Some Brief Remarks on Roleplay Etiquette and Decorum [OOC]

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The State of Monavia
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Some Brief Remarks on Roleplay Etiquette and Decorum [OOC]

Postby The State of Monavia » Mon Dec 28, 2020 7:14 pm

Some Brief Remarks on Roleplay Etiquette and Decorum


All games have rules and standards that exist for the benefit of their players. Roleplaying games (including NS) are inherently cooperative exercises, so they are only fun to play as long as cooperation is possible between their participants. Since a commitment to good decorum helps foster this cooperation by creating and maintaining a sportsmanlike atmosphere, I want to use this lecture to highlight some critical ways in which roleplayers can work together to make their participation in this game more pleasant and productive in the future.

Throughout the time I have spent preparing this lecture, I have often leaned on the expertise of others—standing on the shoulders of giants, as the saying goes—to refresh my understanding of some of the topics I want to cover. I am also particularly indebted to Ghant for inviting me to join the NS Roleplay Symposium staff and reserving space on the Symposium’s agenda for me to present information on this topic.

Basic Principles of Roleplay Conduct

NS has no shortage of rules as the One Stop Rules Shop can easily demonstrate, but the whole lot of them stands upon the foundational principle of civility, which holds that players should behave fairly and courteously towards one another. One of the basic principles of RP etiquette is the concept that RPers are entitled to decide what happens to their own in-character stuff (within reason), and that it is therefore bad form for one RPer to arbitrarily and capriciously decide what happens to another RPer’s stuff without his or her consent. Another is the concept that RPers should not allow in-universe things to affect their relationship with real life (or vice versa). Other basic principles include avoiding OOC provocations, getting along with the Moderators, resolving disputes over IC details in a civil manner, and demonstrating a willingness to lose. I have dedicated the next few sections of this lecture to explaining how each of these principles function and offering some tips you can use to adhere to them in practice.

Separating OOC Things From IC Things

Most roleplayers tend to have difficulty roleplaying with someone who does not “play well with others” for a number of obvious reasons. This is especially true in cases where RPers forget that their NS nations and characters are entirely fictitious and therefore the things that happen to them ought not to be construed as somehow reflecting on the OOC merits of the players. While NS was originally designed for teens and players who are new to RPing (especially in the youngest age brackets) and might need some practice at learning how to fully understand this distinction, an inability to distinguish reality from fiction is, at bottom, a sign of immaturity that others will notice. If you are new to RPing, please make a point of learning how to understand this distinction before you throw yourself headfirst into the RP scene. You will save yourself from a lot of potential trouble.

Over the fifteen years I have played NS, I have witnessed many cases in which RPers take IC matters personally in a wide variety of ways that cannot be regarded as civil or healthy. These episodes tend to spark OOC disputes that end in fractured relationships and Moderators stepping in to mete out warnings and bans. In many cases, the parties to these disputes did themselves (and each other) no favors by arguing in bad faith (for example, engaging in name-calling, impugning one another’s motives, etc.) or by failing to call for help from Moderation or other RPers with more experience. When facing disputes of this nature, the best thing you can do is “lower the temperature” by avoiding heated rhetoric and expressing a willingness to call for help. While it is better to avoid these disputes altogether, if you are an experienced RPer who is trying to teach a newbie the basic principles of RPing for the first time, an abundance of patience and politeness will carry you far in teaching your new RP partner how to understand and appreciate the OOC/IC distinction.

Even if you do not have any trouble separating reality from fiction on an intellectual level, there is still one RP habit that can lead you to blur the line between them without intending to do so. This habit, which is known as metagaming, typically consists of one or more characters knowing things in universe that they should not be able to know. To state my main point another way, your characters do not know all the things about the story they are in that you know as an author of that story. If I write a post stating that one of my named characters secretly broke into a safe and left behind zero evidence that could be used to determine his or her identity in universe, then the other RPers in that thread should not write posts stating that their characters know who the culprit is just because the writers behind them know who the culprit is. Metagaming thus violates the separation of fiction from reality and should therefore be avoided.

