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RPer's Ramblings on VR Role-playing

This page contains my own advice on how to locate a world and begin to play there. These are my own opinions based on my experience and things I would have liked to have known when I got started! I hope these ramblings assist you in some small way to brave the world of interactive role-playing on the internet. It can be great fun and I have afforded myself many hours of amusement. You may either scroll down the page or go straight to one of the following topics:

Choosing a World
Basic Commands
In Character versus Out of Character
Creating a Character
The One Fatal Flaw
Sip Drink, Sip Drink, Sip Drink
The Clueless Newbie or M* Etiquette
Tiny Sex

Choosing a World

Finding a place to play that you'll enjoy is the first step! Most M*'s let you visit their site as a guest. Guest characters generally have the freedom to wander around the world and take it all in before being required to come up with some kind of background story for themselves. You can generally connect as a guest by typing "connect guest guest". Some M*'s require a different guest login - read the information when you first connect to see if there are any specific instructions regarding guests.

I have provided some lists of worlds by theme to help you find a place to play. I recommend that you begin with a world you are familiar with; that of a favorite author or movie, etc. This will allow you to give some depth to the fleshing out of your character and help you to interact with other people in a way that is appropriate based on a shared knowledge of how that universe "works".

When you log on as a guest, take some time to read the information the M* administrators have provided about their world. Generally there will be guidelines on what they are hoping to create in terms of the environment. There may also be rules on "do's" and "don'ts" for interacting with one another and help files on basic M* commands. M*'s generally have "wizards" and "help staff" to assist you. You will find instructions on how to get in touch with these folks if you need to ask a question. If you don't see instructions for new players when you log in, generally typing news, +news, help or +help will point you toward the appropriate files.

Wander to your heart's content! Typing "WHO" will generally give you the names and numbers of characters on-line. You may find a M* deserted or have trouble finding the people who are currently logged in. Don't despair. It could be the time of day. Ask someone when the most popular log-in times are. As a guest you may not be paid much attention. This could be a good thing... it allows you to take things at your own pace. I find that people are willing to help guests who are polite and non-intrusive. Just saying "Excuse me, I'm exploring this world for the first time. Can you tell me something about it or recommend any parts of it that I might explore?" should get you some results or at least pointed to someone who'd be willing to talk to you.

Some Basic Commands

Let's take a moment to talk about what a M* "looks" like. Generally you will find a description on the room you have logged into and the contents of the room. Say that you have logged on as Guest1 and are wandering. You find yourself in a room described as follows:

The kitchen has a large central 'fireplace' over which hangs a variety of burnished pots and pans. A large butcher's block stands in the center of the room. Cabinets line the walls above long counters. There is a deep sink to the back of the kitchen.
Obvious Exits: Dining Room Out
Contents: Guest1 Ralph

The descriptions on the rooms will fit the mood of the universe you are in. If a word in the description is bracketed by quotes or apostrophes, this generally means there is something to "look" at. In the example I have provided, the word "fireplace" is so marked. You, the player, would type look fireplace . Having typed that and pressing your return key, you would see some kind of description scroll onto your screen such as:

The fireplace is lined with stone turned nearly black over the years. A pile of logs rests neatly on the hearth. There is a pot of stew bubbling over the fire.

The contents of the room show that you are in the room and so is someone named Ralph. You can look at the contents of the room by typing "look nameofobject". In this instance, look Ralph would show you the description that Ralph's player has set on his character. It might be something like:

Ralph is a portly man of swarthy complexion sporting a handlebar mustache of immense proportions, meticulously waxed and twisted at the ends. His bushy brows shadow dark eyes, the left eye possessing a slight squint. His clothing is utilitarian; a long-sleeved shirt and trousers. Over them he wears an apron that is stained with a variety of sauces.

There are two exits listed on the room: Dining Room and Out. You can type either and you will exit the kitchen. If you see an exit with two words, like "dining room" you can often just type the first letters of the words such as "dr" to exit the room.

