Communication is a key element of any relationship; this applies to a roleplay partnership as well. While everyone may take different approaches to starting a new roleplay, negotiating roleplay expectations is a crucial step in ensuring that all future interactions are smoother. To make negotiations simpler, the first step is knowing your own desires. While reading through this article, take some time to contemplate your limits and expectations. Note them somewhere so you have them handy next time you are starting a new roleplay partnership! For a simpler overview on limits take a look at this article.
Out Of Character Interactions
When discussing expectations it is prudent to start with out of character (OOC) interactions. You are inviting a new person into your life. No matter how much you may enjoy the story, if the OOC interactions are unpleasant it will detract from your overall enjoyment of the roleplay. Make sure you and your new partner are aligned by discussing your expectations. Here are some questions you should answer: How much OOC conversation would you like to engage in?
Are you wanting a new best friend who you chat with regularly about life? Or are you a fiercely private individual who will just want to discuss things revolving around the roleplay? This may adjust over time, but make sure you are aligned in this regard. What personal boundaries do you want to set?
Sometimes people are flirtatious by nature. Other times people are very transparent about issues in their life. If there are certain things that make you uncomfortable, it is beneficial to indicate that from the beginning. On the flip side, if you know you have a personality trait that might make someone else uncomfortable, it is a good thing to bring that up from the start.
How would you like to distinguish OOC from your story? This question will depend a lot on what medium you are using to roleplay. On a private Discord server you might opt for an OOC channel. Roleplaying through email could have an OOC section, or you can keep all OOC to a different method of communication - like a chat. When roleplaying via IM, you might keep OOC within parentheses, or in bold. Figure out what works best for you, your partner, and your medium.
Frequency of Replies
The next topic of an expectation negotiation is frequency of replies. A mismatch on this point could result in a decision to not roleplay together. It is helpful to compare your expectations of this point before getting into some of the finer details of the roleplay. Here are some questions you should answer:
Do you expect to only roleplay when you are both available/online?
If the answer to this question is yes, then be sure to compare your time zones and schedules to make sure they match. You may find it helpful to schedule exact times to meet. If the answer to this question is no, move on to the next few questions.
How frequently do you expect replies?
For this question, focus your response on what is the minimum you expect. Can you promise to reply at least once a day? Do you expect to get a reply at least once a week? Determine a minimum frequency that works for both of you, understanding that more is always an option.
What are your expectations for communication about changes to the frequency?
With the fear and disdain of ghosting being a predominant part of the roleplay community, it is strongly recommended you set up expectations for communicating when you will not be able to meet the minimum expected reply frequency. Life happens, sometimes a break is needed. This also allows for you and your partner to know when it is a good time to reach out without being bothersome if you have not heard from your partner. Read more about extended breaks here.
Now that you have your OOC interactions and reply frequency negotiated, it may be good to move onto post length. Many people try to match their partner’s post length. It is also common for roleplay partners to highlight quality over quantity. Similar to reply frequency, it is best to focus on minimum expectations. Here are the questions you should answer:
What post lengths would I be comfortable matching?
One liners? Two to five paragraphs? Five to ten paragraphs? Ten plus paragraphs? What length posts can you see yourself consistently committing to writing? There is a chance this amount will change from plot to plot, so keep the story you are writing for in mind. If you have a hard limit, like no one liners, then make sure you communicate that.
What is the minimum length agreement for posts?
Given the options of what you are comfortable matching, set what the minimum length expectation will be between yourselves. You can also use this time to determine how strictly you wish to stick to this length agreement. Some may be more flexible than others about these details.
Point of View & Tense
What point of view and tense you like to write in are very straight forward points which are good to cover relatively early on within the negotiation. Only two questions need to be considered for this point:
Do you have a preference on what point of view you write in the roleplay?
Point of view can really change the tone of the roleplay, primarily in first person view vs third person view. With plots that involve romance, it might be prudent to roleplay in third person to avoid the bleed between story and reality. Details like this are helpful to consider. Most roleplayers write in third person point of view and this is the most common POV in literature.
Do you have a preference on what tense you write the roleplay in?
The tense of the story encompasses when or how the action is happening. In fast-paced group RPs it is relatively common to see present tense keeping the story moving forward. In one on one roleplay, it is most common to see writers utilizing the past tense, as is also most common in standard literature. Past tense denotes action having already happened, thus lending itself to telling a story rather than describing a current progression.
Quality & Content
This point of negotiation is more optional. Generally, I start this section of the negotiations by asking if there are any additional expectations my partner might have. Are you a stickler for grammar? Perhaps you are negotiating for a historical fantasy and keeping true to the history of the period is very important to you. This is the time to bring up these details, especially if a failure on these points would be a deal breaker. Here are some questions that may help you identify details you wish to communicate:
Do you have any specific pet peeves you would like to avoid?
Do you really hate when paragraphs are not properly separated? Maybe poor spelling really grinds your gears. Your roleplay partner won’t know what to avoid unless you communicate it with them in advance, so spend some time considering what would be disruptive habits for your roleplay.
