A smoky meeting room. Austere nobility on one side, shifty spacers on the other. Business is discussed. Subtext lurks and shifts below, with daggers. Moves and counter-moves. There are whispers, glances, and notes are scribbled by scribes. In the background, a bodyguard is standing. She says nothing. There’s a whispered joke at her expense. She notices, but she keeps her mouth shut. It’s not her role to speak. What’s important is that she notices.
She might say nothing, but she’s hurt. She’s angry. She’s not just part of the furniture - she’s part of the scene. The roleplayer behind that bodyguard could just have a stoic statue who doesn’t react to anything - but not noticing doesn’t matter. It’s not interesting. What’s interesting is noticing, and making a choice: to act, or not.
We’ve all seen doormen and bodyguards. They crop up in RP routinely. They sidle into our favourite TV shows, and books, and films, and everything. Background characters are essential, but the background doesn’t have to be two dimensional. When the Ancillary Characters live and breathe and react and choose, the world comes alive. Main characters of any scene are inherently less interesting if they operate in a vacuum. If their choices only impact each other, the story becomes a soap-opera. When actions echo through every character in a scene, they matter.
"The galaxy is silly," a character recently said in an RP session. Somewhere around this was a tangled conversation about Besalisks, Xexto, and ion-blaster toting Ortolans. It's true. Star Wars is silly. It's full of crazy aliens, wise-quipping spacers, and mad inventions. Full of little bits of fluff that have no real impact on the story, but add something special to the world.
Max Rebo (pictured above) is an excellent example. His band is the one playing in Jabba's Palace, and the whole thing was a mistake. Sy Snootles (excellent name), the singer, made Rebo frontman to deflect any flak the band might get. Rebo then turned around and made a lifetime contract with Jabba the Hutt... for free food. The rest of the band weren't pleased. Oh hoh hoh hoh.
So what's your favourite bit of fluff? Nothing central to story, just bits of extraneous detail. It can be from books, films, TV shows, comics, or just something a fellow roleplayer has come up with.
Everyone has that scene, or that character, or that world that always inspires them with new ideas and motivation. The one you go back to when you're feeling out of the groove, to remind you about what you find interesting.
In a setting as diverse as Star Wars, there's plenty to choose from, so what's your inspiration? Are you interested in military roleplay and get you kicks from the Battle of Hoth? Love a bit of Sithy space opera and watch supercuts of Anakin's arc in the prequels? Is it something from one of the games, or the comics? Which character do you take inspiration from for your own?
What part of Star Wars inspires you to roleplay?
When I first came to The Old Republic, I came from a culture where if you were new, your character was restricted to a low level of power and authority, so SWTOR’s culture came as a bit of a shock. I could make any character I wanted. I could make a Darth, or a General, or a Master Jedi. I ended up making a very rich Sith and spent the first few months of my time here going around giving out ridiculous amounts of money while trying to solve as many characters’ problems as quickly as I could.
It’s hard not to feel embarrassed now when I think about that. When I see other people doing the same, it’s easy to see where it comes from. People like to be popular, and they like to do good things for other people. It makes sense that in a fantasy world where you can have as much power to do good as you want, you’d instantly go into a glut.
The problem it results in is the same one faced by the first writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I know; it’s a bit of a reach. Stick with me.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Mythbusters, you’re aware that the world of story and the world of reality don’t always match. In films, cars explode when they crash, bullets can be dodged and the winner of an arm-wrestle is always the one with the bigger biceps.
A friend of mine told me about some roleplay a while ago where his character was taking shelter next to a diesel truck which exploded after someone threw a grenade at it. ‘Diesel doesn’t explode’, I said. In that setting, however, it turns out diesel does explode.
Pick half the action films or games out there and diesel explodes. It’s pretty much impossible to make it blow up in real life, but it’s like nitroglycerine when it’s in the flicks. Star Wars has some interesting reality-benders as well.
Lightsaber duels take a long time, when every form of real world swordfighting tends to be over pretty quickly - that one’s usually pinned to force-user precognition, but it happens with non-forcies too. Goons are usually disposable and ignored. It’s pretty rare in Star Wars to see an organization where the guy at the bottom even has a say about where his head ends up rolling.
Skill is almost always the deciding factor in any fight with Star Wars. Luck rarely has anything to do with it, and all fights are usually fair, with the better or more resourceful warrior winning.
These are all things common to a lot of settings. Star Wars’ specific mix of themes and tropes make up its general tone, and tone can differ between media, era, and even the character being followed. I’m sure any military realist novels set in Star Wars will have a different tonal setup. But we roleplay in SWTOR in which the villains are hammy, the heroes are plucky, and that level 70 Mynock will still give you trouble no matter how many rancors you’ve killed.
You can use this as a guideline for roleplay. Many do. Most pick and choose what they like. I can’t imagine many people stick with the killer mynocks. On the other hand, there’s another, less tonally sensitive guideline: the real world. In the real world, sword fights are abrupt, goons have opinions, and combat is largely unfair to a single, highly trained individual.
Many SWTOR players will remember the move from Galaxies and all the hope and homesickness it brought. It can be a difficult thing to leave behind assets collected over many years and to turn away from hours of investment in one game to move to another.
