Roleplay Guide Roleplaying For Beginners: Character Creation Help & Getting Involved

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Cindy

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ROLEPLAYING FOR BEGINNERS:
CHARACTER CREATION HELP & GETTING INVOLVED





TABLE OF CONTENTS
  • INTRODUCTORY TO ROLEPLAYING
  • ROLEPLAY VS. ROLEPLAYER
  • CREATING YOUR FIRST CHARACTER
  • YOUR CHARACTER’S PLACE IN THE SETTING
  • GETTING INVOLVED IN ROLEPLAY
  • IN CLOSING / CREDITS
 

Erkor

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INTRODUCTORY TO ROLEPLAYING

Roleplaying
Verb.
Acting the role of a character in the purview of collaborative fictional storytelling.


Welcome! If you are reading this, we assume you are either unsure about the roleplaying process or the intricacies within it. Allow us to put things into perspective, if you are.

When you are watching a movie, or reading a book, or watching a play in a theater, you witness characters playing out their parts, played by actors. The characters’ lives and actions and personalities are pre-written, their lives following a storyline thought out a long time ago, but they are made real by the evocations of their actors.

Roleplaying is much a similar act, with only a few differences. While a book is written out, and a stageplay’s script is authored and rehearsed, a role-playing session is “made up on the spot”, for the most part. Don’t be misled, however: A roleplaying setting is, in almost every case, pre-established. Either it is levied from existing writing (such as RPGs like D&D, or World of Warcraft), or it is heavily inspired by existing media (such as in the case of role-playing environments made in the image of games or other media, such as Half-Life, Halo, or Star Wars, wherein roleplayers dedicate time and effort to passionately construct a living, breathing setting from the information given to them in their respective media).

Through this process, roleplaying settings are often incredibly detailed to give roleplayers information. Herein, people consume the information given to them to accurately construct a character that may reasonably find their place within the given setting. Roleplayers dedicate much time to collaborative storytelling, which is ultimately what roleplay is. By joining together, multiple people sit down and collaborate to navigate and unveil a deeply intricate story laid out by the writers of a given setting. In many cases, this explores both the mundane and exciting parts of a character’s life: Action is sometimes supplemented with introspection. All of this comes together to change a character on the most fundamental levels.

It is particularly in times like this where the “fun” in roleplaying is found by so many roleplayers: Creating a character and, by the virtue of collaborative storywriting, watching them grow in a microcosm of action, reaction, and consequence. By not knowing where the story truly ends, you are kept on edge, and—if you are daring enough—you will try to find out where this dangerous arc in your character’s story leads.​
 

Cindy

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ROLEPLAY VS. ROLEPLAYER

The first principle that lays the foundation for roleplaying is the separation of the roleplay from the roleplayer; that the worlds that our characters exist within are entirely and utterly separate from the real world that we live in. While that may seem like an obvious observation to make, it is but only to underline that we, as roleplayers, are separate entities from the characters that we author.

Consider the actor: Robin Williams, and his role in the 1992 Disney classic: “Aladdin.”


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Robin Williams, the actor, is of course not a genie from a magic lamp that can grant wishes to those who summon him. But his portrayal of this character is completed with its own sense of personality independent from his own—even if augmented by his own whimsical traits.

What Robin Williams does while portraying his role as Aladdin’s Genie is what is considered in-character (or IC), and reversely what Robin Williams does when he is not portraying Genie, and is just being himself, is considered out-of-character (or OOC).

This concept goes even further beyond just roleplayers and their characters. The integrity of the setting entirely depends on the differentiation between IC and OOC information, as utilizing OOC information to fuel your character’s IC actions shatters the barrier that keeps the roleplayer and the roleplay separate.

