Player's Guide--How to survive and prosper in freeform...

World of Storm and Fury: Guides: Player's Guide--How to survive and prosper in freeform...
World of Storm and Fury has a fairly high level of detail, even 'realism' in the sense of what would realistically be the outcome to actions in a place with Elfs and Halflings and Dragons, where magic really works and feudal nations still reign supreme over lands where honour and villiany abound. So, it is primarily aimed at the experienced freeform roleplaying player/writer. However, even a neophyte with good writing skills can participate in this collaborative storytelling by understanding certain principles. Key to understanding freeform roleplaying is to understand this is not a video game, the rules are not there to control the actions of players once a button is pushed. Rather, the purpose of the rules is to give guidance to reasonable players, such that they can have a basic common understanding of how character actions and dialogue ought to be posted, how to respond to actions taken by other characters (since you can only control the actions of your own character), how to write enough clarity into a scene to allow reasonable other players to interpret and respond to what was written (so, for example, our rules require extensive explanation about the effects and appearance of an attack using magic, while an arrow can be shot with the assumption other players have a pretty good idea what that would look like) in a collaborative storyline, and where there is conflict between player interpretations, to have a method for reasonable players to resolve what ought to happen (such as when a strong soldier gets a firm hold on a sixteen year old noblegirl by the wrist and yanks him towards her--though the player of the soldier cannot post the outcome that she is pulled towards him, every player in the scene ought to understand, and have their characters react to the likely outcome, that the player of the noblegirl will not suddenly give her a burst of strength and have her break the arm of the soldier--take note, players of characters who are prone to becoming unconscious or asleep!).

First, start with one's character...Envision what the character looks like, what others will see when he approaches. And remember, your character is NOT you! A character should be 'his own person' with dreams, goals, ambitions, as well as limitations, character flaws, in other words, he has a body and a mind which has a certain personality.

Whether one is making a character from scratch, or already has a character and is trying to play him better, the same principles apply. Firstly, keep in mind the 'weaknesses/limitations' sections is probably the single most important information about your character. The neophyte often asks, 'Why would anyone want to put weaknesses in a character?' The answer is very simple. Most of the time, the writer will find it is the weaknesses and limitations of the character that make his story possible--and make his personal story interesting enough that other players WANT to have their characters interact with yours. (Understanding this need is important, there is no way to 'win' in freeform by somehow 'beating' the other players! Instead, one 'wins' by writing the best collaborative storyline posts, so other characters have a role in the story, and the other players get excited about what is going on around their characters, the same way you are excited about yours.)

For example, let us take something ludicrous like putting Superman into Lord of the Rings. Superman needs no help, maybe the two powerful mages in the story might be able to affect him, but other than that he would just mow over any army, he has no need to put on heavy armour (which takes about six men to help a man in a full suit of heavy plate, and he then has to be lifted onto his warhorse). He can just grab food anywhere, fly away, break out of any jail...Now, consider the characters who were actually in the story. King Theodin was a morose defeatest when he led his nation into battle. Legolas was strong and agile and impervious to cold, but hated the dwarf and seemed to have no leadership skills. Gandalf's most powerful magic only worked against other magic--in battle against orcs, he was more powerful with a sword than with spells. So, all of these characters had to try to join forces, had to hope others were capable of accomplishing the tasks they could not, and often had a very different idea of what to do, which they had to try to argue and gain support for. And then there was betrayal, and the appearance of betrayal...In short, it was the weaknesses of these characters which made the story possible. Without weaknesses, Gandalf would have simply taken Frodo to Mount Doom, then held off Sauron while Frodo threw the ring into the lava. The whole thing might have taken two weeks to accomplish! Instead, Gandalf had to recruit allies, deal with traitors, keep his allies somewhat trying to achieve the same goal...And the story became an epic.