How does one talk to Ralph? Talking on a M* is pretty standard. One basic way is to type the word say followed by your message The M* will prepend what you say with "Guest1 says". This is how you do it. You type say I am a guest here. Are you the cook?

Ralph would see "Guest1 says, "I am a guest here. Are you the cook?"

The M* will add your quotes for you.

Ralph would type his answer and you would see something like "Ralph nods, "Yes. May I help you?"

If you wanted to do an action rather than say something you could type the word "pose" followed by the action. Again, the M* will prepend the action with "Guest1". You type pose crosses to the fireplace to smell the stew.

Ralph would see "Guest1 crosses to the fireplace to smell the stew."

You can combine the "say" and "pose" together by using the pose command and putting your own quote marks around your speech. This would be done like this: pose crosses to the fireplace to smell the stew. "Mmmmm! That smells good!"

Ralph would see "Guest1 crosses to the fireplace to smell the stew. "Mmmm! That smells good!""

Say and Pose are the two most basic commands, along with "look" and moving in and out of a room using the exits. The other basic command you need to know is "Page". Paging allows you to send a message to someone that won't be seen by other players and is of an "OOC" or "Out-of-Character" nature. Say and Pose are considered "IC" or "In-character" actions. To use page you type page charactername=message. Here is an example:

You type page ralph=I'm new. I hope you'll bear with me as I learn how this M* works.

Ralph would see something like "From afar, Guest1 pages "I'm new. I hope you'll bear with me as I learn how this M* works."
Page is good for asking questions. Generally if you type "WHO" or "@who" on a M* you can see who is currently logged on. Say and Pose can only be seen by someone in the same room as you. Page can reach another player anywhere on the M*.
For other commands, reference the M*'s help files or visit the ftp download site where the programming manual for that M* is located.

In Character versus Out of Character

You will hear the acronyms "IC" and "OOC" bandied about on M*'s. IC stands for "In-character" and "OOC" for "Out-of- Character". It is important to understand the distinction between the two terms. IC is when your character is interacting with other characters in the world of the M*. OOC is when the players of the characters interact as themselves.

When I said on my main page that I prefer "role-playing" to "chat", I meant that I like to be IC as opposed to OOC. I don't particularly care for the people I play with to know if I am male or female, old or young, American or European. I don't talk about what I do for a living or if I'm a student. I don't go into whether I'm disabled or I like to eat peanut butter on celery. My character, however, might tell you all those things about him or herself.

Generally, on a M* that is dedicated to role-playing, being OOC when people are trying to play their characters is frowned upon unless it's by mutual consent. Some M*'s have a command that lets you preface a pose with OOC so the players know you are breaking character for a moment. For example, if you and I were role-playing and I suddenly got a phone call and had to leave the keyboard for a period of time I might type the OOC command and a message. In the absence of a command, a pose like "pose OOC: Phone. BRB" would show up as:

Guest1 OOC: Phone. BRB.

BRB stands for Be Right Back. The other player might type "Ralph OOC nods". You both are agreeing as players to suspend the action. When you come back, you would probably go right into character and continue your scene.

I tend to use Say and Pose for IC interactions and Page for OOC ones. Try to avoid talking about your day one the job or how hard finals are when people are trying to role-play.

You might hear someone say that a player has "good IC/OOC separation". This is a very important thing! This means that if your character says something mean to that player's character he/she won't take it personally in RL (Real Life). Or if your character admires the curving lashes of the other character, the player doesn't think you want to date her RL. It can also help you to enjoy playing with that sexy female barmaid even if you OOCly know the player is a man. Or take seriously the authority of the Captain of the starship over your Ensign even though you OOCly know the player is 14 RL and you are 46.

Creating a Character

Okay! You've chosen a world. You've practiced says and poses as a guest and you think you've got the hang of it. Now it's time to log off and connect as a new character. Some M*'s let you create the character at the log in screen. Others ask that you mail to a certain place and request a character. Once you have a character name and password you are ready to create him or her.

