Roleplay can be tricky in a game like WoW, particularly when new races or classes are introduced. In Cataclysm, we had the conundrum of worgen and goblin death knights to contend with -- how did they become death knights, if they weren't fighting with the Alliance and Horde until after Wrath was launched? This was explained in a relatively tidy fashion, leaving those roleplayers with reasonable options for a plausible backstory.
With the pandaren of Mists, the story is slightly more complex. Not only are the pandaren that we play significantly different than the pandaren we encounter in Pandaria, they're also available to both Alliance and Horde. This makes that clear line between factions slightly muddled, and it's a challenge for a roleplayer to find a plausible reason for choosing one side over another. But there are a myriad of other unique challenges that face pandaren roleplayers during the course of their travels.
Where you're from
All player-created pandaren are from the Wandering Isle, an island on the back of the turtle Shen-zin Su. Thousands of years ago, a pandaren named Liu Lang was stricken with wanderlust, curious about life outside of Pandaria. This curiosity led to his infamous journey. He jumped on the back of a very young and very small Shen-zin Su, and headed out to sea. Though most thought him foolish, Liu Lang was actually pretty smart when it came to his trek.
The reason he picked Shen-zin Su is because sea turtles can always find their way back to the beach where they were born. Because of this, Liu Lang would always be able to return to Pandaria, regardless of the mists that enveloped the land. Liu Lang set off by himself, to the puzzlement of the rest of the pandaren, but five years later, he returned with tales of lands outside of the mists. And when he left, he asked if any would journey with him.
This cycle continued for the entirety of Liu Lang's life -- each time he returned, Shen-zin Su would be even larger, until buildings and temples were built on his back. But each time, less and less pandaren joined Liu Lang and the pandaren of the Wandering Isle on their journey. When Liu Lang finally passed, Shen-zin Su stopped visiting Pandaria, and the continent was well and truly lost to legend.
You would think that the pandaren of the Wandering Isle would then be some of the most wanderlust-ridden explorers to come out of the game since Brann Bronzebeard, but you'd be wrong. Many of the pandaren on the Wandering Isle have grown content over the centuries, and don't really care to see the rest of the world at all. They may be wandering, but they're firmly ensconced on Shen-zin Su's back, and they are loathe to leave.
But there are those that still wish to wander, those that wish to explore and see what the world has to offer. Your character is one of those pandaren -- not content to sit and watch the world grow old around him, he'd much rather leave Shen-zin Su and take his chances with the world beyond.
Where you're going
When your pandaren character completes the storyline that plays out through the pandaren starting zone, they're left with a choice -- Horde or Alliance? Both sides offer a unique look at the world, and they tend to align with one of the two schools of thought on the Wandering Isle. It's up to you to decide, but this choice also says a little about your character, who he is and how he reacts to the world.
For the Horde, the Huojin school of philosophy follows a line of act first, ask questions later. They can be brash and rude to the outside observer, but the Huojin are very decisive in their actions. You'll never see a Huojin waffle about doing something, although you may see them regret the decision at a later date. Think of a Huojin as a person who very much lives in the moment, not thinking about past or future, simply being and thoroughly enjoying the process.
For the Alliance, the Tushui school of thought is the opposite -- they do act eventually, but not before thinking over all of the possibilities and myriad consequences, coming to a decision they are ultimately satisfied with. The Tushui may take their time making up their mind, but when they do, it's made up for good -- and it is rare you'll see a Tushui regret their decisions, because they've given those actions a good amount of thought before acting upon them.
Both types follow the same inherent path, living an honorable and venerable life. It's simply the approach that's different. However, that all changes when your character chooses Allliance or Horde. Once they have made that choice, they must swear themselves to their side, and forget all past alliances or friends they may have had. This is a moral decision that may weigh heavily on your pandaren character as they move throughout the world.
Where you haven't been
As a race that has been isolated, Azeroth may present a culture shock for your pandaren. In fact, that's what a lot of the life is for a pandaren character. There's the shock of having to choose sides and say goodbye to former friends, there's the shock of seeing the rest of this massive, massive world that is so much larger than a city on the back of a turtle. There's the shock of realizing the Alliance and Horde seem to be creatures of war at heart.
There's the shock of discovering Azeroth's history, all of it entirely foreign to your character. How will he handle the revelations of the Titans, the Aspects, the cataclysm? How will he react when he sees the opposing faction? How will his reactions change and develop as he gains levels and continues seeing what Azeroth is all about? How will he cope with the sorrow of lands fallen to ruin, or wars fought seemingly without meaning?
To a pandaren, life is all about meaning, acceptance, and treasuring the simple joys the world has to offer. The worst a pandaren on the Wandering Isle has to deal with are wandering hozen and the occasional vermin infestation. When they come to Azeroth, suddenly they get a frank, open look at the horrors of the plague. Of goblin technology capable of blowing the world sky-high. Of demons and dark beings from the Twisted Nether.
These may seem commonplace to the average traveler in Azeroth, but to a pandaren they are all completely brand new, and they should be roleplayed as such. What kind of person will your pandaren become, in the face of what has become of the rest of the world? Will he retain his gentle nature and kind spirit, or will he turn into something different?
Where you'll never be
Roleplaying a pandaren while leveling is incredibly tricky, largely due to timelines. There is no way around this one guys -- your pandaren was not present during the Burning Crusade. He was not a member of the armies that fought against the Lich King. There were no pandaren wandering the world en masse at that point in time in Azeroth's history. This means, essentially, that your pandaren's history goes from level 1-60, and then leaps to level 80 when they begin the rest of Cataclysm's content.
And even then, they're playing through history to a degree. The 1-60 experience is about the most accurate representation of what's going on with the Alliance and Horde today -- the rest is all in the past. Unfortunately, this is a byproduct of every expansion that comes out. Because of this, you'll have to come up with a reason for your pandaren to be wandering the areas that have already been explored, assisted and even conquered by Alliance and Horde alike.
Thankfully, there are plenty of open-ended reasons for your pandaren to be wandering to Outland. He could be helping out and cleaning up the leftovers of the Burning Crusade. He could be seeking knowledge about the draenei, or looking for more background into the blood elves by following their respective journeys. Or perhaps he just managed to find himself in the Blasted Lands, confronted by a mysterious portal and incredibly curious to see what was on the other side.
As for Northrend, the Alliance and Horde forces are still performing rudimentary cleanup duty after the war with the Lich King. As a new member of the Horde or Alliance, your character may very well have been sent to help clean up, since they aren't exactly at the height of the totem pole in the Alliance and Horde armies. Both factions experienced tremendous losses in Northrend, and both had plenty of cleanup work to do when the main forces left, so it's not too far of a stretch.
Although your pandaren is missing a giant chunk of time that doesn't quite match what he's doing in game, it shouldn't be looked upon as a drawback. While you're mindlessly saving Outland or beating scourge in the face in Northrend, reflect and consider what kind of an effect these events would have on a pandaren who is simply out to explore and have a good time.
Will he keep that same laid back persona? Or will he change somehow, into a creature that is less about living a venerable life, and more about just hanging on? Will he retain his curiosity for all things around the world, or will Azeroth's history slowly start to wear him down? Answering these questions will help a great deal when your pandaren character finally gets to Pandaria's shores.
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