In many circles, this is considered metagaming; a taboo that is defined as the act of using OOC information to IC benefit. As your character exists only within the roleplaying world, they would not be able to access the information you, the roleplayer, know, and thus filtering the information that you know versus the information that your character knows is an important obligation to the social contract you participate in as a roleplayer of the joined experience with others.​
 

Erkor

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CREATING YOUR FIRST CHARACTER

So, you’ve found interest in joining a roleplay. Great! But where do you begin? That is usually the question every roleplayer asks themselves when they are thinking about joining in on a roleplay, be it a D&D session, a roleplaying guild or group on an MMORPG, or something else entirely. Most commonly, people will try to find a vague outline on what could be “useful” for a character to have or be like. This leads them down a path of outlining, in which they are given a series of questions to fill out—or a foundation to establish.

You may become overwhelmed with the amount of questions, which is perfectly reasonable: You are oftentimes not looking at the character sheet for roleplaying characters, but book characters. The most noticeable difference here is that a book-character is given countless secrets to unveil; a roleplaying character doesn’t need as many to function properly. Anything else is supplementary, and thus not necessary to function. When creating a character, you may find yourself at a crossroads: The author George R.R. Martin puts this conundrum quite well, although the phenomenon may not have originated with him: He posits that, among authors, there are Gardeners and Architects.

Gardeners are those who “plant” an idea much like a flower, and let it blossom out on its own—they are “discovery writers” who take a concept and let it snowball into something greater through interaction, conflict, trials, and tribulations. In the context of roleplayers, a gardener is someone who creates a relatively shallow character concept—that is, a character that may not have much of a history besides their age, origin, name, and pertinent information (e.g. their family, workplace, or skills)—and tests the waters to see how their character would fit into certain situations. This way, a gardener can construct a dynamic character that will, ultimately, fill a particular niche as they interact with others.

Architects are those who design the bases and foundations of their concepts before ever working on the details. They are “outline writers” who write out an elaborate structure to their ideas and plot and then work on the gritty details such as dialogue, characterization, and so on. In the context of roleplay (although architects also use the outlining process in character-writing), architects put great amounts of work into ensuring their character has a stable foundation to stand on: They detail their character’s history, family, childhood friends, favorite color, and so on and so forth, so that as many questions can be answered when they need to be. This process isn’t just there to answer questions, though—by having all this information, you can form a very well-rounded character that stands on their own two legs.

However, characters are not infallible, much like real people. Without flaws or setbacks, a character may come across as what has been dubbed among writers as a Mary Sue: In short, a character with no negative traits whatsoever, able to navigate any obstacle with ease by virtue of their own wit and cool-ness. Ultimately, flaws are what make a character believable, and help you both immerse yourself into a given setting and ensure you “fit in” among other roleplayers. After all, nobody is perfect.​
 

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YOUR CHARACTER’S PLACE IN THE SETTING

Although intrinsically connected to the character creation process, it is necessary for you to think about how your character fits into the setting. Without putting some good thought into this, you might find yourself lost in the rapids of roleplay; unable to gauge what people are talking about, or referencing things that may not have happened (for example: anachronisms; inconsistencies in time).

When you are creating your character, think about these things:​
  • Where does my character come from?​
  • What have they been doing before now?​
  • How have they lived up until this point?​
  • What has happened around them in the last few years?​

Pointers like these can help you immensely when it comes to trying to figure out the what, where, and how of a character, and usually they can all be answered by looking at the supplementary info of the setting, that being the lore, or history, of the world in question. By answering these questions, you will find it much easier to find your place in the world. By knowing your character’s origin, you can go as far as to research your character’s culture, and figure out certain cues and idiosyncrasies.

By knowing what your character has been doing before you start playing them, you can figure out what kind of knowledge they might have—be it worldly knowledge, experience in a particular field, or trauma. By knowing their living conditions, you can expand upon this; are they bitter? Timid? All of these things change radically depending on your character’s upbringing, way of life, and living situation.

Lastly, by knowing what has happened in the world around your character, you can know what your character should know, and how they would react to these things. Are they living worse due to a shortage in groceries? Are they protesting against their local government due to decisions they disagree with? All of these things help shape your character’s initial personality, while also helping you understand how the world around them has been working.

