Memories. Regardless of who you are or what your background is comprised of, one of the core concepts of being human is that you carry your memories with you. Good or bad, these memories of past events, arguments and special moments help shape you into the person you are today. Human beings take those memories and use them to shape their perception of what's happening to them in the present, or even in the future. It's all part of being human.
The same applies to roleplay and creating a "realistic" character. Last week, we talked about looking at your character with a critical eye -- an exercise in distancing yourself emotionally from that character you've created and looking at the bare bones behind it and any problems that might arise. Over the next couple of weeks, we're going to be looking at character creation from the other end of things, how to comfortably root your character into existing lore and give him or her that touch of realism that sets your character apart.
A common question that pops up among roleplayers is how old their character "should" be. This is entirely up to you -- make yourself as old or as young as you like! But the older a character is, the more likely it is that that character has lived through important moments in the Warcraft timeline -- and as such, you, the player, should have a basic understanding of where your character fits into those events. You don't have to know the exact dates or events, or even names of major figures, but knowing what memories of past historical events your character holds dear can give your character an extra edge of "realism" in Azeroth.
One of the best places to go to for source information regarding timelines and historical events in Warcraft is Wowpedia. It's got a few different timelines listed on the website.
Official Timeline (2007) This timeline is a compilation of what was on the official World of Warcraft website. It dates from the War of the Ancients all the way up to Wrath of the Lich King. Each expansion on the official timeline spans one year, according to Blizzard. When the orcs came to Azeroth, that was considered year 0. Unfortunately, due to the recent site redesign, the timeline is no longer available for viewing on the official site; however, a snapshot of what it looked like is there to be viewed. By following the pattern Blizzard has established, Cataclysm is year 28 of the timeline.
Unofficial Timeline This timeline takes into account all books, in-game items and quests, RPG source books and essentially anything that ever referenced a specific date. It compiles all of that information into one full timeline that spans from the beginning of Azeroth and the original appearance of the Old Gods, all the way up to present day. As an unofficial timeline, the dates aren't really "real" according to Blizzard, and there is some discrepancy between what happened in what year.
We aren't really going to use the unofficial timeline as a source of dates -- what we're going to be looking at is what happened, in what order. So if you want a character who is approximately 25 years old, and we are in year 28, your character was born in year 3. Looking at the official timeline, we can see that the following happened:
- In year 3, the orcs had already come through the portal into Azeroth and destroyed Stormwind.
- The Second and Third wars would have happened in your character's lifetime.
- Your character would have been around 3-6 years of age during the Second War.
- Your character would have been around 17 years of age during the Third War.
- World of Warcraft began when your character was 22 years old.
Now that you know what your character would have a basic understanding about, you can realistically root your character in the world around him. As far as the unofficial timeline on Wowpedia is concerned, the dates may not be quite the same, but the order of events is still there. However, what the unofficial timeline offers is links -- a whole host of links to in-game history books, RPG guides, Blizzard novels and other events that took place during your character's lifetime. If you really want to go in depth with your character's history, going through the links in your character's lifetime will give you an even firmer grasp on what happened.
What you're looking for here isn't an all-encompassing grasp of every moment in your character's life to date. In your own life, can you realistically remember your first steps or your first words? How about your first crush, or your first trip away from home? Do you remember where you were when the Challenger exploded? Where you were at when Jim Henson died? Where you were on 9/11? The more impact a moment has in your life, the more likely you are to remember what you were doing at that precise moment.
So what you want to do in the case of the timeline is go through the history and pick a few moments in time that have a special significance to your character. He may not have cared about the Third War -- but perhaps the death of Cenarius just prior to the Third War impacted him in a deep and profound way. If he was in the Eastern Kingdoms, the rise of the Scourge followed by the rise of the Forsaken may have affected him, particularly if that character is a human who had relatives or loved ones in Lordaeron.
Now take those moments and figure out how they relate to your character and how that colors his or her impression of the present and future. A night elf who mourned the death of Cenarius for years would certainly have something to say about the events in Hyjal. A dwarf who experienced the War of the Three Hammers first hand is probably feeling very conflicted about the current situation in Ironforge. These moments that you choose to latch onto your character's development help shape his relation to not only world events, but the characters around him as well.
Characters who are hundreds or even thousands of years old are entirely possible to play, but you have to keep in mind what race you're playing and what the life span of that race is. The other thing you need to consider is what it was that allowed your character to have lived such an extraordinary amount of time. There is an excellent entry in Wowpedia regarding life spans and how to determine the life span of your character, as well as a list of ages for each of the Warcraft races.
Keep in mind that the source material for these life spans was taken from the RPG books and may or may not be a valid source of information. For example, night elves are listed as only living up to 2,000 years -- but there are several examples in lore of night elves that are far, far older than that. Night elves were immortal until the end of the Third War when Nordrassil was destroyed, so it's entirely possible that a night elf could have lived all the way from the War of the Ancients until now. Night elves that have been born since the destruction of Nordrassil are full-out mortal and aren't expected to live nearly as long as their predecessors.
The draenei aren't listed, either. As a relatively "new" race, the draenei have the potential to be very, very old indeed. Velen was obviously around for the fall of the eredar and the emergence of the Burning Legion over 25,000 years ago; others reference the fall of Argus. Are draenei immortal? Not exactly. They can be killed; they can be raised as Scourge. But they have the potential for living an incredibly long time.
The Forsaken are another special case. These guys have only been around since the Third War, when Sylvanas and other Scourge broke free of the Lich King's grasp and formed their own faction. As undead, they do not age, although they can die "the final death," as they call it. There are no Forsaken children as far as we've seen, and it's likely because children would make very ineffective soldiers for the Scourge, so none were risen.
It's important to remember that ancient characters are old, and act accordingly. Consider what memories would be vivid in their minds, and also consider how long an event is going to stay fresh in your character's mind before age simply lets it slip away. Has age deteriorated his memory? Can he still remember names, or is it just the events, and the names have since been lost? The older a character is, the less likely he or she is to remember with crystal clarity.
Giving your character a sense of the past helps link him or her to the Warcraft universe, rooted in the lore that exists. Think about it -- a lot of the reasons you act and think about things the way that you do have to do with what you've done in the past and how you've reacted to similar situations. Characters may just be an invention, but adding important memories of their past helps to take them past that two-dimensional aspect and boost their "realism." Looking to the past and linking your character to the memories they hold can do a lot towards opening new doors for interaction in the future.
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