As a result, when I first got into World of Warcraft, I was under the impression that you were expected to role play your character. My poor human paladin (who I had decided had been sent to the order as a child because his parents didn't particularly care to feed yet another mouth after the war, and who was frankly too slow to grasp book learning to make a good priest) quickly learned that any attempt to discuss epic adventure, make comments about how boring life at the Abbey had been, or even treat kobolds as anything other than copper shedding piñatas to be beaten until the glittering candy came out would be treated with extreme derision. I didn't know about things like roleplaying servers back then.
However, I'm a relatively stubborn and mean spirited person. And so, when I rerolled to my first warrior, who I still play to this day over two years later, I decided that I was still going to come up with a backstory for him and role play him when I could. I was aided in this endeavor by my wife and a small group of friends, and so the warrior Marketh on Azjol-Nerub strode into being. Sarcastic, flippant, cantankerous, a veteran of the Third War (a footsoldier then, he'd seen none of the glorious battles or exploding World Trees, he'd mostly been fighting waves of undead and been pushed out of his family farmstead in Lordaeron, having lost most of his family to the Scourge, which he didn't talk about) I took great glee in playing him to the hilt at every opportunity.
Complaining about my sore old bones after a mob hit my shield, yelling insults about the Scarlet Adept's being 'frilly little bookheads' while trying to interrupt their heals, and the now infamous Blackrock Depths run where we kept cycling people in and out to try and finish as many quests as possible while Marketh had a full-blown claustrophobic attack while killing what seemed like several hundred dark iron dwarves bellowing that caves were no proper place to keep a man, begging Marshal Windsor to just find a door.
By the time we transfered to Norgannon, Mark was quietly famous among small groups as being totally deranged. I would actually get invitations to groups not because they really needed another warrior, but just because people wanted to see what I would say to Drakkisath (I believe I insinuated that his mother was a Gecko with extreme difficulty restraining her flatulence and he was the end result of an egg that had been overly exposed to same flatulence.)
From time to time to this day I'll hang out with some of my older online friends and talk shop, as it were, as if the raids and dungeons I've tanked were actual places I've visited. Tales of the expedition to Ahn'Qiraj are exceptionally popular - "And what do you think we saw in there? I'll tell you what we saw... a bleeding eyeball bigger than the whole Keep, that's what we saw!"
The key to successful RPing on a non-RP server is to not care that most people won't get it. If you and your RP friends (sometimes it was just me and one other person, wandering through Hyjal before it was made so difficult to enter, wondering at the corpse of Archimonde laying against the partially regrown Nordrassil) are having fun, that's all you need to worry about. Last week while PvPing on my horde warrior I was asked to run a group of lower level characters through Zul'Farrak and I agreed, but playing the character of my tauren (who I imagine as being very guileless and innocent, even naive, based on the rather placid face I designed for him when I first rerolled horde) to the absolute hilt, telling my 'new little greenies' and 'poor dead friends' that I would protect them from all the bad, bad monsters and scary sand trolls in the instance. "No no, little orc, you stay back here, you shouldn't play with fire like that, keep your rather horribly ugly dog back here too, I'll go talk with these trolls and see if they let us pass."
Sadly, the trolls did not see things his way and we were forced to kill them. It was very sad for him. After a while the rest of the party started playing along, possibly not wanting to ruin a free ride, but also possibly because having fun is infectious: the warlock kept declaiming "By Kil'Jaeden's teat, I'm not a child!" every time I'd ask him in my gentle way to stay back and be safe. It was only made better by his growing slow burn, which he finally got to unleash during the troll waves atop the pyramid, in my opinion. They were great sports.
It's moments like that, where complete strangers play along and make it more fun, that make RPing worth doing for me even though I'm not on an RP server. In fact, I've only played one character on an RP server ever and he's been level 42 for two years now. To a degree, I guess I find RP servers too easy: people there are expecting you to role play, they'll even get upset if you don't sometimes, so there's a social pressure to do it that does my work for me. I like to feel like I'm doing a good enough job of being my gentle, peaceful warrior (seen above in his full gladiator gear and his massive 2h axe... he never seems to understand why people automatically assume he's hostile, the poor guy. He'd love to try and talk things out with those nice Alliance folks but they keep trying to burn down our towers and they just won't stop and listen and it makes him so upset and then things become unfortunate) that people will be swept up in it, not that they're humoring me.
Of course, they probably are humoring me, but the important thing is that we have fun. If you can get past the fact that most people won't get it, that nine times out of ten they won't do any role playing themselves, and that you're basically beating your head against the brick wall of folks who think it's weird to actually act like the slavering orc rogue that they spend hours and hours making more and more effective at stabbing people (I mean, to my mind, you put that much time into a character, you might as well have fun playing him, but I know I'm weird) hoping for those rare moments when you get a good group together and they're all willing to treat this trip to Razorfen Downs not as yet another repeatable loot crawl but to actually play up the idea that they are descending into a pit in the earth infested with undead pigs. I had a blast that run. The shaman kept yelling "Okay, seriously, we can just leave! We do not have to be here!" even though we all knew he desperately wanted the chestplate that Amnennar drops.
Think of RPing on the non-RP servers as a way to spice things up. It's fun to cut loose sometimes. What would your gnome mage actually say or do in a given situation? Does she constantly bridle at the gigantic chairs in Stormwind? What does she think about being at crotch level to just about everyone who she meets? Have fun with it. I mean, it's a game, and you're already paying a monthly fee* to play it, why not mess around? You may even find some other people just as odd as yourself. And if not, you can sometimes laugh yourself silly over their puzzled reactions.
It makes yet another interminable run to The Steamvaults so much more tolerable.
*There was a typo here containing an extra letter. Search the comments for the unintended hilarity.