Official RPG How-To Topic: Writing, GMing, and More (or Less)

Admin’s Note: Because this topic is ultimately one I’ve been considering creating for years, and Ghid’s doing the work for me, the floor is his. This Topic will remain pinned and is as official as I can make it without putting my name on it.

Now get school’d sons, -Hawkeye


Hello everybody, typing in your wacky stories about transformers and chivalry and whatnot! I’ve been involved with RPs on these boards for a while now, and I just realized there’s no official writing etiquette topic - or rp how-to topic at all! Well, at least not any visible staff ones.

So I figured I’d change that by offering up a topic where you can ask questions, get answers, and generally improve your writing quality and the games you GM. Better skills mean better content, and the more memorable your interactions and storytelling will become.

Something to get out of the way first, though:
I have a very skewed opinion on text-based RPs. I’m not a fan of DnD in the slightest, and I absolutely never approach this sort of RP from that perspective. I consider text-based RPs to be a creative writing exercise, to see how well you can consistently write a given character in a variety of circumstances. How would they operate in a casual setting? After a battle, or some hardship? Romantic endeavors blossoming or ending in terrible heartbreak?

How your character reacts isn’t entirely up to you - it’s up to the rules you wrote for your character; who they are, how they act, walk, talk, eat, speak, and breathe. It’s your job to write consistently, and to write well.

As a GM, it’s also your responsibility to give your players every opportunity to write expressively. Don’t confine them to combat all the time, or campfire scenes all the time - give them plenty of variety in which to act and react. I’m not the best GM, as every game I’ve run on the boards has stalled out and bit the dust, but I can comment as an expert player who knows exactly what works and what doesn’t.

Of course, if a question here isn’t covered in any of my posts, go ahead and ask! I’ll be happy to help any way I can.


The Basics


The Next Level


Managing Your Game

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The Basics #1: Giving your Character some Character


For the examples I’m giving, I’m going to use Bob’s Medieval RPG That Has Elves for our base game. The setting is medieval fantasy, there’s a simple magic system, and a lot of DnD influence in the worldbuilding because Bob is an unoriginal gollumpus who can’t envision the middle ages as anything other than Lord of the Rings- er, sorry, got carried away.

Right, so here’s what his character sheet looks like:

Name
Race
Gender
Appearance
Weapons/Equipment
Skills/Abilities
Bio

Pretty standard stuff. Let’s go ahead and autofill all but the last part and see what we get:

Name: Kyle
Race: Elf
Gender: Male
Appearance: Dark green skin, pointed ears, ragged clothing with patches of leather for added coolness, standing at around 6’1" with a long face and very thin body
Weapons/Equipment: Elven shortsword, elven bow, 30 arrows, rolled-up sleeping mat, satchel
Skills/Abilities: Kyle is really good at hiding in the shadows, which makes him an excellent pickpocket. His years of living off the streets has made him excellent at worming his way out of situations he finds himself in with his silvery tongue and his gymnastic capability. He can play the flute, but he doesn’t have one.

That skills and abilities area is quite large, but if you look closely, here’s all the things Kyle can actually do:

-Play the flute
-Pickpocket
-Hide well
-Talk well

The rest is all description to pad things out, which may help to have or it may not. It helps to know your GM a little beforehand to know what they like to see - or, alternatively, wait for someone else to sign up and see how they do.

Anyway, let’s get to that bio.

Bio:
When he was very young, Kyle lost his parents in the frenzy of a fire at their local clan, which burned his village to the ground. Wandering into the woods, Kyle became hopelessly lost until running across one of the local towns and being semi-fostered by its inhabitants. Accustomed to living on the streets - and especially getting into trouble with the gentle townsfolk - Kyle became excellent at pickpocketing, smooth talk, and a carefree life living off small jobs and walking off with people’s belongings.

See that? There’s an explanation for why he’s good at pickpocketing, hiding, all that stuff. The flute skills aren’t mentioned, and depending on the GM that might be an issue. It’s alright to reference part of the bio with the caracter’s appearance, skills, etc. If you include it in their bio.

Well that’s enough with the bio for now. Let’s begin posting! So far the rest of the adventures have been chatting and have come to a stop to rest the night. What’s Kyle going to do?

Kyle sits down.

Uh… No, Kyle. Bad, Kyle. Too basic. Too boring. There’s nothing going on here with this post. Liven it up a little.

Kyle sits down and folds his legs.

