Improving Roleplay: How to find other roleplayers?

This is the third post in a series about improving the RP experience in MMOs. Previous posts were:

So you’ve created your character, you’ve run it through the starting zone and had some ideas for a backstory and personality traits, and now you’re ready to go and interact with other players. So where do you go next? How do you find these other players? How do you know they’ll be interested in roleplaying with you?

There are two main types of roleplay in a largescale setting.

  1. Scenes that are pre-arranged. This could include huge scheduled events, the weekly RP guild meeting, or just whispering around a group of friends to arrange be in the Stormwind pub at 8pm on Tuesday. If you need to roleplay with specific people, then the chances are some of the key scenes will be pre-arranged to make sure that everyone can be there.
  2. Scenes that are not pre-arranged. You run into people, start roleplaying, and see how it goes. They may be people you have never met before. Or it might be that your group likes to roleplay around the same hangout (or guildhall if you’re playing a game that has them) so you know to go there and see who is around. Some people like to go to the newbie zones on RP servers and start roleplaying with people there.

Immediately you can see the similarities with any kind of group activities. It’s like the difference between pre-arranged raid schedules and PUGs. We have several mechanisms in MMOs to find other players to game with, but they cover instancing (and maybe PvP), not roleplaying as an activity.

Finding other players who want to do the same thing that you do is key to any social interaction in an MMO. So getting this right is a big deal. I’m going to look at how roleplayers find other roleplayers in game, and where the systems could help out.

Who is out there? LFG

Even if you could use LFG to find other players who wanted to roleplay, that’s not enough information on its own. You need to know what type of roleplay they’re interested in and whether it matches with the kind of stories you want to tell. This isn’t just so that you can avoid the guys who want to cyber (ie. roleplay having sex), but if you’re looking for light hearted gnome roleplaying about clockwork chickens, it’s not going to mesh well with the night elf hunter who wants deep dark RP about being possessed by a demon, or the dwarf guy who wants to RP a grizzled veteran and talk about beer.

(Note: people really do tend to play to racial types, which is why race-based RP guilds work so well in WoW.)

And this is really the big problem with just searching for other roleplayers. It’s much easier if you can find them because they’re going somewhere your character might go or doing something your character might do too, rather than just because they tagged their character as wanting to roleplay in LFG.

It would be possible to add extra switches to LFG – maybe light hearted RP vs serious RP. Or you could just whisper to the person and ask them before you arrange to meet. But I’ve never really found these kinds of switches useful in text based games, except in being able to avoid the people who are all about sex.

Roleplaying Servers

At the most basic level, a roleplaying server is somewhere you would expect to find roleplayers. In practice, a lot of people pick RP servers because they like the more social atmosphere and less hardcore focus. Neither of these things are guaranteed. And in another tragedy of the commons, the more non-RPers who gather on a roleplaying server, the less easy it is for actual RPers to find someone to roleplay with. So if you do pick a RP server, it’s polite to at least respond IC if someone addresses you IC.

Roleplay servers could benefit a lot if new players understood what they were about and were forced to at least create characters with acceptable names. They’d benefit even more if experienced RPers were motivated to go chat to the newbies and find ways to include them, but that issue affects all types of MMO activity.

Still, if devs want to support roleplaying, it’s not really fair to treat RP servers exactly the same as all the others. A little more time spent on approving names would go a long way.

Guilds and Alliances

Another way to find roleplayers is to join a guild that is all about roleplaying. A guild can do a lot to support RP and some of them have organised events, heavily lore based structures, in character guild channels (so that you can RP with the guild while doing something else in game) and support strong storytelling among members. It’s just a case of finding one that suits you, hoping that it’s active and people haven’t got bored and gone off to raid, and that you don’t end up hating everyone else who is in it. So it’s like joining any social guild really.

A guild can provide you with a pool of other roleplayers. The guild will also probably have a strong theme (race based guilds are common, as are guilds based around in game organisations) so that you should be able to find players who want to roleplay the same types of stories.

