Separating IC and OOC

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Most everyone reading this blog post will know about the concepts of IC and OOC. For a player to be ‘in character’ means that they are acting out their character — as if a role in a play. ‘Out of character’ means the opposite, in that the player is not acting as a character.

Using the IC and OOC labels allows us to clarify that some things are statements by our characters, instead of our own. This is a relevant distinction, because the opinions and beliefs of your character can be wildly different from your opinions and beliefs — and without separating them it becomes difficult to play a role, or it might lead to accidental meta-gaming.

To help the distinction between in-character and out-of-character there are a few things we can do:

  • At the table many player groups adopt the tradition that everything said at the table during playtime is assumed to be in-character. In a one of my own campaigns we have set the rule that you hold up your hand to talk OOCly, which prevents a lot of confusion.
  • In an online medium the in-character and out-of-characters separation can be achieved by having separate player and character representations. RPGpad has built-in masked forum posts and chat masks to do this, and that works very well.

But even with these clarifications, players and their characters are still both present as a single person; so both at the table and online IC and OOC can and do sometimes blend together. This blending of IC and OOC can lead to hilarious situations, for example when the game masters makes a ruling on something, and one of the players accidentally interprets whatever the GM just said as a statement by one of the NPCs, and immediately reacting with their character.

Not separating in-character and out-of-characters clearly can lead to ambiguity, or even out-of-characters reactions to in-character events and vice-versa. Some of these reactions are funny and perfectly fine, often even necessary to make sure the game moves along — such as when a game master reacts to in-character statement of intent as if character takes the stated action — but sometimes these are the source of much gnawing of teeth.

To keep the in-character / out-of-character division intact, we have some general rules that we learned over the course of many years of roleplaying:

  • Set expectations and clear signals — Give clear signals about the in-character or out-of-character nature of the conversation or interaction. It is helpful if these signals are ‘by default’ signals, such that players know to expect either in-character or out-of-character messages. In RPGpad this is supported with masks that stay selected, as well as an explicit OOC markers for use in in-character-by-default situations.
  • Quickly identify misunderstandings — We are all human, and misunderstandings happen. When you think that a misunderstanding has occurred, make sure that everyone is on the same page as to the context. Even a simple “Note that that’s my character’s opinion, not mine,” will clear up the misunderstanding and allow for deeper roleplay. Sometimes it is easier for the third player to note the misunderstanding than for those involved.
  • Stick to the same context — Somewhat related to the setting of expectations: maintaining the IC/OOC distinction is easier of everyone sticks to the same context. Some people find it difficult to switch between IC and OOC discussion, and others might find themselves sliding back into an OOC context every so often while playing. If everyone makes a conscious effort to stick to the same context, it becomes easier for everyone!

For example, to show one of these rules in action, we have had a situation in a table top game where someone reacted to another player’s remark with “Yeah… How about you say that to my character’s face. See what happens!” This reaction came about because the OOC remark was about the personality of their character.

The situation was resolved amicably. Instead of going into a long OOC discussion about it, they opted to clarify that they felt such a remark belongs in the IC context, and should be made there. The remarking player, recognizing the IC/OOC disconnect that occurred, apologized and then proceeded to make the remark in-character, which lead to some good roleplay.

Clearly separating in-character and out-of-character takes effort from everyone involved. In our opinion it is almost always worth the effort. Both to improve the quality of the roleplay itself, and to make sure that everyone in the campaign is clear on the fact that players and characters should not be conflated — they can hold different, even contradicting, beliefs and opinions.

As a side note: if you’re curious what more you can do with masks on RPGpad, have a look at our post on some custom mask tricks.

As always, we have this week’s changelog ready for you. And if you are interested in having a discussion on the IC/OOC distinction, how to handle it, or just want to talk, feel free to open a thread on the community forums!