Roleplaying in Star Wars: the Old Republic

One of the strengths of Star Wars: The Old Republic is the rich story provided for all eight classes. However, as all of the folks with multiple level 50 characters are wanting, there is more story to be found in the game. I’m not referring to BioWare-provided content such as more class stories or the oft-requested same-gender romance arcs (SGRAs), but rather to roleplaying (RPing). Even without BioWare supplying more epic quest lines and stories for players to chase, each of us is perfectly capable of enabling our own Star Wars fantasies and roleplaying stuff that isn’t ‘official’ or game canon. All you need is at least one other player willing to roleplay with you and all of a sudden, you’re acting out whatever you want. You can do simpler stuff such as showing up at a cantina and having a friendly chat with other players about a bounty you had trouble with, or commiserate with other Jedi about how rambunctious today’s padawans are, talk some smack about Darth Malgus (not within his hearing, I hope), or whatever floats your speeder.

My background in RPing comes from over 20 years playing Multi-User Shared Hallucinations (MUSHes), a less hack-n-slash version of the more well-known MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons). On a MUSH, you create a character or select a pre-made, one off of a roster, and follow the game rules to pretty much act out that character’s life. Some games include code to help simulate combat, including dice rolls just like your favorite tabletop gaming set (WEG D6, represent!) Others let you simply write out a ‘pose’, describing what your character is doing at that point in time. Here’s a sample pose from a MUSH I play called Endless City, where I was playing Obi-Wan Kenobi opposite an amnesiac Jedi who wasn’t sure if she was in her own body.

Obi-Wan Kenobi listens to the background intently, rising to his feet and adopting his usual thoughtful pose, hand on beard, not minding the fact that his attire isn’t exactly clean or in good repair. “I can hardly imagine what it would be like to be in your shoes,” he admits quietly, his voice full of sympathy. “I know what it’s like to be lost and thrown out of everything I know, but you’ve lost the core of your very identity. And you’re sure there is no other personality resident in your mind? I haven’t been able to sense one, but admittedly, we have not tried to seek it out properly should it exist.”

WWOWD – What Would Obi-Wan Do?

There are two huge differences with how this could be presented in an in-game setting. Firstly, the chat pane only allows a certain number of characters to be typed in one go. This is deliberate, to prevent spam from trolls, credit farmers, and other malcontents.  Us longtime MUSHers used to have that kind of restriction back in the early 90s with having to use raw telnet clients to connect to our games, but these days, we can write whole screens full of a single pose, although such verbosity is often frowned upon. In an MMO like SWTOR, the chat window enforces a much shorter pose for a roleplayer, so for someone like me, it’s akin to going from writing a blog to having to fit everything into a single tweet on Twitter. However, the other major thing that makes RPing on an MMO different is the simple fact that everyone can see what your character is doing. You can move your character around with your mouse or keyboard instead of saying that your character just sidled up to the bar. Having the visuals limits the amount of text a player has to put into their particular pose to describe what they’re doing, so it fits much better with the chat pane restrictions.

So how can you tell if someone’s roleplaying? You can’t assume that just because you’re on an RP server, everyone is roleplaying. Unlike a game like Lord of the Rings Online, there is no dedicated flag you can set that changes your nameplate’s color to designate roleplaying. One certain way to tell a roleplayer is that they’re in a public place and have their ‘walk’ function enabled, but not everyone does that while they’re getting to the location for the scene. You can either stumble across roleplay just by wandering the game itself like I did, start it yourself by picking a spot where other players are and tossing a pose out and see who responds, or you can go surfing the official forums on swtor.com for the RP threads here.

RPing opens up a lot of options. Do you want to act like the feisty but happy Padme, or the (very) dark and emo Anakin?