This is all great as far as it goes, but it is difficult to roleplay and to do other things in game. You won’t want to roleplay running every instance and raid, for example. It takes time to type and time to think about the story and your character’s response. And also, just because another player wants to roleplay doesn’t mean that they’ll want to do the other things in game that you do. For example, you might be guilded with a strong RPer who has no interest in levelling their character past level 10. That’s not a problem, but if you want to raid with your guild then it may not be realistic to expect a RP guild to provide enough people who want to RP AND who want to raid.

This is one of the reasons that RPers get a reputation as poor players. There are plenty of RPers who are also hardcore and as elitist as anyone else. But there are also players who are mainly there to socialise and RP and don’t care about learning to play the game. All that they have in common is that they enjoy roleplaying. So a strong RP guild can actually restrict you from doing anything else apart from roleplaying.

In practice, a lot of people play in RP guilds and then leave reluctantly because they want to do something else in game and the guild can’t support it.

Letting players join multiple guilds would go a long way towards solving this problem. ie. one for roleplay/socialising, one to raid, one to PvP, one to chat with people who come from the same area iRL, etc. Until game designers realise that it’s unreasonable to expect a guild to focus on more than one game activity, we will never get away from people feeling stressed because they have to leave their friends to be able to do some organised game activity. This is something that roleplayers need. But it would benefit other players too.

In the meantime, guild alliances can bridge the gap, in games that support them. A few smaller guilds can band together and raise a critical mass of members who do want to raid or PvP, even though the majority may still not be interested. I also think it’s an absolute travesty that WoW has never implemented guild alliances. I don’t think they really see beyond their raid guild model.

Location based roleplaying, and name tags

One of the things I noticed in EQ2 is that the game supports roleplaying name tags. You can make your character’s name turn a different colour if you are interested in roleplaying, and then go about your daily business as normal. Just other players will be able to spot you and may choose to engage you in roleplay.

I like this a lot, because it supports location based RP. A player could go to a location that fits their character (maybe their racial capital city) and if you see other roleplayers – who you will recognise from the colour of the nametag – you can interact with them quite naturally. And it is easy to find a good starting gambit, you can assume that their character has a reason to be there and go from that. It is much easier to roleplay in a location than in a vacuum. The location itself gives all the players some props to work with.

If you’re in a pub, then people can roleplay about booze and getting drunk and socialising. If in a guild hall, they can roleplay about guild business. If in the cathedral, they can roleplay about in game religion or church politics. If in a shop or auction house, they can roleplay about commerce. They aren’t forced to do those things, but it’s a good way to start a conversation. Just being in that location gives other people an idea of what you might want to RP about.

And this points to a glaring gap in the systems. We have a /who command to see who is online. Why don’t we have a /where? At least tell us how many people are in the hangouts or the cities.

Developers are actually pretty good at providing roleplay-friendly locations. There are usually in game hangouts (such as pubs or nightclubs), churches, shops, houses, town halls, parks, and other empty spaces in which to roleplay. But to be RP-friendly, these spaces need to be empty and quiet. People don’t want to be constantly interrupted by spam from the NPCs. They also don’t want to be constantly breaking off the conversation to go fight some mobs.

I have noticed that WoW is noticeably worse at this in Wrath than in previous expansions. Perhaps the developers have decided that players are bored with empty buildings and every single space needs to be entertaining.

So if the game MUST be this spammy with NPC chatter, roleplayers need a way to find a quiet corner in which to chat IC. Maybe side rooms with doors that close to keep out the noise, or corner tables at which players can sit down and have a private table-only conversation. Perhaps even a short-range version of /say which only lets conversation travel to people in the immediate vicinity would help.

Finding people to fill specific roles

In pre-arranged storylines, sometimes there will be space for a character to play a specific role. For example, if someone has a character background in which they had an argument with a friend and ran away from home, they might want someone to RP being the ex-friend. Or in a more mundane storyline, maybe two siblings are quarrelling about their father’s will and want a lawyer to help sort it out and may want another player to be the lawyer. Or perhaps a wizard wants to teach a class via RP and is looking for potential apprentices.

