In article about text-based role-playing, a chair and a lit computer screen in a dark room

In Text-Based Role-Playing Games, the Only Limit Is Your Imagination

Writing RPGs can be just as fun and immersive as tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons.
December 30, 2020
6 mins read

As the year comes to an end, you may be in search of a hobby that offers the perfect, temporary escape without requiring strenuous attention to detail. And while writing is not everyone’s cup of tea, online text-based role-playing is a source of entertainment that can help you spend time with friends while using your imagination.

What Is text-based role-playing?

Text-based role-playing is exactly what its title implies: role-play that happens over text. Unlike tabletop role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, which traditionally require the player to fill out long character sheets and sit around a tabletop, text-based role-playing can be easy and quick. This can be especially helpful when it’s difficult to schedule in-person meetups.

Just like any other role-playing game, text-based role-playing requires the player to embody a fictional character and control them throughout the experience. Many text-based role-playing games take place in a fantasy setting to add that necessary element of wonder and escape. However, if people want to avoid fleshing out the fantasy world and stick with something simple, an alternative Earth will suffice.

To begin the text-based role-playing experience, two people, a small gaming community or a group of friends typically begin with a plot. For starters, it can be something relatively basic, like a group of adventurers aiming for a common goal but harboring different intentions. The potential for conflict between multiple characters can make a plot interesting. For people who are looking to jump straight into a fleshed-out world with a deeper and immersive plot, creating a world should be their first objective. Whichever option someone decides to go with, a wonderful journey will unfold.

Text-based Role-Playing Types

Text-based role-playing is versatile when it comes to different writing styles; it solely depends on what someone is looking for. If you’re looking for simple and quick interactions, one-lining is arguably the easiest approach. This typically entails writing a sentence. However, although quick, the interaction may be somewhat stale and meaningless if not given the proper foundation and purpose.

Next on the list of styles is half-paragraph role-playing, or “semi-para,” where a role-player writes more than one sentence but less than a paragraph. Similar to one-lining, semi-para role-play is quick. However, it allows for more evocative interaction and imagery, instead of pure back-and-forth dialogue and simple events.

“Para” role-playing involves writing a paragraph — typically five sentences long or more. If you want to write something not too short but not too long, para role-playing may be the perfect middle option. Para role-playing is a good fit for those who want to make a greater impact on the scene’s direction, imagery and purpose.

Last but not least, “multi-para” role-playing consists of writing multiple paragraphs for an interaction. Although many individuals claim that this writing style provides the best progression for the plotline, length does not dictate the quality of the posts. Some multi-para role-playing can get confusing, especially when more people are part of one scene. However, if done carefully, multi-para role-playing scenes can be momentous, like a chapter to a beautiful novel.

Each writing style has its own benefits and drawbacks, and some people alternate between them. Creativity has no boundaries, so the length of the paragraphs you and your friends write does not determine whether or not you can write something delightful.

Text-based Role-Playing Rules and Etiquette

Many role-playing communities have their own set of rules and regulations that role-players must follow, but a few are almost universal.

A common rule in action-packed role-plays is the banning of god-modding, which is when a character is immune to the limitations and influence of the world or other characters. To avoid anyone playing “God” and ruining the plot, god-modding is typically discouraged.

Controlling another person’s character is not ideal in many text-based role-playing situations. Every player creates their own agenda and potential endgame for their character. Thus, killing or controlling someone else’s character without permission would ruin the experience.

During a scene, when someone has a question about what happened or something more general, they would usually bring it Out of Character, or “OOC.” To not break the immersion in a scene, bring any unrelated conversations into private messages or place the text in brackets to let the other people know that you are not talking in character.

Knowing the plot and its general direction is just as important as every other general rule. You do not want to be the wizard in a world with no fantasy elements or the cowboy in a futuristic setting. Knowing the theme and plot the role-play aims for is good etiquette, because there is a time and place for everything.

The Stigma Behind Role-play

Like many other hobbies, text-based role-playing is meant to be harmless fun. While some say that role-playing is for kids, not adults, I disagree. Through the use of imagination, people can weave a world together, create complex characters and exercise creativity through beautiful sentences. Like theater, text-based role-playing can entail embodying a character with a personality different from your own.

Role-playing can be a stress reliever for those looking for a quick getaway. If friends are uninterested in taking part, there are plenty of writing communities on many different platforms that will accept someone who wants to get involved. Through mutual support from fellow role-players and writers alike, one may also improve their writing style and writing skills. There are also several role-playing simulators, such as AI Dungeon, if you would like to get started by yourself. Just like how a plotline can contain endless possibilities, text-based role-playing is limitless.

Sammi Looi, Baruch College

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Sammi Looi

Baruch College

Sammi is a SEEK student at Baruch College, majoring in psychology and minoring in English. Currently, she serves as a copy editor for her college newspaper, The Ticker.

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