Text Based Roleplaying: A Beginner’s Guide

The internet is home to all sorts of bizarre little niches that most people live their days happily unaware of their existence. Strange pornographic communities for the most obscure of fetishes; image boards that post nothing but recycled internet memes; social networking websites for every hobby and lifestyle; websites for people who breed kittens; people who want to taste human flesh; suicide letters and fan fiction where Jean and Logan finally get it on in various locales around Xavier Academy.

The internet is an endless cesspool of everything you could – and could NEVER – imagine!

Today I am here to educate you on one of those strange little bubbles on the internet super highway, one that is, in my opinion, incredibly relevant to iFanboy and the geek community in general. It is an imaginative, hyper nerdy practice that I have been involved in for YEARS… and it's, strangely, unknown to a lot of folks.

When I was a teenager, homeschooled in Alaska and neck deep in Fantasy novels and comic books, I had a big imagination and very few friends. I would wile away my time weaving myself magical, wonderful worlds with only the power of words, inserting characters into all sorts of wild scenarios that my brain thought up. I also spent a lot of time perusing the internet, as most bored teenagers do. These two things intersected unexpectedly one day, as I was clicking around the old Yahoo chat rooms. Back in the "day", people could make their own chat rooms. Naturally, this meant that mostly it was rooms with titles like "18/f/here for you" or "hookup chat", but something caught my attention: "The Phoenix Tears Tavern and Inn". Intrigued by fantasy references I entered the room, and my mind was immediately blown.

What I was so suddenly and unexpectedly thrust into was the world of text based roleplaying, a strangely underrated chip on the block of geeky practices. Although the name itself is decently self explanatory, it goes pretty deep, and people who practice text based roleplaying are pretty hardcore about it (myself included). Some communities are incredibly exclusive and don't allow postings with less than 500 words, etc.

Now, I'm sure for those who are unfamiliar with this practice are immediately thinking of the "typical" roleplay: that is, tabletop DnD style, with rolling dice and a dungeon master. Text based roleplaying is nothing like that. Usually there is an open ended, loose story that your character is thrust into, but then it's almost completely your decision what happens from that point on. Though players may plot "OOC" (out of character), many choose to see where things go organically.

As I mentioned before, my first experience with text based roleplaying was in a chat room, which was much less structued than what I am used to now. The posts were also a lot shorter and rife with "one liners", people who can't really write but still enjoy the practice. I'm sure there are websites and chat rooms that still cater to "one liners", but I avoid these places like a plague. But the chat room formula was this: you had a loose idea of what you wanted your character to be. Many people were "real time" roleplaying that their character was at the bar, fighting a dragon outside, etc. You could choose to interact with certain players or not. it was just like any normal chat room, except everyone was playing someone else. I quickly became addicted to it, and as I continued to involve myself in text based roleplaying I found my writing skills increasing.

Roleplaying is an incredible lubricant for writers. It basically forces you to write a lot so you can keep up with your posts, and most websites are teeming with talented writers playing clever, interesting characters that keep you on your toes. One of my particular characters from a Harry Potter roleplaying website is now the main character of one of my big writing projects because roleplaying gave me the outlet to develop her over time and with great detail. Also, making her "interact" with other players made me see how I wanted her personality to evolve and eventually she become three dimensional.
So where does this fit in with comic books? Naturally, roleplaying exists for every fandom you could possibly imagine, and there is a huge community of superhero/super villain websites, Mutant websites, or even Canon websites. A great resource to find these things is rpg-directory.com, which I recommend for anyone who is curious about text based roleplaying.

Now that I've captured your interest, I'm sure you're curious as to how to get INVOLVED and what to expect when you do. As I mentioned above, please check out rpg-directory.com for a vast directory of various, well maintained, and active roleplaying websites lurking about on the internet. That's the first step: finding a website with subject matter that interests you. For this example, let's pretend you want to play a kickass for hire mercenary type of super-human who doesn't choose sides and only does ANYTHING for money. You have a rough idea of this character in your head, but she needs to be fleshed out. Appearence, personality, history. What led her to be the way she is? How do people percieve her? Most "proper" roleplaying websites will ask for at least five paragraphs of personality and history in your application, and if it is written poorly you're really just out of luck. All character applications go through the admins, who will only accept players who they feel meet their criteria (this means: always read the rules!).

