Role Play: Roleplaying the extraordinary
So you’d like to roleplay a dragon. Or perhaps you’d like to play a necromancer who’s lived for thousands of years longer than he should have. Maybe you’d like to take the leap and explore what life would be as a dryad or satyr. Or hey, gnolls seem to be a really fascinating species, and you’d like to try your hand at playing one.
Nothing’s stopping you from doing so. As I said when I started this column, you can roleplay whatever you want. But when you leap so far out of the realm of ordinary roleplay, you’ve got a difficult task ahead. The question of just how far you’ll go is entirely up to you — but roleplay isn’t necessarily about you. So how do you come up with an unconventional character? And how do you roleplay that character, and get other people to participate?
When developing an unusual character, you want to treat it just like you would any other. Do your research — look up whatever information you can find. This might not be the easiest of tasks, depending on the kind of character you want to create. A dragon is easy, for example — we’ve had a lot of interaction with dragons in-game over the years. In the case of a dryad or satyr, our interactions have been fairly limited.
In the case of a gnoll, we really don’t have any interactions to speak of — Hogger being the one exception. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a lot of information out there. However, we do have one point of reference — the old WoW RPG manuals. While out of print, the text on most of these unusual races is usually available on Wowpedia. Yes, the manuals are no longer considered canon material. But given that you’re playing a character that isn’t actually meant to be played, you may as well take your resources where you can find them.
The RPG books may not be canon, but they’re a jumping-off point. They’ll give you somewhere to get started, in most cases. Because the history of these races isn’t exactly well documented, you’re free to expand and fill in the details however you’d like. But you may want to make sure you aren’t breaking any well-known lore to do so. In other words, you can set up a situation where the quillboar have some kind of established military or caste system, because that hasn’t been defined. But making them a defining presence in the Second War isn’t recommended — the quillboar are restricted to Kalimdor, and had nothing to do with that war.
How and where to roleplay
Character creation in WoW is limited to specific races — dragons, dryads, and other fantastical creatures aren’t available. If you want to roleplay these types of characters in-game, you’re going to have to let your roleplaying addon do the talking for you. Luckily, most addons have a space where you can fill in what race the character happens to be. Adding an additional OOC note about the character and its origins will help, too. Choose whichever faction you’d like to be aligned with, and whatever race happens to be appealing.
With unusual characters, the question of where to roleplay is of immediate concern. Stormwind isn’t about to let a gnoll just wander around the city. A centaur in Thunder Bluff is going to be similarly out of place. And although it may be a neutral city, even Dalaran may have its limits on what it allows to walk the city streets.
In all of these cases, you want to establish a reason for your character’s presence. Are they there as an ambassador or diplomat? Are they in disguise? Do they stick to lesser-known areas, in fear of discovery? Are they on their best behavior in public places? How do they react if approached? Do they run away, or try to be as friendly as possible?
Unconventional characters aren’t exactly popular among the RP community. People enjoy creativity, but there’s a line, and extraordinary or fantastical characters clearly cross that line. To save yourself some grief, you may want to consider a little discretion in your roleplay.
This can be approached from several different angles. In the case of dragons, they’re well-known for taking on mortal guises for the purpose of interaction. You don’t really need your character to mention that they are a dragon unless it comes up in conversation. And the same tactic can be utilized for other odd races — maybe they have a magical trinket that allows them some form of disguise.
Alchemy can always be used in these situations as well, or a simple physical disguise. A character can down a potion to change their appearance, or just wear a mask and hood. As long as they conduct themselves just like anyone else, they shouldn’t arouse too much suspicion.
And then, of course, there’s straight-up deception. “I know what this looks like, but I assure you I’m not actually a quillboar, I just got hit with a very inconvenient hex.” Give any inquirers a convoluted explanation for how your character arrived in their current situation. Make it believable.
Keep your chin up
Playing an unconventional character isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can roleplay whatever you’d like. You can roleplay with whomever you’d like, and other people can choose whether or not to roleplay with you. There are those, however, that will step outside their bounds and make it a point to harass or insult you. If you’re roleplaying in game, this can’t really be avoided.
Similarly, it’s going to be very difficult to find anyone to roleplay with. If you’re already part of an established group of roleplayers, you may find your friends are willing to go along with what you have planned. But a new roleplayer is going to have a great deal of difficulty getting anyone invested in this kind of character.
Mostly for this reason, I tend to advise new roleplayers to try their hand with something more conventional for their first character. If you’re just getting started in roleplay, you want to start with a character that has a broader appeal. That way, you can concentrate less on defending your choices, and more on the actual mechanics of roleplay, and refining your writing.
Lore vs. roleplay
Roleplay is a creative exercise — and in this case, it’s in a game with long-standing lore. There’s nothing lore-breaking about wanting to play an extraordinary character. You can do so and follow the rules of lore as they stand. The only thing an unconventional character “breaks” is the standing restriction of races you’re allowed to play. That’s not roleplay — that’s game mechanics, just like your character’s level or class. And as we’ve seen in many situations, game mechanics can be ignored for roleplaying purposes.
But if, for some reason, your character doesn’t work out — if you can’t find anyone else interested in roleplaying with you — don’t be discouraged. You’re trying out something that few players have a vested interest in exploring. That doesn’t mean what you’re doing is “wrong” or “bad.” It just means the audience isn’t there for that particular kind of writing. If you’re not interested in finding that audience in-game, you might consider just writing stories about that character as an alternative creative outlet.
Unconventional characters are a considerable challenge to roleplay — but they can be ridiculous amounts of fun, if played well. Before you jump in, consider the hurdles you’ll be facing, and decide whether or not it’s a challenge you want to tackle.
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