Do you have specific elements you find enjoyable to include in a roleplay?
Do you want to roleplay a cast of characters? Do you enjoy having a variety of specific channels in your Discord? These may not be desires that would be deal breakers if you don’t match up, but bringing them up could help ensure they are included if you both agree.
With the general expectations set, the last thing to cover before discussing limits is to determine what sort of relationships you will be roleplaying. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
Are there any limits to what sort of relationships you want your characters to have with your partner’s characters?
Do you want to maintain strictly platonic friendships within the roleplay when your characters interact with your partner’s characters? Maybe you are alright with some mixed relationships given certain criteria. For example, you might be alright with romance but do not want it to be the primary focus of the plot. However, you also may be a writer that requires romance in your stories no matter what. It’s important to communicate this expectation so your partner knows what you expect of them and their character in regards to your own.
How do you feel about taboo relationships, such as age gap or incest pairings?
If you have hard limits on specific relationship dynamics, now is the time to share them. Even if a primary relationship has been communicated and fits your limits, please make sure you still communicate your boundaries to keep from any mishaps with side characters.
Knowing your limits is very important, but knowing them in the context of smut within roleplays is paramount. First and foremost, please regard your partner’s age when roleplaying erotica, particularly when your partner is underage. As a reminder, you cannot include NSFW content in a story written with someone under the age of eighteen. Here are some questions you should consider when approaching smut:
Do you want to include smut in your roleplay?
Romance does not mean you must automatically include smut in your roleplay. There are options for how to handle intimate moments when you do not wish to play them out, primarily fade-to-black. Consider if you are just not comfortable roleplaying it out with your partner, but you are okay with having them write it between their own characters. Please feel confident in saying no to including smut, or limiting how smut is utilized within the roleplay.
What kinks, if any, are you willing/not willing to roleplay?
Should you decide to include smut, keep in mind that kinks may come into play. Not everyone is comfortable roleplaying kinks. If there are kinks you wish to include, or you have hard limits on specific kinks, be sure to bring those up. Along the same line, ensure you’re asking your partner if they have anything specific that they would like to include.
Are there any scenarios you would find triggering/upsetting?
Unfortunately, people experience trauma in life. There can be times where reading or roleplaying a scenario can take someone back to the worst moments of their life. Always feel comfortable setting boundaries to protect yourself from triggering or upsetting content. Please be respectful of your partner’s boundaries as well.
Certain roleplays may include instances of violence. Similar to smut, it is important to consider your limits when setting expectations and boundaries. The questions for violence are very similar to the questions for smut:
Do you wish to include any violence at all?
There are many plots that do not include any violence. Make sure to discuss what you define as ‘violence’ if you are asking to not include any violence within the roleplay.
When violence is involved how detailed do you wish to get?
Like with smut, know that fade-to-black is an option with violence. If you or your partner are easily made queasy, I would agree to stick to vague descriptions of injuries that are the result of violence or accident rather than going into the gory details.
Are there any specific scenarios that are hard limits for you when it comes to violence?
Do you not want the roleplay to include any violence against children? Maybe you have a hard limit against torture. Are there certain scenarios that trigger/upset you? Make sure you communicate any specific boundaries you have clearly.
This final limit/expectation is the simplest, which is why it has been left for last. There are occasions where people are not comfortable with explicit language. If this applies to you or your roleplay partner, make sure you clarify this early on. This would probably also apply to your OOC interactions.
Reiterating & Documenting Limits
Congratulations! You have successfully navigated through negotiating your limits and expectations. Now it is time to take your discussion and consolidate the results into a clear outline of any agreed upon limits and expectations. Once they are clearly written, make sure you both still agree on all points. I find it helpful to keep the agreement saved somewhere to refer back to when needed. Here is an example of such an agreement:
The minimum reply rate is once a week. Check in with your partner if it has been longer than a week since the last reply. In cases where it is known replies will take longer, communicate this with your partner.
Fade to black for sexual interactions. No kinks will be mentioned or referenced. Mixed romance will be included, but the focus on the roleplay will be on the action plot. All characters must be over 18 if they will be in a romantic relationship.
No extreme violence, torture, or harming children. No referencing sexual assault. No limits to language.
OOC chat is welcome in the OOC channel of the roleplay. Different OOC channels have been created for different topics.
Quality over quantity for responses, as long as there are no one-liners and enough content for a reply.
Our Expectations Don’t Match
In the course of a negotiation you may find that your hard limits clash with your potential partner’s desires. In this case, it is recommended to go your separate ways. There is no shame in doing this and it will allow for you both to find better fits for your story writing. A good way to end a negotiation that is going poorly is to say the following:
You are a lovely individual, but I am finding that our expectations do not match up. I know myself and I know that I would not be comfortable in such a partnership. I really hope you find a good match for yourself, have a wonderful day!
Over the course of a roleplay you may discover that limits and expectations are changing. Things are rarely static, especially when two people are involved. In these cases, always feel free to request to renegotiate points, limits or the whole agreement.