World of Warcraft, the biggest MMO out there, has dozens of facets for game play and attracts many to its raids, PVP, tournaments, and adventure. But for many there is another aspect, the last three letters on the end of the type of game WoW is. A Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game… ie the RPG part. For many people it is the bread and butter of their WoW experience, for others it’s a terrifying mystical world full of horror stories from Goldshire and thus nothing to dabble in… and yes for some it’s prime griefing material. Be that as it may I enjoy RP in a lot of different ways, and for the last two and a half years WoW was the place for me and my creative self and I had a blast. The hardest part of the entire experience besides getting into the thick of things is just making the character to begin with. Sure there is the character creation screen – class, race, faction, name, looks, gender… but to build an RP toon you have to go beyond the pixils and think about who that person is.

I’m sure many people out there played make-believe… gone beyond that to Dungeons and Dragons or Whitewolf games… what about a school play or even simply playing House. You had a role you fulfilled, a goal for yourself as someone who was more or less not you at all yet held a part of you in their core. Keep this in mind and I’ll take some time to describe some processes, key things to keep in mind, and my personal believes behind the creation of a role-playing character.

I’ll be breaking this into a few posts, just for digestion’s sake and avoidance of ‘wall of text’ syndrome. For starters I’ll go through a few concepts and guide lines to keep in mind during this whole process. These are based solely on my own opinions and experience so you might have other views or approaches and that’s good. In the event you have no idea though, maybe these can be a bit of an inspiration.

I have found for myself, and maybe you have found more, but in general when it comes to making a character people go for one of two things. A) Creating a character in the confines of the rules of the game and then going ahead and fleshing out back ground, personality, history and such as they go. Or B) Creating a character fully outside of the math and rules, following instead the Lore and history of the game and then conforming the finished character to the rules but with clear guide lines as to who and what they will be. Either way can be a lot of fun and often for someone starting out going with A helps a whole lot. A character can be as complex or as simple as you want them to be.

If you haven’t taken time to look at the Lore, or the history of Wow… go do it now. Seriously… ok maybe not right now but eventually make it a priority if you don’t have a clue. Often the history, traditions, facts, stories, mythologies and various other tidbits strune around Azeroth or even other places can inspire. To make a good character you need a few things in your head and they can be anything from a check list of facts to obscure concepts. Let me take a stab at a list for you. This is in no way in any kind of order of importance, because it’s all important. Don’t be surprised to see some of these concepts blend into one another; because it is a difficult thing to bust out into a set list, everything is inter-twined. You can get as in-depth or as vague as you want with these too when you make your own character.

Inspiration – What dreams does your character have or who do they look up to? Did they have a divine intervention which involved dreams from the Light or Spirits? Do they have someone in history they look up to and wish to emulate? Or simply an elder sibling or family member who urged them on to be more than what they were? Inspiration could be positive, or negative. You can pull inspiration from the Lore, or other literature, even movies and cartoons. Often people use other media to inspire them and try to bring it into WoW lore – Vampire cat girls ring a bell?- but while its awesome to be creative… also try to be realistic in terms of WoW history and culture. While you’re Vampire Nelf Druid who always has cat ears and a tail might not really fly with most folks… a Blood Elf Deathknight who specs in Blood may be able to lay claim to being a soldier of the San’Layn – Azeroth’s version of Vampires. Arguably a Night Elf may be able to lay the same claim because the Scourge doesn’t discriminate so much… you can theorycraft all you want about it. While things inspire you to create, things may also inspire your character to do things – create, ways of life, motivations, physical changes… the possibilities are endless. What is important is to know your stuff about your inspirations and keep in mind the world you play in.

