” anything by asking for permission before jumping into an FRP story. If you’re thinking, “Oh, it would be so cool if my Sith suddenly appeared at this Jedi Enclave meeting and started to tear the place up.” Uh… No, it wouldn’t…. Unless, of course, you contact the thread leader (typically the one who started the FRP) with a PM and asked if it would be okay. If they say no, it’s no. Move on or find a more subtle way of joining the story.
Oh, and DO NOT enter an FRP under false pretenses or change who you are to be “cute” or because you think it’s cool. The Jedi Knight who had been taking part in the meeting who suddenly reveals himself to be a Darth is, to be honest, underhanded and corny (not to mention extremely unlikely amidst all the other Force-users in the room). Things like that will easily get you de-postedand booted (not to mention RP-blackballed when the game finally rolls out).
When you talk to the thread leader, introduce your character. Talk about your character motivations and emotions and be clear about what you can contribute to the story. Something like, “I saw your FRP thread with the Sith Acolytes plotting to raid one of the tombs on Korriban. I have an Imperial Agent character I’d like to bring in if it’s ok. He’s not a Force user, but I thought it would be cool if you used him as a guide. Maybe he can be a scout or carry some gear. I’m open to suggestions, but I really like your start and would like to participate.”
If you’d truly like to be part of a story someone else has already started, be sure to tell them why. If you think it’s cool, say so. It also helps if you keep an open mind and simply state that you’d like to be part of it. If you’re not picky about the part you play, tell them you’re open to suggestions. Again, if they say no, just move on, particularly if they clearly labeled the thread. That leads me to….
OPEN VS CLOSED and INTRODUCING YOURSELF OR YOUR FRP
If you peruse the FRP threads you’ll notice the words OPEN and CLOSED a lot. Simply put, an OPEN thread is one anyone can join and a CLOSED thread is strictly enforced by permissions or it may be closed to a certain faction, race, or specific characters.
My opening, for example, could have begun as an FRP entitled, “Captured in the Alley ((Closed to Boarsch, Junla and Yulel)).” If it’s that specific, you can read the thread and enjoy the story, but don’t expect to be invited in. There’s typically a reason an FRP is closed. It usually means the players involved have a scripted plot in mind, or the interaction is set in a private place or somewhere where no one would “wander” into the scene.It’s good to keep in mind that whether a thread is OPEN or CLOSED you should still request permission to join. Even if a thread is labeled as OPEN, it may not be “open to you.” Look at what’s been going on in the thread. Is it only a particular faction or group that’s writing the story? If it’s a group of Mandalorian soldiers and you want to hop in with your Jedi, think twice.
Again, contact the thread leader and see how you can join. OPEN threads could have started open but become closed to a certain class or faction depending on how their stories unfolded. I can’t say this enough: ASK FIRST. In doubt or no doubt, ask before jumping in.
If you’d like to start an FRP thread yourself, keep in mind that you’re taking on the role of GM. You’re making the rules and establishing the setting. Here are some quick tips to help you establish a new FRP:
1. DO NOT introduce an off-shoot, sidebar or parallel story to an existing FRP without permission, especially if it was started by someone else. Be new and unique.
2. Make sure you introduce your story with an OOC (Out Of Character) explanation for what the thread is about. (eg. ((Bounty hunters teaming up to bring down the head of a spice cartel….)))
3. If your FRP thread will be OPEN or CLOSED make sure you specify who is open to join. Make sure you tell readers: “Send me a PM if you’re interested in joining” if, that is, your thread is OPEN.
4. Have a clear direction in mind and, if your story is open, make sure it leaves an opening for other characters to join. “There’s a dead body in a closet,” may be an intriguing story opening, but what reason would someone have to open that closet door and begin the investigation? “There’s a dead body in a closet and a pool of fluid leaking out into
the corridor frequently traveled by spacers” gives players something to pull them in. A smuggler or bounty hunter on their way through the
spaceport could see the pool and investigate. Maybe it’s blood. Maybe it’s oil. Maybe it’s a liquid form of spice.
5. Be prepared to be the boss. As the FRP originator, YOU are the one who will be getting the PMs from people who want to join. Be smart. Be tactful. Be nice. Be fair. Don’t be rude if someone is off-base or didn’t happen to catch your intro. Respond politely explaining why they wouldn’t fit into your story. Invite them to read it anyway and even tell them they can contact you with ideas of their own (if you like).
Also, if someone jumps into the story, breaks momentum, causes trouble, godmods (more on this later), it’ll be your job to step in and correct it. Again, be tactful. The forums (swtor’s or otherwise) are no place to be acting like an ass. They’re as public as a crowded mall. Remember, your attitude and demeanor are your reputation. If you ever expect to RP with other people, treat them with the respect you deserve yourself.
