Refining roleplay theory

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Refining roleplay theory

Post by Mordazan on Fri Oct 29, 2010 9:36 am


This is basically a compliation of some of the thoughts I have around roleplay theory. If you have any input or somesuch, feel free to post. Note that the purpose of this thread is mostly to get my own thoughts around the subject written down, though a healthy debate would ofcourse be appriciated.
I will update the post whenever I get the time to work on it and take up new aspects of roleplay when I try to do so.


Conflict plays a central role in roleplay interaction. It is my perception that if you define roleplay simply as interaction between characters, you have to differentiate in roleplay. I will explain this with an example:

A man wishes to buy a fish. He goes to a fisher and asks how much he wants for the fish. 5 pieces of silver, says the fisher. The man pays the money and goes home.

This is interaction between two characters. There are some fundamental problems with the scenario however:
-The characters are not presented, atleast not beond one of them being a fisherman
-The interaction is not in depth
-The characters do not develop at all
-The scene is meaningless/insignificant when regarding the story involving the characters

The second story:

A man wishes to buy a fish. He goes to a fisher and asks how much he wants for the fish. 5 pieces of silver, says the fisher.
5 silver?! Are you mad!?!?
After a large argument between the two men they start fighting. After a while the fisherman gets hold of a large piece of wood, he warns the other man, but he continues to attack him relentlessly. The fisherman swings the piece of wood and knocks the man unconcious. Thinking that he have killed him the fisherman despairs, steals the man's wallet and runs off to leave the village for good.

In this story the basic of the plot is the same, however, there is one thing that makes it significant: Conflict. The conflict between the two characters could have begun and ended in many different ways, the man could be poor and beg for credit, the fisherman could find pity upon the man, etc. but the common factor would be that the interaction between the two men are not without conflict. By adding this to the ineraction between the two men, it significantly changes how they interact. Suddenly you have parts of their personality shining through, you have something that helps develop the character (by adding a significant experience to the character's story), in this case you have something which radically changes the plot atleast one of there characters is in and the story suddenly have meaning to both characters and will be something that affects them in one way or another.

In my perception you have to differentiate in roleplay, since the addition of conflict to an interaction creates what I would call "true roleplay" or "actual roleplay" (in lack of better words). Conflict significantly enhances the interaction between characters. Since the only significant actor in roleplay is the character, it is simply vital that he or she is put into situations of conflict where there will be development and "true" interaction with other characters.

Luckily conflict is present in by far the most of all roleplay interactions in one way or another. But I think that it is significant to realise that it is actually the conflict that is the common factor, or the groundstone, in creating the kind of roleplay that actually lets your character progress.


A plot indicates a straight storyline. It goes from point A to point B


A represents the beginning of the story, also known as the plotline, and B represents the ending of that story. An example would be that A is the kidnapping of the King's daughter, and B would be the rescue of the daughter (or another less standart ending to the plot: The daughter was actually in love with the evil wizard etc.)

Some characters is build up on a single storyline, which is the case in many movies. In Lord of the Rings the plotline is about destroying the One Ring of Power, in Braveheart it is about defeating the English King etc. Those characters are very fitting for the movie roles since the movie need an (atleast somewhat) definite end.

Other characters are build up around a (sometimes endless) circle of these storylines, where the B of the first bites the A of the second. A good example is a typical adventure group such as the ones found in Dungeons and Dragons tabletop gaming - once they have finished a storyline (freeing the princess), they go onto another one (defeating the dragon who threatens the Kingdom), and after that another one (finding an ancient elvish artefact) etc. As such the characters (even though their reasons for constantly going through all these plotlines can be very different) continue this circle endlessly. Some terms that define this kind of roleplay is called "Adventuring" or "questing" which indicates several adventures/quests being followed throughout the character story.

Most of the time, however, a plotline is not as straight as indicated on the first figure. Most of the times there are certain points where the story makes a jump, where something unexpected happends or where the character(s) have to make a choice that will affect the rest of the plot, which could be shown as this:


The C here indicates something that affects the character. It does not need to change the goal of the plot or indeed have any major impact on the plot as a whole, but it is significant to the character(s). The important part here is that it is an event in which the character is forced to act/interact. Remember here that not acting is also acting - understood as this: If you see the burning village, but chooses to ignore it to persue another goal, you have acted, because you chose to ignore it.

Sometimes such an event have significant impact on the story. It could be a point of no return where the characters must make a choice that they know will affect the way the plot progresses and how the story ends. For instance, it could be the dilemma between helping the villagers get out of their burning town or persue the raiders who put the village to the torch.
Such an event could be shown as this:

l ---------B1

Such an event can ofcourse occur more than once during a plot, in which case there will be many possible outcomes from the plot.

The straight plotline, the ones found in movies, is mostly found in very controlled roleplay envoirments. Examples is tabletop gaming, LARP, forum roleplay other instances where there is a gamemaster present who have planned out the events and the story and have the ability to direct the characters towards the end of the story.
This is the case because in these roleplay envoirments, having several endings require much more work from the planners/gamemasters since you have to shape the world in which the characters exist and thus you would have to shape several "worlds" if you wanted to allow your characters to choose between several endings of your plot. In some cases gamemasters choose to flesh out several endings to the storyline, but they are rarely numerous.
It could be claimed that this is because each end of the storyline requires a lot of work to create or because it is impossible not to affect the direction of the characters when you have to create the world around them.

For the fragmented ending, it usually occurs in MMO roleplay, LARP or other instances without someone controlling the characters. Note that the world itself needs to be created for the character to exist within, but from there the characters need to move around freely and only in accodance with their personality and concept. As such interaction between characters creates certain plotlines without any outside control and with a lot of possible outcomes.

Note that LARP appears in both categories, simply because you can work with it both ways. Such is also the case with many of the other examples.


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