Role Play: Warcraft history and roleplaying character development
When creating a character for roleplay, an almost immediate gut reaction is to incorporate as much of Warcraft‘s vast tapestry of history into your character’s own background as humanly possible. After all, some races are so deeply entrenched in Warcraft‘s lore it seems almost necessary to plot and plan out exactly what happened to your character during each and every war. The downside to doing this, though, is pretty simple — you’re going to burn yourself out on lore before you ever get that character to say hello to anyone.
This isn’t saying you shouldn’t have your character rooted in Warcraft history at all — the history is there for a reason, of course. But it’s entirely unnecessary to pour a ton of research and detail into your character’s past, beyond making sure you have a vague idea of where they were when major events occurred. Any more than that is overkill — and in some cases, it can even be detrimental to do so.
History and your character
Here’s the thing — there is a lot of Warcraft history out there to be had. There are a ton of novels out there, not to mention twenty years worth of franchise history that has been written and re-written over time. It’s a lot for any one person to grasp. You don’t have to be a lore expert to be a good roleplayer, because unless that character you’re creating is some kind of all-powerful historian, there’s no reason they would know everything that has ever happened on Azeroth.
In fact, that lack of knowledge can work in your favor, simply by virtue of conversational material. If you’re a human who hasn’t had a lot of exposure to night elf culture, you’ve got a perfect opportunity to have a chat with your night elf buddies and talk about ancient past. If you’re a human that hasn’t participated in any of the wars, you’ve got an opening to talk to characters that have. Draenei in particular are great for this kind of thing, because they are pretty foreign to just about everything that’s happened on Azeroth to date — so they’ve got a lot of room for conversation starters.
If you do find yourself wanting to incorporate a little bit of history into your character’s background, make sure you do a little research so you’re familiar with the time period and what you’re working with. Wowpedia is a great, in depth resource for pretty much everything you’d ever want to know about Azeroth. If your character is from a particular region, try searching that region to see what kind of history its had. If your character has been a part of a particular war, look up the war and familiarize yourself with what exactly happened and how you could work your character into it.
Age relative to storyline
The big thing you want to pay attention to, rather than the entire scope of Azeroth’s history, is exactly how old your character was in relation to these major events. Wowpedia has an official timeline from the World of Warcraft Ultimate Visual Guide that is the most recent, up to date canon release we’ve got, timeline-wise. It doesn’t cover everything in detail, but it does cover what years certain major events, like wars on Azeroth, occurred. For a more detailed timeline, there is an unofficial version available as well, that covers more events and ties together various timeline references that have been made in game — but this timeline has not been called officially canon, so keep that in mind if you’re using it for reference.
Year 0 is when everything went down — it’s when the Dark Portal first opened, and the orcs first appeared on Azeroth. That’s when the events of the franchise began in the Warcraft: Orcs vs. Humans RTS game. In Mists of Pandaria, we hit year 30 on that official timeline. Most Warcraft races reach maturity a little younger than we do out here in the real world — age 15 or 16 is generally considered plenty old enough to go fight in a war. A character who was old enough to participate in the First War would have to be at least 45-46 by now — any younger, and they might remember these events from when they were a kid, but that’s about it.
This is why you want to pay attention to history. It’s not about knowing every last little detail of everything that went down on a particular battlefield — it’s about making your character a realistic age in regards to the story that’s going on. It’s about making sure you choose the right hooks for your character, and pick historical moments that they could, in fact, relate to or logically have participated in. It’s really about accuracy above all else.
Once you’ve got your character’s age sorted out, you can take a look at what they’ve realistically lived through, and pick a few things that they might have experienced along the way. A 30 year old character who was originally from the Lordaeron region probably has some particularly vivid nightmares about the Scourge running rampant during the Third War — they would have only been a child of 10 years or so, but that’s plenty old enough to remember when the dead suddenly got up and started killing everything in sight.
Keep in mind with both the official and unofficial timelines, there are a lot of blank spots — particularly if you’re playing long-lived characters like night elves or draenei, or if you’re playing a character race that just doesn’t have a lot of established historical lore, like the tauren. These blank spaces are opportunities for you to sketch in whatever major events you’d like. But keep in mind, when you’re doing this, that these events weren’t likely too earth-shattering if they weren’t officially recorded in any capacity.
And don’t sweat this aspect of character creation, because in the end, it’s not vitally important — it’s just something fun to flesh out your character a little more clearly and understand who they are a little better. Your character isn’t living in the past, after all. What they happened to live through before might come up in casual conversation, but it isn’t necessary to plot development. And the majority of what you do when you’re roleplaying isn’t really about what came before — it’s about what your character chooses to do now that everything else is all said and done.
Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular roleplaying addons out there, how they work, what they do, and why they can be useful. If you have a particular favorite, leave a comment and let me know!
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