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What is Roleplay?
At its heart, Roleplay (RP) is collaborative story writing. But, like all games, it has rules. Although there are hundreds of different types of RP, almost all of them share the following core rules and values in common.
Online RP is accomplished by writing "posts" back and forth. Each player in the scene gets a turn to post their actions. Posting usually happens in a round with an established order so no one gets skipped, but sometimes large groups will allow a free-for-all style.
Separation between player and character
A crucially important distinction to keep in mind is the difference between Out Of Character (OOC) and In Character (IC). OOC and IC knowledge, motivations and emotions must be kept separate at all times. This can be understood easily by thinking of an actor.
Imagine Sean Connery playing James Bond. Sean Connery has out of character knowledge about who is Bond's enemy and who is his ally. He knows this because he has read the script. This does not mean that he then changes the way that he plays his character by having Bond go directly to the secret lair and shoot the villain in the opening scene of the movie, before Bond has been given his assignment or found his first clue.
You as a player will frequently acquire knowledge your character could not possibly know. This could relate to what may be going on elsewhere in the story, in the histories of other characters, or discover that a character yours thought was its friend is actually trying to trick them. When you learn important information about the game, make a mental note: How did you learn it? Was it in OOC chatter, or did your character find a clue in their story?
Do your best to play your character as if they know only what they have actually experienced in their story. Otherwise, the plot will stop making sense to everyone in the game.
But it isn't just knowledge that needs to be kept separate. It is important to keep your emotions separate from your character's emotions. Let's go back to the James Bond example. If the actor playing the villain finished filming the death scene, lay on the floor until the director yelled "Cut!" and then immediately leaped up and attacked Sean Connery in real life, that would be insane. Sean Connery had no malice against the actor playing the villain; he was just playing the character James Bond.
Someone who is playing a character that is mean to yours is not being mean to you as a player. They are simply playing a villain. It will destroy your game community if you treat IC bad guys as OOC bad guys.
What this means is that you are not your character. You must keep knowledge that you gained OOC from influencing your IC actions. Like an actor, you do not share the motivations, emotions, skills or the life of your character.
Typically, each player can only control the action of their own character. It is considered poor form to assume the actions, intentions or reactions of any other character in the game. If you are writing an action that depends on the response of another character, it is usually a good idea to write the attempt and then end your post so that the other character has a chance to respond.
For example, if your character is going to hug another one, it would be unusual and perhaps rude to include in your writing that the other character hugs back. Maybe the player would have their character pull away! So a good ending point for the post would be your character reaching out for a hug.
When a player assumes the actions of someone else's character, it is referred to as "god moding" or "god modding"
The object of the game is not to get the best outcome for your character.
Rather, the object of the game is to create an immersive story that thrills and entertains all of the players taking part in it. This requires that the plot unfolds at a good pace, characters be played well, care is put into writing, and good out of character relationships are maintained between all players.
Whether your character wins, loses or draws; lives or dies; prospers or becomes a pauper; there is tremendous satisfaction in having mattered to the story and to those reading and taking part in it.
When you take this stance, the temptation to "cheat" by mixing up IC and OOC knowledge, holding grudges, hogging the spotlight, or godmoding vanishes, and your focus turns to playing your character as true to themselves as you know how.
So have fun, and do your best to make sure your RP partners also have a chance to shine and enjoy themselves.
For more on the topic of winning through fun, see the article the responsibility of ALL RPers. It should be required reading for everyone who wants to be great at RP!