Rp Style Guide

Roleplaying Style Guide

This document is a resource for both new and veteran players on the style of roleplay in my games.
My games are typically IRC roleplaying games (IRC RPGs), meaning that they take place on an irc room. Roleplaying via IRC has a different style and set of expectations compared to roleplaying in person or on a forum. This document will outline the style as used in my games, as well as offer a series of best practices and discouraged practices that folks would do well to follow.

The Basic Structure of an IRC Game

In my games, every game has at least two IRC rooms (‘channels’) set aside for it: an out-of-character (‘OOC’) room, and an in-character (‘IC’) room.

  • The OOC room is dedicated to OOC discussion about the game, and is also where all of the mechanical actions take place. For example, if you want to roll dice, you roll them in the OOC room; if you want to talk player to player, you do it in the OOC room (or by query).
  • The IC room is dedicated to the actual writing of the roleplay itself. Here we use character voices and write the story itself in prose. For example, if you want to pose your character doing something, you do it in the IC room.
    • It is possible that there will be multiple roleplays going on at once for the same game. In this case, it is common to create extra rooms, so that the roleplays don’t become all tangled up. In this case, the extra rooms have the exact same name as the IC room, but with an extra number added to the end, for example: #persona is the basic IC room, but #persona2 is the second IC room. (You don’t add a 1 to the original room).

Writing in-character in an IRC Game

This section deals with the real nuts and bolts of writing in-character in one of my IRC games. When roleplaying as your character, you should ‘nick over’, meaning change your name to the character’s name. It doesn’t have to be their whole name, and a nickname is fine too.

  • Poses: The basic block of writing in-character is a ‘pose’. A pose is considered to be all the writing you can fit within a single stroke of the enter key. Poses are (usually) written in regular third-person pose, with you writing what the character is doing. Spoken dialogue is always given within quotation marks. Other forms of dialogue are given in other ways- for example, telepathic dialogue is spoken with {} serving as quotation marks: {Listen to me}, for example. Using the /me command is perfectly fine for a pose if it begins with your character’s name. When using emphasis, for example bolding or italicising, bracket bolded phrases with a pair of asterisks on each side; italicised phrases should be bracketed with a pair of forward slashes on each side. The ideal time it takes to write a single pose is between one to three minutes.
    • Example of a Pose: <Yanmei> "The blue one is for Ikari. -Shinji-." It was very important to stress that. She didn't feel like passing out gifts to the rest of the family. The idea made her -sick- now. "The white one is yours." She held out the gift bags.
    • Example of a pose with /me: * Aline sighed. "You could have just said his first name, you know." She… did pause, though. "Let's go to the lounge. This thing'll break if I'm not careful with it." She wagged the little red gift bag.
  • GM Pose: A GM Pose is any pose written by a GM. They are used to communicate NPC speech as well as frame a setting. GM Poses are typically rather important, and so to stand out they are often framed in a particular way to differentiate them from a player’s pose. I will frame all of my poses in square brackets when making a GM Pose.
    • Example of a GM Pose: <Minaplo> ["'Cause we're stuck on a barren iceball with a broken ship?"]
  • Long Poses: A Long Pose is when you spread a pose across multiple strokes of the enter key. Long Poses are used in IRC for particularly wordy poses where the pose might become a bit of a brick of text, allowing you to spread the pose out across multiple entries, breaking it up a little. Long Poses are also used for dramatic effect, such as breaking up a line right before a dramatic reveal. A Long Pose ends in a ‘-‘. Long poses can take up to around five minutes, sometimes more if particularly dramatic.
    • Example of a Long Pose: <Yanmei> "I'd be no better than those two. Or worse, the people who made Asuka and Jerkface and Atticus suffer so much. But hell… those were probably the same people, right?"-_
    • Yanmei leaned back a little. "Since you're so good at telling me how I should feel about things, why don't you tell me how I should feel about the MP-Pilots too? I would appreciate it oh so much."
  • Long Pose Interruption: Generally speaking, if a fellow player is writing a Long Pose, it’s courtesy to let them finish it. But sometimes you will want to interrupt or interject. As a common courtesy, ask the player about it first in ooc- ‘Hey, mind if I interrupt?’. If they’re alright with it, you can go and throw your thing into the room.
    • I’m Gonna Kick Your Ass, GM! Corollary: As a GM, I tend to do long poses quite often. However, to free folks from having to be purely reactive to these, you’re free to invoke the right to Kick my Ass and interrupt a GM Long Pose whenever you like without prior permission. There will be moments when I’ll revoke the right to Kick my Ass, but I’ll actively tell people when I’m no longer going to let my ass be kicked.
  • Probes: A Probe is a special kind of pose that’s done in query (ie. Private messaging) directly between a GM and a player. A GM requests a probe by querying the player and going ‘probe’. A Probe is a request by the GM to hear the player’s character’s inner thoughts and emotional state. Probes shouldn’t be very long- they can usually be a single line and a few words. It doesn’t even have to be in-character. It’s common for people to use brackets in Probes to separate their dialogue from their normal query writings.
    • Example of a Probe: <Aline> [Curiosity, but possibly some analysis.] "So she wants to destroy the Enemy, or at least defeat it. The chance to /overcome/ but then /command/ Destiny… That wasn't really far from my own theories. …the lengths she goes to are almost insane, and the idea of Jeremiah even touching Destiny's helm makes my fucking blood boil…"
    • Example of a Probe: <Sept> Sera doesn't know how to be worried about Freya yet, since she's still a pillar and Critical Person <Sept> but he's def happy to have her back
    • Example of a Probe: <Yanmei> ["Help out" in more ways than one~~ Honestly, they just needed to make out.]
  • Whisper Pose: A Whisper Pose is simply a pose that takes place in query. It is usually used to refer to dialogue that other folks can’t hear, like a whisper, texting or telepathy. Note that this means you might end up exchanging information that the GM can’t see and doesn’t know is happening- it’s usually polite to inform the GM that you are communicating somehow. You do not need to share the GM the transcripts, though, unless they explicitly ask for it.
    • Example of a Whipser Pose: <Kayoko> [{Moth-… Mum? You out there?}]
  • Combat Pose: A Combat Pose is a pose that highlights combat actions- which usually start as mechanical decisions (‘I attack the enemy’), which you then dress up as prose. Typically, posing every single action one takes in combat becomes tiresome and makes for poor reading, so we try to only do combat posing for particularly thrilling, impressive or dramatic scenes.

