Online Text RPGs: Background Etiquette

text game silence

By Ren Zhang

For most roleplayers, your character is close to your heart and full of personality, stories, and potential. Naturally, you want to share your character's wonderfully complex backstory with the whole role playing game world and have them know all the hardships he or she has gone through, right?

There is a right way to go about this and a wrong way. Many wrong ways, in fact.

First off, you might want to reconsider any desire that the whole world is going to want to know your character's pages-long history. Most other players in the text game are entirely too preoccupied with showing off their own characters to actually pay attention, unfortunately. The truth hurts, and the truth is that most roleplayers usually like to hear more about themselves than others.

How to get past this? Make them interested in your character first, which leads to the next point... Don't just hand out pamphlets to everyone in the text RPG telling everything about your character; it reduces your character down to a page of words. There is nothing more tedious than someone who is revealing everything within 10 seconds of meeting. Too much information, seriously. Instead, try encouraging people to roleplay with you using small hints, like an accent or something subtle in your description (please, no more "scars across his/her wrists, obvious signs of suicide attempts." It's been used far too often, and more off-putting than interesting).

Show, don't tell - it is much more compelling and a lot more natural. Imagine going up to a stranger and sharing your whole life's worth of events in one go. A much more realistic approach might be, when someone mentions your character's hometown, saying something such as, "I grew up around there! Have you been to so-and-so spot in the aforementioned location? I used to go there all the time." That provokes mutually engaging conversation, and can lead to you taking a quick trip down memory lane with your new friend. Patience is also crucial, because it is much more engaging, again, to show rather than tell - for example, making jokes and playing pranks rather than just sticking, "He looks mischievous," in the character's description.

While on the topic of handing out pamphlets; journals that are used as diaries should really not just be given out. I can't think of many people who would just give a diary out and say, "Read pages 12-17, it documents my painful divorce and subsequent descent into madness". If you want to show a friend something very important in writing, limit it to a few paragraphs and preface it with roleplay by reminding the other player that it is private and therefore confidential. Still, try to make an effort. It is hard to take someone seriously when they've just told their biggest secrets to a person they have known for a total of five minutes.

Respect the idea that others don't need to know every tiny detail. Roleplayers need to value the privacy of their character, because the more that is revealed, the less there is for others to try and find out for themselves.

What it boils down to is, try to keep your character from being two-dimensional; understand that the depth of your character isn't based solely off his or her background, but rather their interaction with others. A character's history can be an important part of his or her roleplay, but it is not everything. It's not something to be shouted to the world, but rather something to be slowly discovered.

If you would like to try out some great online text-based RPGs, check out these text-based role playing games today.

Ren Zhang is a text game enthusiast and currently plays games from

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Having a background thought out can be important and help define the way your character interacts with others, but like the article says, it's not everything, nor is it essential (far from it) that your characters background be known by everyone your character comes across.

I've found that the best way to get consistent RP isn't just to show-off who your character is, but to throw out fun options for others to play with. Toss out a dead steed or a deluge of letters and see how people respond to that third party situation.

Yes, it is not easy to RP but a MUD offers wonderfull opportunities to do that. Interaction and chatting with others is a very good way to implement good RP. I got myself into very funny situations. I just hate thieves!

I find it handy to have a little list with a motivation and some personality traits when starting a character. For example, motivation being 'power' and traits being 'paranoid, greedy, jealous'. But I never consider these set in stone. Let's say I meet another player who is so convincing in their ways that this character undergoes a transformation and becomes a kind and generous type, repenting for past actions.


I'd like to use the ingame background thing, mostly for myself, but as it is set in stone I tend to pass on it. I feel there should be room to retcon.

not made a background for any of my charcters

As Popeye said "I yam what I yam", no need for background, just being myself and creating my character "on the go"

This is what I did with Mannimar. Some things work some don't. I have been thinking of a fun little alt character though, just need to flesh them out a bit


Nice article!

Important, diffictul-to-accomplish subject, too.

Good article.

Character interaction has a big impact for me. It's not like every single thing should cause massive shifts in character, but it's nice for continuity and development to work with everything you get, and interaction with other characters in particular.

I created a little background, but I find it changes after you have played for awhile

Good advice!

Interesting article; will keep this in mind for the future.

I didn't write much of a background for Eschilde. In the end, it hasn't impacted her much at all--I called her a bastard orphan. She's bloodlined, but her parents wouldn't have been married at the time, so I guess it turned out to be true.

Great read.


I've never had a background any of my characters. I suppose it's a good idea, but it's never been an issue. I tend to "forget" whatever came before my rebirth, and focus on here and now.

When your character is two and a half centuries old, you've lived through more history than any background story could cover.

While ti would be nice to have a fully rounded out character from the start, it would involve extensive reading into the background of the game before beginning - best to kept itquite non descript as then it doesn't matter if the village youw ere brought up in suddeny reveals itself as a front for evil invaders leaving awkward silences with long term friends

Reminds me that I haven't looked at my background in 8 years.

I still don't have a real background. What I do have pegged down is uneventful, to say the least

I have tried to keep my background incredibly generic. I'd rather have the rp form around the character and personality rather then trying to make it go in a certain direction

still have not made a background for any of my chars though

I just roll with it. I know things that my character wouldn't do, so that's a base of sorts.

My background grew after lia was created, I didn't start with a solid line to play from. I find it more enjoyable if these things spring up organically

i'm loving the picture.

I'm surprised this article didn't garner more discussion. Thanks for the credit

He was not yet created and I was bored.

I find a background is an important tool in the development of a character.  My best chars have backgrounds.  Gives me a place to start my RP with them.  Why does he hate so and so, or whatever city?  Sharing that detail is part of the RP

I'm of the "loose" background realm of thinking, basically enough to give my characters their personality while still allowing for character growth based on experiences and the other people I meet.  The details kind of write themselves as I go.

Good advice!

This article describes the difference between roleplaying and writing pretty well. Another thing with roleplaying is to embrace the unexpected - I've roleplayed with way too many people who demand certain roleplaying scenes/events go exactly the way they want them to. My usual reactions are "why am I even be included in this?" and "why are you roleplaying instead of writing?"

I never pre-planned my character, just developed her as I went along. I kind of prefer it that way, because it opens up possibilities I might not have otherwise considered.

I'm the same way.  I don't right out a laundry list of details from the off, I let the character develop within the world.


I wanted to try out Serpent. Probably should have put more thought into it but Kyoru and Fieth made it look so fun. I'm very neglected character. I just draw it out as I go.. like that epileptic monkey. Achaea forums are so inspirational.

I tend to have an initial idea but mostly made up as I go alone from there

Made me have a think.

still loving the picture!

Yeah loving the picture of it

Keep it short, keep it realistic

Good article.