EX: Inspired by the Jungle Book, George of the Jungle, Peter Pan, the Lion King, and the Blue Lagoon: Draenei Beast Master Hunter Oboro – Separated as a youngling from his family during the waning years of war with the orcs this child falls back to instinct to survive alone in Zangermarsh and Nagrand. Letting the Beast Within take hold and learning from the natural world around him he survives for years. Some part of his ‘humanity’ remains however as he finds and takes care of other children who have similarly been abandoned or separated. This band of children, lead by a half mad predator and an ex-priestess who is believed to be plagued, they make a life for themselves without adults, without religion and rules. Today he remembers those days of running free, hunting as he liked… years of not knowing language and writing and the civilized world. He is an oddity, an outsider, learning what it means to be Draenei, to be an Adult, and how to take his place in history. He is inspired by a Night Elf Huntress who offered to teach him the way of the Hunter as it is known on Azeroth. This striped scarred elf with centuries of knowledge is in balance with her civility and her savagery. One day he hopes to take his place at the head of the ‘Pride’, but he will continue to walk his own path along the way.

Motivation and Aspirations – what drives your character on? Revenge? Curiosity? The hunger for power? The drive to make peace and restore order? Motivation is what drives your character to move forward and do things, to be active and a part of the world. Think about what you want to them to do, sometimes even just arbitrary goals like ‘See a Dinosaur’ or ‘Find Lost Books’ can help define a character and what makes them do things. A lack of dreams, goals, and motivation means in game you often are making excuses for why they move forward. The character’s motivations can also be driven by how and what you want to play. Want to make an alchemist who specializes in potions? Why not work in someone’s desire to create a potion that will make you invulnerable, or perhaps fly… even defy death. Maybe you haven’t tried a class or a style of play – like a healer. Your character can be driven to aid other adventurers but is too frail to run up and smack things, yet the powers of Nature, the Light, or Ancestors flows through them allowing them to heal any wound. For any aspect you choose in game, ask yourself the big question- Why? You can surprise yourself with the answer.

EX: My Motivation: make a character that runs in and beats the tar out of things! Catch phrase “(Name / shortened name) Smash!” Never tried Paladin before or an engineer, thought it might be fun… wee explosions…Enter Jadira, a Draenei Retribution “Explodadin” Paladin. She had grown up hearing the story of Uther the Lightbringer, the Ashbringer, and the Lion of Azeroth from the Humans trapped on the wrong side of the Dark Portal. When she arrived on Azeroth, she vowed to meet these people, or at least visit their graves and pay her respects. In the process she learned what the Light meant to Humans and other races, what it was to be a Paladin, and ultimately what it meant to take on a personal crusade even at the cost of her own life. Her heroes died for others, not themselves, and this selflessness was not an easy thing to learn. Now she has devoted her active time to fighting with the Argent Crusade to end the Scourge. Once Azeroth is cleansed, she intends to return to Draenor and give the Legion a swift kick in the rear just like she did the Scourge. Her study of Gnomish engineering, coupled with the technology of the Draenei, allows her to craft fantastic gadgets from repair bots, special goggles, parachutes, rocket launchers… even her own flyer! It isn’t perfect though… and often it malfunctions. Just like the fight against insurmountable odds… it’s a work in progress.

History, Growth, and Evolution – While for some people the ‘E’ word is a dangerous thing to put in bold in terms of making a character it is key. One thing I have seen a lot of and have done myself is fall in love with the back story of a character and make it dominate everything. I’m sure you know someone who is –dying- to tell you everything about their back story, their history; even if you don’t give a damn and it can be detrimental to the person with the itch. A good character starts at a point in their history – a history that dictates their preferences, beliefs, language, reaction… everything they are – and leaves history exactly where it is… behind them. If you listen to any of the intro cinematic when you make a new character you hear all about where people come from, recent history, important people, and then POOF there you are. From that point you fight things, gain levels, get gear… well your personal story also grows from there. Events change you as you play, or live for that matter.

A bad experience in a Hogger PUG inspires you to Tank rather than DPS. Let’s take that and wrap our heads around it for a moment. Your valiant hero who has been actively beating the tar out of a mess of gnolls finds himself taking the brunt of the damage though he has not trained to be a defender. The one who is supposed to be doing this job is ignoring all but one enemy while others swarm around the rest of the group. While our hero survives he decides to go back and train to defend, pick up a sword and shield, and be the one to stand in the way of oncoming foes. This changes who he is, his motivations and goals and he grows because of it. Fast forward tens of levels and this same hero who began as a damage dealer stands behind a bulwark of a shield visor down steeling himself for the fight of his life against Onyxia and her brood, knowing that he and he alone will keep her attention and let others do the damage and healing. The decisions we make as a player shape our experience… so too should you allow things that happen in game shape and change your character. History is good to determine most of the things on this list, but experience is what shapes a character and lets them grow. EXP is more than just that bar across your screen. Preconceived notions about say a race may change with exposure to said race and culture. A strong fear may be overcome with the help of others or sheer willpower in a crisis. These changes could be environmental – things that happen as you play-, social – in character reactions and events that happen when you interact with others- , or as I like to call it ‘Cow From Space’… meaning you as the player change something and scramble to make a reason in character for that change. This is also known as a Plot Hole… we all fall into them. Even Blizzard.

