Over the past few weeks I've experienced (subjectively) both "good" roleplaying and "bad" roleplaying. I figured I'd finally get off my backside and share the three rules that I try to apply to my roleplaying. They've distilled down to these three principles from far too many years rolling funny shaped dice and playing MMOs. Hopefully you'll find my comments interesting or at least, useful.

These principles can, in my experience, be applied to everything from impromptu one-on-one roleplay to full-blown, organised events. So here we go, Jaen's Three Principles Of Good Roleplaying.


This is the crux of any good roleplay. It tends to apply to everything from how you play your character to how you organise the mechanics of large scale events. If roleplay is implausible, it quickly becomes ridiculous. Other players will not want to interact with you and inevitably, your event will fail.

An event must be plausible within the context of the game universe. That means no automatic weapons in a fantasy setting, no magic in a cyberpunk setting and so on. This applies to your characters description and any interaction you might have with other players. Lack of plausibility is the usual cause of everyone's pet hate: the power-emote. What might start out as a gentle interaction between two consenting roleplayers rapidly spirals out of control as one pulls out a knife and stabs the other in the chest, who in turn happens to have the blow deflected by a hip flask and... well, you get the idea. Initially, these power-emotes may seem plausible (of course it's reasonable for a character to be carrying a hip flask) however the sequence of seemingly random coincidences most definitely is not.

Try to consider whether your actions, your character's behaviour and their background are plausible. I cannot stress enough how frustrating it is to try an interact with someone who can turn into a demon/dragon/angel/robot at will or who has inherited the power of the gods from their father/mother who happens to be a major deity. Again, this sort of thing rapidly becomes ridiculous and ceases to be fun for all involved.

Plausible: Jaen starts to mutter quietly and his body begins to distort and shimmer (then cast Ghost Wolf).

Implausible: Jaen's skin erupts into flame and he starts to grow in size before your eyes. Moments later, a cackling demon lord stands before you.


The second game-breaker in my opinion. If you're going to roleplay, roleplay consistently. That doesn't mean you need to be inflexible but if you're going to apply a personality, behaviour or other character hook to your roleplaying, stick with it. If you play a crippled beggar on the streets of Stormwind, stay in Stormwind and always roleplay your limp. The next time someone sees you sprinting down to Goldshire to pick up a quest, you break their immersion and damage their perception of your character and you as a roleplayer.

The easiest way to do this, I find, is apply a broad, general personality to your character. I'll use my main as an example. Jaen is, simply put, an irrational, intelligent but blind religious zealot. This means I litter my conversations as him with references to the earthmother, to the heathens, to her unbridled wrath and so on. It applies a consistent style to the way I play Jaen and that is good: people will remember you for such consistency.

Now the downside. It is possible to get caught in a role to such an extent that it does indeed become inflexible. I am personally experiencing this with Jaen at the moment. People know him as a religious fundamentalist. They know he'll be out in the middle of the battlefield, spilling the blood of his enemies. Great in principle, but I find myself now wanting to explore Jaen's character a little more (why is he so obsessive when it comes to religious zeal, for example) and it is difficult to adjust his personality and maintain consistency.

Consistent: Jaen does not fight in Warsong Gulch as he is opposed to their violation of the earthmother, even if they are Horde.

Inconsistent: It's double honour weekend and I'm close to a new rank. Anyone for WSG 60?


It's what playing games is all about. It may seem obvious but sometimes people forget we're here to have fun, all of us. Sometimes I feel players forget they're playing a multiplayer game. They apply the psychology they associated with singleplayer games to the MMOG and that doesn't work. In a singleplayer game, the world revolves around you. You are the pivotal, key figure. Everything is geared to your enjoyment. In an MMOG, not so. The game does not revolve around you, it revolves around the community of players of that particular game. It's worth trying to keep this in mind.

