Since I looked and noticed there wasn't such a thing already on dA I figured I would do one myself. Do note, though, that this essay cannot address every minor issue. It cannot address what plots to use or what character types work best where. But rather it is to be used as a sort of standard guidelines that one should always keep in mind whenever doing any roleplaying activity, especially with larger groups. All bolded statements given are examples from whatever is being discussed. Though another note is that this is geared towards non-dice based RP so many aspects will not apply for dice-based RP.
To make this easier at the start of this essay will be a very brief list of each thing as a very quick guideline and then later on below that will be a much more elaborated version of each part.
When looking to start an RP, have a basic premise in mind before asking for people to join.
Only RP if you have time to do so.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Ask first before joining an RP.
If not allowed to join, wait patiently until you can.
You cannot decide how another character acts or reacts.
You cannot decide how your actions affect another character.
You can decide what an unowned character does.
You may never kill: another player's character.
You may kill: Redshirts, unnamed enemies/citizens, other characters (iff death is an extremely trivial matter).
Base your post length on the average length of your other players.
Do not hog the RP.
Be patient, lack of response doesn't mean they aren't going to.
Do not Thesaurus RP.
Do not Chatspeak RP.
Do not Godmode.
Do not Twink.
Do not Auto 20 RP
Do not Metagame.
Be consistent with your character.
Be respectful of your fellow players.
Describe your actions rather than say them.
Always try to both respond to what has been posted and add new information.
Let the leader(s) lead.
The start of an RP
Creating an RP
Naturally any RP needs to have a beginning, of some people who decide to have an RP and then after figuring out what, start it. Now there is a right and wrong way to do this. Before bringing up the issue of starting an RP you should first have some idea of what you want it to be about. Just saying "I want to RP" and offer nothing with it can often be seen as annoying. Not only are you being rude by having the other party do all the work but it can come off as essentially saying "I'm bored, entertain me peasant." You don't need to have everything figured out about the RP, but you should have at least some semblance of the basics.
Also be aware of the time you have to RP. Sometimes an RP takes about a half an hour to set up (especially if what the RP is about still has to be decided on, thus why you want to come with an idea ready, to cut down on this time) and can take another half an hour to an hour before it can really take off. Now this isn't as much a problem with spontaneous "do whatever" RP's where it's just drop the characters in and go, but for story driven ones this will often be the case. So if you only have a half an hour or hour to play, don't try and start an RP that's anything but the spontaneous type.
Finally be aware of where you're roleplaying when deciding what to roleplay. This is not so much about topic as content. If you're in an area with a PG-13 limit, trying to go for an R rated theme won't work. Similarly if you want a nice quiet RP, trying to play it in a crowded room of roleplayers won't work as they will want to join in. If the RP desired doesn't fit where you are asking for an RP, the best solution is to take the RP elsewhere (where it does fit) and do it there.
Joining an RP
The easiest way to join an RP is to be there when it's being brought up. At that point just show an interest in what the RP is going to be about and then off you go. But of course there isn't always going to be that luxury so sometimes you're just going to have to try and join one mid-RP.
When joining an RP already in progress, be courteous. The first thing you want to do when wanting to join is first find out if it's open or private. A private RP is basically one designed such that only the people already in it are going to be allowed in it (and thus you aren't going to be allowed to join). An open one is one where people can join in. If the Open RP is just beginning or there isn't anything really going on at that point in the RP then ask if you can just have your character jump on in (you don't have to ask, but it is polite to do so). If it seems particularly quiet enough (as in the characters are more or less just lounging around waiting for something to happen) you don't even need to ask for permission to enter.
Now if some of the characters are rather involved in what they're doing then you definitely need to ask if it's okay for your character to join (especially at that time in the RP) via out of character (OOC) conversation (usually OOC is done by either OOC: < insert question > then IC (In character): actual action or dialog; or by holding all OOC content inside brackets )), ]], >>, etc. or in a different area entirely). If they say no, you can't join then respect their decision and wait for a time when the RP lulls down enough and then ask again or enter when they say that it's okay. Similarly if you are in an involved RP and someone asks to join, it is perfectly okay to tell them "no" if you don't want them entering at that point, but try and find a point where it's okay for them to enter and then tell them so. Also if you tell them no, don't just keep going on with what you're doing for another forty to fifty more posts before giving them a chance to enter. If you're absolutely certain that you'll never reach a point where they can enter (too far into a story for any additional parties to become involved) then tell them so in a polite manner Y: "I'm sorry, but where we are in the story would make it too hard to introduce new characters at this time. Sorry."))