Next, even with a wonderful and complete character profile written out (and we will presume this is the case for anyone admitted to these storylines!), it is still possible to play the character in such a way as to prevent other characters from having any meaningful interaction. For example, a warrior with an injured knee might 'just happen' to find exactly the strength he needs to overcome that injury every battle he is in. A nobleman who is a womanizer and heavy drinker might 'just by chance' suddenly quit drinking and not succumb to the charms of a beautiful woman every time a trap is being lain for him. A sorcerer who needs some really rare flower from a mountaintop for a key spell might 'somehow' always be able to find a substite that 'luckily works just this once.' The player whose character is written this way does not do justice to either his own character, nor to the other players in the interactive storyline. What is a wagon-driver going to do for a story when he meets up with an invincible warrior-mage who can leap in the air, slay a hundred enemy with a single stroke, vanquish a couple of demons and at the same time cast a spell to send fireballs raining down on the enemy fortress?

The opposite situation, though rare, can also harm an interactive storyline. A character who always enters a scene just to get hurt and fall unconscious (all in the first post in an area!) and force the other players to have their characters take care of his is adding little to the collaborative storyline.

So, let us now presume one's character is well-written, well thought out, has a very clear description and the player-writer has a good idea of his personality, what his goals are, how he will react in anticipated situations, and so on. How, then, does the character meet other characters? The most obvious, and still the best answer, is go where the other characters are. This will take a modicum of reading through storylines on the boards (but then, hopefully that was done during the creation of the character). Posting in an isolated region with no other recent posts by other characters is not likely to generate much of a response. Showing up in a tavern, riding up to a group traveling on a road, or shadowing a character on a street and attempting to steal his purse are all good ways to get started with interaction.

Second, while it has been said to play your character according to his profile, and acting as he would rather than as you would, extremes in this regard are problematic. Characters who are standoffish and do not talk much, ones that zip into a scene, then rush off to another area to slay a dragon before zapping back into the scene where a conversation is being held over a meal, or ones that are deaf or mute are not usually good choices, as they will be difficult to interact with.

So, the best way to start a character is to have him walk into a scene (say enter a tavern through the door), post a really great description of what he looks like, how he reacts to what he sees going on, then see which characters react to his presence, and take it from there. Conversations in freeform are something of an art form, typical stumbling blocks are making very short and vague dialogue, not trying to answer all the questions from everyone in a logical order, and just generally getting into the 'What do you want to do?'--'I don't know, what do you think we should do?'--'I don't know, what do you think?' endless circle of getting nowhere. This takes some experience, the best advice is to presume the conversation might not go exactly in the order it is posted, to try to answer questions of other characters and bring up interesting information other characters can react to, and react in speech to something special another character is doing or wearing. More generally, in your posts try to give the other players something to respond to in their posts for their characters, rather than simply 'tying up' all the loose ends in your posts and introducing nothing for the other writers to react to. The best interactive storylines occur where, without any preplanning, character posts acknowledge and react to everything else going on in the area (all the previous posts plus the area description at the top of the page), then given other characters some openings to interact with your character. (Sometimes, too, you will plan out some elaborate story twist based on another character responding to something your character says or does, only to have that character miss the cue...This is just like in life, it was a missed opportunity, go on!)

Specifically about writing dialogue, it is a given that the post should be written clearly and with good punctuation, spelling and grammar (if these are a problem, type your posts first in a program such as Word, then cut and paste into the little message text boxes), but obviously an educated noblewoman will speak quite a bit differently than a peasant from the hinterlands. Still, keep in mind this is a feudal setting, most people (characters) understand the nobles are in charge, they generally see this as a good thing for their protection. Feudal characters ought generally to speak in a respectful manner (Knights do not go about saying 'You don't have to call me 'Sir',' and calling each other 'dude'). Challenging a peer to a duel is the normal accepted practice when being insulted. And so on.