So once you have fleshed out your character a bit and you've applied, you're now ready to begin roleplaying! Most websites have a fairly active community with players who like to get to know the voice behind the fictional characters they are interacting with. I have met some of my closest friends on roleplaying websites. Thus: don't be afraid to introduce yourself as a player, let other people know if you have a rough plot idea in mind, etc. You can either A) plot with another player and then "act" it out with posts or B) start a new thread and see if anyone would like to join you. Most posts on roleplaying websites are around three to ten paragraphs long, so don't be afraid to flesh things out with descriptions and internal monologue.

Look, you're posting! You're roleplaying! MOM AND DAD, YOU'RE REALLY DOING IT!

But truly, text based roleplaying is a great writing tool and it gives people a chance to live out their impossible fantasies. I've gone through my years at Hogwarts, enrolled in Xavier academy, and was a Theelin smuggler. I've existed half in a fantasy world for years thanks for text based roleplaying, and I feel it makes me a much more INTERESTING person.

I know you're itching to go blow things up in two paragraphs or more or act out all your superhero fantasies from when you were little… so what are you waiting for?



Molly McIsaac is a giant geek, quite obviously. She believes unicorns exist and can't remember what she had for breakfast yesterday. You can follow her bizarre misadventures on twitter.


  1. Cool! I’ll check this all out!

  2. This is always something I’ve been interested in, the only thing I ‘worry’ about is what if you go away for like 2 days? Can people just fuck around with stuff and change the whole story around you?

    Apart from that, I’d love to try some out one day. Great article as always! 😀

  3. I read the title and imediatley thought text based and in text messaging and thought it was a whole new way to rolepay, but actual text base rolepaying is still awesome! great article!

  4. Sadly, the creative art of roleplaying is a thing few practice any longer. Even smaller niche than comics.

  5. Oh wow… so many memories. I used to roleplay on IRC for years until the games I played in gradually died out. A few failed attempts to find a new game to play have ensued, but I’ve never come across a group quite like that first.

    I really would like to do this again… I might have to browse that directory.

    Thanks for the memories, Molly! 

  6. Oh I see. Yes, I know these. Though I prefer the RPG that are more about the tactics and strategy than they are about the writing.

  7. I miss RPGs. I used to play all the time….back when i had friends LOL.

  8. If only there were REAL rpg’s online, not MMO’s, that I could find.  Dice and all.  Anyone know about any of these?

  9. Check yer LCS. They might have an RPG night.

    If there was an onlne dice rolling RPG I’d love to know about it.

  10. If you have to go away for a week, your friends you can always arrange for your character to be kidnapped, and then go on a mission to rescue you.  Comas are also good.  

    Or, you know, that’s what I’ve heard. 

  11. For those interested in more traditional role-playing (dice rolling included) online, you should start off exploring rpg.net. It’s pretty much all you need to learn about modern tabletop gaming, and they have a play-by-post subforum dedicated to online play of tabletop games.

  12. Word of advice, it’s a big commitment jumping into any RPG, but I find with forum based it’s even more so than with the tradtional tabletop aproach. Atleast you can have physical contact with the people you play at the table with to juggle schedules. So I’d go for chat based over forum, but quite often with online it’s pretty much be there or be booted.

    I’ve been involved in a few games, and since you can’t physicaly gauge the players reactions to your story, and most people since the games are limited won’t go through the trouble of complaining in the out-of-character thread, you can get stuck in some pretty bland, ridiculousy difficult, slow games with overly self -indulgent DM’s.

     You can’t beat the real thing I’m afraid. Can’t wait to get some games in over christmas, missing at university.