I do not claim to have any sort of superhuman intellect. If I understand how people are likely to make mistakes in roleplaying and how to fix those mistakes, it's a product of having made a lot of mistakes of my own. Sometimes it's a result of failing to fix them and realizing what would have worked after the fact. And while I'll write advice on how to fix the things that you're doing wrong, I never want to give the impression that I'm preaching rather than practicing.
Last week's column
was all about what happens when it turns out you're the problem, and there's a J'accuse
-style rant if there ever was one. In light of that, I wanted to make it very clear that there have been situations in which my character was the problem rather than some hypothetical example. And so I pulled out three of the most notable examples of places where it turns out I was causing a world of disruption within the group.
"Oh, look, it thinks it's people."
Before I finally left World of Warcraft
, I was hard at work trying to find new angles for new characters. As fate would have it, the addition of new classes for several races gave me a perfect opportunity to explore a very old undead mindset, not in the "ancient evil" sense of the term but in the "dead for a very long time" sense of the term. I was fascinated by the idea of someone who died and wasn't brought back until the Forsaken started emptying every available grave for new corpses, a woman who had died back when Orcs and Tauren and so forth weren't even dreamt of.
As a result, I figured that this character would be pretty unabashedly racist. It wasn't meant as commentary; it was simply due to her complete lack of understanding what the other races were. She had no interest in moving beyond her first visual impressions of her erstwhile allies. Outside of Elves and her fellow Undead, she considered other races to be sub-Human monsters fit only for cannon fodder. And that certainly was posed to provide some interesting dynamics when compared to the much more partisan state of Horde politics in the expansion.
Unfortunately... well, it comes as no real surprise to understand that this could start to rub others the wrong way, which was something I had planned for ahead of time, something that I tried to work around by explaining right away that these were her issues and bore no resemblance to reality. A built-in blind spot, in other words.
That didn't fix anything, sadly. As it stood, she was just plain uncomfortable to have around. Other players didn't like interacting with her when she went off on one of her rants because she didn't feel amusingly stupid. At best she was uncomfortable; at worst she was actively detestable. And this was even more problematic because she wasn't meant to be villainous, just unintentionally dim about certain realities.
So I was the problem. And the best thing I could do was to quickly recognize that and start focusing on her complete lack of modern context from angles other
than individuals. Rather than displaying the casual racism of before, I made a point of having her (in-character) apologize to others for not understanding anything about them or anything about the world that she'd only been inhabiting for a brief time. Having her claim that Orcs were just worse than Humans was uncomfortable; having her ask an Orc how to use these "gun" things without blowing another hole in her shoulder hit the notes I really wanted.
Hey there, crazypants
Remember back in my first article about problem characters, where I mentioned Verafrau? Well, Verafrau's antecedent was Airelle. And she
was the source of problems, too: I wound up creating an accidental villain who really deserved what happened to her.
Without going into depth, let me just say that Airelle was legitimately crazy. She didn't start out that way; she started out mostly as an immensely bitter Night Elf who was more or less summarily kicked out after she kept insisting her society needed to either grow with the times or face extinction. That led to her pursuing some avenues of research that were best left alone, and she eventually decided that the best course of action open to her was to trick everyone she knew into summoning a spirit deep within the Emerald Nightmare to serve as a champion of justice.
Later, she got crazier.
If it needs to be said, Airelle was trouble because she was basically pulling a fast one on everyone
. She acted crazier than she was, browbeat people until they completely despised her, lied, stole, and generally treated other people as tools to be used as she saw fit. At the time, it was in service of a noble cause, but the problem was that her actions made her thoroughly deplorable. She didn't come across as someone doing something dangerous and deceptive; she came across as a maddeningly contrary and nasty woman who desperately needed a solid dose of arrow applied directly to the throat.
And it was making the group less pleasant to be around because it was derailing everyone else's characters. When the group has such a destabilizing influence in the center, it makes it feel confrontational all the time. It meant that I needed to do something, and promptly.
I was lucky in the sense that all of this was happening when I was nearly finished with her character arc anyway. But that meant that the time for it to happen was immediately
and that I needed to give some of the people who had been most thoroughly wronged by her a chance to apply the aforementioned dose of arrow. Until then, I put Airelle on a shelf and played a different character, someone not
prone to frustrating everyone around me. I apologized out of character for the amount of stress that Airelle had put others through, and when she wound up becoming a full-on villain a couple of years later, everyone got a wonderful shot at catharsis.
I should start this section by making something very clear: I don't like Star Wars, but I do play Star Wars: The Old Republic
. This is because I do
, and I liked what the studio was doing with the game from the beginning.
As you can imagine, this causes certain issues here and there. Case in point: a character who was a redeemed Sith, but not through the usual routes of a kindly Jedi master's tutelage. No, this was a character who rose up completely on her own and decided that no, the Sith weren't the right group for her. So she threw her lot in with the Republic. There's more to it than that, but that alone was enough to cause issues.
Namely, the first group I ran into made it very clear that this was not possible.
I bring this last point up because this was one of the rare cases when leaving was, in fact, the most appropriate option. I do not
know the full Extended Universe lore on the topic, and for all I know, that first group was entirely right. But this was a character concept that I really wanted to play, one that seemed to have a lot of potential, and one that just couldn't be shoved into a different compartment without fundamentally breaking the character. But at the same time, forcing other players who didn't
share my views on the lore to accept my reading at face value would have been destructive for their enjoyment.
Put simply, I was the problem. But the only way to solve that problem without anyone ending up totally unhappy was to excuse myself altogether, which, obviously, is precisely what I did.
Have some of your own examples? Feel free to leave them in the comments or mail them along to firstname.lastname@example.org
. Next week, I'm going to talk about dark secrets, dark pasts, and how to keep "dark" from winding up as goofy.
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.