There is no easy way to do this on an MMO. If you’re in a RP guild and would put up a note on your guild bboard to see if anyone was interested. In practice, you’ll first ask round your friends and other people who you currently RP with. Then you’ll check the RP guillds and put notes on their bboards asking people to contact you if they are interested and hopefully go from there.

A looking-for-roleplay board on official forums can be useful, but only if people read it. Plus they tend to get spammed by people writing huge fanfic stories. Note: fanfic is NOT roleplaying. At best it is writing up an account of RP which you have already done. Feel free to write stories about your character. But do not spam my RP forum with them!!

Ideally what roleplayers need is some kind of in game mailing list or bboard which they can more easily access. Some games give players the facility to organise this themselves. For example, in WoW it’s easy to set up a roleplaying chat channel and invite other RPers to join it.

These are all things which support emergent play

So I’ve discussed: better LFG functionality, multiple guilds, focussed servers, location based gaming, name tags, in game mailing lists and boards

One thing they all have in common is that they wouldn’t just benefit roleplayers. Anything which is good for roleplayers is likely to be good for other social gamers, anyone who enjoys immersion, and probably lots of other emergent behaviour which we haven’t seen yet because current game mechanics don’t encourage it. If I had to pick just one thing that I’d like to see, it would be more support for multiple guilds and alliances. The crapshoot of trying to find a guild that does all the things you want to do, with a schedule that suits you, and where you like the people, is something that would be greatly eased if you didn’t have to look to one guild to do all of those things.

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15 thoughts on “Improving Roleplay: How to find other roleplayers?

  1. In terms of having good locations for roleplay, having player housing really helps. Much of the ongoing location based roleplay in EQ2 takes place in player houses that have been outfitted as pubs, theaters, etc, and have roleplaying there on a certain night. It works well because the regulars get to really know each other, and the same community floats around several such establishments each week, which helps continuing storylines. Also these houses keep out NPCs and players who just want to disrupt the proceedings.

  2. The idea of allowing characters to belong to multiple guilds would change so many things for the better. Even, as you say, for non-roleplayers. Why can’t my character be in a crafting guild for when he is crafting, and a raiding guild for when he is raiding?

    LOTRO also lets you set a flag to change the color of your name, which helps a lot.

    But y’know what the most reliable ‘flag’ I’ve found as a way to find other role-players? Walking. If you see a character walking, rather than running, they’re almost certainly a role-player.

    My WoW days are long behind me, but I recall there was some kind of mod that really supported role-playing nicely. It gave you a place to right a character description, and flags for whether you were currently playing in-character or not. The nice thing was, only other players running the mod would see this stuff, so it didn’t impact non-rp’ers.

    Some of my favorite RP events happened in the “empty” taverns in Stormwind…

    Now that I’m in LOTRO (on the US Landroval server) Bree & the Prancing Pony seems to be a big rp hub. Some evenings its fun to just sit and watch, even if you’re not in the mood to actually join in…

  3. Great post, Spinks. I’m slowly coming to the realization that I would RP in MMORPGs if the facilities were there. I already name my characters with realistic names; I even occasionally have backstories.

    Unfortunately, the Achiever in me typically eclipses any shred of RP after I log on.

  4. What would you think about RP enforcing mechanics? Such as language filters that convert what you type as you type it e.g. “Hi peeps, what’s shakin’?” -> “Hail fellows, how dost ye fair?” So you don’t necessarily have to know how, but the game does it a bit for you?

    Or something like RP points, which can be gained when performing actions that your character would do. Such as donating items/gold to the church if you’re a paladin.

    I’ve always thought that if the character builder for a game doesn’t have a good name generator than it’s probably not going to be more of an adventure game than RPG.

    • I’d see both of those things as tools. They work better as enablers rather than enforcers.

      I know in DaoC I had guildies who loved that you could set macros up to effectively implement your own RP filter (so it would translate rofl as *laughs aloud*, for example), so that you could pretend everyone else on the server was roleplaying when actually they were just doing regular player stuff.