In short –history you use to build WHO your character is, HOW they react to the world, WHAT matters to them, WHERE they come from, and such is where you start. When they join with the rest of the world, it should influence how their story and their future-history changes and thus allows your character to grow, become multi-dimensional, and ultimately have good stories that others can remember being a part of. Characters that grow and change are compelling and draw us in all over literature. Stagnant characters tend to bore us. When Simba is a cub in the Pride Lands he has this grand future played out for him and it changes because of the ambitions of his Uncle Scar. When his childhood friend Nala finds him alive and under the care of Timon and Pumba he has changed. She convinces him (along with the help of a mystical monkey and James Earl Jones) that he has to embrace his destiny and that changes him. The death of his Father changed him. We know it as a history, for Simba, as it happens, it is his life. Need another example… go watch Avatar the Last Airbender and pay close attention to Aang and Zuko. They have motivations stemming from their past, but as the show progresses, you watch events that happen to shape and change who they are, and ultimately into who they need to become.

Cultural History – where are their roots? Are they a part of their culture or outside it, even out right against it? Do they have close ties to their family or religion? Are they trying to discover these things because of a lack of connection or history? Again take a look at Lore and look for things that spark your interest. Often you can find ties to real things in wow or other literature that can help you discover and build a history and ties for your character to those. Perhaps they only work for their own kind, viewing them as being superior. Maybe they have the same stigmas as their race but no idea why and over time learns to set them aside? Maybe they simply wish to emulate another culture they find fascinating, immersing themselves in the culture, history, language ect. Just as culture and history have a big play on who we are as individuals, the history and cultures of Azeroth will color and shape your character’s attitudes and perceptions.

EX: The Dwarves are proud, enduring, inquisitive folk with rich culture, traditions, and history. They are very self reliant, stubborn, and often the most un-subtle race in the Alliance. They have great knowledge of machinery, minerals, the deep places of the world and warfare. In Azeroth they have given refuge to the Gnomes and have employed a lot of their knowhow to their own machinery. In the original opening wow cinematic we encounter a Dawarf Hunter. Many of you know of the WHU and the guild over on Icecrown. Enter Kaywinnet, a Dwarven Engineer and Hunter. The Dwarven Hunters are a proud lot and Kaywinnet is no exception. This daughter of the Steelgrill family grew up around Steam Tanks, Guns, Gnomes and a powerful pride in her people. To carry on the tradition of generations before her she has taken up the wrench and gun in defense of Ironforge and the exploration of Azeroth for secrets hidden for centuries. Her accent is thick, her love of stout brew is second to none, and though she has learned how to use a bow there is no way in Hell she’ll ever use one. A company of WHU hunters delved into Gnomergan long before they ought to and Kay was right in there with them the whole way. Fearlessness bordering on insanity, a gregarious nature bordering on rude and invasive, and an inquisitive mind thirsting for knowledge… these things describe many a dwarf … including  Kaywinnet.

Physical Self and Personality– What attributes would you give your character’s body? Hair color, height, weight, gender, scars, piercings…and so on. Facts about their physical self often can be more telling about personality than anything else. Are they funny and caring or rude and violent? Do they put on a kindly face in front of others and hide something sinister behind it or play dumb to hide their intelligence? Persona and the Physical self are often tied. In WoW a lot of physical traits can be seen, and many can’t be. There are addons that let you input a description… I’ll touch on that much later don’t worry. Perhaps your character is a tailor, it fit best with the class. They make their own clothing, maybe they are a bit vain, or strapped for cash to get better things. Stemming along the same line of thought their clothing is impeccable, meaning their physical looks will be well kept as well. They detest dirt and avoid it the best they can, they act as if above many things… simple things like a Profession, or a hair style, even skin color can shape what your character looks like and how they act. History, Lore, and Experience also shape these things but despite warnings not to judge a book by its cover we tend to.

