What Does the Fox Say? – Awkward Roleplaying

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to “What Does the Fox Say?” . . . Steampunk Agony Uncle advice from Yours Truly, Mr. Aloysius Fox . . . apparently some people are under the misimpression that I have the answer to just about anything . . . and if I don’t I’ll certainly try my best to make something up 🙂


Dear Aloysius,

I have a question and need your advice. I am fairly new to the steampunk scene (but very old nerd- There may have been several Star Trek cons when I was in high school?!?)  and have noticed a large group of individuals very much enjoy the cosplay and roleplaying (correct term?).  I read your article about wearing orange ribbons at the symposium but in other social settings I have noticed that I have been \”stuck\” hearing the entire back story of various characters.  I am not into the role playing and in a polite way don’t really give a flip.

How do I extract myself from this conversation and not alienate these individuals?  Do they not wish to converse except for the role playing?  Is there no polite way to NOT hear the details except to excuse myself?  I do enjoy talking to people and learning about functions, people, actives, movies, and other nerdy adventures just not their fantasy world.

Also I have had some difficulty connecting to some steampunk individuals.  What is a good way to start conversation?  I have had some fantastic conversations with a few individuals but seem to fall flat with a large majority.



Dear E,

One of the wonderful things about Steampunk is how multi-generational it naturally seems to be, and with good interaction between people of all ages, so first thing is not to worry about being an old nerd. There are some fandoms that seem to be very much just one age group, but while the average age range is people in their 30’s and 40’s, the Steampunk Community has everyone from grade school through to retirees . . . fantastic!

Orange Ribbon

Orange? Really?

The Orange Ribbon proposal was an idea to get a conversation started and acknowledge that there are different approaches to Steampunk that don’t always mesh. In a recent poll of those planning to attend the International Steampunk Symposium in April, 30% identified themselves as taking the “role play” approach, whereas 70% picked the label of “life style” to describe their Steampunk; several commented that they liked a bit of both, but the survey only allowed the two options. Please let me emphasized that neither is the “correct” way to do Steampunk, nor the “wrong” way; both have their merits, but like yourself E, it has been noted by many in the “lifestyle” camp that there are often times when they are cornered by a “role player” who engages in non-consensual role playing which often involves a monologue about their character’s background. It’s an issue that hasn’t really received much attention until recently. An orange ribbon might be a too much, it does rather have a harrowing echo of yellow Stars of David, so suggestions of more subtle things such as a sticker on one’s convention badge, or a specific pin worn upon the costume might be better . . . the solution is still be discussed.


“And then in 1869 I landed on Venus in a giant reinforced aether powered whiskey barrel . . . “

In the meantime, however, how to politely extract oneself from having to hear numerous “backstories” over the course of a Steampunk event? My suggestion, smile politely and simply state “I do not have a persona background” and then immediately pick something about his or her outfit, or perhaps a prop, and ask them a question about whether they made it themselves. Politely redirect the topic of conversation without being rude; most people will be very happy to tell you about their outfit or props . . . but then they might continue to remain “in character” explaining a fictional way in which they acquired it . . . at that point they failed to pick up on your direct statement. Politely excuse yourself with a vague statement about needing to be elsewhere, such as an upcoming panel, or some other prearranged appointment, or simply that you need to find a restroom.


TeslaCon’s Lord Bobbins, the “Disney of Steampunk.”

Of course, really we should let those who like to act “in character” figure a system that works best for them; the orange ribbon proposal is perhaps too heavy handed and unfair on the “role players.” Most “in character” Steampunks put a lot of effort into building their personas and effectively become a living work of fiction, like a walking book. Plus at events like Renaissance Fairs, the staff and cast of the events are expected to be “in character” at all times. Immersive conventions such as TeslaCon have successfully adopted this approach and have a cast of characters that are essential to the weekend’s programming. The key word here is immersive to denote that role playing is the primary focus of the event. In these situations it might be the “life stylers” who are in the minority.

And finally, how to start a conversation with the average steampunk? Pretty much the same way I suggested redirecting a conversation with an unwanted “role play” situation . . . compliment something about his or her outfit, or some prop, then follow it up with a question about how they acquired or made it. I will, however, caution against offering advice on the topic, for example saying something that implies a “better way” that he or she could have made whatever it is you’ve complimented them on, this has the potential to sound like criticism or one up’ing the person.

Follow up questions might include:

  • How many years have you been coming to this event?
  • Where’s the best place to get [insert topic/item]?
  • What’s your local steampunk scene like?
  • What other steampunk events would you recommend?
  • Don’t you think that The Pandora Society dot com is a fantastic site? 🙂

And so on . . .

It is also worth noting that sometimes the other person might have certain social anxieties that make it difficult to maintain conversations with new people. Generally speaking, the best way to kindle the sparks of a good conversation is to ask genuine questions and actively listen to the answers. Most people love the opportunity to talk about themselves, but the more introverted amongst us will often wait for the “invitation” to talk about themselves.

So now I have a question and invite Steampunks who like be “in character” to answer below in the comments section at the bottom of this page . . . what do YOU think is the best way to handle this situation? What code or signal can be used to indicate whether or not someone is interested in “role playing” Steampunk? 🙂


keep-calm-with-aloysius-foxIf you have a concern with which you need guidance on various topics such as problems with fashion, relationship, artistic inspiration, mental health issues, existentialist angst, and so forth and you value my slightly sarcastic opinion, then by all means CONTACT me with your question(s).

In keeping with the “advice column” etiquette, NO NAMES will be published (either real or persona) but you are encouraged to pen some creative alias with your question . . . it’d be nice to have some noun with which to address you in my reply.



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2 Responses to “What Does the Fox Say? – Awkward Roleplaying

  • I know in the old Vampire games we used to grasp our wrist with our hand to indicate out of character. However getting everyone on board for some kind of gesture might be difficult, though it’s the least invasive to a costume.

    Another way would be an inexpensive pin or something that would signify to a person that they are in character. Something tasteful. Ideas, I have them.

    As far as getting away from an in character situation. Asking them about an outfit or prop might ignite an in character explanation on how they got their super powered ray gun or time travel guide or whatever. In that case I would politely let them know you are interested in how they came about it in the real world, if it is something you are interested in.

    You also might just try being honest and polite and explain that you are not comfortable around role play but would like to discuss other things with them. Hopefully if done respectively there will be no hurt feelings and both sides can meet new people.

    I think most folks know they are in mixed company,not a larp (Live Action Role Play) and will respect your wish not to be barraged by role play if explained.

  • You may call me Dae (day)
    I would love to get into a Steampunk society if I had someone to teach it to me. I used to do vampire role play which was more of a lifestyle…my sister and I loved it. She past from bbreast cancer…im searching…. how would one find such a community in their area?

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