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Pitfalls for the Beginning Role Player

March 10, 2009

munchkinThere is a delightful card game called Munchkin that my friends and I like to play. If you have never tried it, you really should. In the deck, there is a card which offers a free level if you will “Promise The GM You’ll Stop Telling Him About Your Character.” I laugh every time I see that card, because it could have been written with me in mind.

A few years ago, I was involved in WoW tabletop RP with a group of friends. Reant, my Forsaken on the Cenarion Circle RP realm, is the re-incarnation of my favorite character from those campaigns.

Thinking that it might be good to brush up on her back story, I dusted off my notes and re-read what I had written a few years ago. I remember how very proud I was of my story and how eager I was to share it with everyone. My gracious friends not only kept a straight face, but even applauded my efforts.

Reading  it now, I have to laugh. I am still new to in-game RP, but I’ve had the chance to observe some masters and I can already recognize in my early writing several pitfalls that beginning Role Players often fall into.

Pitfall #1: Overly Dramatic Storyline

No one’s life consists entirely of climactic, soul shattering events. Most of life is spent in mundane, day to day activities which provide the framework for the occasional dramatic moment. If you write your story as one long series of melodramatic experiences, it will be completely unbelievable. Redemption, Repentance, Revenge … they are good themes, but don’t try to work them all into your first paragraph.

Pitfall #2: Unbelievable Character

It is tempting to take every trait you wish you had, remove every flaw you wish you didn’t have, and present yourself as a shining paragon of virtue (or the pure embodiment of evil). While it might be fun to imagine yourself this way, it is not a character that others can relate to or will be inclined to associate with.

This point was driven home to me recently as I observed a fellow guildie RPing.  He plays a Death Knight.  The character has been trained as a killing machine.  She is a well honed instrument of destruction. She is also unable to read or write; a fact that disturbs her deeply. Most evenings she can be found patiently sounding out letters, determined to one day unlock the mysteries contained within the book she holds. She is quick to ask questions and regards those who can read with awe and admiration.

sevenThis powerful figure retains such an air of vulnerability and humility that I am incredibly drawn to her.  She reminds me of Seven of Nine, one of my all time favorite fictional characters.  She was the embodiment of Borg perfection, but it was her humanity that drew the audience in and made her character unforgettable.

In real life, few things frighten me as badly as appearing vulnerable or imperfect to other people.  This is the single greatest challenge I face when it comes to role playing, but learning to overcome this fear and accept the weaknesses that are part of my nature is  something that is vital not only for the development of my Role Playing relationships, but for my Real Life ones as well.  It is through our humanity that people relate to us, both in RP and in RL.

Pitfall #3: To Much Too Soon

It is important to understand that RP relationships, just like RL relationships, take time to develop. You are writing a story with other people, and you must establish a context for your chapter before it will be understood and appreciated. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and spill your entire life story accompanied by shuddering sobs and expansive oaths of revenge, everlasting love and eternal fealty. At least … I hope you wouldn’t.

You shouldn’t do it in an RP setting either.  If you want your story to be taken seriously, you need to lay a foundation first. You do this by getting to know others, just as you do in real life. Be consistent in your interaction with others and take an interest in their lives. Each of your fellow RPers has a story to tell. Don’t become so obsessed with telling your own story that you forget to listen to theirs.

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3 comments

  1. “they are good themes, but don’t try to work them all into your first paragraph.”

    ^^ That! That is rote truth and something all too often ignored until it’s too late and they start RPing in a vacuum with no one else listening or caring (except the few ridiculously patient souls that try to help).

    Great post, my friend!


  2. You know I’ve seen that game in stores so many times and thought about buying it, but just never did. Next time I’ll make a point to actually do it and try it out.


  3. I can’t recommend Munchkin highly enough. It’s one of those games we can play with our non WoW friends, and they enjoy it just as much as us. It’s very easy to learn and there are lots of fun expansion decks you can get if you want … although you can play fine with just the basic starter deck. The artwork and the card descriptions are hilarious. Worth buying just for the laughs.



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