Para-RP and Real-Time RP


Para-RP (which is “paragraph”, not para as in paralegal) vs … the other type of RP, which I just call Real Time — are they even compatible?

i’ve been contemplating this off and on for a while now. i have been a freeform roleplayer since…. uh, not to show my age, but like forever. :P okay, not “forever,” because i’ve only done it online, so since the dawn of the digital online chat services. uh, which… is actually before some of you were born so, yah, “forever.”

sadly, i’ve somehow fallen out of freeform RPing, and haven’t played for a few years, now. i’ve been trying to get back into it on second life. and this sure ain’t the old days!

on the one hand, second life is really horrid as an RP venue. it’s not a ‘game,’ it’s certainly not an RP. it costs real funny money to get any decent avatar/clothing/weapons/items/stuff. there’s no inherent combat system or level system or anything like you would find in, say, the NWN servers. (NeverWinter Nights)

but on the other hand… it really is the last bastion of true free-form playing around. i mean, since NWN, what multiplayer RPGs have even come out? NWN 2, which… made it really difficult to play multiplayer. and my beloved dragon age. which no way, never, nuh-uh will ever EVER be multiplayer. dragon age isn’t even freeform. you have your pre-constructed dialogue trees you follow. your pre-constructed character origins. you know.

because second life doesn’t have a pre-defined RP structure built in; your imagination really is the limit. just like the old text chat rooms were. though it takes a bit more work to build your character than writing six paragraphs of description.


but to get back to the subject at hand. in SL (and other venues, no doubt), there seems to be a bit of contention between two styles of free form role playing. in fact, some proponents of each camp hate the other camp. i see many, many RP area notecards urging members of both factions to just ‘try to get along.’ to compromise: maybe those quick, rapid-fire, one-liner guys could try to slow down and wait for the para-rpers, and even try to spruce up their own rp text. and maybe the multi-line, turn-based, full-bore description writers can try to edit it down a little, speed it up to try to match the real-time rpers.

and i have tried. and i have to tell you now, after thinking thoroughly about it — i don’t think the two styles are compatible at all.

now first, i will admit… i’m in the real-time rp camp. and i’ll admit… when trying to do real-time rp, i don’t care for the para-rp much at all. and you para guys can hate me. second, i’ll warn you. i’m going to make up a few examples. i’m not mocking anybody with them! i just like to write humorously! so don’t take it personally.

the complaints from both sides are many, and fly thick. the real-time people say they get bored waiting five minutes or more for the person they’re talking to to reply. they don’t know, ARE they replying? ignoring them? gone afk? (para-guys, if you turn off your typing animation and don’t have a typing override, there really IS no way to tell! leave some hint, okay?) the real-time people might even lose track of the whole conversation. or fall asleep.

the para people go on about how imagination-less the speed freaks are. they just say things; with no flavor, no ambience. they keep typing too fast, they don’t wait their turns, they keep scrolling the chat with their habit of hitting enter at the end of every sentence! which is distracting, you lose your place, you have to backspace because they changed something you were trying to react to…. they rush you…. it’s a nightmare.

no one way is right or wrong. but here is the distinct and definitive difference that makes the two incompatible: para-rpers are creating a story. real-time rpers are playing a game.


what’s that mean? well, let’s take me for an example. i create a character, i give him or her a huge backstory, i work out their personality, their quirks…. what i don’t do is go and write down these pages and pages of history in a character bio. basically, i create a sort of puzzle for other players to interact with and try to figure out.

the only thing i will show or tell about my character is what you can see, or what she says and how she says it. some people i have seen who are on the para-end, will do about 2-3 sentences of what their character is thinking about, and about 2-3 words of what they say. for example:

donna: ::donna remembers raoul from last night and how he danced the salsa so alluringly, although he stepped on her toe once or twice. was that because he liked her? or was he being vindictive?:: “hello, raoul.” ::she half-hoped he would ask her to the next dance, but wasn’t sure if she really wanted to risk those injuries again::

