It is well known and accepted that there is no one set in stone method for roleplaying in the MMORPG genre. I’ve been roleplaying in various games since 1980, and I have come to see that there are as many ways to RP as there are roleplayers. Each individual game that allows for RP has done so in their own way, and to various degrees. So, it would be futile to try to list every possible way players roleplay their characters. Still, we roleplayers do have a few unique marks that quickly identify us and set us apart from the crowd.
Taking a good look at my fellow roleplayers in the four MMORPGs I play, and across many other RPGs I’ve played, I see a vast number of ways we display our RP talents, way too many to count. Yet, I think these methods may all be categorized under four main traits that we focus on – speech, actions, interactions, and look – and are very easily remembered with the acronym SAIL.
Your character’s speech is probably the first thing about them that makes contact with other players. It is also the quickest way to clue them in to the fact your are roleplaying your character. Many MMORPGs have a multitude of chat channels built in to facilitate communication between players, and these channels are usually focused on one important game element. RP is one such element, and often has a number of channels devoted to it. So whether you type text into a General or Trade or Looking For Fellowship chat channel, roleplayers and non-roleplayers alike will instantly know whether what you typed was in character or out of character.
So, is there one certain method how roleplayers should or shouldn’t chat across all those various channels? Of course not. The way that works best for you is the way you should choose, provided it doesn’t interfere with others players’ RP ability. There are often general guidelines for RP speech when grouped with other players, and also often depend on where the group is currently located, whether it be in town, out in the wilds, or deep within a dungeon or instance. Guilds often have preferred ways and separate channels set up for IC and OOC chat, as often do the game servers themselves. It should, however, be expected and condoned that all chat across every chat channel on game servers designated for RP should be IC, as this would make for an incredibly vibrant and much more mature RP atmosphere.
Local vocals, or how your character talks in game to other characters in the vicinity, is another way to RP mark your character. It’s a simple thing to keep in mind: orcs should sound like orcs, hobbits should sound like hobbits, and on and on, depending on the race of the character in play. Also keep in mind that RP speech should adhere to the realm and setting in which the game is set. I simply cannot understand it when a troll or elf approaches my character for conversation and spouts off something completely void of vowels and punctuation. There is a place for real world leet speak, and that is the real world, not a world of swords or laser rifles.
Character actions are another vital part of how we show our RP to the worlds in which we play. Another very quick way to pick a roleplayer out of a crowd is to see which characters are walking through the towns in your favorite MMORPGs. This is almost always a subtle sign roleplayers use to notify other players they are roleplaying and are open to RP contact. Walking is not of course the only action that can do this. Maybe you have a character who constantly talks to his pet, to himself, or to invisible 400 pound pink gorilla friend named Alfred. Anything that is a part of your character’s personality could be displayed, even if it’s mostly through emotes and macros. Many MMORPGs have a detailed number of physical emotes available, like dance, cheer, smoke, laugh, cry, and so on. Watch your character while experimenting with the list available in your favorite game, find one that may compliment your character’s personality, and use it as often as you like.
How your character interacts with other characters is another integral part to the whole RP process. Within this is a part I sadly see many roleplayers missing, and that is interacting with NPCs in game. Both are prime opportunities for RP, limited only by the players’ imaginations. Roleplayers greet each other according to their characters’ personality, and continue IC throughout the conversation. They may know the other character well enough to say or do things that only they understand, like talking in a language that only they understand, or using a special handshake known only to their clan. I have one character in WoW that greets and says farewell to another character with an ear pull. Be inventive, but also respectful, and be aware that not every player is an adult (in one way or another) in these games.
I’m not sure about what’s considered rude on non-RP servers, but I feel it’s very rude on any server for a character to cold contact another character with a guild invite, fellowship invite, duel challenge, open a Trade window (on purpose that is, as I’ve done it many times on accident), or even outright asking for gold in an obvious non-RP way. It is most easy to simply ignore a character who pops up with events like these, but that’s not a proper RP way either. I reply in character, which either makes them go away, or rephrase their offer in a more acceptable RP fashion, which I am always happy to see.
In WoW, General Marcus Jonathan sits astride his horse before the entrance to Stormwind. Did you know, if you target him and /salute, he will turn to face you, return the salute, and say “Greetings, citizen.”? In LotRO, throughout the Shire, the Bounders will greet your character with a friendly “Hello, Bounder Holo!” (or whatever your character’s name is) once you have completed the quests to attain the title of Bounder. Point is, quality game designers put an immense amount of work into creating a living, breathing world for us to play in. Yet, many players are too busy running everywhere trying to ‘win’ the game, or just choosing to simply ignore the beauty and skill making up their surroundings. Roleplayers learn about such things, and add them into their own RP style as they see fit, which in turn helps to evolve the game for them above and beyond what is merely visible.
All the above certainly give roleplayers their own look, but we are not always content with just that. We very often make available choices according to our sense of fashion, and equip our characters with clothes, armor, weapons, and other trinkets to better match the character’s personality. One important factor many roleplayers take to heart is looking beyond any race / class / level considerations for what may or may not be best for them, and garb themselves ever how they see fit. With the thousands of available armaments, armor, and clothing to be found, why is it so common to see more than a few characters dressed very much alike? Simply un-equipping weapons or exchanging a battle helm for an old worn hat while walking through town is a small yet very visible act of RP. Then, of course, there are those special occasions where a change of outward appearance is not only welcomed but often warranted, such as weddings, festivals, or some non-combat RP event. Again, the possibilities here are expansive, limited only to what items can be found in game.
As always, these are only tips and examples from my mind, written here for any who might benefit from the spark of RP creativity I hope it brings. Feel free to share your own thoughts about setting SAIL in your favorite MMORPGs in the Comments section here, or by emailing me directly at [email protected]. Until next time, role on!