With Cataclysm's release a mere day or two away, some roleplayers may find themselves in a situation where they want to level as quickly as possible, yet they don't want to miss out on any roleplay opportunities along the way. This kind of conflict has been present with every expansion's release -- and even when there's no expansion to be had at all. The balance between roleplaying and wanting to do other things has always been a fine line to tread for most roleplayers. While some feel game time should be strictly dedicated to roleplay, others want to experience everything the game has to offer. What's the right tactic to take, and how do you avoid the drama?
The answer? Whatever you're comfortable with doing, of course. Roleplaying is at heart about the social aspect of interacting with other players, but how much or how little you choose to interact is entirely up to you. There's nothing wrong with wanting to level quickly, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to experience the new content as quickly as possible. With that in mind, how do you keep roleplay happening when everyone you're roleplaying with is out there in that shiny new world? And how do you avoid the pitfalls of drama while you're doing it?
A really obvious option is having your character group with other characters so that you can roleplay as you level. Having run through the beta, I can safely say that there's no real need to group in the beginner zones -- there aren't any quests that are going to decimate you if you're going it solo. But experiencing the new content with a group of your closest friends can add a completely different element to the quests you're doing. Instead of simply running errands, now you're running those errands with a group of people that may have a kaleidoscope of reactions to what they're being asked to do -- and the interplay between their characters and yours as you're exploring the underwater world of Vash'jir or the heights of Hyjal can be a lot of potential fun.
The only drawback to group leveling is that you are automatically as fast as your slowest member. People who frequently AFK or are called to tend to real-life responsibilities or duties are going to slow you down tremendously. If you are going to group together, make sure that everyone in your group is on the same page with how fast you'll be leveling. Otherwise, there's the potential for unwanted drama that has nothing to do with what just happened in that amazing quest you're working on.
The nice thing about the chat system in World of Warcraft is that you can create your own custom chat channels for keeping in touch with people. It's easy to do -- all you have to do is type in /join and then make up a channel name that's suitable for the purposes of your group. Give the channel name to your friends, and you're good to go. Alternatively, if you're in a roleplaying guild that is usually OOC (out of character) in guild chat, you can make guild chat IC (in character) while leveling through the new content.
You could define it as an in-character communications system of sorts -- like each member of your guild or roleplay troupe has some sort of goblin or gnomish gadget similar to walky-talkies or cell phones. Keep in communication with reports on what's going on around you. It doesn't have to be detailed; you and your friends can simply check in with reactions to surroundings or events that are going on. This can create some fun opportunities for later -- especially if the comm line goes dead for no apparent reason. What happened to the guy you were just talking to? One minute he's jabbering away, the next minute he says, "By the Naaru!" and then nothing ... Where'd he go?
If you don't want to go through the hassle of trying to type in a chat channel while fighting six angry rock elementals in the depths of Deepholm, another good option is to simply schedule guild or group meetings on a daily or weekly basis until everyone is caught up. That way, those who simply want to level have the option of doing so, and those who want to take their time can group up and level at their own pace. At the meetings, roleplayers can have their characters check in and talk about what's been going on in their lives and the amazing things that they've encountered. They can possibly introduce some new story elements for other characters to think about as they level.
Guild meetings or group meetings provide a pretty good break from the grind of doing quest after quest and offer an opportunity for everyone to stay in touch with each other, both in character and out. The important part of keeping roleplay alive is to simply keep it going -- if characters or stories are left alone too long, you run the danger of people losing interest and moving on. Meetings can help establish a kind of structured environment where people who want to level have time to level but can fit the roleplay in as well.
Another option to keep everyone in touch is to keep a character journal of what your character is doing and how your character is reacting to it. The journal can be updated daily, or simply jot notes in it during the course of your leveling experience -- if you're waiting on a loading screen or flight path, take that minute to write a couple of impressions of the area from your character's perspective. The others in your guild or roleplay troupe can read what's been going on at their leisure.
The nice thing about this tactic is that players aren't obligated to take time out of leveling or doing instances or dungeons, but they are aware of what's going on with the characters around them. Unfortunately, this isn't quite as social an activity as previously listed methods; there's little social interaction. The other drawback to this method is that it does require you to have a guild or group website where you can plunk your character journals.
However, this can also be a boon to roleplay servers that profess to be "dead." Want to see an increase in roleplay? Start up a thread on your realm forums for character journals and reactions, and see if it takes off. That provides a good way for old players to update everyone on what they're up to -- and it also provides an excellent place for new players and potential roleplayers to see server roleplay in action.
Twitter, Facebook, and online journal sites like Livejournal are all excellent ways for roleplayers to keep in touch even if they aren't chatting away in game. Create an in-character account for your character and use the social network as a way to keep your character in touch with others through in character posts. The best way to do this is to simply not think about the in-game aspects of these mediums -- just wing it.