The first thing you will generally be asked to do is assign your character a gender. Depending on the M* code it might be @sex me=male or @sex me=female or @gender male or @gender female. There should be instructions on creating a character in the area where you first log on. Assigning a gender makes the M* give your character personal pronouns such as "he, his, him," etc.
Next you describe or "desc" your character. The most basic describe command is @desc me=whatever your desc is. Different M*'s have different methods to allow you to edit that description. Read their help files. The following pointers are my own views on descs:

Don't desc a character that wouldn't exist on this world. I wouldn't suggest creating a pixie if you are playing on Pern.
Avoid misspellings and typos. In a textual environment, people form their impressions through..well...text! Since your desc is something you can actually take time to create and do well, get it right. Ask someone to look it over for you if you have trouble with spelling or are role-playing in a foreign language.
Desc what a person would actually see. The description is not really the place to describe your character's past, motivations or effect on other people. What I mean is that if I look at you I don't automatically know that you were born in Miami or Sweden or that you are sweet, generous or a drunkard. You may feel you intimidate everyone you meet but who knows? Maybe I'm the person who isn't intimidated. Another common practice is to describe the most gorgeous specimen of man/womanhood ever to exist. Well, hey, it's VR but the world is boring if we're all Ken and Barbie. Here is an example of what I' m talking about:

"Edmund is tall and handsome and bulges with muscles. He was born on a farm as one of six siblings. His father used to beat him. This has scarred him for life and he doesn't trust anyone he meets. His brooding presence sends a chill down your spine."

Why are these "no no's"? Because where you are from and what happened to you comes out through knowing you. It's not always intuitively obvious. That's the fun of role-playing. Maybe Edmund is motivated by a hate for his father, but I, the other character, may never know about the father if Edmund never discloses it. And I resent being told that you send a chill down my spine. I want to role-play my own reaction to you. Otherwise, go write a book! You don't need the rest of us to interact with if you already know how we'll react!

Some people really like to write long descs. They are works of art. They pour their souls into writing them. They also scroll up your screen awful fast and spam the heck out of the person trying to read them. "Spam" is a term meaning lots of text is on your screen. If you enter the room and I type "look " to see you while there are lots of folks role-playing there, your desc will cause my screen to scroll up and lose a lot of the conversation. Plus, the continued conversation makes my screen keep scrolling so I have trouble going back up to read your desc. Obviously, different M* clients let people read text in different formats. It's the folks on raw telnet you might want to have pity on. This is only a pet peeve and I'm sure, if you like long descs, you'll do it anyway. But...there you go.

"The One Fatal Flaw"

Probably back in "Lit" class you read about a character's "one fatal flaw"...hubris, or whatever. It can make your character fun and interesting to give him or her, if not a fatal flaw, at least a few quirks or personal mannerisms. I have found that these will often come out through role-play for me unexpectedly! It doesn't hurt at the beginning to come up with a few for your character.

Let's take Edmund in the example above. His player wants him to be strong, handsome, brooding and mistrustful. He was born on a farm, has six sibs and an abusive father. Perhaps Edmund mistrusts all the /adults/ he meets, but he was close to the children in his family; protective of them? He could be played stand-offish to adults and warm and funny around children. It might turn out that he knows how to pull quarters out from behind their ears! Thinking about things like your character's background, education, formative events, likes and dislikes, etc. go a long way to making him or her a person and not a cardboard cutout or a clone of his/her player.

I once had to create a character quickly. I did a desc without having a background story in place. It was in a futuristic universe and I made him a spacer wearing a plain coverall. The coverall was described as having the identifying patches removed. Even though I didn't have his story in place, the missing patches gave me fodder for coming up with the "story" of why he chose not to have his ship be identified. That small detail launched me into ideas for his background. What comes first..the background or the desc? That is one of those chicken and egg puzzles.

