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Proper Table Manners

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By Wes Platt

Our virtual stage holds much potential for chaos.

Get 12 players in one room and try to maintain a semblance of order.

It's possible, but it's rather difficult.

Of course, it's also easy for a room with just a few players to fall into chaos if people don't have a grasp of the etiquette involved in a roleplaying situation.

Etiquette? Holy hell, you may be thinking. I just want to play a game! Why should I have to comply with a bunch of dogmatic rules and regulations? What are you people? SNOBS?!

Well, no. We're not snobs. Mostly. All right, some roleplayers really can be snobbish. But the good roleplayers - the polite roleplayers - can be snobbish without being rude. The etiquette goes both ways, you see.

So, before diving into an online roleplaying game, let's cover some basic rules of etiquette:

- The issue of pose order. In a scene, the wheels can really come off if people are posing without any real organized approach. Some newcomers fall into a shotgun-effect sort of trap, in which they say or pose things one line at a time, regardless of whether it might be someone else's turn to pose or speak in the scene. It would look something like this:

Bob turns to Ed and asks, "What do you think about all this?

Tom says, "I've got a car."

Tom says, "It's a nice car."

Ed looks toward Bob and says, "I'm trying not think too much about it."

Tom says, "You want to borrow my car?"

Tom says, "It's a really nice car. It's better than your car. Borrow my car."

In the above example, Tom hasn't been brought into the conversation, yet he's going on about the car without paying any heed to the fact that he's stomping all over the scene. He's like a kid tracking mud across a nicely polished floor.

Here's a better way for the scene to play out:

Bob turns to Ed and asks, "What do you think about all this?"

Ed looks toward Bob and says, "I'm trying not to think too much about it."

Tom says, "I've got a car."

Bob looks at Tom, eyebrow lifting. "That'd help."

I'm a big proponent of pose order in small group scenes. But I think it's a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible idea to require a strict adherence to the concept of pose order in a massive group scene, such as a large gathering in a public tavern. Taverns are noisy. That's the point. That said, I think with players sitting at different tables in a tavern, the players at each table should have their own pose order within the scene to avoid a complete spiral into utter chaos. So, instead of requiring everyone to wait for each individual player to pose in a cycle regardless of table, establish a pose order at your table.

Another option would be to create a table-based pose order: Treat each table as if it were a "character" in the scene, and assign it a place in the pose order. Each pose would come from a different table in a specific order. This may be a more acceptable compromise for roleplayers who prefer more order even in a tavern, but I wouldn't want to call this mandatory.

- OOC chatter. Keep this to a minimum, especially during larger group scenes and major RP events. If a referee is in the room, keep discussions with that person to pages. If you think you've got something really funny to share with other players - perhaps a pun comes to mind based on another player's pose - then use the multipage feature (or OOC channels or instant messenger software) to share a laugh with your friends. It's tough enough to keep track of what's going on in some of these major scenes with the normal pose spam without compounding the situation with a lot of OOC chatter. In small doses, OOC chatter can be useful as a tension breaker and a community builder. But if not kept in relative check, it can derail the mood of a scene and break everyone's sense of immersion.

- Powergaming. Learn this one, folks. It's critical. Few things raise the hackles of roleplayers like this one. Do not powergame. Powergaming involves a player's presumption that a certain outcome is guaranteed just because they say so. For example:

Bob draws a gun and shoots Ed in the belly, killing him.

No. No. No. A thousand times: No. Don't do this. Let me repeat: Don't do this. It's okay, if the circumstances warrant it, to try and shoot another character, assuming you've got a gun and justification to use it. But the pose that would properly initiate such a sequence of events would start like this:

Bob draws his gun, trying to aim and fire quickly at Ed's belly.

This would allow for two things. First, a referee would be able to judge the scene, asking Bob to test his weapons skill against Ed's ability to dodge the shot. Second, Ed would have the opportunity to pose attempting to evade the gunfire, like so:

Ed sees the gun drawn. Eyes widening, mouth falling open, he tries to leap out of the line of fire.

When I run a scene, I prefer to tell players the outcome of their skill rolls and then let them pose the outcome. So, in this case, let's say Bob succeeds in shooting Ed. Bob's next in the pose order, so now he could definitively pose something like this:

Bob squeezes the trigger, and the bullet hurtles inexorably toward Ed's stomach, dead on target.

We've determined Ed won't dodge, and he's not wearing any protective gear, so this gut shot is going to leave him in a world of hurt. We let him pose, and it looks like this:

Ed takes the shot in the belly as he's jumping - just a second too late, it seems - and he looks simultaneously agonized and surprised as he falls into a sprawling, bloody mess on the floor.

Another subtle form of powergaming is the inner thought pose. Now, poses that feature a player's internal dialogue are a matter of personal taste. I avoid it, simply because it's not the sort of information another player could use without looking like they're violating IC/OOC sanctity. But it's the cup of tea for quite a few players who like doing it to flesh out their storytelling skills. Fine. But I draw the line at inner thought poses like this:

Bob stares at Ed, wondering how that moron ever got this job.

In my opinion, this is just as bad as posing a successful gunshot as a foregone conclusion. Bob gets to insult Ed without any possibility of IC repercussions. That's not fair. If you want to insult someone, either say it out loud in the scene or express your disdain through posed body language. Grimace at Ed. Roll your eyes at Ed. Offer an exasperated sigh. If you give some indication that you're peeved with Ed, then Ed can take the opportunity to respond.

Powergaming defeats the purpose of roleplaying, which is creative interaction in a shared storytelling environment. If you want to powergame, consider single-player adventure games or write a novel. Both are valid pursuits. But keep it out of the more fluid, dynamic environment of a text-based multiplayer roleplaying game.

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