A Return to Free(Form) for SWRP

Brandon Rhea

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Hi everyone,

Tonight I am announcing a major change to how SWRP will begin to operate (or, as you’ll see in a moment, begin to re-operate) over the next few weeks.

After a few timelines with a heavily regulated site structure, and seeing the level of activities that such a system creates in each timeline, we have decided to return to a freeform style of RPing that the site used from its founding until the start of the seventh timeline.

What is freeform and how is it different from what we have now?

A freeform role-playing site has a heavy emphasis on the word free, as in the freedom to tell your own character stories and drive the main plot in a system that has only the rules it needs to make sure everyone is playing fairly. It doesn’t require anyone to go through layers of approval to tell a plot, or have staff running the show on faction events or major characters. It allows for the organic building of character stories, character reputations, faction influence, and all the things that we now have systems of approval for.

The current system of rules, with its many well-intended approval layers, creates too many mechanics and hardset rules. That causes inflexibility, creates rigidity, and impacts your freedom of ideas or even the ability to try anything new or unorthodox. Freeform, on the other hand, is by its very nature about approaching things on a case by case basis. It allows members to explore new creative avenues without staff shutting it down, so long as it’s within reason, simply because it doesn’t adhere to strict guidelines.

In freeform, the onus of creativity shifts away from staff oversight and structures of heavily-guided events and back toward the community writing amongst themselves and driving character stories and plots. It’s less about filling out a dozen different forms and getting the staff to sign off on your concepts or plots or characters, and more about coming up with cool ideas and collaborating with the rest of the community to make it work. Staff reacts to issues that members raise through community oversight, rather than trying to proactively shut down anything that doesn’t follow a strict set of rules. That was well-intended, but it didn’t work.

Freeform is about creating your story, not just playing what the staff wants the story to be.

What does this mean for the community?

This is definitely going to be a shift in how a lot of people approach the site. Many of you were not here when the site was freeform. The shift in mentality we’re looking for, both in terms of how the site and rules are structured and how we all approach storytelling, is that it should be less about “that idea doesn’t work” to being more along the lines of “how can we make this idea work?” and “that idea is a bit out there, but (as long as it isn’t gamebreaking or metagaming or anything too extreme) why not give it a shot?”

Star Wars, after all, is fantasy. So while the community needs to be free to collaborate and have interesting ideas and stories, freeform is also about the staff’s role changing to be one of nurturing that kind of environment where an idea can be explored or discussed without necessarily being immediately shot down because it doesn’t conform to an arbitrary creative standard or heavily-regulated toolset.

Role-playing is supposed to be about exploring, not regulating, creativity. That is when it’s at its best.

Why make this change now?

We’ve seen a pretty significant decline of activity on the site during COVID-19, which of course is in part due to personal situations and circumstances. But we also think there’s something to be said for the fact that the site has become much more of a chore than it used to be, for members and staff alike. There’s a lot of aspects of storytelling on the site right now that requires members and staff to put in a lot of upfront work. Instead of turning to the comfort of a fun hobby, we’ve taken a break from all the work we have to do.

And frankly, even without COVID-19, the activity arc of the last few timelines is one where there’s a burst of activity at the start of a timeline but then it fizzles out. That’s largely because it’s almost entirely dependent on staff to maintain site activity. Staff members need to review threads and characters every day, sometimes at pretty significant levels and with a fine-toothed comb, which can delay members doing what they want to do in the RP and diminish enthusiasm for those ideas. Because it’s so staff-run, even though that wasn’t really the intent, members often defer to staff to drive plots and events. The system is even designed for that in many ways, requiring staff to NPC major characters, drive faction activity, and DM plots.

There’s a lot less room for people to tell cool stories without staff involvement. We want to go back to a set up where the site was more member-driven, which we think will help with activity. Even the seventh timeline, the most successful storytelling experience of this current system, was pretty heavily staff-driven as the first Sith came to power.

Ultimately, SWRP worked just fine from 2005 through the end of the sixth timeline. I’ve told the staff that I don’t want to be the curmudgeon who says “well back in my day” because arguments like “we did it that way, therefore we should always do it that way” aren’t particularly compelling. But I do think there’s something to be said for the fact that activity was much higher and people had the freedom to take stories into their own hands vs the current system.

The current system was, in a lot of ways, meant to cut down on staff burdens like reviewing RP disputes or accusations of “cheap” behavior. But what we ended up doing was solving a handful of problems by creating many more problems, including staff burnout. Rather than having to review the occasional report of cheapness in tech or characters, or a PvP dispute, we now have to have staff review everything in complete detail. And we review most of what gets posted down to the stories you can tell. We have Staff NPCs for faction leaders, for major characters, for DMs in plots, and more. In the old freeform system, the idea of staff playing all major characters, controlling the story, or telling people what they could and couldn’t do (unless it was unreasonable) was met with sharp rebuke from members.

