Posted by: Jess Riley | March 25, 2009

Lying and Untruths (and just plain mistakes!)

First of all, I’d like to apologise for our unannounced hiatus these last few days; we’ve both been working on a number of different writing projects lately, but we haven’t forgotten the blog altogether!

In roleplay, there are a lot of different reasons why a character might be less than honest with another character: manipulation, desire for secrecy, full-blown delusion… the list really does go on and on. However, as I mentioned when talking about the matter of a character being ‘insane’, the problem is that most of the time, the people you’re playing with don’t know the difference between truth and lies when it comes to a lot of character background. Upon first meeting you, not only does my character not know whether your character used to be a blacksmith or a soldier before they met, I don’t know the difference.

This can go both ways, as well. If your character states that their dead wife’s name was Therese, and then later states that her name was Marie, my character might note that as an inconsistency and presume that they are being dishonest or concealing something – where that may have just been an inadvertent slip on your part. (This is why you should keep records of important details like this – but even then, sometimes inadvertent mistakes happen to everyone.)

Then, there are situations where the player knows that your character is lying, but their character may not – an obvious example would be by name. Often, this brings with it the exact reverse of the above example; people see an error, and assume naturally that it was a mistake made by the player, and not by the character. I remember one situation where I was playing a character named Auria, and she introduced herself to someone as ‘Aura’. This isn’t exactly a lie so much as a nickname (and originally it was a typo, but it does work perfectly well as a nickname, doesn’t it?). The other player then contacted me at the end of the roleplay, to ‘let me know’ that my character’s name was actually Auria, not Aura, in case I had forgotten. Happily, they didn’t use this out of character information in character, but the point remains that they picked up on the naming inconsistency immediately. If she had been lying about her name and had introduced herself as, say, Diane, that would have been noticed even more rapidly. Even if the player acknowledges that this is an in-character matter and as far as his or her character goes, the character’s name is Diane, they are still aware that a lie has been told. Even unconsciously, this could influence their future role-play with the character.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about some of the problems that lies (or mistakes mistaken for lies) can cause; how do we resolve this?

When it comes to the first type, the most obvious answer is to make use of emotes. That is, after all, what they are there for! Look down, fidget, glance away. Of course, this brings with it it’s own problems – in real life, most people aren’t all that good at telling when someone is lying unless they know them well, and so it’s not necessarily realistic that a character would pick up on these signs from someone they’ve just met. If the character is simply crazy, or a really good liar, they won’t show such signs. And again, you can end up in a situation where the player knows something is amiss, but the character doesn’t.

Overall, that’s probably the best conclusion – provided that the people you’re playing with are capable of keeping out of character and in character behaviour entirely separate, and that they are canny enough to keep their preconceptions about the fact that the character is lying out of their play. In that case, you’re great!

Otherwise, there’s simply not a lot that you can do to make it clear. Apologise for any inadvertent mistakes that you make, and if you catch them, make it clear that this was an out of character error and not an in character falsehood. Show some small sign when they’re deliberately lying – at least, when it’s a big lie. Otherwise, just run with it, and hope that others respond appropriately.

If you’re the one responding to this situation, of course, the first thing to keep in mind is that even if you catch a falsehood, your character might not. If it’s something big, or that they have some reason to remember, then they may well do so, but that’s probably not going to happen every time – and in situations where you know that a character is lying, try to avoid (and I know this is difficult, but it’s an important point) letting the knowledge that they are lying influence your role-play. I know this sounds like a very basic in character/out of character distinction, but there’s a lot of ways to let out of character knowledge influence your role-play without outright bringing it up. I know I’ve done it – when I find out something out of character, I always have to fight the urge not to simply use the information in character, but to try to uncover the information in character, and this can sometimes be just as bad. After all, does your character know that there’s anything to uncover?

Common sense, as always, is the watch-word here, but this is a point that I felt could use some coverage.

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