Mastering Role Play: Text Based RP
If “in person” roleplay is too intimidating. Start with text-based.
What do I love most about Tabletop Roleplaying games (TTRPG)? Unfortunately its not the Roleplaying: It’s the nitty-gritty mechanics and combat strategy. I like figuring out the math behind building a character, and planning with my party members how to take out that beefy boss.
As it turns out, however, roleplaying is perhaps even more important for a TTRPG. If it wasn’t, I might as well go play a video game.
Here’s the thing… roleplaying scares me. It makes me uncomfortable even after I have run games almost weekly for over a year. It’s my least favorite part of the Pathfinder campaign I’m currently running. And while I like the idea of being someone I’m not, of stepping out of my personality for a few hours a week, I still find it extremely disconcerting to do it in front of other people (or on discord, as it may be). For whatever reason, it’s difficult for me to break the reality of who I am. Hopefully I will get there, however, because it is one of the most important parts of being a good DM.
Text RP: Writing the Story
Even before I started officially DMing, I did a text-based adventure with one of my players. It was our “Session Zero” where we established his backstory. Since we were both “obligated with other duties” throughout the day, it was necessary we do it solely through text. It was here I discovered the wonder of text-based roleplay (TBRP). As a writer, it was not so much that I was forgoing my personality to act as someone else, but rather putting various characters down on “paper” in real time.
There are definitely a lot of benefits to supplementing your campaign with text-based roleplay.
Play Off Session
For many lovers of the game, playing once a week just isn’t enough. This is especially true for a really engaging campaign. I often do TBRP throughout the day with my players over discord. This allows them to engage in my world, story, and characters during their breaks at work, over lunch, or when they’re just looking for something to do. This allows some personalized development without taking the time in session to do it, and it also moves the story along in ways it wouldn’t if everything was done in-session.
Just be careful you’re offering the opportunity to everyone, and no one should get major money or rewards from off-session roleplay. If they do, find a way to compensate the rest of the group in-session as soon as possible.
It’s always annoying when you’re in the middle of an intense battle or a serious, plot-revealing piece of roleplaying and one of your players steps out to go to the bathroom or mysteriously goes silent. Life happens, naturally, but in vocal roleplaying its expected that everyone is there to step in when its their turn.
In my group we have an explicit understanding that, when engaging in TBRP, you respond when you can. Sometimes it takes a whole week between sessions to get through one conversation, but that’s OK. Text-based roleplay can be more flexible, and that definitely relieves the pressure of having to know what to say right away.
Good Writing Practice
Even though I’ve considered myself a “writer” for longer than I’ve been playing D&D, engaging in TBRP has definitely improved my quality of writing. Not only has it helped me develop more complex characters, plots, and writing structure, it has improved my spelling, grammar, and dialogue as well.
This is beneficial for people who don’t consider themselves writers, too.
An Introvert’s Dream
I think the biggest reasons I don’t like “live roleplay” has a lot to do with my introversion: I’m shy, need to think a lot before speaking, feel uncomfortable putting myself “out there”, and have never really enjoyed talking.
But like many introverts, writing is just so much easier for me. It makes it less daunting for the ideas in my head to be communicated to others. TBRP is a great way for introverts to start practicing roleplay, and its likely that the more they do it, the better they will become at live roleplay. If you have a shy introvert (or two, or three) in your group, maybe suggest a session completely run through text.
There’s definitely a few disadvantages to text-based roleplay, however:
The very flexibility that leads to a low pressure engagement in TBRP can also lead to incredibly stagnant or awkwardly paused story progressions. It may be the expectation going in, but there is still a sense of annoyance when you’re waiting up to a day to wait for someone to respond before you can move on in the conversation.
While roleplaying through text can definitely improve your writing ability, you do need to know the basics to do it in the first place. If you have no idea how to structure a sentence, or your spelling is so atrocious no one can understand what you’re saying, you and your group probably won’t get anything out of TBRP. Even in a culture where “txt speak” and abbreviations are commonly accepted, in a roleplaying setting it’s usually more appropriate to use the best quality of writing possible.
“Wait….how many feet away am I from him.”
“No, I meant I was in the other corner.”
“Who’s turn is it in initiative again?”
To be frank, trying to do combat over text SUCKS. Theater of the mind is one thing, but trying to keep track of everything on discord (or wherever) is just a mess. Furthermore, if you’re missing some of your players because you’re playing off-session, the others might feel like they’re missing out if you do combats or rewards. So while TBRP may be a good way progress some story elements and character development, it’s usually not geared towards combat, and giving loot to only some of the players usually leads to feelings of resentment from the rest of the party.
Have you tried TBRP?