Jan 5, 2012

Posted by in All The Galaxy's A Stage | 5 Comments

All The Galaxy’s A Stage: Time Out (Of Character!)

All The Galaxy’s A Stage is a regular column at Ask A Jedi with some lofty, creative goals.  On one hand, we will be discussing and exploring meaningful topics to support the role-play experience and community.  On the other hand, we also want to introduce the casual Role-Player to the writing-acting experience that can add so much more to an MMORPG like Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Share your perspectives and experience as we co-create magical story in that galaxy far, far away!

For many years I role-played with a house rule known as the Time Out for an in-person RP chronicle.  Calling for a time out would happen maybe a couple of times a night (we met weekly).  The reasons for calling a time out from the RP included: resolving opposed challenges (where someone tries to oppose what you’re doing), combat and some intricate interpretation of the rules.  The benefit of a time out was that it allowed everyone involved to explain their position, and provided the Game Master (GM – the referee for those not familiar with this role) time to make any decision needed.  It took a GM or assistant GM to call, or approve the calling of, a time out.  Occasionally a player would call for a time out but a GM would have to approve.

I got to thinking about the idea of a Time Out in an MMO.  Our real-world RP had a GM to make sure the concept of a time out wasn’t abused.  Certainly calling a time out made sense in those particularly tense situations.  But time outs also interrupt the flow of RP, and break immersion.

An MMO like TOR has the advantage of resolving opposed combat challenges through the game itself.  If we need to duke it out we can duel.  If we want to play out a big combat we go to open-world PvP (although there is imbalance here, given that higher level characters get an advantage that might not match the concept they’re playing).  But the subtler opposed challenges aren’t covered off.  What about trying to overhear something when the target is being discreet?  How do you deal with arbitration around a dispute regarding a character knowing a rare aspect of lore?  How do you deal with meta-gaming (where a character knows something that there is no logical in character reason for them to know)?  And of course, there’s always the Jedi Mind Trick to confound us.

After some contemplation I’m not sure that the Time Out as I knew it would work for an MMO.  However, there is a gap.  As RPers we may find ourselves in situations where we need to send another player a private message, or process and respond to a PM that’s been received.  What if there are others in the scene and the question really is complex? The flow of RP won’t benefit as I try and multi-task by dealing with an ((out of character – OOC)) in PMs and continue the scene with others in character (IC).

When it comes to guild RP I can always post an ((OOC)) comment in the guild chat channel and we can discuss it there.  And a close-knit community of RPers will possibly have experience that has led them to pro-actively resolve such challenges.  That said, a lot of the RP I bump into can be with people I may or may not regularly RP with.

I guess I am speaking to those really complex situations where some time is needed out of character to discuss the situation and come to an agreement on how the RP should proceed.  Without a GM mediating the discussion with the authority to make a call, it’s quite possible that any such discussion would only take longer to resolve, and thus break the flow of RP anyway.  At the same time, the time out system as I knew it worked primarily because only a GM had the authority to approve a time out, thereby removing the risk of unnecessary use of time outs.

I’m probably in the camp that would take each situation as it comes.  But sometimes calling a time out really is necessary.  Admittedly, I wouldn’t want it to be a daily occurrence but experience has taught me that is definitely the occasional need to create some OOC space in the middle of IC tension.

How do you deal with the really difficult in character situations when an OOC discussion is needed?  Do you have a formal approach?  How has it worked?  Is it instituted on a guild level?  Do you approach this more informally like me, recognizing that sometimes you just have to role with it?  Share your comments below.


  1. Lord_Paladin says:

    Im actually kinda surprised. I’ve never even heard of this time out concept for irl table top. We just resolved things as they needed to be resolved, we had no need for an extra mechanic.

    • I wasn’t talking about table top RP. I was talking about the Live Action variety, where you will generally have around 50 players at a given event, and the larger multi-chronicle gatherings can have between 500-1,000 role-players.

      Yes, that’s right…over 1,000 role-players at an event.

      When you’re talking tabletop you’ve generally got about 4-8 players to deal with. Managing the flow is easy. With 20 or more players the dynamics change…

      Which brings me back to TOR as an MMO. I RPed in LotRO and regularly had guild run RP events of 50+ players. If you don’t plan for this sort of stuff some RPers will feel overwhelmed and left out. And the role of a guild leader is to ensure that doesn’t happen.

      And so, if your experience in RP is limited to tabletop then it’s no surprise to me that you’re surprised. The need simply isn’t there.

  2. Ratkinantics says:

    Have you thought about utilizing the “create a chat channel” function to create a specific OOC area? It might have possibilities in the long run.

    • Agreed. Our guild actually has an IC channel for just the guild IC and another for the guild and our allies. So we’ve already “kind of” done this.

      But what I think you’re suggesting is a great idea. RPing with people in an area? Create a custom chat channel and let everyone know it’s there for OOC discussion. Given how BW have given us custom channels out of the gate (LotRO didn’t do that for a while IIRC) I think that’s a great idea.

  3. Sounds a lot like a common issue back in Ye Olden MUSH-days. When RPing by emote, how do you portray your characters state of mind and account for their knowledge, without turning everyone around you into a mindreader, or getting into “Yoram, being grown up among the Secret Monks of Urr and thus knowing all about Deathstars, says ‘Stay on target'” nonsense? We did have recourse in asking a Wizard/GM, if they were around, but then only in abuse cases. Most days you had to hash it out alone.

    The answer then, and I expect it still is, is the OOC channel/comment. Without arbitration from an authority, you have to fall back on reasonable compromise, and I find a few quick back-and-forths on OOC, while it does break the flow a bit, does wonders to keeping the IC stuff meaningful and sane. Custom chat channels is a good idea, especially since you can have all the IC stuff in context without it being interlaced with OOC stuff, if you set up your chat tabs for it.

    Most RPers don’t have too much trouble switching in and out of IC mode, heck most of my tabletop sessions are going off on OOC tangents on a regular basis and it is one of the reasons I keep doing tabletop. A few reminders to not venture out of these and indeed use OOC as a last resort tends to work pretty well. It is a necessary evil to OOC.

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