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  • Writer's pictureZoey Easton

How VR Roleplay has evolved from tabletop RP

Rules in VR Roleplay are different from Tabletop Roleplaying Games but still familiar enough for a tabletop player to get started in VR quickly. Roleplays in VR use a variety of rulesets, some unique to a given roleplay and some shared amongst several. These evolved out of various TTRPG rulesets as well as those found in Live Action Role Play, LARP for short. 

VR Roleplay has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Long before I got into it I saw videos of players standing around waiting for their turn in combat. For reasons I didn’t understand until much later, that wasn’t nearly as palatable as the same experience in D&D. It's part of the reason I didn't start joining VR Roleplays until years later. Early VR Roleplayers were trying something new and seeing what worked and what didn’t. They are still experimenting with new things today, it’s only been 6 or so years since VR RP started gaining steam, but the rules and gameplay landscape have dramatically evolved in that time.

VR Roleplay is a very present and fluid experience. With no need for the GM to describe the surroundings or characters in detail, hard stops to handle checks or combat are all the more jarring: When you roll a check to see if you can perform an action like hacking a computer or climbing a cliff, you have to ask for a GM to come along and tell you if your roll passes or fails, which could take a couple of minutes if they are busy. When you get into a fight and have to wait for your turn to come around, it’s not long before you start running out of nearby plants to stare at while you wait.

LARP has been a major guiding star in trying to address rules and gameplay struggles in VR roleplay. Live Action Role Players have already "been there, done that" when it comes to trying to port tabletop rules into an environment that's better suited to real-time activities. There are still LARPs out there that are rules-heavy, but many have done their best to lighten the number of skill checks that occur and make them interfere less with roleplay. 

In Nordic LARP, a style or philosophy of LARP from northern Europe where the emphasis is on immersion above all else, you probably won't encounter a single check. Even if combat occurs. Players play for the experience and go with what feels natural. Many are willing to lose a fight for the narrative impact rather than all trying to “win” a roleplay.

In VR Roleplay, there's an ongoing LARP-inspired shift in how checks and combat are handled. Of course, some roleplay will always want to be rules-heavy and find intrinsic value from that. Others are the polar opposite: trying to embrace the immersion of Nordic LARP. Most fall somewhere in between, but the majority lean towards minimally invasive rules. There are also specific considerations for VR Roleplay that can't just be ported from tabletop or LARP, like the ability for GMs or players to turn invisible, teleportation, or a player having no way of knowing that someone just hit them in the back with an arrow.

For those rules light approaches, there are ideas borrowed from LARP like settling contests with rock paper scissors, as well as tabletop dice except it’s just a random number generator that exists in your menu. There’s a plethora of other methods around as well. Recently I hosted a VR Roleplay game jam where teams competed against each other to create roleplays and a contestant by the name of Phantomdude came up with a simple "pick a number" system. The GM thinks of a number from 1-15 and the player says a number out loud and the GM gives a success, fail, or partial success based on how close the player was and the difficulty of the action taken.

This all means that things like skill proficiencies and stats are less important than the things that really make your character unique. Character sheets are often more about your characters' backstory than the swords they carry, but can also include things like special powers with various effects. Your character could be able to fly, summon a fireball, or heal people in an area, it’s usually up to you so long as it is setting appropriate. Things like psychic manipulation of another character are often disallowed as player agency and personal comfort is highly valued in many VR Roleplay communities. After all, many characters plotlines are very self-driven and it feels quite bad to have the agency to keep pursuing that taken away.

The role of a GM is different in VR Roleplay as well. A GM spends a lot less time setting and controlling the scene, after all, the environment and objects are directly in front of the player and don't need to be described. Since checks also aren’t happening as frequently, the GM is free to act as something of an event facilitator and narrative weaver of fate, watching the roleplay unfold and taking actions to guide the story in directions that they think the players will enjoy. GMs will control NPCs and create events for players to experience throughout a session.

VR Roleplay is thriving, but also really hard to get into. We’re trying to change that with Aexia, join our community and you’ll find entry-level VR Roleplay one-shots with seamless crossplay between PCVR and Quest. We’re developing Aexia as a platform for VR Roleplayers to experience the magic that VR RP has to offer without having to jump through hurdles or know the right people. We’ve got multiple roleplays being run weekly that anyone with a VR headset can join. Come join our discord community today!

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