SWTOR remains in full swing with expansion packs arriving consistently and the looming shadow of maintenance mode (the MMO graveyard of No More Content) seeming far less of a threat than before the surge of new expansions, and the release of The Force Awakens.
On the other hand, now Star Wars is owned by Disney, there has been a significant upturn in new games, films and TV shows being released, and with the films being the flagship of this convergence giant, there’s definite pressure to move focus closer to the the Battle of Yavin and away from the Old Republic.
It’s possible that in the coming years, we may see a new Star Wars MMO, focused on the world of the new films.
It’s all conjecture at this point, but how would you feel about a new MMO to explore? Would you relish a breath of fresh air, or would you not want to leave SWTOR’s world behind?
In an earlier article, I talked about the problems with confusing IC and OOC authority. The comments section brought up a lot of other issues regarding guilds, so here goes the beginning of a short-lived, flame-griddled series on roleplay guild management and culture.
The Numbers Game is the basis of almost all open-recruitment guilds in SWTOR. It’s so ingrained into the culture of the place that if you ask a guild, "why do you need new members?" the answer you’ll probably get is "so we can grow." Which would make sense in a game of Agar.io, or even the likes of EVE Online, but seems like an empty answer in an RP guild.
If you’re unlucky, you might even hear, "so we can be more powerful!" in which case you’ve stumbled across some basket case who hasn’t managed to work out roleplaying isn’t method acting. Either that or they’re for some reason obsessed with power on the internet.
If the answer is, "to give lone players people to RP with," that’s a lot harder for me to poke at with the cynicism stick, but introducing lone players to a bad atmosphere is worse than just leaving them alone, so it’s not always good.
There’s no shortage of content on what I’m going to talk about here. If you don’t know the term ‘purple prose’, you may be new(ish) to the field of writing, chronically short of a drive to self-improve, or just lack the necessary Google-fu. I’m going to write all of this addressed to the first and last groups because the one in the middle will probably be at the comments section by now anyway.
Purple prose is, at its most basic, writing too much. Stuffing too many words where they don’t have a place. Spotting it is a matter of counting the adjectives and judging what they do (and don’t do). Reading it is a matter of eye-gouging distress. Most people skip purple prose when they see it. I can usually soldier through about a line of the most florid shavit imaginable before I have to give up and go lie down with a damp towel on my head.
Which is all very strange. You’d think it wouldn’t be so painful to read through what is just ‘too many words’. There’s something more fundamental going on here.
The following is a generalized example about a systemic issue. It is not about you. If you read it and feel that it is similar to something you’ve experienced, it doesn’t mean the article is about you. It means the article is for you.
You’re part of a guild mostly focused around Imperial roleplay. Your character, a Sith desperately trying to earn a promotion, has just finished a training session when they’re called over by the guild leader’s character. They have a private conversation. Aggressive flirting enters the scene. You don’t have any interest in penning Fifty Shades of Lightsaber, but this is the guild leader. If they wanted, they could cast you out from the guild, demote you, or just have your character executed; and you’ve spent months working up to where you are in the guild.
One way to see this is that it’s just a plot and that it’s indicative of the sort of scum and corruption at the heart of the Empire, that no-one should write Sith if they don’t want to get involved in scuzzy stories. But we’re not in the Empire. We’re not Sith. We’re roleplayers in a community of roleplayers and if you’re pushing someone into a sex scene through OOC social pressure, you are just getting your rocks off at the expense of others. This is more of a problem than we’d really like to admit. It does happen. It is bad. Most people don’t roleplay to be objectified as the literary equivalent of sex workers. Now that’s not to say you shouldn’t write a prostitute, but you probably shouldn’t feel like one.
I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to enjoy that sort of plot from the position of the entrapped party. I’m not saying it isn’t possible for the guild leader in the situation to be entirely story-focused and not just trying to get his or her rocks off on a power trip. If the guild lead is happy to let you slip out of the scene because you are uncomfortable, or is fine with off-screening what happens, you may well be in a healthy situation. The issues come when IC and OOC authority get confused - and the above issue isn’t the only one that arises from this. Plots are ruined, characters killed and players silenced routinely because of someone overly invested in the idea of being In Charge.
BioWare has been pretty keen on moving the story along, lately. It’s understandable, especially after a few years bogged down in “Where’d we leave the Emperor again?.. Oh no. Who saw him last?” Unfortunately some of the time they move the story along faster than realtime to keep things rapid, and while that doesn’t hurt the story, it’s difficult for roleplayers. How do you handle a skip in time?
You could have your character frozen, like the Outlander, but that might seem a little forced, considering it's exactly what happens to the story's protagonist.
You could ignore the timeskip completely and keep roleplaying pre-Zakuul. For die-hard critics of SWTOR’s latest developments, this might be the best option, but it does shut you out from a lot of plots involving the wider community.
One of the most popular choices I’ve seen is handling the skip in-time with BioWare; crafting some story to have happened in the intervening years, then just picking up where you left off with the character however many years older. This has a lot of advantages, but those intervening years are never going to be as fleshed out as they would’ve been.