Getting Started with Free-form Role-play

What is Free Form Role-Playing?

If you are new to Free Form Role-Playing, the following article can be very informative. This article was written by the player behind Kairee, the original and my predecessor as supervisor for the Free Form Gaming Forum on AOL. She devoted many many years to nurturing the FFGF and RDI. This article is presented here with her permission, as a historical reference as to the origins of Free Form Role-Playing.

— RDI Panther

First, let's make a distinction between Gaming and Role-playing. Though the FFGF is named "Free Form Gaming Forum" it should rightfully called the "Free Form Role-Playing Forum". FFGF was just simpler to type and speak. 😉 The guiding concept of the FFGF has always been Role-play.

The word "Gaming" implies some form of structure. All "Games" have structure in the form of rules, guidelines, measurable objectives, winners and losers.

Free Form is not a "Game".

Free Form Role-play is best likened to a combination of "Director-less" Improvisational Acting and collaborative story-writing/telling. Or as a former RDI explained it "a big game of make-believe."

What does that mean? To answer that question, let's look at Free Form and its three guiding principles.

There are no rules

No rules governing your character. This means that there are no rules governing character creation and development. You can play ANY type of character with ANY type of abilities/characteristics. Your character can have as detailed a history as you like. Your character can grow and change as you see fit. Only you can determine when and if your character will die.

No rules that determine action or the resolution of actions. You are the only 'referee' controlling what your character does and does not do.

No rules controlling or determining the actions of other characters or the resolution of actions. Just as you are the only person who has control over your character, the Players of the other characters are the only controlling factor for those characters. They determine what happens to their characters.

No rules governing what is a story-line/adventure. Since this is free form there are no objectives to be met. There is no game structure or plot. There is no limit to what you play, how you play or for how long a story-line/adventure/plot takes. There doesn't have to be a end.

Story-lines/adventures are created by the interaction of characters.

There is no "Game Master", "DM", or other referee. Free Form Role-playing is dependent on the creative and collaborative give and take of the players. This interaction and willingness to compromise and work together allows a wide range of adventure possibilities to take place. Cowboys can meet Cyber-girls and get lost in a adventure of power, love and intrigue involving Vampiric Elven princes and their coterie of shapeshifting assassins living on a space station in o bit around a red dwarf star.

At times, player's want some form of plot to goal to achieve and look to another player or group to "loosely" provide plot structure and a story-line. This frequently involves a player whose character is either the focal point or some way "driving" the adventure. But even then, this player relies on the other players to make determinations for their own characters in a open, give and take environment with no character takeing precedence over another in the story.

Cooperative Guidelines, Not Rules

Character Creation: Setting defines the character. What does this mean? Simply put, so long as your character idea fits within the setting guidelines, you can be just about anything you can image. The Red Dragon Inn is a cross-genre, or mixed-genre setting where characters of all types are played. You will find characters of all sorts from cyber-punks to knights in armor. From dwarves to dragons. The overall theme of the Red Dragon Inn is medieval in nature, but characters from all time periods are welcome, and often do inter-mingle.

Character History: You Decide. Your character's history is up to you. You can make it detailed or leave it vague to be discovered during the course of the play. You can create your own background with worlds, societies, species all of your own making or you can utilize the information offered by the setting. It's your choice. Deciding on one or the other does not make you a better or worse player than your fellow player, it is simply the way you decided to make your character.

Character Growth: You Control The Potential. Your character can grow and change as you think your character should as your character experiences things during the course of play. You decide if watching a certain event or experiencing a certain thing will have a lasting impression on your character or if your character will even remember it the next day.

Character Interaction: Give and Take. There are no written rules that determine action or the resolution of character exchanges. There will be no dice or storyteller to determine the outcome of a situation. There is only player cooperation. If there is a 'rule' in FFRP, it should be Cooperation Between Players.

Yes, you decide if your character takes damage or not in a fight. Only YOU decide if your character dies. But remember, the other player you are interacting with has the same right for HIS character. YOU do not get to decide what happens to any character other than your own.

This is why mutual cooperation is so very important in Free Form Role-Playing.

