From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Forum-Based Role-Playing: Good or Bad?

Berlin, Germany, Year 2436

Once one of the most lively and important of all the cities in the NEU, Berlin became a virtual ghost town in 2427, when a desperate gambit to destroy the demons who had nearly overrun the city ended in both success and disaster.  A nuclear device was detonated within the center of the city and leveled much of it.  A massive crater is now in the heart of the city, where the demons were most concentrated… as were much of the NEU’s 72nd Assault Infantry Regiment.  The event claimed millions of lives and forced the demons back, but even now, there are still ghosts and things that remain in this ruined place, that can be used by any who are looking.

The Order of John Paul set up their Monastery in the south, offering aid to the survivors of the nuclear detonation. They have since become the only seriously stabilizing influence on the region.  Numerous NEU expeditions have entered the area in an attempt to help stabilize the region, but there is still trouble, and now rumors persist of robotic humanoids that wander the crater and outskirts, looking for the unwary, to take them away.  Not only this, but reports of odd were-creatures are coming in from the East…
~Havoc, Wastelands creator and Game Master

Forum gaming is possibly one of the least-understood and least-utilized role-playing methods available. Although there is a large group of dedicated gamers, the forum world tends to be small and closely-knit. Part of that can certainly be blamed on the lack of marketing and the low availability of ‘serious’ gaming forums. The quality, the dedication, and the creativity are there, but the ‘family’ has little need to go find other players. Unfortunately, this can make it hard for newer players to join, and can lead to stagnation of the older groups.

There are plenty of conglomerate sites focusing on having a wide base of games, most notably Roleplayer Guild and Roleplaying Gateway. With the wide selections available at these sites, a player is almost guaranteed to find a story that interests them. If there isn’t one there yet, one can be started, and there are usually players to participate. The possibilities on a large site are endless!

But, with all that choice come the inevitable downfalls. As with any game or story, quality, originality, and pace are necessities for an enjoyable experience. Most of the time, quality and quantity are not synonymous.

Enter the smaller forums and the tightly-knit groups of RP enthusiasts. Quite a few forums have developed specifically for one role-playing game, with every bit of the forum devoted to that game. These can range in subject from sprawling quests to intricate puzzles; settings may be in Middle Earth, or Pern, or an entirely original setting. Some of these forums have been active for years, and the mere reading of archives can be an education and entertainment. Others are just starting. Again, quality will vary greatly in these, and they can be hard to break into.

The third group in this discussion is the fan/writer’s forum. Places like award-winning Speculative Vision, with a membership of over 900 and everything from writing discussions to off-topic ‘pets’ threads, and an old and elaborately constructed series of role-plays; or smaller, younger forums like Fifthwind Forums, where the focus started on writing and publishing, and role-playing has somehow become an integral part of all that. These places blend role-playing, writing, and fandom into a fun and friendly environment.

Writers’ forums often offer a uniquely useful version of role-playing. Fifthwind Forums has a ‘Role-Playing School,’ and many of Speculative Vision’s experienced players are happy to coach a newbie through the first few adventures.

Role-playing a unique character builds voice, develops understanding of fictional interactions, and can be an excellent practice arena. There are no premade stock characters here; a player’s imagination is key. The focus is not only on the game, but on writing, characterization, and plotting.

These two forums have, in my particular experience, excelled both in the creation of original worlds and in mentoring players to become both better gamers and better writers.

Speculative Vision has 900 members, 106,000 posts and is the recipient of the 2007 Alternative Realities WebZine Award for message boards. With 11 role-play threads over three pages each, multiple shorter threads, and the much larger collaborative fantasy world of Lycoria, Speculative Vision offers plenty of opportunities to become involved in the role-playing world.

Lycoria is the mother-game on Speculative Vision, a hold-over from a previous forum. Dozens of sub-threads and a player-built world make Lycoria the perfect vehicle for a newbie to start out in. Many of the original members of Speculative Vision are active and dedicated players of Lycoria, and are quite happy to mentor anyone with a sincere desire to learn.

And if you don’t want to get involved in anything too gloomy or serious, there is always the Pool Area and Trophy Display (PATD). And when members Qray, Boikat and Bmat get involved, hijinks are guaranteed to ensue. Nothing is sacred in the PATD, although it does tend towards a science-fiction sort of setting. Expect ships of vodka, Q-clones, anthropomorphic cats with tuna-swirl ice cream and plenty of explosions. But even with the insanity, the storyline is carefully-plotted and long-running, and canon is carefully observed… not the canon of any book, TV show, or movie on God’s green earth, but the canon of the PATD itself.

Fifthwind Forums, with a tenth of the members, three years to its name and a larger focus on writing than on fandom, is not so active and bustling (yet). But the Forum’s claim to RPG fame is in its three game moderators (Havoc, Loxley and Mr. D), and in its original worlds: Altaea, Wastelands, and a dozen or so smaller adventures begun by Loxley.

The crown jewel of Fifthwind Forums is the brainchild of Havoc. Wastelands is a massive setting, literally global.

Focusing on the aftermath of a nuclear war and demonic invasion, the attention to detail is so impeccable that you almost don’t notice the playable characters aren’t all humans/robots or elves/dwarves/trolls. Actually, those races are there. So are griffins, Naga, harpies, and half a dozen other races from mythology, all interbred and creating one of the widest pools of character possibilities I’ve ever seen. But the most incredible part of it is the background and world-building that has been done by the moderators.

Altaea is more traditional fantasy, but with a strong race pool and a wide world to play in, a player has many, many options. Altaea also draws strongly from history, and from the colorful characters of history. Not just another fantasy world, Altaea has enough depth to satisfy even the most demanding role-player.

I think where I see the greatest advantage of forum gaming is in drawing from such a wide group of dedicated people. Not only that, it incorporates the players, encouraging them to add to the world and the plot.

Most forum games are not so heavily moderated or led; Game Masters are there only to ensure that posts are kept successive and timely. The players not only have full control over their characters and actions, they also are able to shape the world and give it a bit of their own imagination.

Forum gaming may not offer snazzy graphics or catchy music; it may not pay out prizes and coins and prestige. Yet anyone who dedicates the time and effort to it will find an unmined world of rich stories and settings, and a nearly limitless horizon where they get to make their own future, or their own past.

Jaym Gates is a password-challenged intern with Fantasy Magazine. She writes about the anti-hero, the villain and the sociopath, and the Apocalypse. She blames this on growing up in a Native American burial ground and listening to ghosts too long. She is currently working on a dark fantasy manuscript and can be found at her website or her blog.

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