A freeform online role-playing game
is any game
that takes place in a chatroom
of some form in which players take turns writing stories
from the point of view of characters they have devised. I will not bother listing websites or IRC servers where these games are played, since such websites and IRC locations are often transient and do not last nearly as long as any node on E2 will.
The most critical thing which separates freeform role-playing games from traditional, tabletop role-playing games that may be played online, is that freeform role-playing does not follow a rulebook, per se. It traditionally lacks both DM and dice. While there may be certain restrictions, they are restrictions on subject matter or writing style, and not on a battle system or statistic chart.
In order to prevent itself from degenerating into anarchy or a childhood game of Cowboys and Indians (I shot you! No you didn't! Yes I did! No you didn't!) there are two rules which nearly every freeform game I have ever seen follows, and while the names of these rules change slightly from place to place, the following are the most clear and consistent that I have found.
Rule #1: No "Zippy". Rule #2: no "Godmoding". The definitions of these two states of rulebreaking are simple.
Being Zippy indicates directly taking control of another person's character, or another person's creation in any way, shape, or form. Players write their part of the story, their "posts" from the point of view of their own character, and without changing another person's character or possessions without direct permission given out of character. An example post that you might see in a common "Tavern-Style" role-playing room that breaks this rule is as follows:
Brishanda enters the tavern. As she does so, every head turns to view her radiant glory, and a brief hush falls over the room.
How does this break the rules? Well, it takes control
of other player's characters. This post is making the other characters do something, and that's against the Zippy rule. What if another player has a character that doesn't particularly care about beauty? What if someone is just plain too preoccupied to notice? What if someone doesn't think your character is that special? If you've written the above post, you've just altered reality to fit your own personal ego, and that's not allowed. A more suitable post, following the same vein, would be:
Brishanda steps into the tavern. As she does so, the clouds part to shine a single shaft of light onto her face, which nearly all men would call beautiful. If ever there was a person likely to cause a hush to fall over the room, this would be it.
While perhaps tacky, and not the best choice for an entrance
, the above post in no manner takes control of anyone else's character, and is thus legal.
There are different penalties for breaking the "Zippy" rule in different rooms, but most commonly, any person who tries to take control of another character will simply be ignored-- or at the very least the offending statement will be ignored. This ignoring might also be accompanied by an OOC virtual tongue lashing, which is never fun. In rooms with strict moderation, taking control of other players might get you kicked or banned from the room.
The Zippy rule can be violated at any time during play, however arguments about it are most heated when the violation is during combat. This is the most heinous crime a new player can commit, and one of the easiest. Under no circumstances is any player to say, "I hit you", "I knock you down/back", or worst of all... the dreaded "I kill you instantly." All of these statements are in direct and gross violation of the Zippy rule, and are not to be made... ever.
Now, this rule would make fighting pointless and impossible were it not for rule #2, no "Godmoding".
In its original form, godmoding simply meant to have a character that could not die under any circumstances. The origin of the name is clear; from the old game by ID Software "Doom", typing IDDQD would put you into godmode where enemies could not kill you. However, when applied to freeform chatroom role-playing, the term has evolved over the years.
Now, godmoding also means to alter your character in the middle of play without a logical, in game reason. Metagaming falls under this rule. But also, making your character suddenly able to dodge bullets just so that you can survive a fight is godmoding. But note that it's not the dodging of bullets that is godmoding; it's the changing of the character.
Godmoding still means that you aren't allowed to create a character that is invulnerable to everything... everything has a weakness... but now it also forces players to play by the rules of narrative logic, making battles possible (and also an engaging strategy game worthy of its own node).
The purpose of freeform role-playing is not battles, however, even though it is a strategy game with a remarkable amount of depth. You can get out of it as much as you put into it. If playing is just something to relax after a stressful day at work (or school... it seems to be fairly popular amongst highschoolers) then you won't really find much out of the game. If it's a means to learning to become a better writer and a better thinker, then the results can be well rewarding, if a little heartbreaking at times.
See also: Freeform online role-playing battles
Resolving Disparate Magic Systems when Forced to
(More nodes on this subject to come...)