Sessions, Mini-Sessions and Showcases

This section defines a Session, a Mini-Session and a Showcase, and the purpose and expectation of each.

  • Sessions: Sessions are the formal, setpiece occasions when the game is run. They’re the major pillars on which the game sits, because sessions advance main plots and handle major decisions for the game. Sessions have an official time slot, meaning they, ideally, always start at the same time every week. They involve all of the players as well as the GM. If you are unable to attend a session, inform the GM at the earliest possible convenience (for this purpose, you should have the GM’s phone number so you can shoot them a text if necessary). Similarly, if the GM has to delay a session, they should let you know as soon as possible.
    • You should endeavour to have your character sheet fully updated an hour before the session begins.
    • Sessions may or may not be cancelled due to player absense depending on the size of the game. If it’s a game with four or five players, then the game will usually be run if one person is absent- unless, of course, the GM deems that person to be critical to the session.
    • Sessions typically run for several hours, usually between three to six hours, so keep that in mind. Sometimes, we’ll reach the end of a session and the GM will decide that we haven’t concluded the events fully. In this case, the GM will try to organise a make-up session sometime throughout the following week, but if that isn’t possible then the GM will have to continue the same events in the next session.
  • Mini-Sessions: Also known as Minis, Interludes, ‘Ludes (or occasionally ‘Lewds depending on the characters), Mini-Sessions are more informal roleplaying sessions held between major sessions. Mini-sessions rarely involve all of the players, instead being between a few players, or a player (or players) and the GM. Unlike Sessions, Minis usually revolve around advancing a character’s personal story, developing them as people and/or fleshing out their relationships with others. Minis are scheduled whenever the involved people have the time and inclination.
    • The importance of minis varies with games. In many games, Minis are fascinating and valued for their ability to flesh out the characters, but are not strictly speaking critical. In other games, Minis can form the emotional core of the game on their own.
    • Be bold and active when it comes to minis. Make time for them! Try to be the one to strike up the conversation instead of letting offers come to you.
    • Minis work best when they have clarity of purpose and are concise. The ideal mini shouldn’t take more than a single sitting to finish. In fact, once a mini takes longer than a single sitting, its chances of being finished diminish quite a lot. Thus, before a mini begins, you and your partner(s) should discuss: what is the mini’s purpose? (What are you both hoping to get out of it?) You should also know when to end a mini- don’t let it drag on for its own sake.
    • You do not need a GM’s permission to mini. And I as your GM will never interrupt or shut down a mini unless the circumstances are absolutely drastic.
  • Showcases: Showcases are mini-sessions with only a single participant. They’re almost always GM-only, although players are welcome to do them as well.