Avoiding OOC Provocations

As important as it is for RPers to maintain clear boundaries between RP and real life, it is equally important that they remember that the OOC side of NS is just as dependent on civility as any other part of real life is. Just as it is improper to go about insulting and harassing people in public, it is bad form (in fact, it is illegal under NS site rules) to flame, troll, bait, harass, or otherwise provoke other members of the RP community (in fact, malicious provocation is a surefire way you can wear out your welcome to the point that the Moderators end up deleting your account). Even without intending to provoke another RPer, there are a number of ways you can inadvertently get under someone else’s skin in a way that might be construed as provocative. One example is the use of abrasive language towards other RPers in an OOC thread. Another example is going about assuming that other RPers are acting in bad faith and treating them accordingly. A third example is disregarding the rules established by the person hosting an IC thread.

Generally speaking, a lack of thoughtful consideration for the interests of others can be almost as offensive as actual rudeness, so it behooves you as an RPer to act politely towards your host, honor his or her desired RPing rules, and request rule changes in a measured, respectful fashion if you do not agree with them. Always assume that other RPers are acting in good faith unless you can prove otherwise and avoid taking abrasive commentary too personally. Never accuse someone of godmoding, powergaming, metagaming, flaming, trolling, or violating site rules without believable evidence, threaten to use Moderators as your personal attack dogs when someone disagrees with you, or try to one-up another RPer at rules laywering. In short, if a certain form of behavior appears likely to alienate someone else, it probably is not something you should try.

Getting Along With the Moderators

The Moderator team exists to help the NS community function in a healthy and constructive fashion by enforcing the “rules of the game” and offering players assistance and direction as requests arise. Because Moderators devote considerable amounts of time to keeping the site running smoothly and often have to muster a lot of patience when picking through player disputes, common decency entitles them to a certain measure of respect from the rest of the community. It is therefore incumbent on all NS RPers to make good-faith efforts to get along with the Moderation team as best they can.

Just as you should try to avoid provoking other RPers, you should not treat the Moderation team in any way that might lead them to assume you are just a troublemaker spoiling for a fight. Other than violating the site’s terms of service and impersonating a Moderator, there are few ways you can put yourself on Moderation’s naughty list faster than throwing a tantrum in response to a Moderator ruling, especially when discipline is being meted out. If you have reason to believe that a Moderator ruling is unfair, you can always follow the appeal procedure that the NS site rules contain. If you have reason to believe that a Moderator has engaged in any form of misconduct, the site rules contain instructions for requesting an investigation.

Regardless of how you might feel about a Moderator’s actions, you should never accuse a Moderator of acting tyrannically, whip up a virtual mob to push for a Moderator’s firing or resignation, or try using the forums to litigate Moderation disputes in the court of public opinion. Posting rants about “Mod tyranny” will make you look like a whiner and claiming someone’s account got “unjustly deleted” will win you few friends since nobody gets deleted without wearing out his or her welcome first. Again, if you have issues with something a Moderator does, there are officially sanctioned channels you can use to obtain proper redress.

Handling Disputes Over IC Details

Roleplayers will not always see eye-to-eye, even when they are fully committed to working together. Every RPer approaches an RP thread from his or her unique individual perspective (which personal experiences tend to shape in a very big way), so it is very important that every RPer participating in that thread have an understanding of and an appreciation for the perspectives of the others to keep the RP thread healthy. This means that RPers who enter a thread should be transparently candid about the RP goals they want to achieve through their participation and entertain a willingness to discuss and settle on some OOC rules they can agree to honor over the course of their participation.

