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MUSH and Roleplaying Etiquette Guidelines
(My Own Opinions)

What follows is simply a brief discourse on some of the finer points of behavior appropriate to online roleplaying games (mostly RP-centered MUSHes, as that's where my familiarity lies); these are the 'niceties', nominally written towards the newer player wishing to improve knowledge of how games 'work' outside and around themes. It's not meant in the least to be a definition of what "good roleplay" is, as such can change drastically from person to person and between themes and games as preference goes.

When starting a character, one of the first places of concentration is the character's description, the @desc; while these can run a gamut as far as the amount of details each contains, there are a few items the people with whom your character interacts will appreciate when included there.

Stylistically, descriptions appear to their best when written in the third person voice: avoid use of 'You think she looks stunningly sexy' or 'To you, his eyes appear near-black, fathomless, alluring' or 'As you glance at him, he catches your eye and winks back.' Like @odescs (an automatic pose given by your character and seen by all the people in the room each time a person 'look's at your @desc), each of these can impose reactions on the character performing the 'look' which might not be appropriate (would a homosexual male character find the woman sexy?), or actions on the described character as well, whose eyes would quickly get fatigued in a room full of thirty characters looking at his description.

The finer points of @desc details are fairly simple and straightforward; they assist the viewer in adding color to the roleplay to find some indication as to another character's age, weight or body type, and height within the text of the description. The players with whom you interact often want to know if their own characters would be looking up at yours while talking, looking down at yours, or have a fair chance of toppling you to the ground if they attempted a tackle. For class- or rank-based societies, the quality of one's clothing might be significant as well: a miner with uncallused hands or velvet clothing might be worth appears atypical to the characters who see him, and creates a source for (possibly negative, if inappropriate or extreme to the theme) commentary.

In roleplay, perhaps two of the most significant items to keep in mind are not to force actions upon others and to provide some sort of 'hook' in your posing. The degree of how much 'force roleplay' is appropriate to a particular situation can vary greatly from game to game and theme to theme, but basically boils down to the idea that you should let the character's player decide the outcome of actions bearing direct effect on their character, i.e., it's better not to hit someone in the face with a stone; throw the stone at the character, and let the other's player decide whether their character takes the hit, or avoids it in some manner. Providing 'hooks' for roleplay means wording your pose in such a way as to offer a means for response from those with whom you are roleplaying. Poses constituted simply of speech with the addition of a says/grins/nods/smiles prefix can not only read repetitively, but give little to flesh out the details of one's character or to invite response. Is the smile impish, inviting, or shy; is the glance coy or challenging; is the nod abrupt or indecisive; is the tone uncertain, determined, gratingly cheerful, given in an unusually low voice or a scratchy soprano; did one trip and fall down into the seat upon saying the last few words; was the speech accompanied with some movement, gesture, or particular mannerism (like an arching of the brows or the swirl of a finger midair)? Working details like these—recognition in the pose of the surrounding room and its contents, indications of your character's 'physicality' (its appearance, body language, etc.) and other aspects—can add to the depth and description of your roleplay as you become more aware of the world around your character.

In a related caution, however, be sure to distinguish in your poses what people can respond to, and what they can't. Unless it's within the game's theme, 'Johnny wonders what he can do today.', while it provides some indication of what the character is considering, offers no means of response from those with whom Johnny is roleplaying--for the pose gives no visual cues, no indication of how those with him might notice any changes in Johnny's aspect or movement which might allow them to comment or interact with Johnny. People generally are not telepathic and have no way to tell what a character is thinking. There are times, however, when it enhances the roleplay to comment on a character's state of mind as explanation in a pose, such as: Johnny glances at Jarien, startlement plain on his features. "Are you sure you want to do that?" he questions in a cautious tone, not wishing to get in trouble himself. The dividing line between what works and what doesn't in the roleplay is fairly fine, and can as well be individual to player and to game or theme; it's up to your discretion as to when and how to employ such.

As a corollary to this these points on roleplaying, when moving from room to room, if you leave roleplay behind, offer a concluding pose and allow time for a response from those with whom you're roleplaying. Additionally, if you encounter a character in a room through which you are passing, it is polite not to leave the room without having posed and waited for a reply from that character before continuing; while it's possible the other might be idling, he or she may also be hoping for roleplay, too. A finer distinction to this practice is not posing greeting another person in the room you have just entered (as distinct from a pose noting the circumstances of your arrival in the room) until they have acknowledged your presence; while that character might be the only person in the room at the moment you happen by, if it is a place like a forest or a Great Hall in some castle, the character could be interacting with others (whether recently-departed PCs or NPCs) so that the character is hard to spot if the room's stage is crowded with other characters or virtual objects. If your character was hiding in a tree, it's a distinct letdown to have the first person who enters the room immediately spot you while tucked fifty feet above the ground behind a concealing brush of leaves.

