When I write this column, I talk a lot about what works within the context of roleplaying. I make suggestions, declare certain things as being bad ideas, and otherwise make a point of speaking as someone who knows what he is doing. This is not unfounded; I've been playing MMOs for eight years and roleplaying for fifteen, so I at least have some benefit of experience to work with. But a lot of the conclusions I've reached and the ideas that I've formed have been the result of trying something, failing, and learning from the experience.
Today, I'm going to look back to three characters whom I played, characters I was excited about, characters who absolutely failed to work. Beyond just that, however, I want to talk about why they failed to work and what I might have done to overcome their innate problems and make them fun to play after all. These are points I've touched on before, definitely, but it never hurts to fit these things into an actual context.
When I made my first character in Guild Wars
, I had no idea how well she'd fit into the world as a whole. For better or worse, Prophecies was filled to the brim with well-intentioned extremists, both as allies and enemies, and so another one fit into the overall landscape almost flawlessly. Rosemary, that character's sister, was meant as a direct counterpoint -- a character whose only point of extremism was the fact that she wanted people (and especially her sister) to stop screwing around with the world for, like, 10 minutes.
It wasn't that Rosemary was dumb, although she was probably the least imaginative of the three sisters overall. It was simply that she didn't want to see people make mistakes, and so she took the moderate path of advocating caution and inactivity. She had something of a vendetta against her sister, a Necromancer with designs on something far bigger than she deserved, but for the most part Rosemary just wanted the world to quiet down and take a more moderate approach to life. And you can probably already see the problem here.
Lesson learned: Making things not-happen is not interesting.
Rosemary had a distinct voice and character, but she also had a distinct ability to make anything interesting stop happening. That's not a good trait for a character in an MMO, or really, any setting. When your chief reward for roleplaying is creating an enjoyable experience, a character who exists only to be an obstacle to that experience is essentially creating a portable Stop Having Fun Guy
The worst part with Rosemary is that because she worked as a character on most obvious levels, it was hard for anyone to pinpoint why scenes with her fell so flat. Luckily, it finally became obvious, and she was very quietly shuffled off into the great unknown. It was sad to say goodbye to a character that I did enjoy playing, but she wasn't just failing to pull her weight, she was making things worse for characters that were.
In my mind, Verafrau was a really cool concept. She was a resurrection of an old character as a Draenei Paladin but handled in such a way that it actually worked with only a little bit of nudging here and there. Even better, it was timed right around the launch of The Burning Crusade
, which meant that events could unfold in such a way that her introduction felt organic. I had led up to it for months on my Druid; this was going to be my new main character and she would be totally awesome.
So there was a lot to do. Manipulations to make, plots to put into motion, characters to trick and an almost Hamlet-like act of madness to ensure that everything went perfectly. It all went off without a hitch -- my Druid managed to, essentially, trick someone into using her as a human sacrifice (it's a long story that made sense at the time), and it happened only a few days before the expansion launched. Everything lined up perfectly except for one minor detail that I'd forgotten about.
Lesson learned: Don't switch headliners without good reason.
No one -- including me -- actually cared about Verafrau herself. I barely even had much of a character for her. What I had
was a very interesting story that I had played out over the course of several months that had involved her only as a MacGuffin. And none of the accumulated interest or investment or anything else transferred over to my new character.
You could blame the other players here, but it wasn't anyone's fault but my own. I was so busy creating what was a very interesting introduction that I never created an interesting character to be introduced. As it happened, Verafrau quickly got moved out of active rotation, which also wound up kneecapping my Druid's chracter arc (since it meant that all of that plotting and work and so forth was essentially wasted time).
Some characters I've been trying for years to bring into an effective environment, and Kingfisher is one of them. A hero by trade, Kingfisher (or more accurately, the man behind the mask) has always been something of a twist on the archetype of the charming sociopath. He's affable and likeable, but he truly doesn't understand people beyond understanding the right thing to say. That doesn't mean he's a villain per se, but it does mean that he tends to draw people into some rather unusual situations based on his force of personality and total lack of moral concern.
As I figured it, Kingfisher was essentially going to be my placeholder character, the guy who I used to get a sense of the roleplaying community and what sort of characters were acceptable. Of course, he wasn't exactly the perfect match for that, but I figured I could downplay some of his more casual inabilities to understand others for a while, if I even kept playing him.
Lesson learned: Play the character you actually want to play.
The problem was that I didn't keep playing him. In fact, I stopped playing entirely for a while because I wasn't able to actually get involved in any roleplaying I cared about... because I wasn't playing my character. I was playing someone who remotely resembled my character if you squinted just right, but I was excising the most interesting parts of the character in the name of seeming inoffensive.
I'm all for avoiding drama here; you all know this very well. But there's a point at which preemptively avoiding drama means that you create a string of bland individuals who are as emotionally involving as wet rugs. That's a good way to lose interest in the game and roleplaying in general. Create characters that you actually want to play and play them true, understanding that sometimes it means you'll have to recognize a group doesn't mesh with that character. The alternative doesn't work at all.
As always, you can let me know what you think in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
. Next week, I'm going to be discussing something based on a comment from last week -- namely, the issue of dealing with game mechanics within a roleplaying framework. And the week after that, we're going dancing with ourselves.
Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.