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Flow and Fiero in Freeform PBP Roleplay



To be short (ignore the word count), flow is a psychological state of heightened focus and engagement. Fiero is pride that follows a sense of accomplishment, usually in the context of overcoming some barrier. Below is an attempt to articulate a general framework for a roleplayer to get the most out of the game of roleplay, specifically 1) on a text-based, turn-based platform 2) in a freeform environment. Real-time platforms demand a different frequency and duration of engagement, and systemized environments have their own built-in productivity markers, usually some kind of leveling up, some kind of economy, some kind of avatar customization.

This framework will be the least useful for people who have already roleplayed continuously. These people are already achieving their own versions of success as they manage to remain engaged for years at a time. It will be the most useful for new players who want to achieve deep levels of engagement and for inconsistent players who want to remain engaged for longer periods of time. And for both types of players to manage their investment in the game against the parts of their life that aren't a game.

I'll start by defining things not to do as a way to start outline what you should. 1) Don't start at too high a level, or else the story for the character is near its end and you are committing to a short term engagement. 2) Don't do too much at once or you'll get stressed, fatigued, and burned out.


This is the state you want to achieve when you're actively writing your post or working on a series of posts over X amount of time. To achieve flow, here are some suggestions on short term tactics or best practices:

1. Time constraints. Decide on an amount of time per day that you're willing to spend on this game. I recommend 30 minutes a day, or session, as you may go a day or a few days between posts. If you're only posting a few times a day, you may be using your daily time to read other people's posts and think about or draft your reply. This keeps you immersed and makes the actual post easier to finish in your time slot.

2. Word maximums. The minimum for canon content is 80 words. The national average is about 40 WPM. If you spend 10 minutes writing your post and 10 minutes editing it, you should be able to clear the minimum and then some without feeling like you're being rushed (making a few assumptions, naturally the timeline will change depending on your unique circumstances).

3. Notes. It's a pretty common event that you can read a post in situations you aren't able to write one, reading takes a lot less effort, but as or after you read, jotting down a few instant reactions or movements or snippets of dialogue immediately get you started and frame your reply in your mind. Even if you don't get to sit down and do your post for a few days after you read it, you have a starting point that enables you to jump in immediately.

4. Music. For inspiration, this can be almost anything. For focus, I recommend video game music as it's specifically designed to add to the immersion without drawing too much of your attention. "Lo-fi", "cafe music" and "easy listening" also fit this category. Some recent studies have suggested listening to the same song (regardless of type) on repeat will also boost focus.

5. Familiarity and confidence with the setting. If you set aside 30 minutes a day but only end up posting every few days and are able to make your replies pretty quickly, you can use your extra time for familiarizing yourself with the lore and with your partner or even diving deeper on your character. You can start a roleplay in an area just knowing that you're in a prison, but as you read more about the area around the prison, you as a player get more information that you can use for your character's short term goals and long term development. This isn't about the lore itself being some masterful and inspiring work, so much as your mind being an engine of creativity all by itself. Familiarity with the information will give you the confidence you need to tap into the lore effectively and start coming up with your own stuff that's both unique but relevant.


This is the sense of pride in your accomplishments that come with the completion of plot lines, whether they're relatively quick and isolated events lasting only a few weeks, or chains of events spanning months or years. To achieve fiero here are some suggestions on long term strategies or best practices:


For simplicity's sake I'll be using US high school grades just because it's something I'm familiar with and can reference easily. This isn't prescriptive. The fact there are 4 levels and under / upper classes is incidental. The overall idea can be abstracted into more or less steps or other terms.

For maximum fiero your character should be an underclassman, a freshman or a sophomore. This doesn't mean they should be totally incompetent. They should be effective enough to execute on the steps that will lead to achieving their long term goals, but the more capable they start, the closer to the goal they are, the shorter the run, the more shallow the fiero.

There's nothing wrong with starting a character at the senior level. There are many narratives that call for characters at different levels of development, and it isn't uncommon for players to have multiple characters at multiple stages of growth. That isn't an issue at all. But as a new player or someone coming back to the game after a while away, see the first two things in the overview: don't start at too high a level, don't do too much at once.

In terms of being able to execute on the steps that lead to their goals, in a freeform environment, this can take many different forms. What you want to keep in mind here is that you're able to determine your level of engagement by the goals you set, and the steps you consider to get to that goal, in the same way you can change difficulty levels in a video game. The more easily and quickly the goal is accomplished, the shorter and more shallow your engagement.

