I wrote this up for one of the sites I RP on, and it was worth posting here because it applies to nearly every roleplaying situation I’ve ever been involved in.
Roleplaying is a fascinating thing because we often play characters that know far more than we do in real life. But what a lot of people fail to realize is that we also play characters that know far less than we do in real life. Sometimes, it can be hard to remember the distinction between what we know, and what our characters know, and as a result we write things in roleplay that aren’t consistent with our character’s knowledge. This is called Metagaming, and it’s something we should strive to avoid in our writing. It can be very tempting to want your character to get involved in a plot, or to have your character to be a “hero” of sorts. But the simple fact of the matter is that the most interesting characters are the ones with flaws. Speaking from personal experience, I know that I tend to be less interested in characters who are always right, who are always performing heroic feats, and who do completely implausible things just to get involved in the current plotline.
More and more frequently, I’ve seen the following three things happening:
1. A character who is not in a location knows something that happened in said location.
2. A character who is talking to another character knows things that the other character thinks, but doesn’t say aloud.
3. A character assumes that something bad is going on despite the fact that there are literally no signs that anything is out of the ordinary around them.
I’m going to give more specific examples of each to make it clear what is acceptable and unacceptable:
1. Crewman Bob is in the Mess Hall. The Talon has just approached an alien vessel, which they have hailed. It’s acceptable for him to look out the window and to see the alien vessel. However, unless Crewman Bob’s friend Ensign Jill sent him a message saying that the alien vessel had hailed the Talon, he wouldn’t have any knowledge of this. And if Crewman Bob was in an area of the ship where there were no windows, such as Engineering or Sickbay, he would have no knowledge of the other ship at all.
2. Crewman Bob is talking to Ensign Jill. He asks her how she is doing, and Jill responds that she’s fine. She then mentions in her character’s thoughts that she is dwelling on the fact that her mother just passed away. It is fine for Crewman Bob to suspect that Ensign Jill might not actually be fine, based on her body language, or her facial expression. It is not okay for him to jump to the conclusion that Jill is mourning for her mother and to begin comforting her, unless she (or a mutual acquaintance) told him that her mother had died.
3. Crewman Bob is in Sickbay. Meanwhile, on the Bridge, the entire Command Staff of the Talon has been frozen by a renegade Q. It is not okay for Bob’s Spidey Sense (or other premonition) to reveal to him that something’s going on. It’s also not okay for Bob to randomly decide to do a sensor sweep of the bridge to let him know that something is going on up there. If it is not in the normal, everyday course of Bob’s duties, Bob will remain unaware of the Command Staff’s fate until such point that he is told by another character.
In general, please keep these thoughts in mind:
1. Most officers don’t run random sensor sweeps of areas, nor do they notice weird power drains, nor do they assume that just because their department is unusually slow on a given shift that there’s something going on. There are some officers who will notice power drains, if they are on-duty engineers or operations staff.
2. Captains often have reasons for keeping what happens on the bridge limited to the bridge crew. Even when they don’t, it isn’t as though there’s an onboard Twitter or Facebook feed that tells the remainder of the crew what is going on. It is often difficult to get a good group of individuals to post on the bridge. If you would like your character to not always be in the dark, giving them a bridge shift is the best way to allow them to be more involved.
3. While people have varying levels of perceptiveness, it is unlikely that they will always know exactly what someone is thinking. If you assume that your character knows the deep inner thoughts of other characters all the time, you will find that people wish to roleplay with you less.
4. In many instances, it is more interesting to have your character misinterpret the meaning of something that is going on than it is to have your character know everything. Readers are much more interested in reading about a character overcoming challenges than they are in watching a character that always avoids danger and conflict.
5. If someone indicates that they have said something so softly that only the people in their immediate range can hear them, do not (by some miracle or racial advantage) overhear them. Assume that if someone is being cautious to avoid being overheard that they factor in the fact that some races hear better than others.
6. If you aren’t involved in a plot but want to be involved, please ask an Admin for a plausible excuse for your character to be involved, rather than just forcing them into a plot.
In any situation is is better to ask than to assume. You know what they say about people who assume.