In practice, this means that NS RPers who want to join an IC thread need to acquaint themselves with the thread’s details and recognize and honor the basic RP goals specified by the IC thread’s host(s). As in a real-life social gathering, it is incumbent on the host to spell out the sort of details that the “guests” need to know. Such details can include e limits on the number of participants who should be allowed to enter, the thread’s desired genre and story format, the time period in which the story is to be set, the sort of “magic system” that is canon for that particular thread, and whether the IC thread’s story is supposed to be driven by its characters, IC events, or both. I have witnessed numerous cases in which RPers hosting IC threads fail to specify the social and canonical boundaries they want other participants to respect, only to end up scrambling to make new rules as they go along in response to OOC disputes that arise after the threads are well underway.

One of the best things RPers can do to avoid disputes over IC details is to discuss details that can materially impact the direction of a story’s plot before setting those details in stone. For instance, I might want to RP a duel between one of my characters and a character controlled by another RPer. I assume that both characters agreed to dueling terms that allow them to wear armor, while the other RPer assumes that both will be fighting unarmored, and we both make several RP posts before I mention that the other player’s character failed to wound my character because my character is wearing armor. The other player might post, “Hey, wait a minute. You didn’t say the duelists could wear armor in this thread. I was under the impression they were both going to fight unarmored.” In this scenario, both of us would be at fault for failing to bring up the subject during the planning phase of the RP and getting this matter hammered out before finding ourselves with a dozen posts to discuss and then retroactively edit.

I have seen many RP threads crash and burn through OOC disputes resulting from RPers making RP decisions based on differing assumptions they did not disclose to the other RPers in those threads. History has shown that clear, consistent, and civil communication is an excellent preventive measure, as is a willingness to “stop and ask for directions” whenever an RPer is trying to take a thread in a direction you do not fully understand. There is also much value in inviting a disinterested third party to mediate disagreements (in fact, the ability to mediate is one thing Mentors look for when recruiting new Mentors).

Willingness to Lose

Most RPers tend to dislike seeing their nations and characters lose at things because the logical consequences of defeat tend to curtail the range of things they can do with their settings and characters in-universe. This is especially true anytime your NS nation gets destroyed by a war, plague, depression, or natural disaster, since these sorts of things tend to leave nations in poor shape for throwing their weight around in-universe for a long span of time. The same basic principle applies to cases in which you lose a major character or institution or concept in which you have invested significant amounts of time and creative effort.

Losing can often come with major in-character downsides, but a willingness to lose can also gain you a number of OOC benefits. As Krieg’s Guide to Losing explains in greater detail, a willingness to lose demonstrates good sportsmanship and will therefore earn you respect as an RPer. It will also help you keep your ego from getting sucked into an obsession with winning at all costs. Losing can enable you to explore a number of new RPing options that you would not have any reasons to explore if your nations, characters, etc. consistently won at everything. For example, a story about a defeated nation rebuilding and rearming can be just as fun to write (and as fun for your audience to read) as a story about a nation achieving glorious triumphs on the battlefield.

You are, of course, free to do whatever you like with your NS nations when you get into a losing conflict. Nevertheless, retconning your way out of a loss is regarded as the “easy way out” for a reason—it is equally possible for you to get your NS nation out of a bind the hard way by RPing its recovery, even if that means retiring old, established characters and having to create a new generation of characters to carry your nation’s story forward. From a creative perspective, it is a more fulfilling way to address an IC loss because it gives you a way to incorporate it into your canon. From a sportsmanship perspective, it shows that you are willing to honor all the time that others spent building a shared IC history with you through RPing with them.

Avoiding Godmoding and Powergaming

There are many different practices that tend to detrimentally affect RP threads and thereby discourage other RPers from wanting to roleplay with you. In addition to bad habits like provoking other players and failing to distinguish OOC stuff from IC stuff, there are other forms of roleplay behavior that will often cause other RPers a great deal of annoyance. These forms of unsportsmanlike behavior include godmoding and powergaming, both of which you ought to avoid.