Let's start with the most obvious bit: the only characters that you control are the ones that are yours to control. Seems pretty obvious, right? What this means is if you are interacting with someone you don't control (say a character belonging to another player) then you do not get to choose that character's reactions. What it all boils down to is that in none of your posts should you go ahead and show how the other character (the one not in your control) is reacting to anything. Do not ever do something like this: Player X: X takes his sword and points it at < Player Y's Character> and Y falls to his/her knees and begs for forgiveness. The reason you don't want to do this is A) it can come off as very rude by removing the other person's ability to respond on their own and B) if they then decide to simply respond as their own character really would you now have contradicting statements. Overall when deciding what someone not belonging to you does it simply ruins the experience for everyone involved. The right way is to simply leave it open ended, like X takes his sword and points it at Y. end statement. In the second example the only character that X is controlling is his own character. If Y then decided to have their character fall to their knees and beg forgiveness then that's entirely up to them.
There are only three instances to where you can control a character not your own directly in your posts. First is if the player of the other character has given you explicit permission to do so. This is often done when a player is going to be unavailable for a period of time and has opted to delegate their own character to someone else so as to keep the story going even though the player is not there (and generally are expected to be brought up to speed on what all happened when they return).
The second scenario is where the character in question isn't owned by anyone. There are some instances where for the sake of the story there needs to be more characters than those controlled by the players (often these characters tend to be temporary or even simply redshirts). In such an event since these characters aren't owned by anyone, everyone has full freedom to control these characters so long as they aren't being made to do contradictory actions.
The final instance is if it is plot relevant that this control is being handed over. The above bad example is not plot relevant takeover. In this final instance what is being discussed is when what's going on in the story necessitates that Y's character is being put in control by X. This can frequently be when X is doing something to Y (transformations, showing the involuntary effects of some poison or sedative, etc.) or is given control directly (hypnosis, mind control, etc.). Granted these generally require Y to be willing to go along with this plotline and you must always remember that if the situations were reversed, it'd be your precious character being put in the hands of someone else.
The first corollary to "do not control the other player's characters' is that you should also never automatically assume the reaction or effect of any action your character does to another player's character. As in if X is attacking do not do X slices Y across the chest with his sword because this is again forcing the reaction of Y (getting hit). The much better approach is to always attempt to do things to others, rather than actually doing so, like X swings his sword at Y, aiming for his chest. In this X's intent is clear but is not trying to take control over Y's character. Y is given free liberty to decide if the sword hits or even how it hits. By always attempting actions against others instead of carrying them out then you are showing what you want to have happen and Y is given the opportunity to decide if they're okay with that result happening. And this applies to just about every interaction involving another player, not just fighting.
There are exceptions to this as well but this only implicit permission is required. Done mainly as a way to allowing for actions to continue as well as deal with actions that don't really have any impact if taken over. Essentially that X can interact directly with any part of Y that is put inside his sphere of control. This happens when Y does something that is giving X permission to interact with it, even though no explicit permission is actually being given. If X takes a swing at Y, that arm is put into the sphere of control of Y's player, or at least for the duration of that attack. It is perfectly acceptable in such a situation for Y to do Y swings his arm upwards and carries the punch with it. Similarly if X encounters the statement: Y holds his hand out with fingers outstretched, "Hey, X. Would you hand me a drink?" it is perfectly okay for X to respond by placing the drink into Y's hands since that is implied from the request.
The point of the exceptions to this corollary is to make it so that actions can actually succeed or fail in a somewhat fair basis. If X can only attempt at Y and Y only attempt at X, then the only one that can control any action is the one who first initiated it. If X attempted to punch at Y and Y attempted to block, then X is given much more influence on the result of his punch. By letting such small actions transfer a part of an action to each other, the flow can continue without a one sided effect. X can interact with anything Y attempts at X and Y can interact with anything X attempts at Y. The extent of this permission ends at the interaction. As soon as that drink reaches Y's hands X loses permission to interact with it further directly.
However, actions can override this if and only if the action in question would happen regardless of what Y would normally be able to do. If X and Y are shaking hands, unless Y is much bigger than X, if X decided to try and pull Y in for a hug, Y would not really be able to stop this from happening once the attempt started. If Y stays in the hug is up to Y, but the initiation of the action does not need Y's permission in this case. Now as a courtesy such overrides should only be used with actions that do not pose any physical harm to the other person.
You may not kill another player's character without them explicitly giving you permission to do so. I cannot stress this enough. In fact I'll even make it bold even though it's not an example. YOU MAY NOT KILL ANOTHER PLAYER'S CHARACTERS WITHOUT EXPLICIT PERMISSION. It can be seen as extremely rude to kill someone else's character. Mainly because not only are you kicking them out of that RP but you're doing it for good, meaning they can never use their potentially long-used and developed character in that RP, regardless how long it ends up lasting nor can they use them in any RP that uses that one as a basis (same universe, or what happened in it carries over relationship-wise). In essence killing someone else's character is seen as basically saying "I don't want to ever RP with you ever again. Go away" in almost as rude and malicious manner as possible.
