You often see avatars in Second Life (SL) with profiles describing their addiction to “Role Play” (RP). While it might be said that the whole idea of SL is a role-play experience for avatars, to RP enthusiasts, there is a vastly different meaning to the term. Stareyes Galaxy went out of her way to seek an authentic, “formal style” role play experience in Second Life.
In the days before Internet chat rooms, Usenet groups, and multi-user dungeons, role playing was a structured form of group exploration where a game master (GM) or dungeon master (DM) typically led a troupe of well-meaning characters on forays of the unknown in fantasy and science fiction settings. The action was expressed as the players’ verbal description of what they would do in any given situation, as the “campaign” trudged on, with the GM and players deciding on outcomes of the actions (especially combat) by throwing sets of odd-shaped dice on the gaming table. The player characters were represented by elaborately painted pewter figures on the gaming board. As the players matured, consumption of soft drinks during the RP sessions might transform to cases of beer. Later, these players discovered the wonders of online gaming, and RP became a subculture residing in the Usenet groups on the Internet, typically with an alt.* domain name, and “multi-user dungeons” residing on some obscure university mainframe computers.
Second Life provides a platform for social interaction with the visual element built in to enhance the experience, and the pewter figure representations of RP characters are replaced by virtual, pixel-based manifestations of the characters: Avatars. While it might be truthfully said that the whole SL is a role-play of sorts where the avatars embark on campaigns to interact with other avatars online, there are structured RP environments built with the capabilities of SL to cater for the “classical” role play, in many iconic settings such as medieval fantasy, science fiction dystopias, and Old West, not to mention the whole subcategory in Second Life, “Gor”. As time has worn on, the avatars engaging in RP have gone through many RP sims. I embarked on a journey to find out the state of RP in SL by submitting an application to “The Realm of the Forgotten”, a medieval fantasy role play environment that is beginning to gain traction among RP enthusiasts and that is in its final beta stages.
The first thing to do is to think about a character for the role to play. I created “Thea” which then would become the screen name for RP interaction, with a plausible medieval back story on how she got to the Realm in the first place. After the application to join was accepted, “Thea” entered the welcome area where a HUD and a titler were available to group members. An admin was there to help her get started. She also followed up on “Thea” to get her going in the RP. There are options in character creation to have a balanced character with both weaknesses and strengths, and there is a point system to develop a character, adding strengths and spell abilities as time wears on.
The style of RP in formal, paragraph-based environments can be slow-paced when compared to the normal interaction experienced on SL. There are merits to this, however, as everyone gets their “turn” and the story lines can develop with a more involved nature, everyone pitching in and getting “In Character” (IC). The language used by the most accomplished role players goes sometimes beyond the hyperbole, eliciting an air of elevated consciousness, and the chats soon become convoluted with sentence structures and vocabulary that would baffle the most erudite of medieval scholars.
I arranged to meet the owners of “The Realm of the Forgotten”, Fyona Spiritor and Serenity Dorn, for an interview at their “Out of Character” (OOC) area.
SLE: First of all, how did you both get to devise the concept of TROTF?
Serenity: The concept started with us both being very heavy writers and readers. Most of the concept was mine personally. I was bored one day and was desperately trying to figure out how to make a Djinn fair to play. So I sat down and did the first template. From there came more, until I had half a website and realized I should simply invest the money into a sim and let my hard work be enjoyed by everyone. I really wanted to see a sim were the players had more than a place to play, but a voice in what happened.
Fyona: That is when she dragged me in. The lore, the concept for this entire sim came from her brain, she is a beautiful and imaginative person. We have been best friends for nearly seven years, so when she decided to open a sim she came to me. I have run sims before, and built them. So it just seemed natural to do it together and, well, it has worked out amazingly well.
SLE: either of you have previous experience in "classical" or internet-based role-play?
Serenity: I played my first game of D&D at the age of 13. I started DMing pretty quickly after that. When I turned 18 I dabbled in LARPs, text-based chat roleplay from MSN, Yahoo chat, and so on. I found SL in 2005 and was hooked.
Fyona: I don't have any role-play experience outside of online. I've been in SL for nearly 8 years and all of that has been spent on one form of role play sim or another. Though for the last two years my entire focus has been on medieval fantasy sims, it is where I enjoy myself the most.
SLE: Serenity, what aspects of SL do you appreciate best in enhancing the RP experience? And, on the contrary, what is a hindering factor in SL, compared to "traditional" non-online RP?
Serenity: SL provides an atmosphere - visual cues that help to immerse oneself better and all but integrate into the idea and world that is presented. It offers a wide range of interesting people that span the globe, unlike traditional table top where you are limited to those within a drive distance and the DM to paint the scene. Alternately, with the ease of these visuals it can cause people to describe far less. Lose the details of the scene. The DM changes and becomes something different altogether and borders on obsolete. Its lack, if I was to find one, would be [that] the anonymity provides a petri dish for complications. People feel more free to engage in aggressive OOC behaviors and attempt to break rules or even purposefully upset others. I believe this is called trolling and griefing.