(okay, nobody but me uses :: for emotes, just pretend its a /me.)

now, if i were playing raoul…. i would actually, as a player, have to ignore all that. why? because all that insight into what’s going on in the character’s mind is… basically metagaming. there’s no way raoul can know all that. if my character doesn’t know it, I don’t want to know it. because, basically, you’re ruining my game. i want to engage donna in conversation, i want to wonder, “hmm, does she like me, does she hate me? is she going to prong me because i stepped on her toes?” i want to figure it out for myself. telling me right there in the emotes is just like posting spoilers!

here is how i, as a rea-time rp gamer, would post the same idea:

donna: ::glances up at raoul, and her eyes light up, though just for a moment before becoming guarded:: hello, raoul. ::she gives him a speculative look, her dark eyes revealing little of her thoughts::

now, i’m not saying this is BETTER or that it’s WORSE. it’s just different. not just in style or content, but in expectation.

in the first example, two people are writing the story of star-crossed lovers at the spanish dancing acaemy or whatever. they’re working together — you can see donna is giving raoul a big hint that he should ask her to the next dance for the next part of the story.

in the second example, two people are playing ‘against’ each other. raoul is trying to get donna to like him (or maybe he has a secret vendetta and wants to break her toes, it’s unclear), donna is wondering what his true motivations are. she doesn’t blatantly hint that he should ask her to another dance. so he has to wonder. should he ask? will she say yes? is she still mad about last time? would it be a big mistake? (zomg, it’s like one of those japanese dating game simulations or something.)

what if she DOES want him to ask her to the dance, and he doesn’t? oh, well, the character made a mistake. she’ll have to be more obvious next time. or pout. or ask HIM out. the player has to figure out the next course of action. will that work? we won’t know til they try it.


i do like creative writing (i do a fair bit of it), and i do admire the para-rpers talent for spinning wonderful descriptions and nuances of things — this is something i feel has atrophied in myself since switching from text-only ffrpg to graphical interfaces like NWN. i feel this type of format is best suited to non-real-time games, however. RP via email, or on forums, is particularly suited to this style. people are not sitting and waiting for input. they get the email/message, they can peruse it at leisure, formulate their reply, take their time writing it.

in a live, real-time setting, i would rather spend more time interacting than waiting to interact, if you know what i mean. this would end up looking more like your ordinary chat room, only the characters are talking about their fantastical world, not their real lives and jobs and computer problems. bantering back and forth would be the norm. emotes would be used sparingly for nuance, or animations you don’t have, and that sort of thing.


so is it possible for people of the two different styles to meet in the middle and have fun together? i don’t know. i’m thinking both are going to end up feeling unfulfilled after a session of play. if you have a different experience or opinion, i’d love to hear about it!



2 Responses to “Para-RP and Real-Time RP”

  1. Tim Says:

    Personally, and I’m talking from back in the days of Yahoo chat, I’ve been called a para RPer. Still, I would consider your second post a perfectly reasonable post in that style IF it were formatted differently.

    I only split the styles by formatting rather than by prose or length of posts.

    Write your post in third person PoV without :::action cues::: to *winkwink* your way through and it is para.

    Your second example was better, also, because of the information being subtler. Meta info such as in your first example was considered bad to a lot of my crew too because it is almost godmoding in itself and tempted other muns to godmode with info their character should have no access to.

    Thoughts should only be posted if your setting includes telepaths in the scene. It gets messy otherwise.

    • Tim Says:

      By ‘godmoding in itself’ I mean that they’re trying too manipulate their partner to follow their own trajectory in the story. It’s passive aggressive teenage girl nonsense. Those players tend to get butthurt if you don’t follow along like a sentient RP dido for their mastibatory fantasy.

      Notice how they’re usually romantic or sexual scenarios? Yeup.

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