The only times where it is okay to kill someone's character without explicit permission is if either it is in a setting where dying is trivial (as in being killed is more an annoyance than anything as that character will just come back to life again in perfect condition a short ways away) or if it's being done when the one running the RP tells the other players something along the lines of "If your characters ever do X, they will die" and then that character did it (in which case they were pretty much asking for it).
Now in such rare and very specific scenarios it's still a very good idea to avoid killing other players if possible. There is nothing more certain to ruin someone's day than to have their precious character killed off. And if you aren't in such a scenario then you don't get to do it. There are no further what ifs. You're not even allowed to put a character in situation where you are trying to force the player to have their character die. If it requires them to twink or otherwise powergame (definitions below) to keep their character alive then you are not allowed to do this. For example: X: X throws Y into the pit filled with jagged spikes and walls too slippery to escape is unacceptable.
If they do not give you permission you simply cannot do it. The only way you can kill another player's character is if they have given you explicit permission to do so. This is something like Y: ((Can you kill my character off? I have to leave now.)) If you want to try and kill them, ask. If they say the example Y gave, then it is polite to ask for confirmation on that, like X: ((Are you sure?)) but it is not necessarily required. If you do have permission then and only then may you do any action that would actually kill them. This isn't to say that you can't shoot at them or otherwise do things that could kill someone's character; you just have to accept that your attacks and aim will never hit a vital organ or kill them outright (even if the attack is supposed to do so).
Now if you want to have the option to kill someone in the group for drama or whatnot, arrange with the group you're playing to insert a few un-owned redshirts into the RP. These would be characters that you can all develop as you feel the need to but everyone knows that their main purpose is to be expendable. As Redshirt characters aren't owned and designed to be killed it's perfectly fine to kill one or two of them off. But be kind and share them. They're there for everyone to use, after all, not just you.
Obviously since you have to share your input to the other players you'll need to post this information so that they can see it. Now there is no real right or wrong way to do this. There is no such thing as "Each post needs to be thirty-five point four words per post." It's all mainly played by ear but you should try and be somewhat courteous about the post length, especially in regards to actions. One general rule of thumb is to use the pace of the RP as a guideline for how long the posts should be. The faster the pace is going the shorter the posts and less time each post carries out (you should not be doing an action that would take the character five minutes to do in a short post when you may be posting another two to three posts in that same minute) and the slower the pace and more time you are allowed to think things through the longer the posts should be.
Now if you are in an RP where you're getting on the order of ten to thirty posts per minute (roughly one post every two to six seconds) it is okay to only have posts that are only one line long, since doing more than that would have you falling behind in the RP. But if there's maybe one post every minute or few then you should take advantage of that time and elaborate on your posts and they should be roughly on the order of two to three lines. For forum/note/email RP's where you are literally given hours or even days to think of responses the post length should be on the scale of at least a paragraph or two. When in doubt look at the size of the posts from the other players and try for a length similar to that.
Of course this rule is a lot more lax when it comes to dialog. With dialog it's perfectly okay for X to monolog a speech and end up using up five or six lines and then Y to just do a quick response that takes up only half a line since this is something that happens in real life. But if X is not doing a large monologue of dialog and is still using up three to four lines for each post, then it is not okay for Y to be responding each time with only half a sentence.
But again, mainly use the size of the other players as a good indicator for how long your posts should be. If everyone else is using 3-4 line posts, try for that length. If you're finding that it's very difficult to get to that length try being more descriptive. Don't just say what the character is saying or doing, but try and add a bit of information about how the character is saying or doing those thing, as well as how they're doing them and what they're doing while doing them. If you watch someone speak (unless they're giving an actual speech) you'll notice that their head and eyes are not always facing the same direction. Especially in casual conversations one does not need to be facing the person they're talking to. So show what their head is facing while talking and feel free to let their head wander. Further people tend to use gestures when talking, having their hands do some of the talking for them. So while they're talking you can also show what their hands or whatever are doing.
With actions it's mainly about elaborating on what is being done. If you're having trouble making posts long enough, try adding in a single detail about how they're doing it. Mention what their hands are doing if they're carrying something. Is it heavy? Do they have to shift their weight? Try to think of a single nuance to add to each sentence. Then once that's done try and add one more.
