Storyboard: Lasting past level two

So you have what you are absolutely certain is a spectacular idea for a character. You spend the better part of a week planning and preparing for this new addition to your stable of alts. Then you create your character, get into the starting area, and you start going to town... and then you log off. And you never touch that character again, because every time you think about logging back in, a deep malaise takes over and you quickly switch to someone else.

It's not that you didn't genuinely want to play the character. But for whatever reason, that concept that you had which was so solid turned out to be lacking a fundamental element: something to make you stick with him. It's a bad fate for a good concept, and today, we're taking a closer look at how you can try to ensure that your newest baby doesn't end up getting tossed out with the bathwater.
Choose wisely

Here is a tip that will serve you well through most of your gaming career, not to mention your life in general: you like what you like. No amount of trying to convince yourself otherwise is going to change that.

What does this have to do with a character concept? Well, let's assume for a moment that you have a great concept for a mage-type character in your game of choice. You've always played melee characters with a predilection toward tanking, yes, but this concept only works with someone physically frail. And yet when you log in and start playing him, after the first few hours you're just not having fun despite the awesome concept.

Odds are good that the real culprit here isn't the concept, it's the fact that when you get right down to it, you don't like playing a frail spell-slinger of any flavor. You like getting into throat-punching range. There are very few concepts that are sufficiently awesome to override this natural impulse.

There's nothing wrong with this. Really, there isn't. And yet sometimes we come up with great concepts for these character types that we just don't enjoy playing. Some people have more breadth of play than others -- I've known players who will only play various flavors of stealthy shiv-delivery service (also known as "rogue" in fantasy games), and I've met those who can play pretty much any class in any game. Nine times out of ten, though, people gravitate toward their favorite playstyles naturally, and even a great concept won't make you happy to play a class you don't enjoy.

Sometimes, of course, it's a corner case. If you like playing durable bruisers, and you're picking up a more frail class with the intent of building it into a durable bruiser (which is possible depending on the game), the class might not be the problem. But always take a close look first and determine whether the concept is something you actually want to play.

Examine the concept

As long as you're taking a good look at the concept, you may as well see whether the concept actually fits the intended use. Sometimes you come up with a great concept for a character in a book that would make an absolutely terrible character in any kind of MMO.

Loners are a classic example. It's not that you can't make an excellent loner; it's that you have to run into the problem of said loner constantly interacting with a larger group. If the Dark Wolf claims he walks alone, it doesn't make sense for him to always pal about with the rest of the guild and never miss an RP event. And when he stops doing all of that... well, then you have no one to roleplay with.

The hidden, unstoppable killing-machine is another perpetual favorite with serious problems. We all know the character type -- River Tam is a fine example. Silent or crazy, scarily competent when it's convenient to the plot but almost totally inert the rest of the time. Unfortunately, in an MMO everyone is roughly at the same power level at any given tier of player benchmarks, so the odds that your silent pacifist can suddenly bust out a room-clearing blast of energy in game terms are unlikely. Not to mention that characters with plot competency only feel at home where there's a single overarching plot.

Even if you don't have a character type that's going to cause problems, it's worth asking whether the concept is someone who would be fun to play as or someone fun to interact with. The former is more likely to keep you engaged than the latter, as it's giving you things to do rather than chances to react.

Have a partner

Of course, nothing keeps you engaged like having someone right there as you move through the leveling game. Especially not if the other person is depending on you to some extent. That helps smooth over any of the rough patches and convince you that yes, even if the first session didn't go as well as it could have, you need to log back in.

I'm a big fan of the buddy system, partly because it's one of the most frequent ways I roleplay and partly because I've just seen it work so well on a consistent basis. But having a partner in this context has another benefit: it means that you get to stress-test the concept from the word go. You can see the areas that need improvement early on and decide how you want to adjust the concept right off the bat.

Perhaps most importantly, if a strong concept is the glue making the character hold together, leveling solo is like leaving it in the rain rather than letting it dry. You want to make the character familiar and likable, a part of the game that you enjoy, and you can't do that without roleplaying early and often. Having someone else there helps solidify the character concept, as well as helps you play a more difficult concept with extra practice.

And in the event that your brilliant idea turns out not to have the legs you thought it did? Well, you can adjust it a little behind the scenes to fit your partner character and continue along your merry way. Or adjust it to the point of a total reboot. There are shades of Chuck Cunningham in this solution, but performing character surgery is what you signed up for when you started playing.

That's our column for this week, and as always, I'm eager to know what people think. Suggestions, compliments, or raw hatred in text form may be left in the comments or sent to eliot@massively.com. Next week, I'm in the mood for controversy once again, so I'm tackling one of the major bugbears of roleplaying. (Here's a hint: it involves men in dresses.)

This article was originally published on Massively.