My server's been using Twitter for a while now as a sort of experiment in using social networking as a roleplay medium, and it's taken off pretty well. Characters from both Alliance and Horde tweet small, 140-character sound bites, and other characters react to those sound bites. Whether or not this influences in-game roleplay is entirely up to the player. However, a simple, "Here I am, in Deepholm, the center of the earth, watching the world pillar shatter in front of my eyes. Awe-inspiring, really," offers a different kind of look into the characters around you.
With Facebook, it's easy to not only make in-character accounts for your characters, but also an in-character group that everyone in your guild can join. The same can be applied to Livejournal or other online journal sites; make an account for your character, then make a community for your roleplaying group. From there, it's just a matter of posting quick updates when you've got a free moment. Again, if you're on a flight path, or waiting for a zone to load, take the opportunity to write a brief note. It doesn't have to be a whole story; even a glimpse into what your character is thinking at the time will give your roleplay companions an idea of what your character is up to, even if they aren't face to face.
In addition, sites like these also offer a way for Alliance and Horde to "talk" to each other without having to work around the in-game language restrictions. Horde and Alliance tensions are already at an all-time high after the Shattering. Why not use Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks to fuel the fire -- or alternatively, to try and cool things off a little?
This option is the easiest but the least productive in terms of keeping roleplay alive and well in your circle of friends: Just take a break. This can easily be written off as your character's having to report somewhere for an extended tour of duty for the Alliance or Horde forces, being kidnapped by the Twilight Cult or some other nefarious group, or a multitude of other options that would explain a long in-character absence.
The nice thing about this option is that you don't have to worry about how quickly or slowly those around you level, and while you're waiting for people to catch up, you have plenty of time to run instances and gear as much as you'd like. After you've hit 85, you can start to feed in small updates on where your character might be or what's happened to you in the interim. Let others interact with you as they get caught up.
The downside, however, is that you miss all those roleplay opportunities that can arise in the middle of a new zone, and you miss out on the social aspect of your guild or roleplay group while you're away. However, if your focus is hitting 85 as quickly as possible, fill in your guild or roleplay group with your plans and let them know that that's what your focus is going to be. Prepare them for your radio silence beforehand so they aren't taken off guard by your character's sudden disappearance.
The other topic I want to touch on before everyone goes wild with Cataclysm madness is the subject of spoilers. Before everyone runs home with their boxes, installs the game and starts playing, it's worth it to sit down with your guild -- roleplay or no -- and talk about spoilers when it comes to upcoming content. Find out who's comfortable with someone blurting out information about the end of a zone, and who's not -- and respect the wishes of those that want to discover the world as they travel through it.
Spoilers are one of those explosive topics that have the potential of ruining in-game friendships for good. If you don't have a clear understanding of your friend's expectations when it comes to new content, ask. If there are certain things you'd rather not know about until you stumble across them in the game, let your roleplay group know about it. A few minutes of discussion and a heap of respect for the wishes of your friends will keep everyone happy and eliminate any potential out of character drama.
Cataclysm is giving us a ton of new zones, new storylines, new areas to explore, and new experiences to work with. While you may be eager to experience all the new content, having your character suddenly know everything there is to know about all new content available veers dangerously close to god-modding. God-modding is another word for having a character that is all-powerful or all-knowing and can affect the wills of those around them, and it's generally frowned upon by the majority of the roleplaying population. So how do you balance it all out?
Rather than trying to have your character immediately comprehend everything you've experienced, pick one aspect of the new levels, zones, or professions to focus on. Is your character caught up in the events of Hyjal? Focus on that for a while, even if you've moved on in real time. Obsessed with the fine art of archaeology? Let your character focus on the digs and the artifacts you've found, and use that as a focus for roleplay interaction.
You don't have to try and have your character process or talk about everything you're doing in game; let your character work through things in his or her own time. And as your character works through experiences, other characters around you are having experiences of their own. Bounce ideas off of other players and keep in touch with what's important to your character and theirs. After all, we've got at least a year, if not more, for our characters to discuss everything they've seen and everything that's happened. Draw it out. Don't eat all your Halloween candy the night you get it!
Leveling from 80 to 85 is shaping up to be a pretty quick and painless experience. We should be seeing reports of new level 85 players within the first day or so of Cataclysm's release. Taking a break or focusing on leveling shouldn't hinder your roleplay too badly. But keep in mind that roleplay is at its heart a social activity, and cutting yourself off from the social aspect can be detrimental in the long run. If you have any other suggestions for balancing roleplay and leveling in the wake of a new expansion, feel free to leave a comment and fill us in!
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