Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Masks We Wear: Realistic Roleplay

Greetings friends!

Today I would like to talk to you about my experiences of Good Roleplay.
- Emphasis on the 'Good'.

How many of you have been playing either tabletop roleplay games, or video based games and you run into someone who is bad at roleplay? I mean god damn terribad awful at it!

Come on, hands up!

I see two of you have not raised your hands, let me guess; you don't play Role Playing Games? Yeah thought so.

It's unfortunate, but bad roleplay has become a thing of the genre, it's everywhere!

You want to see a bad example? Log into WoW on a RP server, head over to Silvermoon the Blood Elf capital and just look for the groups of players congregating.
- I guarantee you at least one is a dragon, another will be a vampire and another will be something like 'King of Silvermoon' or something of equal grandeur.

This is just one example of bad roleplay, something where you read it and it makes you reach for the tissues as to stem the blood flowing from your eyes and brain.

Another example is a lot more subtle, but is perhaps further reaching. This example is the unrealistic character development. For example; imagine someone in a fantasy setting, they are a noble who under the cover of darkness wears a mask and a cape and journeys into their town to save people from crime. A fantasy version of Batman if you will. However this character meets the region's King, doesn't know who he is and acts like a dick around him, when there is no way a noble of that region would not know who the king was, and would also know that said king was famous for chopping the heads off from those who insulted him!

It's jarring, and is virtually always met with the defensive stance of "it's my character and that's just what he acts like!"

Another and final example is what I would call 'misplaced alignment'. Alignment if course referring to the good ol' Lawful Good - Chaotic Evil scale.

Now what so I mean by having a misplaced alignment? It's simple really, and that is selecting an alignment and moral compass for your character that is HUGELY different to your own.

Disclaimer: Obviously there are the exceptions where people can carry this off, but they are the exception, not the majority.

From my experience to roleplay a character effectively you need to play a character that is +-1 your own alignment.

What this means practically is that if you are a Lawful Good person in real life, the choices you have are as follows:
- Lawful Good
- Neutral Good
- Lawful Neutral
- Pure Neutral (at a pinch)

Why is this? Why would a Lawfully Good person struggle at playing a Neutral Evil character while making them convincing and realistic?

The answer is simpler, and a lot more personal than you may think.

Good roleplay comes from within the player.

You need to have that side of you inside you somewhere to play it realistically, if you don't then all you have is a flat character that the rest of the party puts up with rather than enjoys being around.

Of course you have situations where you can't literally use what is inside you. Look at White Wolf games like Vampire and Werewolf, obviously no one playing that is actually a supernatural being and so unable to relate to the situation, but you still need something that you can tap into.

Come on, we've all seen it; the suave and sophisticated Vampire who is played by a socially inept slob which comes across as creepy and far too rapey, or the Feral beastly Werewolf played by the weedy maths nerd who when it comes to smashing face considers 'run away' to be a valid tactic.


Based on these examples I have 3 rules that I try my best to stick by for 'main' characters:

1). No Supernatural Creatures who's sole 'hook' is that they are a supernatural creature.

2). If someone tells you that doing something is stupidly outside of your character, they are more often than not, right.

3). Never RP outside if +-1 Your alignment.

Note: if we are talking about walk on characters or extras, then fine, go crazy! Make 2d bad guys who are Dragon-Wolves that glitter in the sun! This only applies to your own going main characters.


These three rules are those that I base all my 'mains' on and the longevity of my two main characters in video games is a testimony to the success of the rules.

The first character is Dr Loxley Von Kulstein from World of Warcraft, an undead human scientist who has few scruples when it comes to the advancement of his own science.

While I may not be undead or a mad scientist there elements I can relate to, and essentially Dr Loxley is who I would be if I was freed of the guilt-based ties that guide a lot if my choices and actions.

Of course playing a borderline psychopathic doctor can be jarring for the main storyline, which is why Dr Loxley actually falls under the 'side character' mantle. He will never be a main character in any of the role play sessions outside of the occasional spin offs as he does not fit enough 'hero' tropes to allow for the limelight.

My second character is one who for the time being I will call 'Chuck'.

Now Chuck is a character I created for the game The Secret World and as a part of this has his own life in the fantastical world that exists in this alternative life.

He has a twitter account that he posts on more regularly than I do on my own, he has a blog that he writes in semi regularly, he even has a house in Camden picked out as his place of residence. On Valentines' Day he took his girlfriend to a swanky Hotel in Venice all the while hunting evil and keeping down an equally successful job working as a tech consultant for a London based Police Force.

Notice my use of the words "He" and "His"? This is a requirement. In order for me to keep Chuck as a realistic character who's invisible life does not impact on mine, he must remain his own entity. In order to make him realistic and believable I need to pull on who I am and what I know, to react in a believable way with believable and almost real emotions.

I can not do that and not loose myself to the character without keeping both personas as separate. In other words; Chuck is not me, and I am not Chuck, but if I was living in Chuck's world, and the events of Chuck's life had happened to me, then there is a good chance I would be Chuck, and when Chuck feels an emotion, in some part of me, I am feeling that emotion as well, at least for that moment in time.

Obviously I can not reveal the details of who Chuck is, or what his blog/twitter accounts are, doing so would breach the third wall and begin making the roleplay experience a lot more confusing.

When you get that deep into a character, things are different. You don't think about their reactions. I don't stop and go "What would Chuck do?" No, I just do, because in that space and time part of who I am has become Chuck. I am not reacting to events as a player controlling Chuck, I am reacting AS Chuck!

This is how (in my opinion) you can create a good, or maybe even great, roleplay experience.

Until next time; stay safe and I'll see you Cryptside!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley


  1. Lots of good content as always, I do however need to disagree with one thing.Although I agreed that a good person will struggle to roleplay an evil character, I don't believe the reverse to be true. Truely evil people constantly have to hide their true nature (or so I'm told) so every day is an adventure in roleplaying a good character.

    1. Ok third attempt to reply to this as my previous 2 have vanished into the Dev|Nul.

      I think you make some good points, however as I mentioned there will be exceptions to the rule and there will be those who sit on the outer edges and are able to pull off someone completely opposite to them.

      From my experience however these are few and far between though.

      Using Evil aligned as an example, I do not believe that they are able to properly empathise with a good alignment, neutral; yes, but good is a step too far because they will be unable to wrap their heads around the intricate nature if good motives, instead it will come across as flat and 2D, the same with Good to Evil.

      However as I said there will be exceptions who have perfect camouflage and are able to become characters of extremes to their own with aplomb.