On the other side of the coin, don't intimidate your other players. Unless you are showing someone the ropes in regards to how to roleplay, do not make overly long posts when they aren't necessary. Most people generally do not want to see two page long posts in a chat-based roleplay with the sole exception of the DM (the one controlling everything in the RP save for what the characters of the other players do) setting up a scene or if they have a lot of people they have to control. It is simply too overwhelming to see someone post a wall of text and have to go through it all. Doing this consistently can be rather disrespectful since now you are trying to make everyone else also write out two page long posts to try and keep a similar post length. Of course in board/email RP's where a lot of time is allowed between posts a two page entry might be par for the course, but it's more the notion of if people are posting one length, don't intentionally always try and post much longer than theirs.
All in all doing overly long posts just counts as showboating and generally just gets people to dislike you. Look at the length of posts everyone else is making. If they are on the order of four to five lines, aim for four to five lines (the occasional three or six is fine, of course). If what you want to do requires fifteen lines, break it up into several pieces and post them separately. After all there aren't many things that can be done in the time a post generally encompasses that can use all fifteen lines (most are pretty long events that can easily be split up to show a passage of time).
Finally if you are the one leading the RP it's perfectly fine to let your post length creep up a bit longer than everyone else's, since you have a lot more to deal with, since you have to control what everyone else's actions does. But still, keep it reasonable.
One thing to keep in mind is to not hog the spotlight. Yes you might think your character is very important to the storyline (or even the best there ever was) but it's not just your character's story. They aren't the only protagonist so other characters should be allowed to express themselves as well since, after all, the other players might think the exact same thing of their own characters. For one on one RP's, one should expect that each person will roughly do about half of the posts, plus or minus a bit. Since a lot of one-on-one's have one leading and the other following the action ration might end up being closer to 60% to 40%. This is fine but it should not be 80% to 20%. It doesn't matter if you're the king of RP, you should always let the other person have some lines and share the responsibility. After all if you were almost the only person doing anything then you aren't really RP'ing anymore, you're just writing out a scene with someone else's character and letting them tag along (of course if you are actually writing out a scene to a story and are letting someone else control a character of their own inside your story then ignore this whole argument).
This does carry over to group RP's as well. Unless you are DMing the percentage of your posts should ideally be close to the equivalent value. That is if there are three people, you should post around one third of the time. If there are ten people then post only around one tenth of the time. You don't have to count posts but ideally on average the percentage of posts that are your own should be close to that value. This is the ideal at any rate.
For smaller groups it may stay close to the ideal ratio, but once you start getting into larger groups this will fall apart. When you actually start to get into medium to larger sized groups (five people or more) there will be a tendency to "follow the leader" for at least some of the characters. In reality in a group of ten you might find quite often that only three people are doing two thirds of the posts and the other seven are sharing that last third. There's nothing wrong with this as it's perfectly normal for most RP's and play styles. Unless the characters have split off into a bunch of smaller groups or you are forcing everyone to take turns describing what they're doing (a Round-Robin style RP as opposed to freestyle) it would be extremely difficult to find a task that would actually require that all ten members take an equal role in the activity (and by extension post percentage).
Of course if you are one of those who are currently the focus of the action (either by being one of the few who are leading and not following or especially if you are involved in some sort of ceremony or event where most of the others are just spectators) then you can obviously go higher than that value. But if you feel that some characters are almost always posting less than they could be or the same characters are always being the leader regardless of the situation then try and encourage those shyer people to step up. Try and figure out a way that would let their character take charge for a little while but be okay with the notion if they turn down that opportunity. Some people are simply not as confident in their abilities as others and thus don't post as much or can't devote enough time to the RP to post as often. By encouraging them to take charge you're letting them try and gain that confidence bit by bit and once they're more comfortable about roleplaying the RP experience will be enriched by such and be more enjoyable for all.
With group RP's there's really only two ways to handle how people post. You could do a post order (which only works for small groups) or just do a free-for-all. With a post order it's far less an issue since you simply have to wait your turn. Else keep in mind that a lack of an immediate response does not mean that no one has anything to say. On forum/board/email based RP's a general rule of thumb is to give twenty-four hours for a response, since the people you're roleplaying with may be in a completely different time zone or even on the other side of the world. In chat based a rough estimate is to go with about three to four minutes. Though again take a look at how long it seems to generally take people to post. I have been in more than a few chat-based RP's where the average post delay is around ten to fifteen minutes.
The simple truth of the matter is not everyone is devoting one hundred percent of their time to the RP. They may be half doing something else at the time or was called away from the computer for a few minutes or even are having computer issues. And there's also some people who prefer to really think about what they're going to say before responding.
If someone isn't responding as quickly as you would want then simply be patient. Perhaps even ask if there's something going on at their end (though only do this once in a great while) or if you need to postpone continuing the RP for another time when the other person or people can devote more of their attention to what's going on.