SLE: Fyona, as you have experience with RP sims on the SL scene, how would you compare TROTF with some of the sims you have played in the past? How does what you two have created compare with any "competing" medieval fantasy sims currently in place?
Fyona: I don't like to compare us with anyone else, or anyone in the past. Every sim has something beautiful and special to offer to the community. Our sims provide something new and a fresh way to create RP, our focus since opening has always been on the players, and that is what we will continue to strive to do: to provide an environment that is driven by the player base.
SLE: Your web site is beautifully detailed and reflects a well thought-of set of rules. How do you think your players have embraced the rule set and the whole set of races and abilities? Do you get a lot of either kudos or complaints?
Serenity: Thank you! So far we have not had many complications at all. A couple of hiccups here and there. When we encounter them, we sit the whole team down for ways to remedy future issues with that rule or template. We make amendments as needed. Overall I would say there are more kudos’ than complaints. However we do encourage constructive criticism if it is done politely and allow all players to offer alternative options that we can present to the sim to vote on.
SLE: Something of a tribute to the traditional is seen in the HUD with die rolls. How do you see that concept working, as opposed to scripted-combat HUDs?
Fyona: Using dice over scripted-combat HUDs allows for a more fair and balanced fight. The scripted HUDs, though amazing, can rarely take into account the large number of strengths and weaknesses players here can select from. By using the dice HUD we can give perks for those skills that should logically affect combat, and also penalties for those that are meant to be negative.
SLE: How do you keep track of character development?
Serenity: We have a team of admins, secret alts and a database. We also put a lot of trust in the players to be fair or report unfair characters. All strengths/weaknesses and abilities as well as points are logged on the database. Meanwhile, we have a scripter and coder working on a system that will allow for manual use and automatically update points in certain situations
SLE: I must congratulate you both on your achievement in creating TROTF. What would be, in your experience running the sims, your advice to avatars applying to play?
Fyona: I would highly suggest taking the two-day grace period we allow everyone, to explore the sim, RP with those we have here, to get a feel of how the sims run before you put in an application. My next suggestion would be to thoroughly read the website, to ensure you understand exactly how to do the application, and if you have questions to ask, our IM's, along with those of our mods and admins are always open. We are happy to help in any way we can. And thank you for the congratulations, we are truly loving it, it is a very exciting and humbling experience to see your ideas come to life for others, and watch as their ideas change and shape, and improve the dream we had for this place.
Serenity: I would suggest reading before applying. I feel that often they do not look over the options as in depth as they should and sometimes commit to one race/subrace/character that they quickly find out they don't like. I make sure all the answers are on the website and available. The Q&A page is the most overlooked.
SLE: What would be your welcome message to a new role player in TROTF?
Serenity: Welcome to The realm of the forgotten, how can we make your role play experience a better one?
I spent quite a lot of time role playing at TROTF, to get the feel of the place and the people. Having seen the style of role play in the Realm of the Forgotten made me understand some of the stranger styles of emoting I have come across in SL elsewhere. The use of past tense and the conditional tone seem to be almost “de riqueur” in TROTF, although the styles of emoting are varied. The TROTF environment is done well, except where concessions have been made to SL in rental space signs and such constructs that enable game play but are hard to do in fantasy style. For a beginner, it doesn’t take long to realize you can walk through city gates and teleport using “arcane spheres”, and if you are willing to accept the SL’esque modifications as “magic,” the RP becomes easy. The set of rules governing TROTF are quite a handful to tackle, but as the web site is at everyone’s fingertips, the information on character races and magic items is easy to check as the situation at hand warrants. When there’s no-one around a character can indulge in e. g. self-helping to store wares, food etc. which doesn’t happen in “classical” RP. Movements are also easier as no die rolls are involved in navigating the sims. In combat situations, the HUD has dice to roll for any given combat action. The die rolls are broadcast in local, and the “strength” and “weakness” modifications are then factored in the outcome manually. Moderators can oversee the outcomes of combat, if it gets complicated. All this is akin to classical role playing of the past, with the real die rolls and perusal of rules books by game masters for outcomes of combat actions. Combat does not seem to be a focus of TROTF, and the toughest situation I got in was looking from the sidelines at a mud pie fight. While the SL animations work in some situations, they are lacking in others. For instance, one time the god Apis was flying me over to another place and lifted me on his shoulder – but the couples animation would not let us fly together. The situation was resolved by SL teleporting. Thus, the pewter figure metaphor of “classical” RP still applies, although SL avatars are more visual, more interactive, and livelier than these.
In the time I spent at TROTF, I could see how the hard-working owners Fyona and Serenity made sure both the sims were running smoothly and that the web page was being updated. Their efforts have earned them great respect, and the role players’ feedback is very positive. one player said: “…this is probably the best RP sim I have ever been on.” TROTF will be out of beta on September 1st, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it as a state-of-the-art medieval fantasy role play sim, where “classical” paragraph-style RP thrives.
The Realm of the Forgotten (TROTF) web page: http://www.therealmoftheforgotten.com/
TROTF Main Landing: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Serenity/30/150/503/