IRC RPG Best Practices

This step outlines what I consider to be good, healthy behaviour for an IRC RPG. They’re generally suggestions that I feel improve the game and improve your experience when playing the game.


This is a vital idea. Talk to your fellow players and your GM about the game. If you have concerns about the game, your part in it or the GM’s conduct, tell someone. I aim to be an open GM who listens to the feedback and concerns of the players. Similarly, aim to be open to feedback yourself! But don’t just talk about feedback- share hopes for your characters, ideas on the plot, and whatever occurs to you.

Be encouraging.

When you think a fellow player or your GM has done something cool, neat or interesting, let them know. If a fellow player is feeling sensitive or worried about their contribution to the game, set them straight!

Adopt a casual demeanour.

These games are meant to be played for fun and for the joy of creating a story with other people. Remember that the IRC RPG exists as a digital version of what used to be a group of people sitting around a table. There’s certain things you ought to take seriously- keeping track of time and scheduling, making sure your character is up to date, keeping the rhythm of the game going- but otherwise, you should try to take things easy. Crack jokes! Link appropriate music in the OOC! You should try to get into the mindset of the game as something that you do for entertainment and for the joy of creation- if it starts to feel more like an obligation, then it’s time to communicate with the GM. The OOC atmosphere is as important as the IC roleplay.

Be a bit of a fuckup from time to time.

Why is this idea here? Because every so often one of us, including the GM, is going to make a mistake. They will do something of a fuckup. It could be a typo in a pose, forgetting a fact, losing track of a conversation, talking to the wrong NPC… It’s going to happen. This idea is here so people are reminded that they have permission to fuck up and in fact are encouraged to fuck up sometimes. Doing a bad isn’t a big deal, and it can actually be good for a game- it can keep the atmosphere casual, act as an ice breaker, and even highlight problems that aren’t being discussed.

Be bold in your games.

This idea means that you shouldn’t be afraid to be outlandish or take risks when it comes to your characters and your actions in the game. This doesn’t mean your characters should be brave, reckless or impulsive. Rather, there are people who play these games who often have big ideas that could have major effects on the game’s story and its world, or have to make decisions that could change everything- but often feel a degree of pressure to conform to less drastic outcomes, or their nerve doesn’t hold out long enough. This idea is here to give those people encouragement, to reassure them that it won’t be the end of the world, and the GM will still love them at the end of it. The big bold decisions are often what people remember first after everything is over.

The Midnight Amendments

  • Be cool.
  • C’mon.
  • Nice.

IRC RPG Discouraged Practices

This step outlines what I consider to be behaviour that can negatively impact an IRC RPG. These practices are usually ones that are done by several people, and it’s rarely if ever out of malice, but nonetheless is worth thinking about. These practices aren’t here to call people out (if a behaviour is only exhibited by one person, then it’s really more a personal issue than a game issue), but rather to encourage people to talk about these behaviours and try to see how they can improve.

Inviting yourself into a game.

This is a behaviour that can occur at the first stages of a game, when it is still being set up. Inviting oneself into a game simply means that someone thinks they’ve been accepted into the game before being given an explicit invitation by me.

