What kind of realm do I want?
In World of Warcraft there are four different kind of realms for you to choose from: PvE, PvP, RP and RPPvP. Confused? You shouldn't be. This is the easiest part of creating your new character. However, the choice you make will greatly effect your game experience. What can you expect on each different realm type? I'm glad you asked...
PvE - Player versus Environment In this type of realm, you are never forced into a player versus player situation. If you choose you can activate your PvP flag, which will enable the opposing faction to attack you, but that is strictly optional. If you are looking to enjoy a leisurely grind and don't want to deal with the "war" in Warcraft, then go ahead and roll on this kind of realm. You may still PvP in battlegrounds, so the PvP aspect of the game is not completely lost, it is just controlled.
PvP - Player versus Player A PvP realm is exactly like a PVE realm in almost every way. Same dungeons, spells, mobs and areas. Even the same battlegrounds. The only difference? Once you leave territories controlled by your faction, you are fair game for PvP. In the starting areas, right up until about level 16 or so, you are protected and your PvP flag is off. Once you leave the starting areas, however, you can be attacked anywhere, at any time. To a lot of players, this adds to the excitement of the grind. However, there are some things you should consider...
- You will get ganked. A level 35 can kill a level 24 on sight, and it is his right to do so. A level 60 will sneak to a newbie zone and destroy any level 10 who turned on his PvP flag. You will hear the philsophy "it it's red, it's dead" thrown about a bit. Players of the opposing faction have their names in red when flagged for PvP, so if somoene sees someone with a red name, they will be killed regardless of level or situation.
- Don't ever expect a fair fight. 2 on 1, 3 on 1...that is going to happen. If you are engaged on two mobs, don't expect any mercy. If a member of the opposing faction sees you in that vulnerable position, they could very well take advantage.
- You will get camped. Someone 15 levels above you will sit at your body and kill you again and again and again when you rez. This doesn't happen all the time, or even a majority of the time, but it does happen. Is that person being a bit of a jerk? Probably. Is it within the rules of a PvP server? Absolutely. Will you get anywhere by complaining about it in the chat channels or forums? No.
RP - Role Play Server These servers are exactly like a PvE server, except there is role playing amongst a lot of the players. No, role playing is not required, but these servers are the place to find like-minded role players. If you want to play a dwarf, and pretend to be a dwarf in your interactions with others, these are the servers for you. Again, you don't HAVE to role play, but you would be better off rolling on a PvE server if you don't want to role play.
RP PvP - Role Play Player versus Player Finally, we have the most rare server, the RP PvP. These servers are exactly like a PvP server in every way, except it is a role playing server. Some people think a little less ganking and camping occurs on these RP PvP servers, but there is still a fair amount of typical PvP behavior.
How To Choose The Specific Realm
Once you get to the point of knowing what kind of realm you want, you need to choose which realm of that type you are going to start on. Some realms have been around since launch, have tons of guilds in the high end raid dungeons and are bursting at the seams with players. Other realms are newer, have few endgame guilds and have a rather sparse population. Most realms are somewhere in between. How do you discover which realms are which?
A good way to see the population is to head over to Warcraft Realms and check out census information for every realm. The info is not 100% accurate, but it will give you a good idea if you are going to be a small fish in a small pond, or a small fish in an ocean. Argent Dawn? Huge population. Uldaman? Not so much.
What to do with this census information? Well, some lower population realms might be easier to level up on. Not a lot of competition for mobs and resources. However, once you hit 60 you will have a smaller pool of players to group with. A higher population realm might have more level 60 players to raid and group with, but the competition for resources and mobs will be fierce. Finally, getting groups for the sub-60 instances might be easier on a slightly newer server with a lot of sub-60 players. Although the mature servers have people leveling alts, so finding a group for Wailing Caverns probably won't be impossible. As always, your experiences could differ.
Once you narrow your choice down to a few different realms, go to the WoW.com realm forums and read the forum for the server you are considering. Usually you will see the guild progression, what guilds are recruiting, if there is a lot of drama, etc. You can discover a lot in just 5 minutes.
Now that you know what kind of realm you want, and you have researched the population and social graces of people on the realms that fit your play style, you can choose a realm.
Yes, this process requires a little footwork and isn't as easy as blindly clicking the realm list when you boot WoW. But, if you do a little research you will be much happier with your realm choice in the long run. You don't want to level a toon to 46 and discover you wished you'd have rolled on a PvP server, or a server with a high population.
Good luck starting your WoW life!