On RP servers many people will farm for gear not for epic loots but for how it looks; the prestige of armor sets, or simply to make an outfit. Many people’s toons only ware certain armor classes out of combat – a DK who wanders around in Leather, a former rogue – for example. Tattoos and piercings, scars and markings have meanings in real life so maybe you should think about what it means to your character if they are in fact a critical part of the character. Events that happen during the course of game play may also change how your character acts and looks. You can just look cool, be pleasing to yourself at least, but ask WHY for these things too and just let your mind go and find the possibilities. A lot of times personalities for people starting out mirror their own and this is a good way to start. An important thing to remember that gets many people is the separation of Character and Player. Your toon may feel one thing, yet you feel differently. This… well causes drama most often between players but that’s another article.

EX: Noticing that there are a lot of goodie two-shoe Draenei or evil posing as good Eredar I decided to take a new spin on the species using a bit of fiction as inspiration. A character was so good at not being himself that he had dozens of piercings; the more he had in the closer he was to his true self. Tattoos also helped define who he was and his personal history. When the piercings came out he became a chameleon, persona wise, masking his true self behind shades of strangers in his own skin. Enter Chaaran Lonestar, Draenei Survival Hunter. An ex-harbinger (warrior) who had spent many many years fighting orcs and the Legion for the sake of his people finds himself outcast. Born of dubious circumstances with deformities – small body frame, shorter than most, dark skin denoting less inner light and a freakishly long, dexterous tail – he finds work on the fringes. His past is full of tragedy brought on by both his enemies and supposed allies he has hidden his true self deep within. Upon arrival on Azeroth he finds inspiration in the Night Elves – the female’s facial markings and in their hunters. Becoming one with the wild he can let a bit of himself out. When exposed to the Trolls of Stranglethorn and their tattoos, piercings and markings, he begins to have his own skin marked. Each piece in his mind seals away part of his past, allowing the new ‘Ran a chance to flourish. These markings, piercings, wild hair, and apparent lack of both civility and respect for authority brand him a further outcast from his people. He plays up the ‘bad boy’ look all he can, brandishing his brash and often rude behavior around to ward off further hurt. In combat he lets his wild side, the part of him that has been at war his whole life, escape with the howl of his inner rage that mingles with the call of his wolf companion. In private he is a thoughtful, introspective individual with a kind, compassionate heart. His markings are a shield, his attitude a deterrent, at his core he is still a bit of an innocent – a child simply wishing for peace and a place to be loved… not that his adult self will EVER admit to it.

This, I know, is a lot to take in believe me. It has taken years for me to compile all of this in my head and a lot of trial and error. I’ve made dozens of characters over time and some have official backgrounds, pages and pages of notes…. Or some are just vague ideas. It can start with something as simple as wanting to play a class, or a profession, even a race or faction and ultimately it can blossom into something wonderful. I do encourage people to keep a character journal, jot down ideas that come to mind. Names aren’t always important when coming up with a concept, just knowing what you want to do can really get you going. Remember to ask Why often when it comes to your concepts and their details. Sometimes you will have an answer, and on occasions… well the answer is ‘because I can.’ Try to avoid that… even if it is easy.

On our next installment we will cover character creation using the WoW Character Creation Screen. We’ll build a brand spanking new character to exist within Warcraft! We’ll look at considerations for potential RP, preferences, goals, and such all within that one screen. Promise to take plenty of shots. After that we’ll take that base and begin to flesh out a personality and a history. At the end of this whole thing we’ll have a more or less fully formed RP character we can enter the world with and begin to build stories. I will probably be doing this on the Wyrmrest Accord US-RP server. I’ll eventually set up a schedule for playing this character regularly once a week at least and we’ll document their progress through Azeroth and WRA’s RP community. I do have a slight terminal case of the Shy in a new RP situation so maybe… I’ll have some friends there with me.

Until next time!