If exploring or otherwise moving through the game, it is impolite in the extreme to enter a private room without receiving the owner's explicit permission beforehand, and their willingness to have you visit; a room set JUMP_OK does not constitute automatic permission. Not only might he be in the private room because he is unable to roleplay at the moment, but he could be conducting private business and may not be amenable to an interruption. Even if it appears the character is alone, this might not hold true--a player set UNFINDABLE might be present with him. Entering private rooms on a game without permission is tantamount to breaking into a bedroom, and not everyone cares to have their steamy tinysex scene interrupted by an unannounced visitor.

As in real life, call before you come visiting; roleplaying etiquette does, at times, mimic real life etiquette. Not only is it good to remember that one's character will likely not know the name of a new character until introduced, but the player of a character with whom you wish to roleplay a significant scene may not have the time to do so if you wander by and simply commence it, when the other player has to leave in five minutes to pick up a child from school. Along these lines, too, it's always best to conclude a scene before leaving the game or logging off the character, or agree beforehand to continue the scene at a later time. Just as one would not leave a dinner without thanking one's hostess, when the roleplay has a critical effect upon one of the participants, it's very frustrating and off-putting for future roleplay opportunities to have one's character growth thrown into limbo by a roleplaying partner who suddenly realized she was supposed to meet a friend for dinner five minutes ago, and disconnected from the game without first excusing her character via roleplay. That player may then not log on for another week or more, leaving significant issues unresolved for the other participant.

On roleplaying-based games, punctuation and spelling does matter; players are expected to have a working knowledge of such in the game's language (typically English), so correct use of periods, ellipses, dashes, other punctuation, and spelling makes a difference to the quality of roleplay and the concentration put behind it. Everyone typos from time to time, but an effort should be made to spell correctly (not phonetically). If in doubt, pull out a spellchecker, dictionary, or just ask in the game's acceptable OOC manner. Not only does this make you more easily understood to players whose native language may not be that in which the game is staged, but, when used judiciously and appropriately, mis-spellings and changes in punctuation can provide color to how a character's speech flows; at other times, simply describing the effect or pattern of a character's speech via the emote (whether pose or say) may work better. Bearing in mind that a person's actions don't trail off into nothingness, nor does speech habitually do so, it's good form to use a period at the end of a sentence instead of another string of ellipses.

One of the most significant mores in a roleplaying game is the distinction between what is in-character (IC) and what is out-of-character (OOC), otherwise viewed as What Your Character Knows, and What You As Player Know (that your character may not). A good example of this is mentioned above, with respect to character names and introductions. You can read the name of other characters because MUSHes are text-based; your character, however, lives in a vocal, visual, and three-dimensional world without name tags. Characters need to introduce themselves, and be introduced; a further nota bene in regard to this is to pay attention to /how/ a character is introduced; though the @name might be Roald Worthington, if Roald is introduced as Ronny or Lord Worthington or Duke Surhome, it might take your character some time (if ever) to discover Ronny’s Christian name.

Another aspect of the distinction between IC and OOC is when and where it is appropriate to communicate out-of-characterly in an in-character situation. Most players actively seek out a suspension of disbelief when roleplaying, and for Ronny to suddenly tell the other gathered lords at a Council of Regents meeting 'Hang on, the pizza boy just arrived, ' can rudely break the atmosphere of the scene, whether or not it is prefixed with an OOC: or * distinguisher. Check to see what setup for OOC communication your game or theme provides or encourages. MUSHes have the 'page' command installed, and often chat or com systems. Should you need to communicate out-of-character information, it's usually best to employ one of those means. Avoid telling the characters in an IC room that you have to get offline so your roomate can use the phone—instead, employ the game-provided means for out-of-character communication. A further nuance of this is that if a player objects to a particular method of out-of-character communication (for example, a MUSH that supports an +ooc command which allows a player to drop out-of-character comments into an IC room prefixed by something like a [OOC:], out of respect for that player's preferences, you should refrain from using such when roleplaying with them in the future. Furthermore, when considering suspension of disbelief, try to avoid including emoticons within in-character poses. If you’d like to clue in another player or character of the emotional content or gesture surrounding your character's words, write it out—Sir Ronny cannot hear a ;). Other players include abbreviations or acronyms (like GH for Great Hall in an in-character pose) in this category.

As an aside in this distinction of IC and OOC, take care to notice when the sentiments of another are in-character and expressed in-characterly, or out-of-character and expressed out-of-characterly. Confusing the two is called 'blurring. ' If a player has had an awful day at their Real Life job, this does not mean that it is necessarily good or appropriate for him or her to log online and pick a fight with their character. At the same time, while a character may dislike your character in-characterly, that char's player does not necessarily share those sentiments.