Godmoding, a practice in which RPers try to give their stuff unfair advantages, typically comes in five main forms: saying what happens to another RPer’s stuff, declaring your own stuff invincible, refusing to accept any losses without cause, metagaming on purpose, and using selective retcons to undo events (especially losses) that you and your RP partners agreed to accept. These practices are known as godmoding because they perform the same function as “god mode” cheat codes in video games. If you want to read about godmoding in further detail, Euroslavia’s comprehensive treatise on godmoding is your best friend.

While godmoding is consider bad form because explicitly violates NS RP rules, powergaming is considered bad form even though it does not technically violate anything except the RP community’s standards of decency. Powergaming is the practice of RPing with other RPers in a way designed to guarantee the others will always lose. One major example is using an established nation account to RP the conquest of nations belonging to new players who RP with NS stats (thus putting them at an inherent disadvantage) and then claiming to own hundreds of “colonies” when going up against another established RPer. While powergaming is not technically illegal, it is tasteless, immature, and petty enough to constitute a form of bad RP etiquette and should therefore be avoided.

Approaching Potential RP Partners

The process of finding new RP partners in the NS community can often resemble the process of finding new friends and acquaintances in a social setting. Sometimes we are lucky enough to run into people with similar interests by dint of favorable circumstances, but this is not always the case. If you find yourself wanting to partner with someone new for an RP thread, you need to develop a constructive way of approaching that person and pitching the ideas you have in mind. In most cases, the two principal ways in which one RPer gets in touch with another are telegrams and posting in OOC threads. Offsite means of communication, such as IM services, can also offer you a means of contacting someone about an RP idea.

When contacting a stranger using the telegram feature, you should make a point of introducing yourself up front before explaining what you are hoping to achieve. Once you have established your identity with the other person, your next main task is to lay out the rudiments of your RP proposal while inviting the other person to offer feedback. This last bit is critical as the person you want to contact might be interested in RPing something with you, but just not in the exact way you might be contemplating. An openness towards haggling and negotiating various details will help nurture a potential collaborative relationship, as will inviting the other party to ask you questions and offering prompt, straight answers.

When approaching other RPers through their OOC threads, you need to be open and transparent about your intentions after you have introduced yourself. If you want to jump on an open RP thread’s bandwagon, you are likelier to garner a warm reception if you take some time to introduce yourself (when applicable) and explain your reasons for wanting to join and stating the objectives that you are hoping to achieve. For instance, if you want your NS nation to join an RP thread about a civil war tearing another RPer’s nation apart, you should disclose which side(s) your nation is backing and why. If one of your RP objectives is to roleplay your country’s merchants selling weapons to both sides, or one of your politicians flying in at random to play the hero and broker a truce, it is generally wise to share this information with the IC thread’s host so he or she can work with you to accommodate your entry.

If you want to join an organized RP community, such as a dedicated RP region or RPing association, you need to find out which ones will be a good fit for you before you formally join any of them. The best way to do this is to approach individual members of these communities and ask them insightful questions about what their communities are like, why they joined, and so forth. You can learn a lot about an RP community just by communicating with a few individual members. You are not obligated to go through the trouble of putting in a membership application, getting vetted, and “proving yourself worthy” to join a community unless you have some solid reasons to join it in the first place. If you do not have any good reasons to join a specific RP community, or you believe the potential cons of joining outweigh the potential pros, you can always politely decline to join without having any bridges to burn in the process.


Civility and decorum are vital components of any cooperative enterprise, including the NS RP scene, so a proper respect for RP etiquette will help you gain new friends and avoid acrimonious disputes whenever you get into a disagreement. Most of this site’s rules stand upon a single golden rule: behave towards others as you would prefer to have them behave toward you. If you keep this point at the forefront of your interactions with others, you should be able to get along well with the NS RP community as a whole. I sincerely hope that the advice I am able to offer in this lecture will prove helpful to those who have found it worth their time to attend it. Thank you.

I am an N&I roleplay mentor. You can contact me via telegram or Discord (@Monavia).

Fifteen Year Veteran of NationStates ∙ Member of the NS Writing Project and the Roleplayers Union
I am a classical monarchist Orthodox Christian from Arizona.



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