It's not just your fun, it's ensuring the fun of your fellow players that ultimately makes for an enjoyable and memorable roleplaying event. One of the first server-wide events I was involved in organising for an MMO had elements that all players of all levels could enjoy. With the participation of the GMs we had in-game quests for low levels ("Go and take screenshots of these strange invaders, the best one wins a prize") and ultimately an immense space battle for the hardcore PvPers to get involved in. I still grin when I remember it as so many people enjoyed themselves. An event that encompasses the fun factor for all involved will be a success, I guarantee it.

Fun: A series of organised, pitched battles from The Barrens through Ashenvale and Felwood to Winterspring, with characters of each level bracket catered for.

Not fun: A raid of twenty level 60s on a a starting zone with the intent of slaughtering everyone and everything that stands in their path.

So there you go. A bit of a condescending brain fart of a forum post but hopefully of some use. Flame and discuss :)


Reply From GorbeshEdit

I agree with pretty much every word Jaen. Plausibility is so important. OK, so you may like the idea of shadowy guild of demon/dragon vampire dark elf ninja assassins who can control people with their minds, but don't expect other people to play along.

I'm the last person to discourage people who are attempting to roleplay (even if it's a bit clumsy) but even I draw the line somewhere. I just treat the extreme cases as insane people in order to stay IC.

Also remember that if your story is plausible to more people then it will be easier for them to interact and enhance your RP.

Consistency. I have the same issue as you Jaen in that I have rather limited Gorbesh's interaction by his attitudes. I have never taken Gorbesh into a battleground and you never will see him there. He has an outlook on things that are just not consistent with joining up with a mercenary band to slaughter alliance for cash and shiny rewards. He has seen the horror of the plaguelands and had a glimpse of the power of the real enemy and considers that skirmishes with alliance are just a distraction from our real nemesis. He will fight anyone who attacks horde towns but he simply doesn't believe in escalating the fight. The great warchief Thrall has a stance with regards to the alliance and Gorbesh follows that approach to the letter - his first meeting with Thrall changed his life, from one of irresponsible selfish drifter to a true servant of his people. Thrall is his hero and he would lay his life down for him. Nipping into BG to do a bit of honour grinding just isn't on.

Fun ? Well clearly so. It's important to remember that your fun might be someone elses frustration, particularly so when it comes to immersion breaking OOC stuff and power emoting.

Nicely summarised Jaen. /salute

Reply from BerdrinEdit

Very good principles, ones which truly make roleplay interesting and enjoyable for all. Am quite certain a lot of people could find some very useful pointers.

Regarding consistency, it is possible and even enjoyable to make one's character evolve. Without being insane or possessed or having multiple personalities, events and situations can dramatically or progressively change a character's perspective on certain matters. One has to find the proper balance between no character evolution at all and too frequent or radical ones. Even the most radical extermists can change their points of view, somehow.

Aah, also a question...How does one deflect a stab to the chest with a hip flask ?!

Reply from MinethaEdit

Each time I keep my kneecaps in my backpack, yes.

Character evolving happens all the time. Lots of people start their characters small (I know I do), and then they either go down three roads:

a) Becoming more interesting -> Story evolves and deepens, more relationships, opinions...

b)Becomes boring -> leads to scrapping of the alt or completely changing the character (no-one notices if a one time character dissapears or comes back different *winks*)

c) Gets stuck (perhaps what you're experiencing, Jaen?) -> choose between a) and b)

Try to get Jaen to do something (i.e. because of curiosity?) new, unexperienced - like visit Warsong Gulch. He might find that cutting down the trees is a necessary evil to fight what they're doing on the other side, or he might not. It'll be fun to roleplaying the situation and what comes of it. Dunno, try it out.

Reply from BeaumontEdit

Interesting point about consistancy, that...

For my money, I fail to see any reason why a character shouldn't occasionally make fairly big changes. After all, we humans often make big changes to ourselves in real life, and if it happens "IRL", then it's got to be fair game as an RP concept.

A few examples...

Cat Stevens became Yusuf Islam.

David Bowie seemingly going straight, gay, bisexual, gay, straight, other, straight on a seemingly weekly basis for a decade or so.

New Labour.

David Icke was the son of God for a year or so.

To me, the fact that a character changes isn't an issue, more how the change is RP'd.