      I’d rather get away from this notion that RP requires really stilted language and leave it to people’s choice how they talk. It also doesn’t cater for people who want to put on an accent. But as an optional switch I’m neutral to it.

      I quite like the idea of being motivated to do things that your character would do, but I don’t know if giving out points is the right way to do it. As soon as you assign points to something, people want to game it. I need to think more about this, it’s actually quite tricky to reward people for roleplaying. The other way is to let other people vote and that’s subject to cliquiness.

  5. I wonder whether RP tools can sometimes be counter-productive in the long run, at least partially, if they lead to too much RP self-segregation.

    My best ever RP experience was in early SWG (though that game was seriously flawed in other respects) and some of the best experiences came when engaging people in town or just outside it that weren’t even RP (it helped that Star Wars is very accessible lore that everyone knows at least a little bit).

    But when player-cities with full transportation and admin rights and everything went in the game, much of that was lost. Additionally, since the RP became essentially invitation-only (literally or by guild/city membership), I suspect that in the long run recruitment became more difficult — new players had to lookup _out of game_ where RP might be going on since they no longer had any chance of randomly encountering it.

    (I admit, however, being less than sure on these points, SWG having been a problematic MMO in many ways, not just its RP history.)

  6. You guys don’t have a /where? FFXI has a /sea command which would list all the people in a specific zone. It wasn’t perfect because it truncated results beyond a point, but you could easily get a headcount of people, and in a specific, smaller zone see everyone who is there.

    For multiple guilds, it wont work. What happens is your player will stay mostly on his social and endgame shell, and not be on the RP one much. The point of an RP one though is to have roleplaying in the guild chat, despite being separated by distance. If you don’t, you shouldn’t have an RP guild at all except for announcements; you might as well just open roleplay in events once a week or so.

    The tags idea is pretty good, but you might just want to have a searchable database instead. Have a mini-search engine in game that people register to roleplay on, and link it to the /search command. FFXI had search comments, but no one read them much. But like a /sea Roleplayers lvl1-50 would bring up all roleplaying people levels 1-50 in the world. /sea “E Ronafure” Roleplayers would bring up all RPGers in the area East Ronafure.

    Anakh:

    Player Housing unfortunately seems to be segregated onto a separate server in most MMOs now-it worked in older games because they didn’t do that, but most now you really can’t wander in an area with signs and pubs-you have to switch to the player area and maybe even need to know who’s “room” to go to.

    Lyressa:

    It would be a huge undertaking, and then you’d just have people using symbols to break it like any other ch%at f1lter.

    The RP points thing-a problem is that it leads to the developers sanctioning styles. If you want to play a paladin that has lost his faith, being forced to donate to a church to get points for whatever reason is majorly OOC. You’d have to really make a whole system of mechanics for that. It would be interesting to see a MMO that rewards based on in-character self-defined actions instead of killing mobs and exp.

    • Yup, no ‘where’. The /who command will let you search by a zone name though. (eg. /who westfall)

      I was thinking of a /where which would just return a neat table of the 10 most populated areas, with how many players in each. And maybe a separate switch for designated hangouts (eg. /where hangout)

  7. I’ve always thought that RP spaces in MMO need to be more exclusionary.

    The problem with RP servers in WOW is that to non-RPers there is no reason to not roll there.

    One suggestion I’ve made is an experience reduction on RP servers. So people will only play on them if they want to RP enough to take a hit to character effectiveness.

    I don’t think positive methods to enable RPers to find other RPers is sufficient if loads of people who aren’t able to RP also turn up and spoil it.

    Alternatively you can design a game from the ground up to give players niches (eg cop players, robber players) that drive story because of the way they interact.

  8. With the exception of some cities’ designs, WoW is horribly unconducive to roleplay, and I think this is the main reason I largely gave up on doing so. What it really requires is a strong community of RPers dedicated to doing the grunt work to make the server even remotely immersive. Quite a tall order!

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