That’s… Better, uh… Okay, here’s how I’d do it.

Seeing the rest of the party come to a stop, Kyle scanned for the perfect spot of ground, and having selected it he descended, crossing his legs over each other and leaning forward out of habit, his eyes shiftily scanning the group to see what would occur.

Same exact action, but 44 more words and way more interesting to read. This post says something about Kyle as a character, not just a basic action, and for your fellow authors and players it’s much more engaging than saying the bare minimum.

This has actually been an issue on these boards for the last couple of years at minimum. A general improvement there would be appreciated.

Your party of adventurers may have been safe at first, but now- Monsters! Goblins specifically! Because as I said, Bob is so dumb he can’t- oh, just go reread it.

You’ve got two goblins attacking you, Kyle. What do you do?

Kyle stabs both goblins in the neck and walks back to the campfire.

Kyle… No. Bad Kyle, disappointing Kyle, you’re-not-my-legal-son-but-I’m-still-disowning-you Kyle. Don’t be so bland! Nobody sympathizes with a flawless master of combat; it’s why those characters get killed off in fiction so often.

Try again, but be descriptive. And give the GM a chance to describe how successful your attempts were.

Kyle drew his sword, muttering some foul insults in the direction of the goblins. Not wanting to give both of them the opportunity of attacking first, Kyle flew upon the one towards the left, jumping through the air and attempting to bury his blade in the goblin’s throat.

There ya go! You’re really getting the hang of this, Kyle. Quality of posts is greater than quantity or rapidity of posts. Take as long as you need to write the perfect reply; nobody wins any rewards for getting things over with quickly.

Say, uh, how did the GM respond, anyway?

The first goblin shrieked in terror, collapsing under Kyle’s weight and meeting the business end of his sword. However, his companion uttered a howl and swung at Kyle’s head just as he landed. The second goblin was wielding a nasty-looking club with wolf’s teeth stabbed into it, and given Kyle’s position it would take a lot to dodge.

Alright Kyle, let’s talk about how-

Kyle dodged the club and ripped his knife out of the first goblin to plunge it into the second.

-to take a hit in combat. That, by the way, Kyle, was horrible. The GM literally said it’d be really hard, and one of Kyle’s capabilities is not Combat Expert. You’re going to have to bite the bullet on this one.

Kyle looked up at the club and buckled back - but not well enough. It collided with his forehead, mostly smacking it but leaving a few small scratches as well. He tumbled backwards and flipped onto his feet, crouching low to see what the goblin did next and if there was any opportunity to get his knife back.

Excellent, Kyle! I’m almost considering adopting you so the disowning can be more legitimate. You’re getting better at your posting and making it more fun for other players.

That’s Part One of Writing. I’ll add part two before too long. Let me know if this helps you out, or if there’s something related to what i covered that you’d like to know. Seeya!

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The Basics #2: Live, Laugh… And Love


Setting is extremely important for your character’s immediate needs - a transformer doesn’t exactly need to eat food every few hours, while a human will typically, at the minimum, complain about how hungry they are. No matter how you run things, the realistic expectations for bodily necessity are going to be stretched whether you are a player or a GM, so don’t go overboard on making sure everyone’s had exactly eight hours of sleep and uses the restroom twice a day.

There’s other things you don’t want to go crazy with, like… Um, like eating! Yeah, you don’t want to… Y’know, make your characters have hunger fatigue unless that’s a key element of the story. Because if you’re in a post-apocalyptic survival setting that might apply, but if you’re in Bob’s Medieval RPG That Has Elves it might be less applicable.

And uh, what else, what else… Oh, you can’t forget about, um… Sleep! Yes, sleep is for the weak, and unless you’re playing a self-insert you’ll need it before too long! But you’d be surprised how long your characters can go on if they aren’t aware of the passage of time. If they’re underground, exploring the ruins of an ancient temple, they could be down there for many, many ‘hours’ only to reappear later on with no hunger, no weariness, etc. It’s all how you decide to manage it, GMs.

Uh… There’s gotta be something else… Wait, what about character sheets? No, I already did that sort of. Combat? I already gave a brief overview. Uh… Um… Oh, I know!

So, you know how, uh, there are, y’know, NPCs? Characters you as the player can’t control? Well… You have to be careful not… To, um… Since the GM might not have time, and, uh…

Sigh.