You’ll also note that threads are broken into OOC and IC (Out Of Character and In Character). OOC Threads connected to IC stories are usually there to allow players in the IC thread to work out questions or story plots. It may also be the place for you to chime in and let the story developers know you’re interested in joining, or for you to drop some feedback if you enjoyed a particular part of the story.
DESCRIPTION VS. DIALOG
Another awesome bit of coolness concerning FRP is that, unlike an in-game chat-box, you have all the time in the world to formulate your thoughts and virtually unlimited space to describe your character, her actions or the surroundings. As a writer, you can think of it this way: if an in-game RP is the short story, the FRP is the novel. In short: Be. Prepared. To. Write. Don’t approach an FRP as you would an in-game RP. If your character is speaking, use quotes. If you’re describing something, use detail.
But be careful! Too much description can look like a boring wall of letters. No one will want to read an eight-inch long paragraph describing the interior of your character’s ship. Writing in FRP is no different than writing short fiction. Keep your descriptions and actions short and sweet. Give the readers only what they need to know and don’t bore them. That doesn’t mean you can’t take your time and really flesh out an image. Just be frugal.
Notice at the top of this article how brief my description was of the room where Yulel was taken. It’s not much. A few containers and parts, dark room, a chair. a light. That’s all that’s needed. The fact that it’s an interrogation scene will already bring to mind the harsh light and helplessness. I didn’t say “smokey,” but fans of noir fiction and old cop dramas might imagine the room as hazy. Leave something to the imagination and you won’t bore your readers.
With dialog, remember to “speak” as your character “speaks.” Try saying your character’s lines out loud in the voice they would use. Do they have an accent? Do they have a speech impediment? Do they accent certain words? If you’re portraying a smuggler who comes off as a fast and loose talker, say something like “Ya know, this ain’t the way to the spaceport,” instead of something like, “You know, this is not the way to the space port.” Sometimes it helps if you speak it out before you type it. Try it, then type phonetically.
Use italics for emphasized words instead of caps. Save the caps for the chat box. You can emphasize shouting or screaming through description. For example: “Yulel glares at the Imperial Agent and yells, ‘Get the hell away from me!‘” Unlike chat-box speak, you can use narration and exposition to present your scene or dialog.
Speaking of dialog, let’s get into the trickiest part of FRP….
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (CONVERSATION, COMBAT, PHYSICAL ACTIONS)
Unlike stand-alone fiction like a novel or short story, FRP involves the input of other people besides yourself. Timing in FRP is everything. So is being aware of the freedom of response from other players. While it may be a cool scene in your head that your Jedi Consular gets in a luckylightsaber sweep that takes off the trigger finger of the bounty hunter, you can’t simply remove limbs from other player’s characters.You’ll notice I’ve said this a lot, but it’s true. The first rule of FRP is ALWAYS GET PERMISSION. Any action or reaction you present that involves another character directly should be approved by that person. Here are some simple Dos and Don’ts that will illustrate what I mean:
DO NOT SAY
– “Jenla punches Boarsch in the face”
– “Forces Yulel into the chair”
– “Uses the Force to pull the blaster from Wex’s hand”
– “Picks the lock on the door and enters”
– “Parries the strike and punches the Sith in the face, knocking him
– “Applies the Kolto patch and instantly heals his wounds”
– “Pulls her close and kisses her deeply”
– “Locates the hidden ship with his scanners”
Statements like the ones above are an indication that you’re taking control of someone else’s character. You’re removing their options and controlling them like a puppeteer. You wouldn’t want someone else to decide your character was hurt, injured or reacted in a way they wouldn’t, would you? So how do you do it?
– “Jenla THROWS A punch AT Boarsch’s face” (Giving Boarsch’s player a chance to block or be struck)
– “MOVES TO force Yulel into the chair” (Giving Yulel’s player a chance to break free, move away, or sit down)
– “Uses the Force to TRY TO pull the blaster from Wex’s hand” (Giving Wex’s player to tighten his grip or let the blaster go)
– “ATTEMPTS to pick the lock on the door” (Giving the GM or player who established the ‘door’ to decide if it was “pickable”)
– “Parries the strike before TRYING TO counter-attack with a punch” (Giving the Sith player a chance to block or be struck)
– “APPROACHES WITH THE INTENTION OF APPLYING the Kolto patch to TRY TO heal his wounds” (Giving the wounded character the choice to be healed or not. Yes, despite your obvious good intentions, consider that the other player may have something else in mind; greater jeopardy for their own toon or maybe they even want to kill him off.)
– “Moves to her with the INTENTION of kissing her deeply” (Allows the other character to freely react to the intimate ovation)
– “Uses his scanners to ATTEMPT to locate the hidden ship” (Leaves it to the person who set up the ship, or the GM, to determine of the scanners will locate the ship. Yes, they’re your scanners, but that’s not your ship. Cooperate with the other story tellers).
