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All the World's a Stage: A little help from my friends

David Bowers

All the World's a Stage is a column for cooperative minds, playing with roles every Sunday evening.

Roleplaying a new character can be hard, even for advanced roleplayers. Usually you only begin with the fragment of a character, some vague idea of what you want your character to be like. Even if you have a pretty clear idea of your character already in mind, you may discover that actually playing that role in communication with others causes issues to come up that you never could have thought of all on your own.

Thankfully, roleplaying is a cooperative activity. Unlike PvE and PvP, there is no "versus" in RP. Even if two characters are bitter nemeses, still their characters must cooperate with one another to share an interesting story. Otherwise, they will find themselves "god-modding," or roleplaying in such a way that they don't give one another any room to improvise. (Two god-modders may fight something like this, using custom emotes: "Darkmystery stabs Elfman and cuts out his heart," followed by, "Elfman dodges Darkmystery's sword and then rips his head off," and so on.) These people aren't really roleplaying in the same way that two people shouting at each other in different languages are not really communicating. Roleplaying's very nature requires that each person work together with every other person, or else it isn't really roleplaying at all.

Though the rare "god-modder" can attract a lot of attention, in fact most roleplayers are quite eager to cooperate and assist one another as much as possible. For every one drama queen or king who simply must be the center of attention at all times, there are 5 roleplayers standing in the background listening quietly, wishing that someone else would talk, and 15 more who went off to roleplay their own stories instead. Most roleplayers reach out to each other for support, suggestions, background story ideas, and are more than willing to lend a helping hand in these areas to anyone who asks. Such mutual reciprocity forms the foundation of what roleplaying is all about.

The inspiration for a new character, however, always has to come from the individual. This inspiration forms the core of who a new character is going to be, and it usually won't work if one plays a character based too much around someone else's idea. That said, your idea doesn't need to be necessarily very complicated, and it is more than likely inspired by something you saw someone else do sometime, whether in roleplaying or in a story of some sort. But no matter what awakened that certain feeling or idea within you, your own character comes from your heart -- not some book, movie, or old myth you heard once.

You can use a simple method with two key words to focus in on the essentials of the character you want to play, or you can use Jim Moreno's "Five W's" method, asking certain key questions about your chraracter -- whatever works for you. Once you've got a basic feeling of who your character is, the next step is to interact with others. Sometimes this will go off with no hitch whatsoever, but often the logical holes in your idea will begin to appear. You may soon realize that actually the lore doesn't support some part of your story, or that what you thought would be a very engaging character quirk is actually driving people away.

No one should feel shy to ask others for support in this kind of situation. It's very rare that a roleplayer will laugh at your idea or say "that sucks!" You may hear roleplayers share horror stories about some of the worst characters they've ever seen in the game, but chances are that if a newcomer came to roleplayers sincerely looking for advice and suggestions, the roleplayers would gladly give it to him in a polite way. Because roleplaying is, by its very nature, so very cooperative, it is in every roleplayer's best interest to support others around them to the extent of his or her ability. Besides, asking someone for advice is a sign that you respect them, and showing people genuine respect tends to bring out the best in them.

If you're part of a roleplaying guild, there's usually a space in the guild forums to ask questions and get suggestions. If not, even if you know one roleplayer on your entire server, chances are that he or she is connected with other groups of roleplayers, and among his or her friends there will be some who are pretty good at studying the lore and helping other players. You'll likely eventually find plenty of intelligent people, each with a different viewpoint on how best to roleplay, but nonetheless all able to contribute something valuable to anyone's creative process.

Whenever I'm feeling stuck with a character, I find I learn a great deal from listening to a variety of opinions on my problem. Out of five different suggestions, I can understand my problem in a new light, and easily discover one or two suggestions that I really like. I can see what it is about my character that causes miscommunication or doesn't get me the response I was hoping for from other players. A number of people may give me answers which are quite interesting and insightful, but nonetheless don't feel like they fit exactly right, whereas the perfect insight may come from a totally unexpected source. Regardless of which friend's suggestion I find most suitable, the very act of asking gives me a chance to discover so many beautiful and interesting ideas and perspectives from my fellow roleplayers, that I find myself enriched and educated by having interacted with them. Each roleplayer is a mine rich in gems, and each one has something interesting to share with you, even if it's just a little bit.

Even after you feel more comfortable with your character, as if he or she is a regular extension of your own mind, you still continue to rely on the constant support of others. You may discuss with your friends what sort of event should happen next. Or you may discover that you actually share some important element of your story in common with someone else -- both born in the same part of Azeroth, for instance. You can whisper one another for details that your characters might already know about, such as a possible childhood nicknames they might have used, and quickly fill in the blank spots in your story that both characters would have shared.

What's the best roleplaying advice you've received? Do you have any constructive suggestions or interesting tips you often share with others, or any cooperative tricks you use to make your roleplaying that much more interesting?

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