Sip Drink, Sip Drink, Sip Drink

The title of this section has to do with "code" versus "role-play". There are two kinds of people on M*'s...coders and role-players. Bless the coders, they are the ones who make sure we have rooms to play in and cool things like wagons that carry us around or elevators that appear to move or machines to vend us drinks when we are thirsty.
One word about code, though. My main soap box topic are items like the "coded drink". You enter a room where it says "Read the menu and buy something to drink". You read it and type "Order water". You suddenly find, if you look at yourself, that you are carrying a "Glass of Water". To drink it you type "sip water" and you get the message "You sip your water. It's good!" and other people in the room see "Guest1 sips some water." If you type this five times you get "That glass is empty" and you find yourself no longer holding water. However this is the exciting role-play everyone in the room saw:

Guest1 sips some water.
Guest1 sips some water.
Guest1 sips some water.
Guest1 sips some water.
Guest1 sips some water.
Guest1's glass has disappeared.

I, myself, prefer role-play to coded bits. I find it more interesting to type poses. My role-play might look like this:

Guest1 finds himself feeling thirsty and looks around. He sees the sink in the corner and opens several cabinets to find a glass. Locating one he crosses to the sink and fills the glass.

Guest1 sniffs experimentally at the contents of the glass. The water appears to be clear and clean. He presses the cool glass to his hot cheek and sighs happily at the chill.

Guest1 brings the glass to his lips and takes a sip. He mmms softly to himself and tilts his head back, glugging down the rest of the contents....

You get my drift...

The Clueless Newbie or M* Etiquette

What the heck is a clueless newbie anyhow? Well, you'll know if you meet one. Hopefully, you won't be one. A newbie is basically someone who is,! We're all new at some point but we can avoid acting cluelessly. A clueless newbie might be someone who talks OOCly in the middle of some obvious role-played scene. He walks in on a battle on the bridge between the Federation and the Klingons. He asks "Anybody here go to Kansas U? I'm majoring in Chemistry there. Hey, didja see the X-Files last night? I thought that was really gross!" This newbie belongs on a chat m*, not a role-playing one.

Here are some basic "etiquette tips" from yours truly that I believe will probably keep you from getting the clueless newbie appellation:

Don't press a person for information about their "real life" self. If you meeta sweet barmaid and in the middle of the scene ask "Are you really played by a woman?" you can pretty much be sure you've ruined the scene. This would include asking about ethnicity, age, etc. Age can be relevant as discussed in "Tiny Sex" below. But, in general, accept the character at face value unless you both seem willing to participate in an OOC dialogue.

Don't respond to unspoken thoughts. Unspoken thoughts can add to the role-play but they aren't meant to be "psychically read". Here's an example:

Ester smiles sweetly at Mary. "Mary! You haven't aged a bit!" Her tone is light and airy though she inwardly muses that Mary sure looks like an old bat.

Mary replies "Why thank you, dear! You look as young as the day I met you!" She gives Ester a false smile, thinking that she looked like hell on the day they met and things haven't changed.

Ester's and Mary's players had fun with using unspoken thoughts. But imagine how Ester's player might have felt if the character Mary had said "What do you mean I look like an old bat" and hits her over the head with her purse? It takes some discipline, but don't let what you know OOC affect how your character responds IC.

Don't powerplay. I think, if you master this point, you are well on your way to playing cluefully. Powerplaying is where you pose in such a way that the other player is left no option about his or her response. Here are four separate examples:

  1. Alice says "I'm feeling troubled." and Fred says "You have been crying and I know you've been having sleepless nights." He pulls out a handkerchief and dabs at your tears.
  2. Angie gets angry and dumps a pitcher of water over your head, soaking you thoroughly.
  3. Fran sighs and flops into a chair. You notice that she has bags under her eyes and you wonder what might be troubling her.
  4. Anne smiles "Hi!". Pierre responds with "Pierre takes your hand and kisses it in greeting."