Equally important, however, is to note your character’s position in the social hierarchy after you create them: As you leave the train station, or ride into town on your horse, or get through the airport terminal, you are on equal footing as others: You are a person: Nothing more, nothing less. A problem observed among some roleplaying communities is that of “protagonist syndrome”; that is to say, people who either intentionally behave or subliminally act as if the story they are taking part in can only be solved by their expertise and their particular set of skills.

This pit can be avoided pretty easily by taking it easy, but an eagerness to help should not be confused for “protagonist syndrome”. It only becomes a problem when you shut out other people from pitching in as well. When someone makes the roleplay about themselves, and shuts out other people from trying to collaborate with them, they are often trying to be something akin to a story’s protagonist.

However, being the protagonist of a story is not an intrinsically bad thing in roleplay. After all, you are writing a story: Your character’s. Your character’s journey through the world you’ve placed them in is the story you narrate and navigate by taking them through all the sorts of obstacles you’ll find in your given roleplaying environment, and whatever the outcome might be at the end of the road will be the conclusion of your character’s story, and nobody else’s. Because of that, it’s incredibly important for you to craft your own story, rather than to be the protagonist in another player’s. Whether this story is about fighting an evil, going against the norm, starting an insurrection, or overcoming a deep, internal problem your character suffers from is up to you; what matters is that you are there, at the end of whatever road that might be.

As part of a shared roleplaying medium, it’s important to recognize that other roleplayers are also attempting to derive from the experience as well. As part of that social contract, there are obligations you as a roleplayer also have in respect to your peers.

For instance: “Powergaming” is another roleplaying taboo where a character forces or attempts to force an outcome onto another, whether this is to gain an advantage in a conflict or otherwise. Consider the above segments about being the author of your character’s own story, and you begin to understand why a situation where someone attempts to thrust an outcome onto you—such as losing a fight, becoming incapacitated or dying, isn’t just unfair: It’s also unfun.​
 

Cindy

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GETTING INVOLVED IN ROLEPLAY

While being new to the hobby may cause you to be shy at first about establishing interactions with other roleplayer’s characters, sitting on the sidelines and watching roleplay will not cause you to become involved with other players and the opportunities that await you in a roleplay setting. With the knowledge that comes with knowing your character’s place in a setting, you can then use that as a launching point to start interacting with other characters.

Now that you know who your character is and their place in the setting, it’s time to get your character familiar with other characters! Look for opportunities to involve your character in situations, talk with characters and start bouncing off one another! The more your character interacts with other characters, the more other players will want their characters to interact with yours! Roleplaying is a hobby that gives you just as much as you put into it, and no more than that. If your character is shyly sticking to the corner of a room, brooding at a booth in a restaurant, you’re not likely to get any roleplay time unless someone else’s character takes the chance to start a conversation or interaction with yours.

There also comes the idea of trying to provide opportunities for other characters as part of your own quest to search for roleplay. Providing a service such as a business or using your character to provide certain themes about the setting you’re roleplaying in can do wonders for providing both you and the characters that engage with you a meaningful interaction. Through this, you open the way for other characters to come to yours to experience the opportunity that you’ve opened up to them.

Ask not what the setting can do for your character: Ask what your character can do for the setting.
 

Cindy

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"Kafka"
IN CLOSING

Roleplaying is an incredible hobby that can do many things for you. It can make you a better writer, teach you about people by allowing you to explore a world through the lenses of another person different from yourself, and give you precious, memorable moments through the roleplay you participate in.

Don’t waver if you feel that you’re somewhat of a fish out of water at first. There is an inherent learning curve involved, but the only way that you can hone your craft is to keep at it and stay determined. As long as you keep your mind to it and engage with others, you’ll fall into a deep, deep rabbit hole of unexpected opportunities, storylines, and twists and turns for your character to navigate and explore. View it not just as someone trying to play a game, but as both a reader and a writer. Let yourself be taken along for the ride!

Thank you so much for reading our guide! We wrote this because we wanted to write a cohesive, accessible introduction into the hobby that we each love so much, in the hope that it helps people like you in the first stretches of their journeys into the worlds beyond.
 
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