Now is a good time to bring up the proper use of Out-of-Character' (OOC) knowledge. You, as a player, know many things about other characters and the world in general that your character ought not to know. And similarly, 'In-Character' (IC) your character would logically know some details about his profession (sword spar, riding a horse, shooting a bow, dressing a goose and spending hours cooking it over a fire) which you as a player might not know (as a general rule, it is fairly difficult to play either a completely illiterate character, or a character who is much smarter than oneself). These facts should be kept in mind when composing a post to react to the posts of others. For example, if another character's profile says he is a thief, your character would probably not have a reason to suspec that (until he learns that fact IC). If a mage is supposedly your character's ally, but he is really about to cast a spell that will attack your character (and remember you are not your character, so an attack on your character is not any sort of personal attack on you), you as a writer ought to play along, and your character should be unsuspecting, or maybe just starting to put together the clues he is about to be betrayed...On the other hand, OOC knowledge can be put to good use to move the storyline along, or make it more interesting. For example, if you know OOC that a character is from Hornstaad, you can have your character mention in passing he has just been there--this would give a reason for the two to know something particular that might be important. If you know OOC that other characters have set up a really clever ambush in a place where your character would never expect one, then as a player you might want to give some more details about the exact situation, where everyone is, how tired the horses are, how the men are distracted by a conversation about whether blondes or brunettes are prettier. Your hero ought not to always win easily, after all--things do not always need to be looking good for your character.

An extremely advanced tangential point here: Ideally, you will play your character looking out for his own interests, trying to pursue his own goals, not moving him like a chesspiece to help bring about some 'optimal' solution so the group 'wins'. This should come out only at a climactic moment in the storyline, once much background has been established through IC posts, since a character who always betrays his friends is soon going to have no friends. On the other hand, suppose a character is a really good card cheat. Maybe he is helping his friends win in a tavern, only to fleece them of their winnings later at a game by the campfire (and maybe circumstances will change by then, and he will pursue another course).

However, a less advanced point along these lines is the answer to the question, 'How do I get other players to have their characters join my storyline?' The answer is, 'You do not get them to join your storyline.' All of us bring our wonderful character to life on the story boards, then try to recruit others IC to join in on this fabulous quest we have all planned out, a story everyone surely wants to be a part of...And no other characters are interested, and so the players resort to email to try to get a storyline setup going. And then as soon as something happens which was not preplanned by email, they do not know what to do, they either try to ignore the new situation, or try to force the storyline along the lines they had planned (To this, I say, accomplishing the goal of a storyline is unimportant, the whole point is the collaborative story!).

So, what to do? The key is, align the interests of your characters with the interests of the other characters (perhaps using some OOC knowledge). Have your character figure out some way what they are doing can be to his advantage, then join their quest for mutual advantage. An offer of pay or treasure is an obvious lure. But there are other possibilities. It can be about righting injustices, or fulfilling a noble obligation, or obedience to an oath. Then, your character has both a logical reason, and indeed a personal incentive, to be a part of this group and work for group success (or failure, if the character is a spy or mole!).

In some cases, the entire mutual advantage, and the storyline, might simply be a single meal together, before the characters go their separate ways. This too is a great part of collaborative storytelling, just as in life, you only know the part of the other fellow's story based on what he told you, and what happened while you are with him. The same is true in freeform, paths can cross, then separate, and the stories go on, hopefully both enhanced by the interaction. (For example, perhaps some piece of news was exchanged which puts the quest in a whole new light, or identifies another problem which must be solved.)

This last parenthetical comment is something which is often misinterpreted. Often, the best storylines are stories in part because some problems are not solved. Perhaps two characters do not get along--another character might try to make peace, but it may or may not succeed. The ill will continues, until at a critical time one character attacks the other, threatening the mission. Or perhaps some bit of magic goes awry, or a battle wound is not healing--rather than just waving a wand and making these problems vanish, they might force a detour, a change in plans, the need to get more help. (As a note, take care here. Adding some obstacle to a plotline can work well for a storyline, but completely disrupting a storyline about freeing a princess and overthrowing an enemy king so the group can go off and help some coven of mages ward off plague is probably not going to enhance the storyline, unless exactly the right sort of characters with the motivation and ability to ward of a plague are suddenly the makeup of the group--another example of good use of OOC knowledge).

Finally, the problem comes as to what to do when a player drops out, leaving his characters in the middle of doing something. The only practical solution here is just to try to write past this--perhaps the next scene will be the group discussion about whether to continue the mission, or go off and help those mages fight the plague! It is also true players have different posting frequency. Sometimes one player is just too slow, or too fast, for the rest of the group. One solution here that will keep the story going is to give the slow poster tasks he can go off and complete on his own, which logically take some time, while the more frequent posters continue on, then by the time the slow poster's character shows back up on the boards, the story can continue from the point after the completion of the task.
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