While there are a handful of dedicated RP-encouraged servers, you can find RP on any of the servers, although it’s understood that such roleplay is more likely to be interrupted by fisticuffs on the PVP servers. Right now, the current RP-designated servers are:

  • Gav Daragon – Asia Pacific
  • The Progenitor – Europe, English language
  • Vanjervalis Chain – Europe, German language
  • Battle Meditation – Europe, French language
  • Begeren Colony – North America, West Coast
  • The Ebon Hawk – North America, East Coast
  • Jung Ma – North America, East Coast, also a PVP server

The best place to find RP depends on what you’re looking for and where you can go. If you haven’t got your ship yet, then you’re stuck roleplaying with folks in your own faction on your starter planet, capital planet, or Fleet, which can have its benefits and still give you conflict depending on whether your character is light-side, dark-side, or just sort of grey all over. Once you have a ship, however, the galaxy’s the limit… although it’s probably not a great idea to take your level 18 Jedi Knight to Hoth and poke your nose out of the Republic base to see if any Imperials want to play. Cantinas tend to be the spots I’ve found RPers in the most, particularly the Slippery Slopes Cantina on the Lower Promenade on Nar Shaddaa. The benefit to using this place is that sanctuary is enforced even on PVP servers, so you can roleplay without getting ganked once you get there. If you want cross-factional roleplay, naturally the four starter planets, two capital planets, Taris, and Balmorra are off-limits because of game restrictions preventing cross-faction players being on them at the same time. However, it’s possible to try roleplaying on any other planet where you can run into players from the other faction, such as Tatooine. Everyone loves speeder races that involve running over Jawas, or is that just me?  (No offense, Blizz!)

So let’s say you’ve found some folks who seem to be roleplaying. What next? While I was observing some roleplayers on The Ebon Hawk in the cantina on Nar Shaddaa, I found the following sorts of details to be evident. If you want to include some action with what your character is saying, you can either use the various /emotes or use ‘/me ‘, such as ‘/me looks around.’ The /me option is a command taken from the old days of Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which is still around and kicking. Other roleplayers also use the ‘say’ command and include their poses within dual colons (:: stuff I’m doing ::) or dual asterisks (** stuff I’m doing **). If they need to say something out of character, the use of dual parentheses seems to be the standard (( OOC stuff I need to say to the other players )). While it’s a personal preference, I tended to think the use of /me looked like a cleaner methodology. It certainly scanned more easily for this mild dyslexic, that’s for sure.

/me glowers menacingly!

While I was observing some RPers on one of the servers last week, I witnessed a most interesting story playing out, and it illustrates the sort of things you can do in roleplay that you can’t do simply by following your character’s questline and also illustrates how the MMO paradigm can be superior to a text-only environment. The scene involved a level 50 Jedi Shadow and a level 28 Sith Sorcerer, and the plot centered around the Sith’s attempt to break the Jedi and manipulate her about some third person that the Jedi had feelings for. What was really cool about this scene was the fact that if this were PVP and not in a sanctuary location, the Shadow would totally wipe the floor with the Sorcerer, but in the context of simple roleplay, that’s not how it played out. The two players were not only speaking to each other, they were also using various in-game commands to act out their scene, including the use of the Sorcerer’s bubble, AOE effects that don’t actually trigger PVP, and basically made it more like watching a play with some cool special effects. They also overrode a few game-mechanics decisions, such as when the Jedi posed that she was lashing out with Force lightning in the midst of her torment. In a MUSH setting, that Jedi would have gotten at least one or two Dark Side Points. However, in the MMO setting, it worked perfectly fine if you ignore the fact that they were doing this in the moshpit in the cantina and no one else was paying them any mind.

Now, as for what you can roleplay, well, the galaxy’s the limit, really. So far, much of what I’ve seen involved people simply talking over drinks at the cantina, players discussing some bounty they were hunting, Force-users discussing philosophy of their opposing viewpoints. There wasn’t much love for the Trooper or Agent in the scenes I witnessed, but there were plenty of Jedi, Sith, Bounty Hunters, and Smugglers interacting. Over the course of a week or so, I could see some of the same people coming back for more, and what they talked about with others depended upon whether they were with folks they’ve RPed with before or new folks they were just meeting. What was interesting for me was watching how players were expanding their characters’ backstories, much like how we had to create a background in my old RP guild on the late and sometimes lamented Rubat Crystal server before we could get the character added to the guild roster. Folks were not only taking certain minor tidbits of the official game plot and exploring them as side stories, but they were coming up with completely separate plotlines that had nothing to do with the game’s official canon. There are obvious small groups of players who are used to RPing with each other and have been doing so for some time, long enough that I felt like I was opening a book in the middle and finding out that Person A was romantically involved with Person B but yet there might be a problem with Person C blackmailing them over something about a job that went south. There was a lot of grumping about how the ‘war was bad for business’.  A lot of it could have easily been lifted from any generic sci-fi setting except anyone RPing about the Force and such, but overall, it did have that added effect of being Star Wars.