What not to do
Thesaurus Roleplaying is one of those things that tend to get on everyone's nerves except the person doing it. A thesaurus roleplayer is someone who just doesn't seem very satisfied with using normal words for their posts, instead having a thesaurus handy at all times in order to swap out a lot of words for a more exotic synonym in an effort to make their posts sound more sophisticated and intelligent. A good example of this is X: Her cerulean ocular orbs excogitated his vermillion coiffure. Now let's take a look at what this is actually saying. Cerulean = blue. Ocular orbs = eyes. Excogitate = consider/think over. Vermillion = red. Coiffure = hair. So with all those complicated words all X is really saying is "Her blue eyes stared at his red hair." This is a sign of showboating on X's part since there are much simpler words that will say the exact same thing.
And in reality the translated is easily of higher quality than the un-translated. Why would that be one might ask? It is because generally the quality of an RP is determined by comparing the posts to that of a good book. Generally if an RP "reads like a story" that's a good thing. Now in all the books I've read I have never once seen the un-translated statement above written down by any author save for if it's supposed to be poetic or possibly a romance novel (never read one so wouldn't know). But I have easily seen the translated in stories.
General rule of thumb is if there is a more simplistic way to say a sentence, go with the simpler form. People generally don't like to have to have a dictionary with them in order for them to have any idea of what you're saying so it's disrespectful to use the most complicated words available just to make yourself feel smarter, especially since that effort could be put to better use writing more descriptive sentences. Like instead doing X: Her blue eyes stared forlornly at his red hair as it reminded her of someone she cared for deeply long ago. With this example there is much more information being given (you know how and why she's looking at the hair) and yet did not have to resort to complicated words to accomplish that. Heck the only complicated word is forlornly which could be easily exchanged with longingly but this brings up the exception to all this.
Since not everyone has the same vocabulary it would be unreasonable to make everyone always talk as simplistically as possible. Especially if that would make them use words smaller than they're used to. The one main exception to always using a simpler word if one is available is if the word you want to use is in your normal vocabulary. And by normal I mean if talking to someone you know or even some stranger that you would still use that word if the sentence allowed for it. Basically if you were giving a police report you would not describe someone as having "cerulean ocular orbs," you'd just say they had blue eyes. But in my case if I were to use words like encumbered, pivotal, encompassed then that would be acceptable since these words that I would normally use in their situation.
Now if it is a character trait that they talk in such a manner then for that character's dialog feel free to use more complicated words or even make up ones for the same effect. But normal words should still be used for any non-dialog part of their posts as well as be ready to offer a translation of what they're saying via OOC chatter with just about every post.
On the other side of things is chatspeak RP. Chatspeak is basically when people will shorten or even abbreviate certain words or phrases for the purpose of writing that post faster. Now when texting someone or even chatting with someone online this is perfectly acceptable but it is not when dealing with RP's. When roleplaying one should use good sentence structure, grammar and spelling if capable. This is partly from the above statement of comparing to a story but also such means of communication also tend to be very heavily frowned upon by most RP'ers. Chatspeak is usually interpreted as someone saying they don't care enough about what's going on to write actual posts and that they aren't taking the RP at all seriously. With some RP'ers if they see someone using chatspeak for long enough they will ask that person to leave since in their mind the chatspeaker is just wasting their time.
Of course if going the very meta act of having the characters in a chat-based RP chat with each other using some in-world chat program then by all means, chatspeak away.
Powergaming is when a character does actions that they really should be able to do and often done with an intent of making the other characters completely useless. The prime two examples of powergaming are Godmoding and Twinking. Both of these are usually done during fighting but the latter can be done on just about any skill based activity. These are all generally greatly discouraged since it annoys all the other players and just diminishes the experience as a whole.
Godmoding is the act of having an all powerful character (like Goku from DBZ) that cannot be defeated. Godmoding can be best described as essentially brute-forcing success, of using the character's "sheer awesomeness" to do something in such a way that it will always succeed. Or put simply making that character akin to being a god compared to all those feeble mortals they're playing against. Often done using a means of carrying out an act in such a way that by design it will always have its desired effect. With fighting this can create an instance of Y: Y swings his sword with all his might at X. X: X grabs the blade and throws Y with it before launching an unstoppable beam of energy at Y. In this example X is godmoding. As for a non-combat example it might look like X: X pulls out his laptop and uses a program that hacks into the most advanced security system ever and gets the system to not only unlock the door but show exactly where they need to go. Further than that when someone insists on forcing the reaction of what they do to other characters it can also be considered Godmoding.