Reply from GorbeshEdit

To me, the fact that a character changes isn't an issue, more how the change is RP'd.

Very true Beaumont, and if done well it can work just fine, provided it is part of a deliberate, considered life change for the character. I think Jaen's point was more the fact that the concept of inconvenience can set in and your character suddenly starts behaving in an inappropriate way - the guy with the cripppled leg starts sprinting around and jumping off balconies because he's bored and its quicker to get to the quest giver or auction house.

That said, if while strolling across the square in Orgrimmar I hear Jaen holding forth about the need for tolerance and understanding with our alliance brothers and sisters then I won't need an explanation, I'll just assume that he's been hit on the head one too many times !

The essence I guess is to play an inconsistent character, rather than just playing your character inconsistently.... (if you follow me).

Oh and Minetha. Gorbs backstory is such that he now has to work very hard at not being distracted by the girls! (one of his biggest failings previously, along with gambling and a love of ale) until he feels that he has suitably redeemed himself.

His early years didn't exactly cover him (or his family) with glory and it would be easy enough to imagine some girl in his past from a proud warrior family who considered him too weak willed and dishonorable for a union. Gorb had always been a rogue in every sense! Difference is that now it's his profession rather than a statement on his attitude to life.

I think there is plenty of future scope there because he has a past. Whether I'll feel the need to re-explore those avenues remains to be seen I guess.

Reply from JaenEdit

I think my problem with Jaen is that he's become a little typecast. He hits things and switches between extremes of placid lucidity and violent extremism. The question I found myself asking at the weekend was "Why? What has helped create this personality?" and that's something I'm exploring now.

Davinrad raises an interesting point. Whilst I think it's important not to mix real life and online, fantasy life too much, basing some aspect of your character on real life experiences can often be very exploratory and ultimately fulfilling. Switching to pen and paper RPGs for a moment, I remember running a solo campaign for my wife of White Wolf's Mage: The Ascension. The campaign challenged several real world issues she had (and we had discussed this before) and ultimately, became quite a useful tool for self analysis.

That's an extreme example, a very extreme example, but you get the idea. Identifying on some personal level with your character is, in my mind, no bad thing - as long as that little bit of yourself that presents itself in your character doesn't impinge upon other people's play.

Beaumont: excellent points and something I've not even considered. Gorbesh was right in that I was speaking more generally about consistency however, what do people think of the possibility of an entirely inconsistent character being an interesting one to play? I suppose you could turn my crippled beggar analogy on its head and the third party that sees said cripple running down the road to Goldshire might not interprete that as "bad roleplay" but more that the cripple wasn't injured after all but a charlatan and con artist. Infinite complexity...

But yes, it's less that a character changes and more how they change that is important. One of the reasons I want to get it right with Jaen.

  • gives a cookie to Vaneras for the blue*
  • realises Vaneras is a dwarf, starts to foam at the mouth and readies his axe*

Reply from VengeanceEdit

Beaumont: excellent points and something I've not even considered. Gorbesh was right in that I was speaking more generally about consistency however, what do people think of the possibility of an entirely inconsistent character being an interesting one to play? I suppose you could turn my crippled beggar analogy on its head and the third party that sees said cripple running down the road to Goldshire might not interprete that as "bad roleplay" but more that the cripple wasn't injured after all but a charlatan and con artist. Infinite complexity...

Herein lies a problem that makes itself all too well known on the server, and while I like this thread a whole lot because of its constructive viewpoint, there are some problems rising with that: is it good or bad roleplay?

It might or might not be the intent of the character to be inconsistant, and that is doubtlessly the only point to argue, if any of them. I'd say that the consistency criteria is more of a leash of sorts, to guide roleplayers to become better. What might be the crux is that roleplayers here on the server are fairly scarce, and the interpretation of another's action as consistant or not will be discriminate, based on the usual ignoring those acting out of character, or roleplaying in a manner that force you to treat them thus (the plausability criteria).

In the most perfect of worlds, where everyone would try to play by the mutual rules, this perspective is one to adopt in order to learn better roleplay. In the more practical world, there are problems here (not so much with the thesis so much as with the reality), and they will not be easily solved.

