Role-play, abbreviated RP, is what happens when several people get together, over the Internet or in the Real World, and each takes on the role of a character (original or canon), whose actions they narrate. This can be a lot of fun if done well, or it can descend into Sueishness and bad characterization. Sometimes role-play chat logs are written up into RP fics. There are several different kinds of role-play.
"Tabletop" refers to all the role-playing games, or RPGs, that take place in the Real World between a group of people sitting around a table together with a bunch of dice. Possibly the most well-known of these is Dungeons & Dragons, a generic fantasy game setting with thinly veiled borrowings of Lord of the Rings concepts and races. D&D uses the d20 system of gaming, meaning that most of the important die rolls happen with a twenty-sided die. These rolls determine the outcome of character (and NPC) actions such as attempts to do damage with a weapon, perform a skill, or remember an obscure plot detail.
Other tabletop game systems include Shadowrun (d6), World of Darkness (d10), Palladium Games (percentile), and GURPS (d20). There are also many canon-specific RPGs, which may use any of the above game systems or one that is unique to itself. Dragonlance, Discworld, Firefly, and Lord of the Rings all have RPG adaptations.
All tabletop RPGs feature rulebooks and a Dungeon Master/Game Master/Storyteller who has no single character of his own and acts as narrator and referee for the other players. Players use character sheets to record game information about their characters, such as their physical strength, intelligence, skill set, and possessions.
Tabletop role-playing games may also be played online via a chat room, on a forum, or on a video chat program like Skype. Specialized "game table" chat programs exist, which allow players to use digital miniatures to show where their characters are in relation to others and their surroundings. Online play may be between people who met online, or may be a solution that allows a group to continue playing when people move and become separated by distance or their responsibilities. As tabletop RPG fans get older, many find that online play allows them to keep their hobby while still being at home to keep an eye on their children.
However, many tabletop gamers with children will simply introduce their children to role-playing; it's possible for children as young as five years old to enjoy RPGs (if the math is done for them and the story is kept age-appropriate), because at this young age, children are usually quite imaginative and most will enjoy cooperative storytelling. Tabletop RPGs are now in their third generation, with the youngest generation being children whose grandparents started playing the original Dungeons & Dragons in 1974.
Role-play on the Internet is usually a text-based role-play on a forum or in a chat room. These usually have far fewer rules than tabletop games and rely primarily on the honor system on the part of the players so that their characters don't become so god-like that nothing bad can ever happen to them or, worse, that they write things happening to other people's characters without their consent. This sort of behavior is called power-playing or godmoding, and is heavily frowned-upon. Perhaps even more frowned-upon than creating a Mary Sue, which is also really annoying. If there are mods involved, godmoding is likely to get the guilty player kicked out of the RP.
Online RPs can generally be categorized as interactive online stories or chatplays, but there are other types, too.
Interactive Online Story
This type of role-play happens on a forum and usually not in real time, which allows for documentation of the canon/original setting and long, narrative-style posts with attention to details. Character information will also be recorded somewhere as a reference for the player and anyone else with an inquiring mind. Sometimes an IOS will have one person in charge of the overall plot, who serves a similar function to a Game Master in tabletop RP, or it will have a group of mods who work together to ensure that there is plenty of activity and the rules are followed. In the former, there tends to be one major storyline with perhaps a few sub-plots; in the latter, there are many smaller plots running between various small groups of players, all of which contribute to the overall environment of the game.
Occasionally, there is no one person in charge, and all the players work together cooperatively to create an interesting plot for their characters, much like co-writing a story. Usually this only works with smaller groups of people who get along well, though.
For an example of the many-small-plots type of IOS, check out St. Dymphna's Academy, run by our own JulyFlame with help from other PPCers. Don't be frightened by the color scheme. It's okay, we promise.
Chatplays take place in real time over a chat or instant message program, or even a forum if enough players happen to be on it at the same time. The defining characteristic is that it happens in real time, or close to it, and there is no permanent record of it unless someone takes the time to make a transcript. Since the pace of the action is much quicker, chatplays lend themselves to silliness and crack, and in IMs or chat clients especially due to character limits, they often take place in script format with an emphasis on dialogue and actions noted briefly in *asterisks.* However, with a good group of people they can be just as deep as other types of RP.
It is still not usually a good idea to write one of these up as RP fic without first giving it some serious thought and attention.
