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Drama In Role Play: How Much Is Too Much?

By: Qai

These were originally written while role playing in WoW, but all of the general concepts and advice still very much apply. Even if you've been role playing for years, there are some things in here will likely help you develop even further.

While I take no credit for writing this guide, I cannot actually name the person who wrote it. It is a handbook that has been passed around for a little over 9 years now, the authors have changed (or at least user names) many times over. Though I thought it would be good to share for those who do actively or are interested in role playing.

Drama in Role Play: How much is too much?

Every story must have some conflict or drama to be interesting. When it involves Role Play, how much is too much?

Every player has their own tolerance threshold for character drama. Some are going to have a fairly high tolerance, some are going to have a fairly low one, and some it will depend on what they have recently been involved in, how believable the drama is, and how original it is. Personally, I only rarely create major dramatic threads for my characters. Why? Because they get real old, real fast. I rarely get involved in other people’s major plot lines. Why? Same reason.

Part of the problem with major Role Play threads is the time commitment. Most major drama threads require a commitment of time either in game or in written Role Play that many folks have trouble making. This is a busy world, things happen and the larger the storyline, the more people involved, the greater the chance that someone will have trouble meeting the time obligations due to real life.

There is also the interest factor. I can attest to the fact that after waiting for days on end for the next person to do their part, interest wanes. You want to move on, do other things, and spend your time on something that is moving rather than wasting it waiting.

Role Play Is For Fun

The one point I cannot stress enough is that Role Play is for fun. It is not supposed to feel like work. It is not supposed to create stress. It should leave all participants with the feeling that they enjoyed themselves. It should not leave anyone feeling bruised, angry, or in any other way stressed out.

I realize that many people find the long, drawn out, dramatic role plays fun but I ask you, for how long? For whom? Please stay tuned as I explain.

At one point in the Role Play community on my server there was a chick, we’ll call her Chiclet to protect her identity, that wasn’t content unless she was surrounded by huge dramatic Role Play. If there wasn’t huge drama going on that she could somehow switch the spotlight to her, she would create it. She became a bit of a joke among role players with her “weekly demon possession” and people quickly learned to avoid her.

Now there are many reasons why Chiclet became a joke. First off there was the overuse of old plots. She had been possessed by demons no less than four times that I am aware of. One possession well played (which I have never seen done) can be an interesting plot. More than that and people yawn and walk away. It’s too much! It is not believable and if it was poorly done the first time, the second and third won’t be any better.

Chiclet never allowed for down time either. It would be wave upon wave of huge dramatic Role Play. She was possessed, she was dying, she was pregnant, she was pregnant with a dying possessed catgirl… You get the idea. After a while, others get tired of expending their time and energy.

Finding the Line

There is a definite line in dramatic Role Play and some people are very good at not crossing it, others, not so good. The difficult part is finding that line in the first place.

Role Play is meant to mirror reality in many ways. Even though, for WoW, it is placed in a fantasy setting, the aspects of life, of believability are what draw people back. They want a glimpse of people, situations, places, creatures they will otherwise never see. They want a story to entertain them for a few hours here and there. They want to interact with that story and influence it and have it affect their characters in return.

Because this is a fantasy setting, we’re pushing the line of believability every day. However, you can push the setting believability line a lot further than you can push the character believability line. Characters should mirror life much closer than any other aspect of your story. Their life path and how they deal with it are the elements that will draw others back or repel them.

Life is full of ups and downs. I know for a fact that there are times when it feels like it is nothing but downs, but truly there are ups too. When looking at a character as portrayed in RP there are a few things to consider when planning their plot. First off, if you only give the character down moments, never any up moments, you’re going to turn others off really fast.

The character that is the perpetual downer that ONLY has bad things happen, has them happen three times a day, and is so traumatized by every single one of them that they can never be happy is not very interesting, people reading, or participating in, a story like for things to get better, like for the character to have ups as well as downs. After all, if nothing ever gets better, what is the point in trying? People don’t like to have hope killed. Hope keeps us, as human beings, plugging along through our lives even when things are bad. If the characters in our entertainment have no hope, it creates a sense of fear that we have none either.

How the character deals with it is another point that can draw people in or repel them. Time to talk honestly here. Overall, tragedy makes people uncomfortable. We feel helpless in our lack of ability to fix it. Sometimes we can do something to help ease it, but overall, we’re not truly comfortable again until it is gone. If we can watch that character actually work towards improving their situation, we can follow the story with pleasure because it builds up that sense of hope. The “mud puddle” character is not going to accomplish that. What is the “mud puddle” character you ask? That is the character that falls into the mud puddle and instead of trying to climb out, just sits there, splashing around in the dirty water, saying, “Oh no! Oh no! I’ve fallen into a mud puddle!”

Because we only see the characters for such a small amount of time, every moment that we do see them that is influenced by the downs is going to be magnified. Because we don’t see the flashes through the day of them just staring at the sun daydreaming, or sleeping peacefully at night, what we do see is intensified by the short amount of time that we see it. Some drama is great for a story. But give your “readers” breathing space or you may find yourself Role Playing alone.

Now if you are sitting there insisting that your character is defined only by tragedy, then I have nothing further to say to you. You’re stuck in the mud puddle, you don’t want to get out, and nothing anyone says is going to convince you otherwise. However if you’re the one reading this that wants there to be more to your character that a string of cheap misery tricks, read on!

No Firm Numbers

Nobody can give you firm numbers on how long you should wait between dramatic events. Role Play, like life, should be fluid. It should not be forced. Let it flow and take its own path. If it feels too soon for something else to happen, likely it is WAY too soon. The owner of the character is always the last one to recognize this.

While many role players will say their character “talks” to them, we all do have some control over the path they take. And you should exert that control on occasion to make sure the character is not only fun to play but fun to interact with. Role playing alone isn’t nearly so much fun!

If you’ve played out a major dramatic storyline, give your character some time off. Let them run around doing mundane things for a while. Take them fishing, to an evening out in a pub, for an afternoon walk in the park with their pet worg. Let them live a normal life for a while.

If your character has a tendency towards depression, give them a few moments of “uptime” here and there. Let them enjoy themselves while questing with others or find something they do enjoy for a while. If it is something they’ve done alone, let them talk to others about it. Eeyore is cute, but after a while his bummer attitude gets a little old.

Be Creative

As with anything involved in Role Play, be creative. Down time doesn’t have to mean dull time. With a bit of creativity you could even make sitting on a curb eating cheese interesting. Be imaginative! Is there something simple that you don’t often play out with your character? Well, try it! Something totally off the wall that they’ve never done? Do it! The really fun part is the “why” behind it. Give it a shot! Try walking through a city, but don’t just walk! Interact! Set up a macro that has the character nod at those they pass or bump into them or something else.

Nothing is going to be perfect every time. Nothing is going to be audience captivating every time. But if you keep trying, keep testing new things, keep the audience entertained without forcing depression down their throats, you’ll have more fun than you could imagine. Gloom, despair and agony are not the only path to interesting role play.

I have said it before in other articles; never underestimate the power of the ordinary. Make it a challenge for yourself to take something ordinary and turn it into something extraordinary. So you’re standing at the mailbox reading a letter. What can you do to make it fun? Interesting? To draw others in? Giggle at the letter? Start talking back to it as if the author could hear you? If walking through town, what can you make happen by tripping over that warpstalker’s tail? Make it a challenge to yourself. Take an ordinary situation and challenge yourself to make it something else. If you like, come back here and tell me about it. I would love to hear your story and I’m sure others would too!

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