But that aside, thank you for the post! A great discourse, plain and simple!

Reply from SaishaEdit

Firstly, I must say - well said Jaen! There are many points to RP when you first consider what type of character you want to play - and what can start out with deep intentions can soon turn into "scratching the surface".

I think another problem faced with RP'ers is those who want to do so well - they pour an enormous amount of time into that character and before you know it you got their life story within 10 minutes of meeting them. This - like it does in RL - puts me off wanting to RP with that char. The background stories can indeed come through in your style of RP and of course in some of those deep conversations between others. But let's face it - many of us don't go into so much detail about our RL's in everyday chat.

Having now made 40 - I surprisingly have had little RP with Saisha - which I have felt much a shame to be honest. I am now beginning to put into place a few details that I had a hard time with RP-ing with her - and perhaps steered clear of RP-ing at all until now. For example, explaining my marriage to a Tauren! probably the hardest thing for me to come up with "realisticly" but I'm getting there. I will take on your advice here in this thread and think a bit harder - perhaps trying to develop her story line a bit deeper still. I'll keep you posted!

All in all...some fabulous guidelines and food for thought. With any luck, perhaps encouraging a few more people to give RP a try and or refine what they have RP wise!


Reply from AnnastaEdit

I find that I almost always integrate the aspect of charcter growth in my IRL roleplaying. I try to translate that to this kind of roleplaying as well but find it a bit hard to get it to be a continuous process. Instead my charecters tend to evolve in leaps, where I suddenly find my previous attitude not working for the charecter. The reason for this is probably the fairly fast power development in the lower levels.

My point is, that growth need to be a part of roleplaying character. By growth the charecter gets more of a life. I find it almost as important to know where ones character is going as having a good idea of its background.

But then again, my characters never seem to evolve as I thought....

Don't know if any of this made any sense... oh well....

Reply from DandramereEdit

Well said Jaen, only one thing I can say is the consistancy part, although I do agree to keep your character along the same guidelines withinn roleplay terms, I don't think your character should restrict the way you want to play the game.

For example, if I played a cripple, I would roleplay like that, but I wouldn't personally walk and do all my quests and tasks etc as a cripple or expect anyone else to do it.

If my character didn't believe in fighting I would roleplay that, but if I enjoyed fighting in BG myself, I think it would only be fair to myself if I joined BG for personel pleasure, not to keep my characters consistancy for everyone else. If you get what I mean :)

Thanks for the posts Jaen well said indeed.

Reply from GorbeshEdit

For example, if I played a cripple, I would roleplay like that, but I wouldn't personally walk and do all my quests and tasks etc as a cripple or expect anyone else to do it.

I think that if I was going to create a character that was crippled then it is unlikely that this would be the character that I would try to save the world with. I might be more inclined to keep it as a low-level city based character that I played for variety and to get different reactions. Gorb is a very capable fighter and adventurer and he is the character that I use to see the world and tackle the stiff challenges offered by the dangerous parts of that world.

If my character didn't believe in fighting I would roleplay that, but if I enjoyed fighting in BG myself, I think it would only be fair to myself if I joined BG for personel pleasure, not to keep my characters consistancy for everyone else. If you get what I mean :)

Each to their own I suppose, but I do understand where you are coming from on this Dandramere. However, since battlegrounds can be played with relatively low level characters then I have several other more militant minded characters that I can take into that environment. I understand that it isn't how everyone would do it but it just wouldn't feel right to have Gorb in battlegrounds. I don't feel frustrated by that decision so I guess that's what really matters.

I think that this comes down to how you play this game really. I know some people that play one character at a time and exhaust all the possibilities with that character and then move on. In this situation, ruling yourself out of battlegrounds would be a big decision. My own personal approach is to have a main character and then several others that I play for contrast. Any aspect that I feel that I'm missing can always be fulfilled by another character.

Reply from SlightEdit


You don't have to be completely inflexible either, things that happen to you in the world should make a difference to how you behave, and also encroach the fun factor.

