10 Mar Writing for Roleplay

By Wendy Harbutt, FInstLM

An essential element of effective roleplay is the creation of the scenario. Here we consider how this process can be done well in order to optimise the outcome.

The first question we ask when considering the roleplay scenario is which route the roleplay will take:  Which will best deliver the experience required?

  • Specifically scripted scenario based on participant’s own reality
  • Generic scenario, relevant to the learning
  • Bespoke scenario, relevant to the individual participant


If a specifically scripted scenario is most fitting, then we set to work with research.  We need to understand the client’s world at an intimate level in order to write from a position of understanding and being well informed.  This may include us learning about the wider landscape, the sector, the organisation, the specific part of the organisation, the environment in which the participants work.  Only by investing time in real understanding can we write scenarios that will engage the participants; helping them to immerse themselves and, very importantly, for the roleplay intervention to feel real to them.

Having done our homework, we take time to include appropriate language and terminology to enhance the ‘real feel’.  We write two briefing documents; one for the participant, giving them information about the character they will interact with and any contextual information they will need.  We write another, usually more detailed scenario for the facilitator and actor in order that they can create the most believable roleplay.

Sometimes we may be asked to write a wider scenario – for example for an immersive experience such as used in assessment centres.  The same research is needed, yet the writing task is larger and may need to weave together many different funcational realities with a believable history, context and plot.

When a generic scenario is judged as most useful we focus our writing particularly upon the skills that are to be practiced.  Often this means setting our scenario in an appropriately parallel circumstance to the participant’s own reality.  Something that they can relate to but content-light, so they don’t get distracted by details surrounding the situation, but instead focus upon the behaviours within it.

In some cases bespoke roleplay is most fitting and this calls upon the participant themselves to create their own scenario.  When this is required, we support the participant to construct and brief their own roleplay, which may be based upon an experience they’ve had that they would like to replay, something that they can imagine, something they’re putting off, or something that might feature in their future work.  The actor has an important hand in this process and whilst we support the participant with a suitable template to capture their idea, the actor will be the one to take the brief and work with them to bring the scenario to life.

When writing we always consider the level of stretch and freedom required within the scenario.  It may be that the storyline needs room for the role-player to intuit the participant’s level of challenge in order to fulfil the development opportunity, or it may be the case that a tightly controlled level of consistency is required, for example in examination or assessment situations.

Whatever the approach and requirement, with all our writing we seek to test our material before going ‘live’ in roleplay.  We seek expert opinion and particularly ask for the views of our commissioning client.

Having spent many years writing specifically for roleplay it’s a process we are familiar with and yet we never become complacent with the impact of a great scenario author and constantly strive to create the perfect place for roleplay to start.

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