Twinking, on the other hand, is not so much forcing an act to succeed as having a character who is doing things that should be beyond what they are able to do. In RP's this can end up with a character who is seemingly a master at everything they encounter, even if there is absolutely no reason they should be. For instance someone who hasn't been around a computer for the past fifteen years coming across one and almost instantly becoming an expert hacker into pretty powerful systems, going from having never been in a car to being a master of defensive driving in a half an hour or even being able to outperform a master at something that they never gave much effort into over the course of their lives. This can also take the form of a sort of min-maxing effect, where they pick character flaws to add depth but pick only those that either never show up or when they do show up just happen to be what is needed for that particular occasion.
One that does show up but not as often as the last two is the notion of an Auto 20 RPer. These are characters who tend to always succeed not because they are "that full of awesome" as they are just that fricken lucky. It is so termed as it is like they were always rolling a 20 for every action (in D&D style games, rolling a 20 is considered to always be a critical success). Typically done as a blunder that just happens to have an extremely useful effect. Like tripping over ones feet and that either lands on the button to deactivate the trap or ends up avoiding the sneak attack. For added fun this will sometimes even go beyond that and turn things around. If dodging the sneak attack it could be extended to say that they tripped on a ball and the tripping action launches that ball into a weak spot of the target. This can also be used to try and turn the tide by advancing their own skills or abilities. Take an ability that they play out as being very unreliable and very prone to failing miserably but the moment they need it the ability works perfectly or to have a character fall on a pebble and that small bit of damage is enough experience to gain some new level of ability or skill. And if they do fail it is always at a very reduced effect.
Now in some cases in one on one RP's it is perfectly okay for both X and Y to powergame each other and thus why these are only generally discouraged. If you're fighting with someone else and you're essentially in a contest to see who can out game the other player, then by all means, have at it. But beyond such instances the first two (Godmoding and Twinking) are often a sign of the player either not being very good at roleplaying or doesn't really care or even are there to troll the other characters. The last one (Auto 20 RP) is mainly not a sign that they are having any malicious intent but rather are simply ignorant that that is not often appreciated by serious Roleplayers. By doing an Auto 20 RP state for a character the entire roleplay will essentially revolve around just how silly the 'luck' that character has effects the world around them. So for RP's that are designed to be laid back or even comical Auto 20 RPing could actually be encouraged, but with any serious RP it is highly frowned upon.
Metagaming is the act of bringing in outside information for your character to use. Particularly a character acting on or possessing information that they couldn't possibly have. Metagaming generally happens in one of two ways, either one character is made aware of what all is going on with another player they have no way of observing or they are using information that only the player possesses. For example, say X and Y are allies who trust each other a lot. Without X's knowledge Y is taken aside and takes a deal to betray X. X has no way of knowing about this so if when Y comes back X is suddenly suspicious of Y this is Metagaming.
Bringing in player information can also be carried out in one of two ways. If the player knows how to do something that the character should not be able to know (like a character from the Middle Ages driving a car) and then the character does perform it perfectly this is Metagaming. This is more often used, though, by having OOC comments be carried out in an ICly manner. If, for instance, in the OOC chatter it is revealed that X is hiding something important or what course of action would further the plot, Y cannot instantly decide to act on either of these without Metagaming.
Metagaming both is and isn't bad. In that last example if the players were mainly just stumbling around for an hour or so with no idea of what to do, then suddenly moving in that direction may be the intended use as it would bring new life to what may be a dying RP. It typically depends on how it's used. Used in very minor ways or when the RP all but requires it to continue metagaming can sometimes be seen as okay. It does always ruin the sense of emersion to do so and thus some players will get annoyed if someone Metagames, even if they need it to advance the plot. Some players like keeping some details of their characters brought in either slowly or at the most best (worst) moment possible but have no problem with sharing this information with the other players. So having a character react to this information they shouldn't know it annoys that character's player.
If one Metagames fairly often or sometimes even just occasionally there are one of three outcomes the player may face. If the other players are okay with it (or are metagamers as well) then there's no problem at all and everything will continue as normal. Else depending on how bad the Metagaming is and how it's used there'll be the result of either none of the players ever telling you anything anymore (and deal with the normal OOC chatter in a way that excludes you) or choose to stop RPing with you entirely.
The first thing to be aware of when fighting is just what the style is when fighting. When trying to determine how likely any attack will hit think about just how many hits are you being expected to take. In real life a sword fight is often a single hit wins. Swords are sharp enough and dangerous enough that in a real fight a single good hit will kill you. In contrast in a fist fight a good fighter should be able to take dozens of hits and still keep going. Keep stuff like this in mind when doing fights. If in a contest of "first hit wins" then obviously you can't do any unstoppable hits. In fact since a single hit wins almost all of your attacks should miss their mark. If in a contest that's more "how much of a beating can you take" then the opposite should be true. A lot of your blows should hit. Still using an unstoppable attack is rude but you should be able to get in some blows and your opponent should equally be able to hit you more than a few times during the course of the fight. On top of that if you're expected to be hit, take the hits and don't try and cheat the system by making all of them glancing blows. When two people are of similar skill they should be able to hit each other equally often.