Slight got attacked by the deathguards near Tarren Mill, and hit them back, got PVPed and ran away, he was fighting ogres for a while (at about level 33 at the time) when he noticed an horde lv 30 pull way too many and went over to help.

Unfortunately didn't manage to keep the 30 alive, at this time Slight was completely against engaging the horde except in self defence, but a few minutes later - the horde 30 had a friend, a 39 priest I believe, while Slight was pre-occupied fighting an ogre the two turned on PVP and took him down - quite frustrating when someone you try to help does the dirty on you once they feel strong enough.

Obviously my character felt that frustration, so a few fruitless raids were called for - out of my characters anger, got killed by Robs and co a few times at XR - and also had a few awesome skirmishes at SS (and also took revenge)

Since all that, Slight cares more about the here and now, and see's horde just as much a threat as anything else. Not just to him, but to anyone now he has seen what some of them are capable of - he's not the forgive and forget type.

Any member of the horde is a threat, no matter how weak there is always someone weaker for the alliance who that person could attack if they are not stopped.

Remember, this from an RP point of view, it's not me taking out my frustration /me does honest puppy dog eyes.

That being said, things that happen to your character should also have some regard to shape who they become.

After all... I've been limping the past 5 days IC since Robs beat me up :( that recovery is going to take some time...

Reply from JaenEdit

I may be missing your point but the story you described seems perfectly consistent, plausible and fun (if I'm going to be literal about it). In fact, it comes across as a good example if how to follow these three principles.

I take your point re: flexibility however. Taking a rigid approach to roleplaying, especially when interacting with other players, is often one of the causes of the terror that is the power emote!

Psychologically speaking, each one of us is telling a story and it is guided by our perceptions of the universe around us. We don't like it when our perceptions are challenged. So along comes an inflexible roleplayer who is intent on, for example, roleplaying their ability to transform into a Gnomish Kill-Bot.

This ultimately leads to confusion and frustration. They're going to play their character the way they want to and there's not a damned thing you can do about it. Cue power-emote and two angry roleplayers.

It's important to consider your character in the context of whomever you interact with and adapt (i.e. your point regarding flexibility) accordingly. It makes for a more pleasurable roleplaying experience for all involved.

Reply from NomineEdit

Ay it is a very good post. Just made a link to in on starlight`s forum. Belive it is a must read. But one more thing I feel should be mentioned.

The ability to make mistakes. One of the things that dazzle me the most and makes me respect a player the most. Is when he/she dares to act wrong, make mistakes that the player knows are mistakes. Just because it fits the char. There is one thing to play a character with a flawed background, another one to really dare to do mistakes. I almost see this as the hardest part of being a real roleplayer. For most of us ( including myselfe). In a lvl based game, I feel this is even harder when we get to those high lvl.

For myselfe I solve this with a few bullet points.

3: will always hate. 3: will always be "seduced" by 3: will never give in to

this gives me a few easy faults, and helps me be consistent even when it comes to my flaws.

Reply from GahareetEdit

Salute to the post (and the replies!) I particularly agree with the point that it is about the fun of everyone, that we are all playing and all telling the story. I'm sure everyone knows the 1 word story game where players take turns contributing one word to try to make a story, RP is much the same, just as in the game, if you try to control the flow the story gets blocked, the afore-mentioned power emote stifles the creativity of your RP partner and denies their fun - the key is to share, it's a team game m'kay? ;) In RL I come from a theatre background and when improvising there are a few rules that I find translate very well to inter-player RP.

1. Don't block - Denying someone else's contribution is rarely a good plan, it puts them down and drops the energy of the impro.

2. Yes, and... - Instead try the process of agreeing and offering your own contribution. This builds momentum and prevents one person taking control.

3. Don't be afraid to be boring - Harking back to the original point of plausibility, not every RP session has to be about a great super-natural occurence or possesion by demons, some of my favourite spontaneous RP sessions have been telling stories or just drinking and discussing everyday events in a tavern in a mundane and realistic, 'I met this nice bloke down the pub' way!

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