You're not quite alone anymore.
For roleplayers, roleplay has typically been restricted to whatever realm you happen to choose. Some roleplaying realms are far more populated than others. This means that new roleplayers tend to flock to these realms as well -- after all, if you're looking for roleplay, you want to go where the roleplay is at. However, after the release of patch 5.0.4 the dynamic of servers has changed a bit, and it spells some really big changes for roleplayers and how they look at the world.
Cross-Realm zones are a new feature that was introduced in patch 5.0.4. They're starting gradually at the moment, but more realms will see this feature implemented as time goes on. For roleplaying realms, a quick trip to Dalaran, Shattrath, or any of the more out of the way cities may reveal a surprise to traveling players -- your server is now linked with another roleplaying server. Or maybe even two or three of them, depending on the area.
Inadvertent or no, this new feature is a tremendous boon to roleplay.
What is a Cross-Realm zone?
A Cross-Realm zone is a zone that has more than one realm phased into it. World of Warcraft is divided into different realms, and you choose what realm you play when you create your character. But low-level areas are typically pretty deserted for new players, which makes the game feel more than a little lonely. By phasing realms together in particular low-level zones, the area looks a lot more populated, and in theory there are plenty of people to talk to and group with for quests as well.
Cross-Realm zones are linked according to realm type. This means that roleplaying realms are only linked with roleplaying realms. However, it is not a flat link between two realms. You may find that you see players from Wyrmrest Accord in one area of the world, or Farstriders in another. Cenarion Circle may pop up in Dalaran, but if you head to Thunder Bluff you'll find players from Sisters of Elune. It seems to be, at this point, an arbitrary decision as far as which realms are linked in which area of the world.
These Cross-Realm zones are not restricted by population. You will not automatically phase out if the population gets too large. Because this is a feature that had to be enabled for realms, and only enabled for some realms at this time, it stands to reason that it would take a server restart at minimum to turn that functionality off. So what does this mean for roleplay? Well for starters, it means you have a much, much larger pool of players to roleplay with -- in limited areas.
Cross-Realm zone functionality and BattleTags
Now you may be wondering exactly how these Cross-Realm zones are delineated. What constitutes a zone? How big is the zone? Is it one particular designated area on the map, or does it span several areas, like the entirety of the draenei starting zone? We don't really know the answer to that just yet. However, if you meet someone from another server and you'd like to keep roleplaying with them throughout Azeroth, all you have to do is invite them to a group.
By inviting them to a group, they are technically being phased into your realm. This means that the people they see will be the people you see, and the areas your realm is linked with. I've tested this, and it's interesting to see. On my server, Silvermoon City appears to be populated by two roleplaying realms. I invited a player from another realm to join me, and we traveled to Dalaran. Our realms are not normally phased together in Dalaran -- but she was able to see everything that I saw once we got there.
When you make a group like this, it's the leader of the group that determines the zone. So if a player on Cenarion Circle invites a bunch of players from Moon Guard to a raid group, those Moon Guard players will be phased in to Cenarion Circle, and see the players and people that the Cenarion Circle player sees. If the Cenarion Circle player then gives the Moon Guard player the party leader role, the Cenarion Circle player will be phased into the Moon Guard player's server.
If this sounds confusing, it's because it well and truly is! The full ramifications and functionality of Cross-Realm zones haven't quite been figured out yet, because they were just introduced.
If you aren't in a Cross-Realm zone with a player you wish to speak to, there's also another option. While you may not be able to see that player, you can add them to your friends list via the new BattleTag system. If you invite a player with their BattleTag, they'll phase into the zone you're playing on -- and they'll stay there until they leave your group. Keep in mind that the party system only works in zones flagged to be Cross-Realm. Major cities like Orgrimmar are not included in that list, and you won't be able to see your friend, even if you are sitting on top of each other on the map.
The drawbacks to Cross-Realm zones
There are a few downsides to Cross-Realm zones. The biggest and most obvious is that camping rare spawns and farming for materials just got a little bit harder. With more people in those lower-level areas, there is more competition now only for raw materials and rare spawns, but also for quest mobs and items as well. On the one hand, this is a bummer if you've been steadfastly camping the Time-Lost Protodrake to no avail. On the other, if you're looking for quest partners, you've got a much larger pick than you had before!
At the current time, roleplaying addons like MyRoleplay, TotalRP and others don't appear to be functional across zones. This is to be expected, since this is entirely new technology. Most of these addons use chat channels to pass information back and forth, and the chat channels are not identical across realms. However, players can type in the General chat channel and talk to each other as if they were on the same server, so perhaps this functionality can be worked into roleplaying addons given time and further understanding of the technology.
For roleplayers, Cross-Realm zones present a unique conundrum. Players may find that the out-of-the way spot they'd claimed for their character's home is now occupied by someone else. Or that busy thoroughfare they used to hawk their wares is now much, much busier than it used to be. This may lead to bickering and squabbling over who was there first -- but I'd recommend that people choose this opportunity to talk it out, rather than resorting to petty arguing.
Cross-Realm zones and roleplay potential
The reason I say this is because Cross-Realm zones offer far more good than they do bad. Dead areas or quiet servers that have been deserted in favor of realms with more roleplay are no longer deserted or dead. You can quite happily strike up a conversation with people from other servers in Cross-Realm zones. Players can interact with each other just as they would if they were present on the same realm. For players on both low-pop and busy roleplaying realms, this boils down to simply having a much larger choice in roleplay partners.
What we have here isn't something that should be frowned on. Instead, we've got a tremendous new opportunity for roleplay. We're no longer limited to our realms alone. We can now take this opportunity to plan events, meetings, and other fun roleplay activities on a much grander scale than ever before. Forget cross-faction roleplay, we're looking at a whole wide world of cross-realm roleplay, and the creative potential is staggering.
Storytelling circles can now be a mass production spanning several servers, as well as faires, masquerade balls and other mass events. Guilds that roleplay as an organization or military group now have unexpected allies or rivals, depending on which way they'd like to play it. And with the unique phasing feature, creepy roleplay plotlines just got a whole lot creepier, since players can now phase in and out of areas at will like phantoms or ghosts.
Roleplay is all about creativity. There's the creativity involved in coming up with a character and a reasonable history for that character. There's the creativity in interacting with others and coming up with conversation on the fly. There's the creativity involved in running a roleplay guild with some sort of unifying theme. And there's the creativity in planning out and executing events on a mass scale to involve as many people as possible.
Cross-Realm zones may just be getting started, but what they signify for roleplayers is huge. So head to Dalaran, Shattrath, the Exodar. Go play in Silvermoon City or Darnassus. See who is there, and get aquainted with your new friends -- and start reveling in what Cross-Realm zones have to offer for veteran and new roleplayers alike.
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!