As a GM, I treat my games as being ‘invite only’. The first step is asking the general crowd who is interested in playing it. This is where things can get confusing, because people can assume that this means they’ve been accepted into the game. It isn’t quite true: based on the level of interest and other things, I’ll then pick who I think works best for the game’s setting and goals, and invite them, usually using the words “I’m inviting you to this game”. Assuming that you’re in the game without this invitation means an awkward, painful conversation later, with a potential for offense.

Thinking of the game as a writing exercise.

Hey, why do we conduct our roleplaying games via a chat system charitably described as ‘classical’? Because we can’t afford air fare and we can’t do accents.

Okay, not really. There’s a certain charm in IRC roleplay, in that it draws on our writing skills, is convenient, can be easily logged and is exceptionally low cost. That said, however, IRC RPGs are a medium of their own, with unique strengths and complications, which means that people can sometimes fall into common pitfalls. These pitfalls can be summarised under the snappy, judgment-laden heading of “Thinking of the game as a writing exercise”.

Now, that doesn’t mean that writing skills are useless in IRC RPGs, nor does it mean that you’ll learn no writing craft from playing in them. What it means is that the environment and medium of an IRC RPG are different in a lot of ways from other writing exercises, such as writing a book or short story or fic or even forum RPGs. Especially forum RPGs, actually- even though they have a lot in common, IRC RPGs are a different beast, and that’s where the pitfalls come in.

The first thing about IRC RPGs is that they’re played with other people who have decided to put a block of time aside for the purpose of playing them. When writing a book or forum post, you can do a bit then come back later, or be done in half an hour. You can take your time with them. Simply by metric of how they’re run, IRC RPGs don’t have the same luxury. If a forum post is a stately game of chess, an IRC RPG is speed chess. Sometimes chess boxing. IRC RPGs have a major element of improvisation to them as well as time structure.

This means the rhythm of an IRC game is different to a writing exercise like the ones I’ve outlined. We only have a limited time in which to play, and everyone has their own things they want to contribute as well as their own goals. This means that an IRC RPG needs to move at a reasonable clip in order to keep things moving. Earlier, I said that the ideal time for a single pose is between one to three minutes. The reason for that is simple: if everyone begins taking about ten or fifteen minutes to put in poses, then it’s possible to end up spending an hour of time purely on the setup poses. This isn’t a hypothetical, either: I’ve had sessions where it’s taken an hour to do in writing what would’ve taken about five minutes to do if we were speaking on microphones or sitting around a table. Now those aren’t perfect comparisons- those are different mediums- but it shouldn’t take an hour, regardless. Once the rhythm becomes slow, people start becoming disengaged, and they become bored. They start doing other things to fill in the time, and that also slows the game down even further.

To this end, there’s a few suggestions to put out there as to how to improve this from a writing perspective:

Know the difference between a utility pose and a critical pose. Much of the content in an RP session will be what I call ‘utility poses’. These are poses that are there to establish details and keep the action moving. Think of them as the smooth lowlands, things you can travel quickly and easily over in between the big, dramatic mountains. (The mountains are the critical poses). A utility pose should have one or two straightforward goals and work towards those. Here’s an example:

  • <GM> [“What would you like to drink?” asked the host.]
  • <Tony> “I’ll have a beer, thanks.”

It’s simple and to the point. Which isn’t to say utility poses can’t have character- in fact, character can, should and will infuse utility poses once your character voice becomes second nature. The thing utility poses encourage you to do is to spread information and tells about your character across a broader spread of poses, instead of concentrating them in big blocky bricks of text. Here’s an example:

  • <GM> [“What would you like to drink?” asked the host.]
  • <Tony> “Uhh, shit. Hold on.” Tony fumbled through the menu. “A beer?”
  • <GM> [“Not a worry.” The host said. “And to eat?”]
  • <Tony> “Huh?” Tony looked a little lost- then back to the menu. “Just some chips, please.”
  • <GM> [“Of course, sir. Won’t be a minute.” Said the host, before leaving Tony alone at the table.]
  • * Tony leaned forward, elbows on the tabletop. He ceaselessly ran his fingers across his bruised knuckles.
  • <GM> [Customers came and went into the café, the host diligently moving from table to table.]
  • * Tony glanced over at the doors every few seconds. He licked his lips once or twice and every so often glanced at the face of the wall-mounted clock.

