What is roleplaying?[]

Forum roleplaying is a pastime for writers, especially those with a short attention span who don’t want to write a novel. It takes place on Internet forums (that is, discussion boards). The participants, called “roleplayers,” take turns writing parts of a story and posting them on the forum. The entire thread should end up reading like a novel.

Forum roleplays have a set of rules that allow many different people to write a story together. First, each player creates one or more characters, and owns those characters for the rest of the story. No one else can decide what those characters do. This gives the posts natural ending points – when the actions of one character depend on the unknown actions of another, the owner of the first stops and waits for the owner of the second to post. Second, there is usually a single roleplayer with veto power, called the “Game Master.” Usually this is the person started the roleplay. Other roleplayers occasionally look to the Game Master to settle disputes or guide the plot.

Roleplayers usually get to know themselves better through their writing. Like all creative works, roleplay characters reflect the thoughts and personality of their creator. While some roleplayers write to know themselves and some write to hone their skills for a novel, all write for the fun of it.


The following excerpt is from a roleplay battle between me and another roleplayer. It is actually an instance of sparring, which is a practice battle without any surrounding story. Before starting the thread, we agreed which characters we would use. I decided on Agarus, a sort of wizard with the ability to wipe out nonliving objects. My opponent (or rather fellow storyteller, since there is no emphasis on winning) created a character named “John,” a martial artist with metal spike armor that made him look like a porcupine. He started the thread and made the opening post: The rocky cliff face was chilly, mainly due to the fact of it being autumn. There was a lone tree on the top of the cliff, leaves yellow and about ready to fall. A light wind whispered through the grass softly, cooling the air even further. In the distance, the lights of the New World shined. In the other direction, fires of the Old World burned faintly. This cliff was the border of the two worlds. And tonight, there was to be a battle upon it. The stars shone brightly, and the moon was full, providing much illumination to the field.

A lone man stood leaning on the tree, careful not to spike the tree with his back. The moon glinted off his armor menacingly. He was waiting for his opponent to arrive. Then he would have some fun. Where was his opponent anyway? He had been waiting here for over an hour, and he still had not shown up. It could also be the fact that he was early, but he didn't care.

The job of the opening post is to set the scene and introduce one of the characters. My opponent did a good job of introducing a decent scene and introducing his character, but he made a mistake in trying to make the scene appropriate for my character. Knowing that my character was similar to wizards, he introduced the battle as one between the “old world” and the “new world” (or fantasy vs. sci-fi). Unfortunately, my character had a sci-fi background. In my first post, I had to introduce my own character and make the first step toward conflict between our characters:

Agarus stalked into the arena, intentionally quite late. After being forced from his home by bored metromages, he had been in fight after fight, telling himself that he didn't enjoy combat but really relishing taking out his frustrations on the opponent.
He walked toward a cliff and saw his opponent standing at the top. Deciding to take the direct approach, he activated his unique ability and dug out a portion of the cliff, causing a landslide. He then stepped back and waited for his opponent to arrive.

In introducing my character, I played upon John's thinking Agarus was late. Since Agarus and John are fighting for completely different reasons, my opponent gave up on explaining why they were fighting and simply went on with the battle. However, he again tried to define metromage, which I should have done in my previous post. (A metromage is a wizard with a sci-fi background. Metromages are my own idea, not something standard to roleplaying.) Not having a good introduction of mine to work from, he got it wrong again – although you couldn’t tell from the rest of the battle.

John jumped when he heard the rockslide. "A metromage," he thought. No others possessed the innate ability to manipulate objects. They were always annoying, especially if they were smart. Down the cliff a bit, he saw another figure, hopefully his opponent. If it wasn't, well too bad for them. He was in the mood for bloodshed. He started towards the figure, moving fairly quickly considering the armor he was wearing.

I have never been sure how John came toward Agarus. I had expected John to ride the landslide down, but my opponent did not like that idea – possibly because it would put John off-balance. I presume he walked down the new slope formed by the landslide. By ending the post while approaching Agarus, he invited me to make the first move.

Agarus watched as his opponent approached, and quickly realized that he was heavily weighted with armor. Most metromages had some way of combating armor, and Agarus's method was more direct than most. He turned his ability on the approaching warrior, a bright light that would cut away the steel from his body as it had the stone from the cliff.

The first thing I needed to do was to get rid of John's armor. Armor was supposed to be irrelevant in battles involving Agarus. Like most of my characters, I designed Agarus to battle a certain type of enemy, and my opponent happened to choose just the sort of enemy I designed Agarus to fight.

John was suprised when the armor flew off his body, but the suprise quickly turned to anger. Grabbing one of the spikes from his armor flying behind him, he kept advancing with a firm hold on the spike. Martial arts were always a plus in this kind of situation.

My opponent disliked John losing his armor. Therefore, he made sure John kept a little piece of it. Although the ability shouldn’t have allowed for that, I let it go, realizing what a huge change I had made to his character. I mentioned this to him in the double parentheses that mark OOC (out-of-character) remarks, or comments that are not part of the story.