Now if in a fight type that you're supposed to get hit more than a few times it is okay to get at most one or two blows that you don't give the opponent time to dodge or block, though that blow cannot be a battle finisher. Similarly even if almost every attack is supposed to hit it is okay to block a single attack, regardless of medium. But to use these repeatedly comes off as rude and especially if doing things the character shouldn't be able to (normal high schooler doing a double somersault to avoid being hit by a paintball gun). But at the same time don't just keep taking damage in the battle and keep getting up. Though it may seem like you're playing fair if you play a character such that they can take one thousand hits and keep managing to get up for more it is as disrespectful of your opponent as never letting them hit you in a style you're supposed to get hit as often as not.
Even more disrespectful a tactic is to suddenly gain new power during the middle of the fight. This isn't referring to trump cards. A trump card is one attack or trick that is saved and kept in reserve until it is absolutely needed. They are designed to be used in situations of desperation, where there is no other choice but to use it for a good trump card leaves the user with little else to use beyond it if the trump fails completely. These are perfectly okay so long as the situation calls for them to be used (there is absolutely no reason to pull out your trump card in a drunken brawl or a friendly sparring match). But in reality one does not normally get stronger in the middle of a fight, one simply gets weaker and weaker as they sustain more and more damage. So to have a character suddenly discover a new power or ability in the middle of a battle with another player is extremely disrespectful and rude. After all if X and Y were in a fairly even fight and Y suddenly managed to, say, trip on a rock which gave them enough experience to go up to the next level of their development then X is going to have to lose by default. If X and Y were equal and then Y suddenly becomes much stronger there would be no logical way X can still compete. This is why it's such a rude and disrespectful tactic as it's basically a cheap way of declaring victory.
Unless it's a fight to the death it is perfectly okay to have your character lose the fight. Unless they are fighting for something extremely important, most people don't keep fighting when they're beaten up or the fight ends well before anyone is too beaten up. So if you're an unimportant fight, then lose the fight. Don't keep dragging it on in hopes of turning it around at some point. Besides, losing everyone once in a while adds depth to a character.
It falls upon the shoulders of the poster to make sure that everyone else understands what it is they are trying to do. If you encounter the situation of X: X does Z at Y but Z is just the name of something that doesn't necessarily tell you anything about what X just did. Y might not have any clue what Z is and thus has no idea what X just said. And since Y doesn't know what's going on they can't exactly respond to it properly. The first few times this happens the best course of action is to express this issue and give X the opportunity to explain what it is or even redo their post so that it can be understood more clearly. If it keeps happening then Y has full authority to simply start assuming whatever Z is would have no effect. After all it isn't powergaming if you don't know what it is that you're dodging. And again it is X's responsibility to make sure that Y (and all other characters) know what X is doing, not the other players.
However, don't use this as an excuse to powergame. Some are fairly obvious as to what they are. A fireball, for example, is likely a ball of fire. Other things are pretty common knowledge and also may be used with just the name, like uppercut, or a jab or a flip. Also terms that are common with the group you are in are also acceptable (like someone in an Anime group RP would be okay with using just the names of attacks from that Anime). But when in doubt, write out what your character is doing as no one can be confused if you're saying exactly what they're doing.
It's always a good idea to be courteous and respect your fellow players. Being polite will often go much further with making your RP's more enjoyable than throwing a fit. Even if you know for a fact that X is a powergamer, don't just give the OOC comment of: ((I'm not going to play with you anymore cause you're just some dumb twink)) since after all you don't know if they're doing it on purpose or just don't know any better. Instead, a better, nicer way to go about it is something more like ((Would you stop doing Z so much? It's coming across as twinkish and isn't something I appreciate)). If they give you lip and/or persist then you can get sterner on them.
Try and keep how your character behaves fairly consistent. If you don't like one aspect of a character for that particular scene, it is not okay to suddenly change it. If someone is claustrophobic and then you throw them into a tiny cave they should not be okay with it. How they are should be how they are for all situations, not just when it suits them. All in all though relationships may change slightly over the course of a day, everything about a character (once defined) should be the same at the end of the day as at the start.
The addendum for once defined is that when you're just starting out with a character you won't have every single detail fully fleshed out. And this is okay. And as the player figures out how this character should behave it is perfectly fine for their behavior to vary wildly. However once they've gotten past this point they should not change much over a short span of time. Unless a pivotal action happens that forces X to change, X should be (in RP time, not real life time) almost no different after one day, very little different after a week, maybe only slightly different after a month and still mostly the same after a year. This also means that you shouldn't try and make someone else's character be suddenly different so they can fit in with your ideals and plans for that character.