The old system was not without its issues, but it had fewer issues and more activity and we think it’s worth going back to after having experimented with this new style the last couple years.

What exactly is changing?

This is where things will get a little more vague, because we’re still working out what rules to change back to the old style, what to revise, what (if anything) from the current system that we want to keep, and so on. What I can do is give you a preview of some of the major things that we expect to change:
  • The Plot system will be largely if not totally retired. The fact that plots need to be reviewed and approved is the biggest thing standing in the way of a freeform system. There will be guardrails (for example, we always had rules about espionage plots, surprise attacks, you can't just pull a fleet or powerful weapon out of thin air, etc) but you will not need to put in a request to tell most stories you want to tell.
  • The Reputation system will be revised or more likely retired. Reputation generally happens organically in freeform and never needed a leveling system. Someone could walk around saying "I'm the best Sith Lord ever" but that didn't mean anything.
  • NPC faction leader characters (Jedi Council, etc) will be retired and replaced by members playing the roles of leadership-level characters. The NPC nature of these characters is one of the reasons the current set up doesn’t work because it depends too much on staff NPCing, creates burnout, and it can take far too long for any one person to actually be in charge of a faction. We have no information about who will play leadership characters at this time.
That’s all I can say definitely for now. We’ll continue to provide updates as we go through this process. Feel free to let us know if you have any initial questions.

And in case anyone is wondering, this is NOT a timeline change. The timeline stays the same, you keep your characters and your stories, but we're changing the rules that surrounds it all.
 

Lavi

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Can we have some kind of event to turn the removal of the NPCs into a set of fun stories? Or is that too much?
 

Die Shize

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As someone who thrives in freeform roleplay, this sounds pretty promising. I already thought the site was well on way when I last returned—I certainly left yet again for no reason that the site was responsible for—but it’s even better to hear about this new and closer-to-home approach.

I could only ever imagine the amount of work and commitment that went into the staff for developing, maintaining and participating all of the site and roleplay components and there is no understating that. That hard work wasn’t pointless and was voluntary but still hard work! One thing I can echo from my freeform experience is that such a system should relieve some of that pressure from the staff as the emphasis is often (if not always) more on player-driven storytelling; which this site can attest to in its own way from its own history.

This site is rather unique in that its primary platform is on material that was created elsewhere—Star Wars, of course. So, to some extent, it benefits from closer control to ensure that its lore isn’t being majorly breached (that Ewoks aren’t stealing cookies from dwarves and the Jedi Knights aren’t riding horseback as knights in shining armor on their way to slay a balrog), but definitely there is more than one way to approach the preservation of that while still allowing for the community to have fun.

It will be interesting to see what comes from this new direction and if anyone wants to eat these honey roasted peanuts then let me know and I’ll mail them to you.
 

Brandon Rhea

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Can we have some kind of event to turn the removal of the NPCs into a set of fun stories? Or is that too much?
TBD. We don't know if we'll have them removed, if we'll offer people taking them on as PCs, etc.

As someone who thrives in freeform roleplay, this sounds pretty promising. I already thought the site was well on way when I last returned—I certainly left yet again for no reason that the site was responsible for—but it’s even better to hear about this new and closer-to-home approach.

I could only ever imagine the amount of work and commitment that went into the staff for developing, maintaining and participating all of the site and roleplay components and there is no understating that. That hard work wasn’t pointless and was voluntary but still hard work! One thing I can echo from my freeform experience is that such a system should relieve some of that pressure from the staff as the emphasis is often (if not always) more on player-driven storytelling; which this site can attest to in its own way from its own history.

This site is rather unique in that its primary platform is on material that was created elsewhere—Star Wars, of course. So, to some extent, it benefits from closer control to ensure that its lore isn’t being majorly breached (that Ewoks aren’t stealing cookies from dwarves and the Jedi Knights aren’t riding horseback as knights in shining armor on their way to slay a balrog), but definitely there is more than one way to approach the preservation of that while still allowing for the community to have fun.

It will be interesting to see what comes from this new direction and if anyone wants to eat these honey roasted peanuts then let me know and I’ll mail them to you.
One thing we'll definitely still be keeping is the Lore section. It's not restrictive, is mostly fluff or stuff to document what characters are doing or what's in a backstory, but also helps provide a reference-able framework for the site's canon. So I definitely agree in the idea that we can still benefit, in a less restrictive way, from keeping a consistent enough lore.
 

Green Ranger

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Oh hey padme remember all those times you used to
 

Hank Beast

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I kinda remember when I joined this site, years ago that there was a different system and it was defiantly much better for the restrictive RP Forums I was part of back then and I really enjoyed it.
 

Zay

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Super excited to see this. I was lucky enough to be around during the freeform style and have missed it greatly. Looking forward to the rollout.
 
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