This exchange here establishes a quick rhythm of back-and-forth, with the player and GM playing off one another- the player wants to show that Tony is waiting for someone and is nervous about it, and the GM is obliging by throwing in some quick little environmental details that Tony’s player can play off.

This stuff is important because people are often worried about getting their poses right. Which is a good thing to want! They want things to read well. The thing to remember is that it’s pretty hard to fuck up a utility pose. A utility pose is good if it does its job, which is reveal certain info, explore a situation a little or advance the story towards a conclusion- and most utility poses will do that automatically simply due to the push of the rhythm. That means keeping to the flow of the story will make your writing better than thinking long and hard about your utility poses will.

The other reason why it’s important is what happens when utility poses become ponderous and try to do too much. For example:

  • <Bobby> “Hey, how’s the beer today?” Asked Bobby as he sat down opposite Tony. “You feel like sharing some chips with me? I’m starving.” He said, taking off his hat and putting it down on the table. “Hey, what happened to your knuckles?”

The thing with this pose is that Bobby is asking multiple questions at once. If you’re replying to this pose, what do you do? The most important question is the one about knuckles, but there’s value in seeing whether Tony and Bobby are on chip-sharing terms. Answering these questions in a single reply pose whilst keeping things brief is hard- and doesn’t leave you much space for character voice things. It also tends to be awkward dialogue: in real life, people who ask two or three questions without waiting for an answer come off as overexcited or pushy. People don’t usually ask a volley of questions and expect a volley of answers back unless they’re in court or a press conference.

The problem is that Bobby’s player isn’t necessarily at fault. If Bobby’s player is used to IRC RPGs where the turnaround on each pose is 10 to 20 minutes, then Bobby’s player is sooner or later going to feel like dedicating a single pose to one small talky question is a waste of time, because before long half an hour or more has passed on a conversation taking about forty seconds. The problem is that once this becomes the rhythm, it can be hard to break out of it. (As an aside, you see structures like this fairly frequently in forum roleplaying posts, for similar reasons.)

That’s all well and good, but how do you get into the mindset of keeping utility poses brief and quick? There isn’t an easy answer to that- it requires focusing and internalising the idea that the utility pose’s quality is not as important as its function- which is to get the rhythm moving.

(And if you think your GM is innocent of this, then you’d be wrong. This is as much a missive to himself as it is to the reader.)

Be careful with rewriting. Something I’ve seen a good deal of, especially recently, is people talking about their process of writing a pose- notably, plenty of folks engage in rewriting. Taking a pose and giving it a twice or three-times over, changing words, restructuring the sentence, deleting it and trying again. Most of us do rewriting a fair bit as we go, at the very least most of us spell-check our poses (and still miss a word here and there, myself included).

This ties into the utility pose problem above: most poses do not need to be rewritten beyond a typo check. Now, knowing how to rewrite your own words is important for longform writing- tightening up a sentence and ensuring flow. The problem is that we establish a rhythm by working with our fellow players moreso than we do with ensuring perfection. As a result, rewriting can actually harm IRC RPG writing quality moreso than it helps.

Which isn’t to say that rewriting is bad. Big critical poses? Rewrite until your heart’s content. But most poses don’t need it and most fellow players won’t care too much if it’s rewritten or not. Maybe you repeat a word a few times in a single pose (I do this quite a lot), for example? Your fellow players might notice and dwell on that for about two seconds before getting to replying.

Remember that this is still a textual medium, and at the end of the day, we upload our logs. If you feel like you want that rewriting experience or the desire to make your lines really pop, go back and edit the logs and tighten your poses there afterwards- which is more useful to you as a writing experience because at least you know how each line exists in a whole.

Long-term planning can be dicey. Most longform writing exercises rely on the idea that the author basically knows how the book, arc, chapter is going to end. IRC RPGers do not even know what the next line is going to be. The best thing to do is embrace the idea of broad-strokes long-term planning and, of course, communicating with your fellow players.

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