There didn’t seem to be much use of the game’s companion characters, or at least, they tended to either be ignored or dismissed, or if mentioned at all, it was in the vaguest of terms. This is understandable, considering how they’re pretty much clones and RP can get awkward (and scary!) with twenty versions of Kaliyo wandering around. Also, it was rare for players to mention the game storylines or even the major NPCs such as Darth Malgus or Satele Shan, although I remember seeing one Imperial player mentioning doing a job for the Imperial Sith Lord as if he had given her that assignment. Plenty of non-canon NPCs were also namedropped as being folks that the players had interacted with, such as an NPC Jedi Master sending a Knight out on assignment, or a Trooper gathering intel on the whereabouts of an opponent that doesn’t exist in game canon. Most players tend to want to focus on smaller scenes that won’t conflict with the game’s overall metaplot, much less extend their character’s class plotline, which is entirely understandable. We want to see what BioWare has up their sleeves for us, but also want to avoid continuity conflicts once new story gets delivered to the game. Given how famously tight-lipped BioWare’s devs are on what’s coming up next (and really, I can understand why and feel no need to grouse at the messengers, it’s not their fault), it’s hard for even the most clever of us to extrapolate what’s in store, so it’s a wise decision on an RPer’s part to simply ‘fill in the blanks’ of the current content rather than monkey about with where things might be headed.

A more involved delving into the game’s forums linked above is a good place to do further research on the matter of roleplaying in The Old Republic. Perhaps you’ll find a nice leveling RPing guild to join, or other like-minded folks to meet up with to discuss your character’s latest adventure.  Enjoy!


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4 Responses to “Roleplaying in Star Wars: the Old Republic”

  1. Jeremy says:

    Great article, enjoyed it. I am in a roleplaying guild and find much of my fun in the game centered around that. BUT WE NEED TEXT BOX’S! It gets a bit confusing without them haha

  2. An enjoyable article, and informative read.

    Though you might want to mention when in a cross-faction setting custom emotes like: /me slips up to the bar and orders something strong. Cannot be seen by your opposing faction, which is why people fall back on the /say with denotations for actions. Cross-faction can see pre-programmed emotes like /wave. ((Trust me regular RP folks hate this little fact, but as of now its what we have to work with it.))

    Another point about the limited text space, while it is more rare in say public cantina settings folks do use a denotation for showing they are going to continue from their last post.

    Example: Senator: The senator says,”I really can just drone on for hours. Just talk and talk. Often about nothing at all. It’s all part of my strategy you see.” He pulls up his+

    Senator: sleeves and clears his throat,”I will talk of the weather, then of lunch, and on and on I go.”

    Some folks us a ‘+’ or ‘>>’ or combination there in. Generally in a cantina settings you don’t see it because conversations are moving fast and huge globs of text are troublesome and often skipped. Though when you get into a more personal one on one sort situations you will see this sort of thing. After all we all got monologue at some point!

    And one thing that is sort glossed over, many guilds that offer rp have long running story arch, some feature certain players, and some that are guild wide story arch. This is where the real meat is in RP if you ask me. Find a guild you like with folks that rp in style you like. Your RP will become all the more richer for it.

  3. WLB says:

    RP is the reason I’m still playing SWTOR religiously almost a year after launch. Whenever I see someone whine about having nothing to do at level 50, I think to myself, “this person needs some RP.” When I used to play SWG, I RPed without even knowing what RP was. Behaving in-character was just what made sense to me.

    And IMO, RP guilds are the heart and sole of the SWTOR community. And the stories and characters that are created in those environments are simply amazing. For example, I know several guilds, including my own, that go to great lengths to keep our guild lore and story archs compatible with the game lore, star wars cannon, and even the story archs of the other guilds. In fact, it’s grown to the point where we’ve got people working on a Machinima series and even a novel based on stories that our guilds have created. And the possibility, however remote, of adding our stories (which started as in-game RP and forum fan-fiction) to the expanded universe is what I find the most exciting!

  4. […] and made a few suggestions on how to get started writing your own fanfic. There’s also the article on roleplaying, where players either move within the game’s storyline in their live-action fiction or start […]

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