One thing I love about roleplaying online through sites like Roll 20 is the chat box for the game. All the games I'm in online - as a GM or player - use voice comms, and so the chat box presents an interesting opportunity. Along with things like leaving notes, sharing initiative order, and giving players the proper spelling for NPC names, the chat box provides an avenue for in character play that can happen without distracting the GM from whatever they're doing. Today I want to talk about it, and how it can help give a better feel of your character.
Voice and Text
In one of the games I'm in I play the ship's mechanic. My character is young, petulant, and - well - young. They're a coward, and between their natural cowardice, lack of combat stats, and their job as ship mechanic they have little reason to leave the ship most of the time. However, they're also one of the more well known characters in the game. Why? Because while the GM is doing something with one or two of the other PCs, I use the text box to say what my character is doing.
The beauty of this is it doesn't bother anyone. The players interacting with the GM don't have someone else talking at them. They can still just listen to the GM and worry about what is going on there. The GM also isn't competing for audio attention. And everyone gets to see what is happening with my character, while also being able to listen to what the main focus is supposed to be on.
This can't happen around a table - not without also having a chat room present somehow which some people do. Around the table I can't go off about how my character is blasting heavy music, grumbling about being the only one with work to do, and blaming every little nuisance on 'Zak and his stupid hair.' Not without interrupting the GM for what is a nothing fluff moment. But online I can do it, and by doing it people see more of my character.
Text also lets you bring up other details. These are details you can share with actions - like describing how you're dressed - but doing that vocally can eat up table time and isn't always the best thing to do when things are tense. At the same time, if you can just slip it in under the radar it may help people's mental images.
Meaningless Side RP
The best part of having text chat available in a voice-based game though, is meaningless side RP. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying RP is meaningless, but I mean RP about things that aren't necessarily important to the game but are what your character is doing. Sitting in the engineering bay talking about swoop races while fixing an engine, going window shopping while you're out looking to meet a contact but the GM isn't getting to you yet, or just taking the time to have a conversation where you thank someone for a thing they did, or accuse them of some treachery.
Admittedly, the last one is not meaningless, but it's all stuff that is hard to really go into at the table without distracting people - and if you do do the side conversation RP not everyone gets to see or pay attention to it. Yes, the person you're RPing with is getting the joy of the conversation, but your GM isn't able to track what is going on, and the other PCs are left in the dark, and so these wonderful moments are lost.
In text they can be shared while being distraction free.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that you can lose a lot in online RP in missing social queues. But there is a lot you also gain that is interesting and worth exploring. You can use all this to breathe life into your character, engage quiet people in side RP, and really add to the world in all the small ways that don't matter to the campaign, but mean soooo much to the experience of the game.
It's worth trying.