Mutual Cooperation: Perfect is Boring. How would you like it if you knew that no matter what happened, your character would never achieve his or her goal? It's doubtful you would expend the creative energy to create the character. This is why it is important to have a character with flaws. This is why, when two (or more) characters get into a fight, that all characters play fair and take damage when appropriate. Nobody likes to have their precious character be the whipping toy of the 'Perfect Hero' or 'Almighty Enemy.' How boring would it be if two characters fought and nobody took any sort of damage? Would the fight ever end or would it dissolve into swings, misses and a boring exchange of line after line of how wonderful each character was? YAWN! Drama is when there is a possibility that a character will suffer... maybe even die.

The Story-Line: It is what YOU make it. Since this is a largely unstructured story-telling exercise, the only objectives to be met are those you decide your character needs to accomplish. The setting itself and the staff of the area do not control the role-play for you. They do not tell you what your character needs to do and they do not control when your story ends. It is your story. You decide.

The Chat Room Staff: Not your Storyteller. The staff members are in the chat rooms only to ensure that the occasional irreverent individual does not disrupt your play time. The staff is not your Storyteller. FFRP is dependent on the creative and collaborative give and take of the players themselves. This interaction and willingness to compromise and work together during play allows a wide range of adventure possibilities to take place. It is not the job of the chat room staff to create your adventure for you. Like creating your character, you have control over the adventures you decide to create and participate in with your character.

There are times when multiple players want some sort of plot or goal to achieve together. Sometimes it is fun to look to another player or group to "loosely" provide plot structure and story-line. Even if the story is yours, sometimes someone else can offer something interesting that can make the story better. Group story lines work best when there's give and take, with no one player working to outshine the rest.

There are no limits but your imagination

You have the vision about who and what your character is. No one can dictate to you what your character should and ought to be or what your character can and should be.

Only you know how your character will reacts to any given situation. Since this character is your creation, only you know how that character reacts.

There are no losers

As long as you are expressing your creativity through interactive role-play and you are enjoying yourself through this challenging exercise of your imagination you are a winner.

Though characters can die or get hurt (physically or emotionally) there are no losers. You win simply be experiencing the power of your imagination and the creativity of those you play with.

As you can see, Free Form Role-playing can encompass a great many things and can be interpreted in many different ways. It is the flexibility of Free Form that is its greatest strength.

That flexibility, however, is a double edged sword.

All the games we grew up with, including RPGs and SIMs, all have rules that must be followed. Rules provide structure so that everyone knows what they can and can't do, what the goals are, who wins and who loses. This method of play is so ingrained in our lives that the thought of play without rules is alien to some. As consequence, the very flexibility of Free Form intimidates some players and in order to make "the game" more comprehensible to them, they try to impose rules and other structure onto Free Form.

At times it can be useful to look at Free Form role-play not in terms of story-lines, plots and adventures but a ongoing saga developed by character interaction. Some point to a soap opera that is on going, plot upon sub plot, never ending but constantly evolving into new tales and adventures. However, like life itself, there is no writer or staff of writers determining the plot and scripting the words and actions. Like life, events transpire because of other events and circumstances, through cause and effect.

Free Form Role-play is a very demanding activity. It requires a high level of emotional maturity on the part of the players. It assumes that the player can and will differentiate between IC and OOC. It expects that the players will have respect for each other and their unique creative visions (regardless of how creative or talented you think the other player[s] is). Free Form requires that players "give and take" to make the interaction exciting and enjoyable for all involved.

Free Form is a open environment in which any and everyone is welcome. Any limits on who can participate and how narrows and limits the possibilities Free Form offers.

There will be times when your creative vision is at odds with another player's. There will be time when the give and take doesn't seem to develop between you and another player. At these times it is more than acceptable to bow out of play with that other player. You can't get along with or please everybody. There is no reason for angry words or hurt feelings. Simply find someone else who you can interact with and enjoy creative interaction.

Remember, you are in control of your on-line time, your character, your creative expression, and how much fun you have with Free Form Role-play.

Create... Cooperate... Enjoy!

Questions or comments about these guidelines, or suspected violations can be sent using our Contact Us page.