Proper FRP is all about setting up options for the others in the thread. Fair and proper FRP gives the other player the option to respond or defend themselves and leaves the control of the character in the hands of the person who owns the character.
Also, be prepared to take some bruises. Look at any lightsaber duel from the films. Darth Maul was ultimately beaten, but he did manage to throw some solid kicks to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Luke gave Vader a painful chop on the shoulder armor before Vader eventually pinned him. Dooku incapacitated Obi-Wan before Anakin “disarmed” him. Win or lose, you won’t be invincible in a fight.
Does that mean the fights will never end? Someone needs to take the fall, right? When it comes to combat or romance, it’s always wise to script everything out ahead of time. Naturally, no one is going to “die” unless you want to get rid of your character in a dramatic way and agree to be killed in the story, but one person will either surrender or escape or be left for dead (to ultimately recover). Before a fight, or just as one is about to begin, trade PMs or emails with your fellow FRPers. Agree to three things:
1) Who will ultimately lose the fight.
2) How will they lose / what will happen at the end.
3) How long will it last. If your character is the one you both agree will take the fall, the end of the sequence will be up to you. When you say, “…stumbles back and falls off the cliff into the sea,” or “…Force leaps into the closing ramp of the escaping freighter,” you’ve ended the duel.
Also, remember: Good guys don’t always win and “Those who fight and run away live to fight another day.” Take a loss here and there. It builds character.
If you’re ever in doubt, or can’t communicate directly to others in a thread, use the commonly-accepted Out-Of-Character indicator to step out of the scene and ask questions. You can always edit your post and remove the OOC note once you’ve passed it, (eg. “Wex steps into the room with his blaster held at the ready. ((Would he be able to tell the room was colder since you shut down the reactor?))”, or use OOC notations as a form of courtesy: “((OOC: I’ll be out of town for a few days. You can continue without me for now and I’ll catch up later. Let’s say I stayed behind to get supplies))”. Or — if the thread contains an OOC twin, ask your questions there.
In my last article I talked about the “Mary Sue” character, the one who is or has the best and brightest, coolest, richest, smartest [whatever] ever. Similar to to “Mary Sue,” but applying more to items, gear and armor, a Godmodder is the insinuation of “Godlike” abilities or control in an RP situation. “You can’t kill me because my armor is made of Xectoplast. It’s impenetrable by any known energy or element,” or “My lightsaber is equipped with a Haddari focus crystal. It can cut through anything.” If you’ve ever played a game with a “God Mode” cheat, you get the idea. (Note: Xectoplast and Haddari are made up; an example within an example of godmodding).
Godmodding also applies to taking “Godlike” control of a situation (Re: “Rules of Engagement” above). “I cut you with my knife,” or “My character is psychic, so I disabled your ship before you could get back to it.” No… you didn’t. NEVER take control of another character, that character’s property, or the scene established by other people in a situation.
Likewise, if you’re the one “GMing” the FRP, don’t spring traps or establish things that can’t be accessed, discovered or utilized. If there’s a door, someone could open it; if there’s a weapon, someone could use it; if there’s a trap, there should be a sign of some kind that will tip off the party (eg. When Chewbacca fell for the Ewok bait in Return of the Jedi, Luke called out, “No, wait!” The trap was still sprung, but it wasn’t a total surprise). In short: You control your character. Let others control theirs.
YOUR TRAINING IS NOW COMPLETE
There’s so much more I could talk about with FRP. JediSmith and others literally sent me pages of information and their own perspectives regarding the art of FRP. And, as I mentioned at the beginning, there are metric TONS of FRPs and fan fictions going on in the swtor forums.
In closing, I’ll leave you with the wise words of JediSmith regarding the established FRP communities in the swtor forums: “We wanted to make a great melting pot where people from all different levels of RP experience and character background and stories could meet and mingle, handle missions either created by them or some of the DMs who have also built up a lore around the station thread to give it more of a living breathing feel in a way.”
For more information on FRP and a route to get started, check out this post by Nitwhit on the swtor.com forums, and be sure to check out all the sticky posts at the top of the Community Creations / RP / Fan-Fic forums: http://www.swtor.com/community/showthread.php?t=138700There’s some great stuff there and tons of guides for getting you into play.If you have any questions about FRP or RP in general, or if you have an awesome FRP you’re starting up, let me know by commenting below, or write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject isn’t over. There’s still a TON more I can share about FRP and I’ll do my best to bring it together in a future column. In the meantime… get out there and make some history.This has been MJ and I’m livin’ life in the Old Republic!
3 Responses to “Playing Without The Game. The Art of FRP”