Other types of online RP include character journals and comment RP, making use of journal or blog sites such as LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, etc., to write from the point of view of a character using the service. Character journals are typically written in first person. Comment RP, on the other hand, can be in first or third person, depending on the circumstances. The defining feature is simply that the character interaction is happening in journal comments.
Massive Multi-player Online RPG
These games, usually just called MMORPGs, are computer games that allow players to interact with a fully rendered world and cooperate (or not cooperate) with other players in the context of said world.
The most well-known of these is World of Warcraft, a fantasy game in which players choose to align themselves with one of two warring factions, the Alliance or the Horde. There are twelve races, six for each side, and ten classes to choose for the character, and a variety of customizable options for the character's appearance. Throughout the course of the game, the character goes on quests to gain items, gold, prestige, and levels in their class.
Live Action Role-play
Commonly known as LARPing, this type of RP happens when a group of people get together in a real world location and act out the events of the game. LARPers often go so far as to make elaborate costumes for themselves and create "weapons" from PVC pipe and lots and lots of foam and duct tape (though don't confuse LARPers with the people who just like to have mock-battles with such weapons; though there is overlap, it's different).
Unfortunately, LARPers have gotten a lot of bad press due to a few people taking it too far and getting themselves or their friends hurt. In at least one case, a player really believed himself to be his character and was clearly in need of help. This bad press has rubbed off on LARPers as a whole, and they are sometimes looked down on even by other RPers—even though said other RPers really ought to know better, since so-called normal people tend to look down on all RPers for much the same reason.
Interestingly enough, most RPers of any stripe actually have a very firm grasp on the difference between fantasy and reality—moreso than lots of "normal" people, even. Go figure.
Not to be confused with other types, sexual role-play occurs between consenting adult partners who take on different characters to arouse each other. Costumes and props may be involved, or not. BDSM can be considered a type of role-play, since the roles involved don't necessarily correspond to the participants' public personalities.
RP in the PPC
In-universe, PPC agents are practically all geeks of one stripe or another, and thus lots of PPC agents are familiar with D&D and other RPGs—in fact, several PPC agents are from RPG continua. Also, the Bad Role-play Department exists to tackle role-plays and RP fic rife with Sues and terrible writing.
Among Boarders, RP happens rather a lot, actually. Of necessity, most of it is online, and it tends to straddle an odd middle-ground between chatplay and IOS due to the attention PPCers
ought to give to the quality of their writing and the great detail of the setting.
Several PPC events have happened in the form of RP on the PPC Posting Board, the Other Board (now defunct), and more recently, the T-Board. The most important of these is probably the 2008 Mary Sue Invasion. Others have included the 2009 Gender Bender Crisis, the 2011 Poison Joke Incident, the 2015 Body-Swap Event; a variety of birthday parties, holiday parties, anniversary parties, snow fights, sand fights, and food fights; and a lot of general "people are in a place and stuff happens" events.
The Mailbox Game, PPC Badfic Game, and the Protectorate of Plort, Konti-Nyuum, are writing games that also contain elements of role-play in that participants post under the guise of their characters or alternate personas in the course of play.
Other RPs take place in the the Lounge, also known as the PPC Chatroom, or in the form of character journals and comment RP on LiveJournal or Dreamwidth. Some PPCers have even hosted live RPs over Skype.
Generally speaking, RPs in the PPC do not require Permission, though the person starting the RP may set this requirement if they choose.
So Where Can I Find Some?
If you haven't yet seen an RP you wanted to join, feel free to start one yourself! It's generally a good idea to pitch the idea on the Board first to be sure there's enough interest to go forward, but there aren't really any rules about when or how to do this. Just make sure to follow the PPC Constitution and exercise good taste, and remember that people can only do so many things at once. If there's some other big event taking place, it might be best to wait until that's wrapped up before trying to start another one.
As for the where, have some links!
- The PPC Posting Board - Spontaneous RP breaks out here sometimes, but outside some traditional Board-based games, it's better to use the T-Board. It is polite and strongly encouraged to inform people here if you're going to start an RP elsewhere, though.
- The T-Board - Feel free to start something here!
- The PPC Discord Channel - Feel free to start something here, too, or make a sub-channel for it. Also inform people here if you're starting an RP somewhere else.
- PPC HQ at LiveJournal - This isn't really active anymore, in part due to LJ being all stoopid.
- PPC HQ at Dreamwidth - This is meant to take the place of the old LJ community, and is not all stoopid. Please start some RP here!