Over the last few weeks, we've gone into character development -- how to fit your character into the Warcraft timeline, how to avoid the curse of the Mary Sue, and an exploration into the meaning of godmoding and how to avoid taking too much control in RP. While character development and rooting a character into lore without letting yourself get out of hand is important, there's something even more important that roleplayers should avoid at all cost: complexity.
KISS stands for "keep it simple, stupid," and it definitely applies in the context of roleplay. It can be applied to character descriptions and backstory, but what we're going to talk about today is how it applies to the roleplay you jump into after you've come up with that backstory and character that you're eager to play. A roleplay character, despite being a character, should never be taken down the route of a storybook character -- they are two entirely different animals, and confusing one with the other can quickly cause roleplay opportunities to dissolve into thin air.
When you're dealing with developing a character, the process is similar in terms of roleplay vs. storytelling. You want to create a compelling character that people will enjoy reading about or interacting with, depending on which medium you're developing that character for. Give that character a reason for existing, one that works within the confines of the universe they happen to be in. But once that character has been created, that's where the paths abruptly diverge.
With storytelling, once you're done creating that character, you have to write the rest of the story for that character. What they're trying to accomplish and achieve, what they run into along the way that keeps them from achieving their goals, the final showdown with whatever villain they happen to run into along the way -- all of these are things you should definitely take into consideration and expand upon when writing a story, because people expect to see all of this over the course of the book.
With roleplay, however, this is exactly what you don't want to do. Why? Because by mapping it all out, you're limiting yourself from any random interactions or circumstances along the way that could be absolutely fascinating to play through. That's what you should be looking for with roleplay -- an opportunity to take characters around you and use the interactions with them to further your own story, as well as getting involved in theirs.
It's perfectly okay to have goals for your character, and the character you choose to roleplay should have a reason that he's out and about in the world. However, making those goals too complex means you run the risk of the "me" syndrome. In other words, every interaction you have with every character you run across immediately devolves into a conversation about your character, your character's problems, your character's hopes and dreams ... You see where this is headed. Much like real life, people can only stand so much of a person if the subject of that person's conversation is always himself.
Confession and story time -- I am guilty of doing this myself, with the first character I ever attempted roleplay with in vanilla World of Warcraft. My background in roleplaying comes from tabletop games -- Dungeons and Dragons, GURPS, and a little White Wolf thrown in here and there. But more importantly, my background prior to World of Warcraft was primarily as a writer. With those tabletop roleplaying games, one created a character by the roll of the dice and then let the GM tell the rest of the story.
However, with WoW, there was no GM. So when I decided to try my hand at roleplaying, I took the stance of a writer and developed a backstory for my character that fit within the Warcraft timeline and gave her something to do. She was raised in Darrowshire, sent away at a young age just prior to the town's downfall -- and completely ignorant of the fate of her town and her former friends. Her entire story was devoted to her return to her hometown and subsequent discovery of the horrors that existed there. I worked carefully to fit each detail of that character into existing lore so that she wouldn't play as a Mary Sue, and I set the major goal in her life as the eventual return to her hometown.
To my server's credit, there was not a roleplayer on the realm that actually went out of their way to tell my character her town had been overtaken by Scourge some time after she left. Most, when presented with the standard response to "where are you from," delicately changed the subject to more pleasant things. So the discovery of Darrowshire's fate was a complete surprise for the character, and one I looked forward to playing out with unbridled glee.
But what I discovered was that by limiting my character's development to that one moment in which she finally stepped back into her home, I left her with absolutely nothing to do afterwards. I held that return to Darrowshire close to my heart, looked forward to it the entire time I was leveling, and by the time I'd reached the point where she could go, the amount of buildup I'd done around the event in my head far outshone anything that happened when the event actually occurred in game.
It made the actual experience of roleplaying the situation far less entertaining than I could have hoped. Not only that, but the other roleplayers I was with didn't really have the same connection with the event, so the whole thing felt almost ... flat. It was like I'd been writing a story, and I'd been the only one reading it -- nobody else seemed to care. And after it was over, I soon lost interest in the character, because I had nowhere else for her to go.
By creating one major goal for my character as if I'd been writing a short story or a piece of fanfiction, I'd boxed myself into one course of action that completely limited whatever roleplay I could get my hands on. There wasn't a lot of discussion with other players about what their characters were doing, and I barely paid attention to any other story threads thrown my way by other players, because I was so intent on that utterly amazing moment that I had written out in my head.
This is where the KISS principle comes in. Keep it simple, and more importantly, keep your character flexible. Don't fixate on one eventual outcome -- while that may work for storywriting purposes, it doesn't work in terms of roleplay. Sure, a character is a character, and roleplay can be a story -- but if you've already written out the end of the book, then you're drawing yourself into a box from which there is no escape.
Go ahead and give your character some major goals to work toward -- but don't get attached to those goals, and don't insist that those goals actually come to pass. As another example, I see many players focused on having their character get into a relationship, and they spend all their time roleplaying courting, leading into dating, leading into being engaged and ultimately, leading into an RP wedding.
Once that wedding is over, the player is left with a dissonant "what now?" in terms of story. The entire focus of roleplay is so fixated on getting into a relationship that by the time the relationship actually happens, the player has no idea what to do. Typically, a split follows this so that the player can get back into the far more comfortable territory of trying to find a relationship, and the whole mess starts all over again.
It's a vicious cycle that can end up hurting other players, because their stories are now so intertwined in yours that your abrupt departure leaves them with nothing to do. The same happened when I abandoned my character, once the goal of Darrowshire had been reached. Friends my character had made and stories she was involved with simply disappeared, leaving several people having to scramble, think of a reason why that character was gone, and fix their own stories.
It wasn't a terrible mistake to make; it was an amateur mistake that people first getting into roleplay can and will easily fall into. So how do you avoid it? By keeping it simple. Again, create goals for your character, but don't get attached to them. Instead, use them as an impetus for your character to be doing whatever it is that she's up to -- but allow your character the flexibility to have those goals change as events around her warrant. Let the goals change as the situations your character is involved in do -- after all, life is a series of events and reactions. The events we encounter change our reactions to future events.
By keeping it simple and allowing the roleplay to fall where it may, you'll open up to any kind of possibility other players happen to throw your way. This keeps you way more engaged in the community of players around you and enables you to not only further your own designs, but to help other people accomplish whatever it is they're after. That give and take, the camaraderie and social aspect, is ultimately what roleplay is all about.
As for the character I abandoned so long ago -- I don't really regret the decision to make her, nor do I regret the mistakes I made. It's a cautionary tale of sorts, one that taught me what this odd animal of MMO roleplaying is all about: neither story nor tabletop, but somewhere in between, a story where the ending isn't quite established, and a campaign where the GM is myself.
All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. Let us help you imagine what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying or even RP on a non-RP realm!