Alright, we have to talk about it. How do you properly write a love scene? Do you plan it with the other player? Is it really awkward if you’re both bros or something, writing opposite sides of a romantic endeavor about two love-crazy peas in a pod? A pod which happens to be situated in an RP about having the most amount of people die in the shortest amount of time? (There’s a couple like that on the boards currently and I’m in them both)

Well, the short answer is… You don’t. Trying to make a love scene occur is almost always going to force an extremely skewed romantic endeavor and make you look like you’ve never had a girlfriend (It’s okay, we know you haven’t). If one occurs at all, it’ll be a natural process of the characters interacting - which, by the way, hardly ever leads to romantic endeavors. If it occurs, though, you won’t have to debate with the other player as to how it’d turn out - write things naturally and have the character react as he would in such a circumstance.

Hey Kyle, how’d you like to be part of a social experiment where I give you a love interest and then pretend it never happened? You wouldn’t? Well, that’s just too bad!

Kyle’s girlfriend, Kylie (the naming department at Ghid Inc. was cut due to how good of a job I’m doing) wants to have a romantic chit-chat. She’s begun by mentioning how the stars are so pretty right now. What does Kyle do?

Kyle kissed her on the lips. “Marry me.” He said, his rock-hard abs glistening in the moonlight even though he was wearing a perfectly modest shirt the entire time.

Boy, are we off to a fun start.

Okay, I think the point about the difficulties in such an endeavor has gotten across well enough. But how do you write the… Other kind of romantic endeavor? The one where there’s no happily ever after, no lasting bond, no positive outcome at all.

The Heartbreak.

You’ve got two characters, Kyle and Kylie- stop looking at me like that, Kyle. You flubbed your only opportunity at a happy marriage and it’s definitely not my fault, so shut up. Kyle and Kylie have been going strong for a while now, and Kylie had the utmost audacity to realize Kyle is a big jerk and she doesn’t want him anymore.

Kyle leaned forward, his hands trembling. “But I want to be with you.” He whispered, trying to find his voice. “We were the only ones for each other - you said that!”

Kylie turned away, bitterly wiping a tear off her eye. “That was before I realized how rotten you are. You’ve stolen from people your entire life… You’ve even killed some of them! No, Kyle, it’s over!”
With a muffled sob she rushed back to the camp, leaving Kyle alone with his thoughts. He had been royally dumped.

And so he had. But now what does he do?

He’s a smooth-talking, cocky, evasive young elf-man who’s very used to hiding behind that mask of charisma. With that cracked, now would be an excellent time to show what kind of low Kyle’s emotions can reach. Go ahead, Kyle.

Kyle froze in place and tears ran down his face.

Ugh… Kyle, if you won’t, I will.

Kyle’s trembling hands slowly contracted to his chest as his heart collapsed. Here was his big chance - his one shot - and the fatal slip had been… His entire life.
How was he to know that his misgivings and petty thievery would keep him from the love of his life? Moreover, how was he supposed to move on? He had promised her a piece of his heart… She took it with her when she left him. And there in the gloom of the forest, the distant campfire waned thin, the tears in his eyes distorting his vision.
His hands caught the drops of blue as they fell. His tongue turned to stone in his mouth. She was gone.

Now what did that tell you? Nothing! Get played, foolish reader!
Okay, it actually did tell you nothing. But it’s the exact same as the post directly above it, and guess what? It’s fun to read. Yes I’m continuing the point I already said I had covered shut up

More specifically, that earlier point - that posts should always be full and rich with content, that you should never say something basic when it can be complex - applies to every single circumstance you’re in. No matter if your character is fighting, walking, talking, eating, sleeping, living, dying, or already dead! There is no limitation to your ability to fully describe a scenario beyond your own ability to do so.

So how do you write a love scene, or a heartbreak scene, or any romantic endeavor? You write it interesting! If it sounds like a literary work, you’ve done it well. And if it blossoms or falls - you win either way.

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why do you feel the need to call me out like this in these trying times

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Why did you decide to tell the entire world your name was Bob

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The world was pretty persuasive.

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I’ve been considering making a similar topic, though with a lot more narrow focus. Mainly about the design and layout of character sheets and what it should communicate to both player and GM. And if anyone reading this is looking confused by that statement, you have no idea how much the structure of the character profile, let alone its content, drives me insane.

So if you don’t mind other contributors in this topic Ghid, might just toss in that essay here in the near future. I doubt there are many others quite obsessed about that portion like me.

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