It's that time again -- that end-of-expansion lull when players start losing interest in the game and taking breaks until the new expansion launches. Raiding guilds sometimes find themselves struggling for raiders by this point, opening mass recruitment or simply letting everyone take a break from raiding. And with Diablo III out in a big way, a lot of players have picked it up as a respite from WoW until we see Mists come out.
But for roleplayers, this lull poses a much larger problem. Characters in the middle of fun storylines suddenly find the other characters in the storyline have gone missing. Roleplayers lose roleplay partners, and it leaves their story at a virtual standstill. And of course it leads to the question of what to do until everyone comes back. Do you put your own roleplay on hold until other roleplayers make their return? Do you write them off? Do you pretend that however many months of roleplay you happened to share simply never existed?
What do you do when you're faced with the sudden departure of roleplay buddies?
Roleplayers generally have several different campaigns or storylines going on at the same time. They may intertwine with each other; they may not. But the sudden disappearance of a character from a storyline can pretty much kill that storyline altogether if you aren't careful. It doesn't have to, however. There are ways you can keep that storyline going, provided the player taking a break isn't one of the major characters in the storyline.
If the player is taking a break, you can always simply put the character in break mode, too. Announce that the character has decided to take a vacation. Or perhaps they were called off on a tour of duty somewhere far away. Or they've just heard from a sick relative, and they need to go visit that sick relative and help them out. The possibilities are endless here. But what you always need to keep in consideration is that as far as you are concerned, this character's departure is a temporary one. Leave an opening for returning.
Never, ever write off someone else's character as dead without the permission of the roleplayer in charge of that character. If you do that, two problems are going to immediately arise when that player returns: First, they aren't going to have a reason for their sudden reappearance, and secondly, they're going to have to work really hard to bring themselves back into their roleplay group in a convincing fashion.
What this does is make that roleplayer work even harder when they come back from a break. And frankly, that's enough to turn a roleplayer from someone who just needs a little time off into someone who gets disgusted and quits altogether. There's no need to write off someone else's character just because they've decided to take a month or three off; doing so crosses the line into godmodding, which should be avoided at all costs.
In a best-case scenario, sit down and talk with the roleplayer who's leaving. Ask them what they would like to do with the character that will be sitting stagnant while they're taking their break. See if the two of you can come up with a reasonable explanation for that character's departure, and make sure that everyone in your roleplay group is on the same page as far as the reason for that character's disappearance.
An even more sticky situation occurs when the vacationing roleplayer happens to be playing your character's significant other. What the heck do you do when your character has a wonderful relationship with another character who suddenly goes AWOL? In this case, it's not just a storyline that has been shaken up -- it's an entire chunk of your character's existence that's suddenly vanished with no explanation.
And that can be really hard to deal with, especially if a good portion of your roleplay was dedicated to that significant other. This is also a moment when you absolutely want to have a conversation with the roleplayer who is taking the break, because their departure isn't just affecting them -- it's affecting you, too. If you've divested any significant amount of time into romantic roleplay, your partner's departure, albeit temporary, means that you're suddenly going to be left with a lot less roleplay to do.
You need to hammer out the details with the departing roleplayer. Do they expect your character to patiently wait for their character's return? Are they OK with your character moving on to other relationships if the opportunity rises? More importantly, what are you OK with, as a roleplayer? Are you content with having your character romance-less for a few months, or do you feel you'd have more fun if they moved on?
Remember, that roleplayer is going to return eventually. Is the return going to create a storyline that sounds interesting to the two of you, or does it sound like unnecessary drama? These are all questions that need to be answered, both to make sure the vacationing roleplayer has a relatively hassle-free return and to make sure you aren't bored out of your skull while they're gone.
Just because a roleplayer is taking a break from playing WoW doesn't mean they need to take a break from roleplay altogether. Talk with your roleplaying partner, and ask if they'd consider keeping up the roleplay aspect of the game with you through alternate means while they're taking their break. There are plenty of ways to roleplay that don't involve actually logging into the game and sitting there holding a conversation. There's no reason why you can't use alternate methods to keep the roleplay alive.
Email is, of course, the easiest option. Writing a story together via email can be just as much fun as getting together in the game. As an added bonus, you can write things into a story that can't easily be acted out with virtual characters -- things like elaborate fight scenes or massive get-togethers with plenty of action going on. This also takes the stress off, because they don't feel they have to respond to you immediately. You can take your time writing back and forth, when they have time to do so.
Another option is using an IM program like AIM for roleplaying. You can roleplay scenes via IM just as easily as you can in-game. All you have to do is schedule sessions for roleplay time at times that are convenient to the vacationing roleplayer. This way, you can still get your roleplay, and the player taking a break can still keep in touch with you at their leisure, without having to sacrifice all of their free time.
If the roleplayer taking a break is part of a group of roleplayers, offer to be the messenger. Have your vacationing friend write email updates every now and again about what their character is up to, and use your character to pass that information along. Writing letters lets the others in your group know that the missing character isn't really missing, and you can work their letters into your everyday roleplay so that they're still a part of the group, even when they're away.
Taking a break from WoW is not a bad or unnatural thing to do. An end-of-expansion lull in players is a perfectly normal occurence; it's happened with every expansion to date, and it will continue to happen with every expansion in the future, too. You can only play a game so long before it stops being fun -- and if it stops being fun, stepping away from it for a time can keep people from burning out on it altogether. Ask yourself: Would you rather a player take a break, or would you rather they quit the game entirely?
The last thing you ever want to do is get angry at a roleplayer who decides to take a break from the game. Doing so only reinforces their decision to leave and may even stop them from ever returning at all. Real life always trumps a video game; WoW should never become more important than what you do out there in the real world. If a player decides to take a break, they aren't doing this to slight you or inconvenience you -- they're doing it to take a breather and find some other things to do until the expansion comes out.
It's not personal, and you shouldn't take it personally. Instead, have a little sympathy for your fellow roleplayer. Talk to them about what they do and do not want to happen to their character while they're gone. Let them know that you completely understand their need for a break, but you need to sort out what will happen in their absence so they can slip right back into roleplaying when they return, without any hassle.
When a roleplayer takes a break, sure, it may mess up a few storylines here and there. But it isn't the end of the world. Taking a few steps to make sure things run smoothly while they're gone and will continue to run smoothly when they return will make sure that they get the rest that they need, without sacrificing the roleplay that you crave.
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