Here's an example: my freshman character is a "beggar", and his goal is "become rich".

Say I want a short term engagement of a few weeks. The fact that he has limited capacity means there's only a few ways he can achieve immediate satisfaction of his goal. Likely he'll mug someone or steal something. He gets rich and he does it quick.

If I want something medium and more like a few months, I can take the two examples above and add conditions. Instead of a back alley mugging of any random character, I plan a heist to steal something valuable, a painting, jewels, rare materials, etc. Now my freshman character has to learn skills, make connections, get information, and plan the heist before he does it.

I can move the goal posts. If I just want to do a heist because that's what would be immediately satisfying, I can make a character that's a junior or senior, who already has the needed skills and information, a team and a spot to hit. The story begins and ends with the heist and the timeline is dictated mostly by the number of people involved.

If I want a long term engagement of many months or even a year? The story starts with a beggar in his environment, who wants to leave it behind by getting wealthy, who learns to pick locks (or learns a trade or joins the military) and starts committing petty crime (or professionally questing or volunteering for high value missions) on the lookout for the big break, who stumbles upon that big break (you get the picture by now) and on it goes.

If I want to do the opposite and make it take longer, demand more involvement, in short be a tougher obstacle, then I can do a "fun failure". Rather than an unbroken string of successes, my character fails at one or more of those steps, and now I have to approach the problem of progress from a different angle, something that I wasn't expecting when I first started. That can be very fun.

This multi-stage, multi-event manner of approaching the character's goal keeps me immersed and engaged for a long time. There's always something to do. When you want a quick run, you start at or near a high level of efficacy because the story is in the event, not in the character. When you want to do something epic not just in intensity but in scale, this is reversed, and the story isn't about how the heist is pulled off, but about how your character goes from beggar to master thief, with the highest level of satisfaction coming from the journey itself, and not just arriving at the destination.


I would define the optimal level of play as one where I can engage casually, where I could have something to do every single day if I wanted, but that I'd still be able to make progress on even if I only did something every few days, and that after a certain amount of time I would end up with a fairly weighty list of accomplishments. I want to call this a full Satisfaction Unit and I would estimate it takes about 1 year to complete (currently I’m timing it at 12-15 months of “casual engagement”) 

Roleplay is one of my favorite games. I'm normally juggling multiple characters, and perhaps even multiple storylines for some of them. This is not a casual level of play, and not what I would recommend to someone new to the game or coming back to it after a while.

As an experiment I informally tracked the progress of one specific character of mine as he ranked through the military. His name is Cadmium: https://www.valucre.com/topic/30985-cadmium-metireal/

Cadmium's brother I started as a major because I needed a major for an event. Cadmium I started as a private because I wanted to see how long it would take me to get there at a casual level of engagement. Here I define casual as a post every few days, spending no more than 30 minutes a posts (see FLOW items 1 and 2). I can type fast and am pretty comfortable with the setting from experience, so I set a personal baseline of 120 and usually averaged higher, but again, just keeping things casual.

When I wanted something faster paced I looked for people who could post more often; when I wanted something slower, I looked for people who were fine posting less often. I used a solo thread whenever I felt a little antsy and just wanted something to do with the character without waiting on anyone else or having them wait on me, and otherwise just kept pace with the threads I was in.

It took from September 2017 to December 2018, about 15 months, to go from private to major. Cadmium now has an established track record in the lore, doing things like improving diplomatic relations, clearing toll-taking bugbears from a bridge near a major town, and made friends among fellow soldiers at a promotion celebration. He's in a (very) casual thread right now with one of those people working on a secret project. Everything he's doing now and will do in the future enabled by the stuff that came before.

As an organization the military has a specific ranking system, but there are ways to move the goal posts for myself here too. You can be concerned rather than casual. I could have placed my character in multiple threads and posted multiple times a day, and do in a few months what otherwise took a year and that's totally fine. The fact you can adjust the level of effort is a major part of the appeal the game for me. But I find that such a high octane pace is satisfying only in the immediate term of the frenzy and that it leads to burnout much more often.

Once your character is senior you can continue to use them, as in the example above. You can send them to college, to continue the analogy, and when they can no longer level "up" they can level "sideways" and enable the progress of other players, which is often at the level of engagement you'll see organizations and board leaders operate. You can start the cycle of freshman to senior with as many characters as you want, or even with the same character in a repeating cycle of loss and redemption, engaging at higher and lower levels of play as your availability and your interests change.

Edited by supernal

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