((The armor is supposed to run off like water - the ability is actually meant to neutralize swords. Ah well, it's really your call.))
Keeping his ability active, Agarus advanced. Two yards away from his enemy, he leapt into the air and created a blinding and blistering flash. He then rolled over in midair and rocketed down backwards where he hoped his opponent would be.

He didn’t counterattack, so I was free to maintain the offensive in my next post. Since I had already done all useful preparation, I proceeded to attack with everything I had. By the end of this post I had demonstrated all of Agarus's magic, although I didn’t tell my opponent. Confronted with a direct attack, he could dodge or take the attack.

John thought he was ready for the man, but he was caught off guard when he jumped into the air and caused a flash that blinded him. His eyes started watering, and he closed them. He couldn't see anyways. He felt the beginnings of blisters start to form on his face. Suddenly, something flew into him. Hard. Knocked down, he attempted to grab the object, kicking upwards with his knee where the groin would be on a normal human being.

I thought a martial artist would respond better to blindness than John did, but then I don’t know much about martial arts. His groin kick attempt wouldn’t have worked in the position I had in mind for the attack, so I shrugged it off in my next post.

Since Agarus was curled up in a ball, John's kick failed to connect with his groin and hit his tailbone instead. Agarus rolled off John and jerked away, then kicked at his head.

Now Agarus is thrashing about, something my characters seem to do quite often, probably because I have no idea how to kill someone with my bare hands. I believe my opponent said something about the kick hitting his armor, after which I reminded him that it was gone and he edited his post.

The kick slammed into John's head, and he started seeing stars. "Hey," he thought,"at least I'm seeing something." Blood started trickling out of his mouth, and his sight started to come back. Seeing a blurry object where Agarus was, he scythed around with his legs, hoping to trip the man.

At this point the two fighters were thrashing about equally, an odd position for what should have been two seasoned warriors. At this point I realized just how wimpy Agarus was – which is OK as long as the opponent's character is wimpy as well. However, I had never thought through a battle of wimps before and had no idea how to proceed.

Agarus stumbled away as John kicked him in the foot. Stopping three yards away, he waited for John to get up, planning to attack him again while he was occupied.

Since I was uncertain, I stepped back and let my opponent take the offensive. He did so with an appropriate level of ineffectiveness.

John got up slowly, facing his opponent at all times. As he was half-way up, he lunged at the man with the piece of metal in his hand, all that was left of a metal thorn.

At this point I decided to get rid of that spike. As an excuse for its not disintegrating long since, I had Agarus concentrate on it – a ridiculous mechanism, since it shouldn’t work unless he was only fighting half-heartedly up to that point.

Agarus's eyes widened as a he saw a fragment of metal that had survived his initial onslaught. Bracing himself for impact, he redoubled his armor-removing ability. As the metal spike reached him it disintegrated, but Agarus was bowled over by John's tackle. He brought his knee up in a clumsy swing at John's chin.

The battle ended here, since my opponent didn’t respond. Agarus will win if John doesn’t put his martial arts ability to good use (and if we ever finish, which is unlikely). While this battle was fun, it was a failure in that it wasn’t smooth - take out the commentary and it doesn’t make sense.

The roleplayer’s perspective[]

Roleplayers in general are divided into two groups: the players and the writers. These groups usually remain separate, with the writers occupying the forum and the players tending toward graphical computer games. “CF has more variety than most sites I've been too, and much nicer people. There's more focus on quality of storyline and writing form, and less on having powerful characters or being "1337" [1337 means leet, which is Internet slang for cool] and able to kill off anyone who dares stand in your character's way.” (Paladin Dave)

The sparring shown above is by no means all of forum roleplaying; in fact, the more experienced roleplayers tend toward slower character development. “I prefer non-battle scenes although I don't think I could hardly go through an RP without a single fight there's got to be some spice somewhere… Conversations can be interesting at times, but it depends on who you're conversing with, and the compatibility of your characters.” (Aisynia)

While battles are fun and easy to handle, they lead to a short and shallow story. “Battles may be fun as all get out, but they also mean wounds. And wounds have a way of interfering with the non-battle parts of a story. I'm in a Star Wars RPG, for example, where a bounty hunter's foot was severely broken, wasn't treated properly, and now she has a perpetual limp. Then there was another RP I was in, Lord of the Rings, I believe, where a character was stabbed in the arm at the very end of a battle. Not only was he forced to work only with 1 arm when they had to help clean things up, but if it were the real world(and Elven medicine didn't exist), he would likely have been crippled in that arm. So, while battles are really fun if you're with good writers, killing NPC's [characters not owned by any player] gets boring after a while, and on CF(like most RP sites), killing someone's character without permission is illegal. Since nobody likes losing their character, any fighting between characters tends to be somewhat fruitless, and often only results in wounds and flight.” (Paladin Dave)


Aisynia. Message Board Interview. 31 October 2006.

Paladin Dave. Message Board Interview. 31 October 2006.