Roleplaying is all about creating a shared space for your character to inhabit with other characters. It's about crafting trials and challenges that can be overcome through narrative means; it's about building a set of experiences together. And all of the columns I've written up to this point have been entirely about making that work well and creating a shared environment that's fun for everyone.
But it can end. One day, you may log in to find that the people you've been roleplaying alongside are no longer there -- that the friends you once had have left, the allies you once charished have moved on, and your universe has narrowed by degrees until it's just you. After all of the roleplaying you've done, it tuns out that your group of fellow roleplayers has slowly drifted away until the only person who remembers these stories is you. And it seems fitting, for the 100th column, to talk about what happens when you're left remembering a universe that never was.
I've talked before about dealing with individual players leaving, but this is what happens when the rate of players who are leaving outstrips players who are joining or returning. Let's face it: As much as we'd like to pretend otherwise, roleplaying really happens within a fairly close-knit group. With very few exceptions, people just can't keep track of every single element of roleplaying floating around a server, and that means that past a certain size, it's just storytelling that happens on the periphery.
The argument could be made that within your personal circle of roleplayers, you essentially have a roleplaying instance. And it's all too easy to lose the other people within that instance. Your character's friends, rivals, lovers, and so forth all fade away... until they only person left in that roleplaying group is you yourself.
Obviously, the temptation is to say that you can just head off and find a new group of players. The problem is that said new group already has a history, and you aren't a part of it. Your character, Rhonda, had a long rivalry with Sven and a close ally in Martine, but Sven and Martine effectively don't exist in a new circle. All that character development is just an informed attribute, a bit of narration about your character's past. You have no roots with the new group, and its members have no roots with you.
It's not that simple, in other words. And unfortunately, the other option isn't easy either -- to let the whole thing come to an end, to say that if the people who made these stories are no longer around, no more stories will be told. It's a matter of washing your hands and declaring that the story ended where it did, and while there might have been more to write in an ideal world, it was what it was. You move on to a new character, and that's it.
Needless to say, moving on to a new character can be a bit problematic anyway if you consider that your old character probably still has a lot of stuff that can't be easily duplicated on a new one. But that's another issue. The real question is which one is the better option, which is going to vary based on how attached you are to the character vs. the story.
Some characters work well in a lot of different stories. There are characters who can shift between romantic drama and political intrigue without a hiccup -- an experienced and aloof soldier, a lonely and cold scholar, a roguish engineer with a few buried skeletons. It may be that what you love about your old circle of roleplayers was the character you were playing as much as the stories you were placed in, and it's worth it to move into a new group. One group of roleplayers wound up focusing mostly on his love of mysteries and learning; another group allows him to develop his need for conflict and personal strength.
On the other hand, some characters just work in one particular framework. The character is so tied to a given group that you can't separate one from the other. It's equally possible that you don't even want to, that half of your love for the character stems from a love of one particular set of stories. In these cases, it's almost better to let the character go because once the story is gone, so is a lot of the love. The character itself isn't what you liked so much as the tapestry and the supporting cast.
But there is a third option, I think, and that's starting from scratch with your new group with the same character.
When you create a new character, half of what you're doing is creating a bunch of backstory elements that no one else in the group was there to experience. Except now you have a whole bunch of new backstory elements that build to a very new character, one that's grown as a result of his or her experiences. A character who enters a new circle of players is a very different person from the original but still has all of the hallmarks of the original version.
The previous story was still important, but it ended, and it just so happens that one of the old characters from that story is carrying over to the new one. This isn't exactly uncommon in fiction; characters from one story show up in a sequel, or they move from supporting cast members to the main character, or they star in the first story and become a bit-player in later tales. It doesn't diminish the original, and it doesn't make the character a refugee from the original -- it just leaves you with a character that's taken part in multiple stories, changing a bit and showing different facets over time.
Or you could just sit in an empty room and tell yourself what would have happened. But that's a bit outside of this column's aegis.
Feedback is welcome, just like always, be it in the comments below or in mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I want to talk about plot tumors -- how they develop, how to spot them, and how to excise them without hurting the characters involved.
Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.