Add to the RP
In any roleplay post there are four different kinds of things that can go into it, fluff, reactive, destructive, continuative. The least useful is the fluff type. A fluff post is one that is primarily if not exclusively filler. It does not respond to anything that was said nor does it add to the RP in general. A good way to tell if a post is a fluff post is to see if the post is removed would any information actually be lost. These aren't necessarily bad unless someone deliberately repeatedly do it. Most of the time a fluff post is basically used when someone wants to pass their turn in a structured order RP with no pass option provided or are simply proving to the rest they are still there. In either case it's simply a sign that at that point in the RP, that person cannot think of anything else to contribute.
Conversely, a destructive post is mainly there to annoy the other players. A destructive post is one where the primary or sole purpose of the post is to throw a wrench into what the others are doing. In small doses it can be useful to add to the drama of the RP but if done a lot it can definitely aggravate the other players, which in many instances might be the point. This one is almost always done intentionally, though it might not be malicious in intent. They might actually be thinking that they're helping things by adding to what the other players have to deal with or to keep them awake by making them react quickly to the change. Or they could just be a troll. If the latter, simply ignore what they do and continue on without them.
Most posts should be at least partially reactive. Reactive posts are where the player is responding to everything that has happened since they last posted but do not provide anything new. It's different from a fluff post in that if removed information is lost as you no longer know what that character had been doing since the last few posts. Purely reactive posts are mainly a sign of someone who does not feel they are the focus of the action at that time. As such in larger groups you can expect purely reactive posts to show up quite a bit in the characters that are mainly following the leaders. And that's perfectly fine. The only problem with purely reactive posts is that they do not give anything for the other players to respond to. As they are only responding to what has been done since their last post they aren't advancing the RP, forcing the others to advance it instead, which makes it harder on them.
Finally we have continuative posts. With these the player is adding new content that advances the RP and shows what happens next. These are essential to any living RP. Without at least one person doing a continuative post the RP will become stagnant and/or fall apart. That's because you do need for someone to help continue things on, to keep things moving. Now there is a problem, however, in a purely continuative post. If someone writes new content without reacting to what was said prior then it is that character basically being off doing their own thing, sorta. Do this long enough and it can annoy the other players as it is basically having your character being off alone without any semblance that the other players even exist. However, there are times where there is no other choice but to do this. If everyone else is posting either reactive or fluff posts, there's nothing you can do besides doing something to throw a wrench into the mix or continuing the RP without reacting.
Now for an ideal RP there should be next to no fluff. It happens, especially if someone needs to use a bit of it to pad their post while they get the hang of things (trying to keep their post length similar to everyone else's). But if it is happening a lot with most or all of the post being fluff then a mechanic should be added to allow for people to pass their turn. Destructive posts should also be kept to a minimum. Used in moderation to keep things interesting, yes, but almost not anymore than that. The best kind of post is one that is partially reactive and partially continuative. By doing this not only are you being courteous to the people behind you but also making the next person's job easier since they now have something to start their post (responding to what you did). A result of everyone providing posts that are both reactive and continuative is that the flow of the RP should increase (since it is constantly moving forward bit by bit) but more enjoyable to everyone since you aren't forcing all the work on a few people (though again, not expected for everyone to advance in larger groups due to following the leaders).
Let Leaders Lead
Final thing for now is to let the leaders lead the RP. Not every RP needs a leader. In fact most spontaneous RP's are best without one. But they serve a purpose in that you have one person whose sole job is to take control over the plot and keep things moving forward. If you are the leader it is your responsibility to keep the RP moving. If an RP falls stagnant, it is your fault for not motivating the other players to keep things going. This does not mean if you aren't a leader that you shouldn't try to add new content, by all means no.
Think of it this way. An RP without any leader is like taking all the players, spinning them around a bunch and then letting them go whatever direction they stop. Yes it is possible for something meaningful to come out of it but it will be chaos and often end up with several plots and subplots competing against each other, making things very confusing. An RP with a leader is like putting all the players on a single road. Each person has the ability to walk the road and shape it a little bit as they see fit but it is still in the direction that the leader has set forth.
If you are not the leader (or one of them as is likely the case in larger groups) then let the leader take control over the job of setting a direction. You should still contribute and strive to move the RP forward just let the ones in the leadership role dictate the direction of the RP. Of course if you have an idea on where to take the plot, feel free to bring it up. And of course in many RPs the role of leader can change, so if your character is in a position where it makes sense to take the lead that you can feel free to do so.