Let's look at these four examples of ways the players /might/ have posed to keep from powerplaying on their partner:

Alice hadn't posed crying or sleepless nights. Only that she was troubled. Fred posed something the other player didn't intend and put her in a bind on how to respond to his pose! He might have posed "Fred looks at you with concern. "Are you sleeping all right at night? You haven't been crying, have you?" He begins to reach into his pocket for a handkerchief." This way he can ICly ask Alice for more clues about her character's appearance/reactions and give her the option of deciding if he should even offer to dry her tears. Notice I said offer - I think it's best not to pose touching another character but intimating you are intending to. See the next example for what I mean.

Angie didn't give the other player a chance to "see her coming". She just "dumped" the water. She might have done better posing "Angie gets angry and comes toward you with a pitcher of water, lifting it in preparation for dumping it over your head."The other player might pose "Bill blanches and rolls to one side, avoiding a dousing." He might also pose "Bill looks up, gapes, and finds his mouth filled with water as the deluge pours over his head." See? It's Bill's call. Another way to deal with this might be for Angie to page OOCly "Do you mind if I dump a pitcher of water over your head?" and Bill pages back "Go ahead." In that instance, consent was gained and her first pose would be fine. I have heard players say "But, this takes away the spontaneity of the role-play if we discuss things OOCly." If you leave your poses open-ended enough to show your intention and allow the other player to choose their reactions, you probably don't have to talk OOCly. But it doesn't hurt to also page for OOC consent. Interactive role-playing is a collaborative effort and a cordial relationship between players can add to your enjoyment.

Fran had the best intentions. She wants you to notice her character is feeling badly and for you to ask what's wrong. However, she has posed that you noticed and you are curious. I believe it's enough to pose the clues "bags under her eyes" and "appears to be troubled" without posing the other character's reaction to those signs. Fran shouldn't force the other player's response because it might not be IC for that character to be solicitous of her problems!

Hand kissing might seem very gallant to Pierre's player but he is still touching your character unasked. Again, he might pose his intent "Pierre holds out his hand, clearly planning to take yours in his and kiss it with a courtly bow". The other player could then respond that she places her hand in his. Or, fill him in on the important fact that, before he came into the room she was making mud pies.

Tiny Sex

If you role-play for any amount of time you are apt at some point to run into a character who wants to have sex with your character. I am not going to make a moral judgment on whether or not this is good or bad. I just would like to make a couple of observations:

One is that you may have no idea the age or sex of this character's player. I told you before it wasn't nice to ask about RL. As far as the other player's RL sex, it's moot unless it would freak you out to know that even though the character is a woman, the player is a man. Or the character is a man and the player is a woman. Also, my own personal bias is that you don't use the internet to teach a minor about sex. In this instance I think it would be appropriate to establish that you are both above the age of consent.

I have noticed that there are a lot of emotionally needy people on the internet. They tend to mistake a VR relationship with their own real life needs. Be warned that they may become clingy OOCly. Or accusative. Or play lots of mind games with you. These are people who have trouble with their IC/OOC boundaries. Learn to establish your personal boundaries and be clear about what they are. If you want sex no matter the cost, don't worry about any of the above. But I've seen lots of people get hurt or bewildered. Or just plain annoyed!

Remember, it may feel private and anonymous but who knows what may haunt you? Use your head when revealing personal information. Also, you may never know if the other person is making a log of your interaction and publishing it on the web somewhere without your permission. As with any "relationship" you might want to establish some mutual understandings as players about these things.

Just like real life "No means No means No". Don't force attentions on another. And you don't have to be harassed either. Tell the M* administrators if you run into problems.


Many of us have the capability of making logs of our role-playing adventures. They can be fun to read later or to mail to one another. I've heard lots of arguments back and forth on the ethics of logging. Here's my own two cents. If you are rping in a "public" area such as a saloon or the bridge of the starship, I believe logging can be done with impunity. If you are rping a more private scene, the sharing of which could be hurtful to the other player, I recommend two possible courses of action: 1) Log for your own personal use and don't share. 2) Ask the other player if they mind you logging and sharing. I think, often, people forget they are playing with real people and not cardboard cutouts on the holo-deck. Treat each other with respect and communicate!

Staff Comments


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