Moving one step further into the OOC aspects of communication in an online game, as mentioned above, most games support some type of chat or com channel, typically used to coordinate roleplay and for social greetings. Keep in mind that the coordination aspect is generally the purpose of these, so try not to produce or contribute to so much spam on the knot that the roleplay is drowned out by an overwhelming amount of unrelated text scrolling up the screen. Many players are limited in the length of time they have available to roleplay online in one sitting, and it's disheartening to have one's roleplay drowned by a discussion of the X-Files on a community channel. If you would like to discuss the latest Xena show with the people on a com channel, it's good manners to ask interested people to page you for a continuation of the conversation via (multi)page. Even if the conversation began before the roleplay started, unless it's a Xena MU*, the game or theme is there for roleplay, not Xena.

While players should always be considerate of and mindful of the 'real-ness' of the other people with whom you are communicating out-of-characterly, a finer nuance of this is a player's level of comfort with expressed familiarity. Let other people indicate to you when (if ever) they feel close or comfortable enough with you that a hug or snug is an appropriate greeting. Otherwise, welcome them with a smile, wave, or vocal greeting.

Comfort levels can also apply to in-character situations. Unless appropriate to the theme, intimate (or blatantly off-theme or out-of-character) relations in public rooms is a quick way to make other players uncomfortable and leave. This is true whether a player is thirteen or thirty. If you would be embarrassed or discomfited to have someone read aloud the text of intimate or near-intimate roleplay to your grandmother or a twelve-year-old (another good threshold guideline is the typical verbal and public level of intimacy seen in PG or PG-13 movies), move it to a private room—one that you or your partner(s) own. Not only can objects owned by other people automatically forward your poses to an adjoining public room, but finding out that two strangers roleplayed sex in /your/ sailboat can be distasteful to say the least.

As glossed over earlier when mentioning the guidelines for character name-knowledge, rank or class play a large part in many online roleplaying themes, often because of the theme's origins or because they provide groups new players can easily work into and gain thereby a community. It's good to remember that rank and/or class can be very rigid aspects of the theme's society, and can have distinct, hard-and-fast rules for interaction between differing ranks and classes. A chimney sweep would not, in polite and respectful interaction, greet a Duke with the same familiarity he would offer to the village apothecary or fellow sweep. While, when applied judiciously and within the scope of the theme, disrespect for characters of higher class or rank can provide entertaining and challenging roleplay, remember that such would not be the norm of daily interactions, and can bring severe IC consequences upon a character. I f you, an apprentice, want to tell a Guildmaster that his lost glasses are perched atop his /very/ bald head or greet a Count by his given name or tell a Pern journeyman that the Weyrwoman is no better than a worthless dimwit, be aware that such can bring possibly unwelcome consequences for your character as a result of ignoring character ranks or protocols. The same is true for the effects of pranks and how they can be viewed by persons of higher rank, whether or not those persons are the target. Not only should you check with the character's player if you intend to act outside of class/rank protocols, to see if he or she minds, it is also a good idea to ask what sort of consequences your character's actions may bring, so that you have the opportunity to decide if you wish to continue along those lines. Otherwise, maintaining theme protocols within your roleplay can result in consequences you would rather have avoided for your character.

Along the lines of consequences and permissions, think twice before you put into effect an action that would interrupt ongoing roleplay—and, if you're still committed to following through with it, ask if the other players whose characters would become involved are interested in participating. If they decline, respect that and plan your event for another time when the other parties are willing to participate. If a scene between characters just reached a crucial juncture, they might not appreciate your staggering in with a broken leg and demanding help. The doctor, whose player might have been planning—or needing—to log offline, may not want to or be free to come assist you, either. Revoking a roleplay scene where your character is bleeding to death because the doctor is otherwise occupied and no-one else present is able to @emit a doctor is embarassing, and can easily be avoided with some out-of-character coordination beforehand. Additionally, roleplaying is a collaborative venture, and few players will appreciate scenes being taken over or aborted by a player who wishes to grandstand.

While there are further nuances as to what typically constitutes acceptable behavior on a game (such as whether you should capitalize your name or the uncapitalized names of others, or whether a name borrowed from another genre or book would be acceptable—like using the name Rand or Worf on Pern or taking Kheldar as your Star Wars character's name), most of these will be answered over time and by gaining familiarity directly with the game. In the meantime, two good policies to hold by are: pay attention, and, when in doubt, ask. Another one is to review thoroughly any game's news articles and game policies.

Comments are welcome!

Staff Comments

 


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