Mages are pretty much the most intelligent class on Azeroth. It takes a brilliant mind to master the art of the arcane, after all. But just because a mage is automatically intelligent, it doesn't mean he's also an insufferable windbag. Or it could very well mean he is, as well as a braggart and a man who looks down his nose at those that aren't quite as ... bright. It's all up in the air with mages, you see -- particularly from a roleplay perspective.
However, mages have a long and storied history that is both well-documented and likely very well known to any mage who has had any sort of extensive training. While it may not be the sort of passionate historical tales of battles hard-won that you'll hear from fierce warriors or devoted followers of the holy Light, it is incredibly interesting. And it extends far, far back to the beginnings of recorded history, with the elves of Kalimdor.
Who you are
Every mage that is native to Azeroth can trace his or her roots back to the days of the Well of Eternity and the War of the Ancients. During this time, the Highborne followers of Queen Azshara were masters of the arcane arts, using the Well of Eternity to enhance their magical prowess. But with power comes a price, and the Highborne soon found themselves in the midst of a war of kaldorei vs. kaldorei, with an appearance of the Burning Legion thrown in for good measure.
When the War of the Ancients ended, the Well of Eternity was destroyed. Illidan Stormrage attempted to create a new well, and was imprisoned for his efforts. As for the Highborne, they were forbidden to use the arcane arts, unless they wanted to be executed for their affront. Many years after the War of the Ancients, a group of Highborne decided they should show the rest of the kaldorei that they needed the arcane arts by unleashing an arcane storm over Ashenvale.
This did not play out very well. The Highborne, led by one Dath'Remar Sunstrider, were not put to death as previously threatened. Instead, they were banished to the Eastern Kingdoms, where they promptly settled in and set up shop in the forests of Quel'thalas, building the capital of Silvermoon. Unfortunately, they were not alone in the forests. The Amani tribe of trolls were also residents of Quel'thalas, and they were incredibly angry because the high elves had just built their capital city on sacred troll lands.
These humans taught other humans, and gnomes, and any of the other assorted races of Azeroth that wanted to learn. And when Arathor finally splintered, the mages founded Dalaran and declared it their own city-state. After Dalaran was established, the mages created the Kirin Tor as an organization dedicated to tracking down and cataloging every spell, artifact, and magical item in existence. The Kirin Tor eventually became the city's ruling power.
For the other races not native to Azeroth, the story is obviously far different. The draenei were originally eredar, who were naturally powerful masters of the arcane. As for the night elves, they only very recently began training kaldorei mages as the result of the cataclysm. Orcs have done much the same, taking up the arcane arts at the same time as Deathwing's reemergence. But regardless of origin, all mages share a fascination with the arcane arts, and the knowledge contained therein.
What defines you, and why you fight
It's that innate curiosity that defines a mage, although the reasons for that curiosity vary from caster to caster. For a mage, the world isn't so much about wealth as it is about power -- and that power is either something to be intensely studied, or something to be feared. The arcane arts are some of the more dangerous that Azeroth has to offer. Mages walk the line between student and power-mad, with some falling one way or another along the path.
That said, how a character becomes a mage is relatively simple. They show a marked aptitude for learning, and for the arcane arts. From there, it's simply a matter of training. A mage may not be fighting for a particular cause so much as fighting for the sheer sake of learning everything he can about the world around him. He may be searching for artifacts and new spells to study, or he may be gathering as much power as possible out of sheer greed.
As far as a roleplaying character goes, you'll want to look at your mage's history to determine what kind of person he is. Was he born into a family of mages, or did he decide one day to pursue that particular career path? What drove him to decide being a mage was a good decision? What makes him continue practicing the arcane arts? Is he wary of the danger? Does he live for the danger? How does he look at fellow mages -- are they comrades in interest, or potential rivals for power?
Is he loyal to the Kirin Tor? Was he a former student of Dalaran, or did he learn from the mages of the assorted capital cities of the world? What does he think of the Kirin Tor -- does he view them as powerful teachers to be looked up to, or resent their power and their influence? Is he careful with his magic, taking precaution not to harm those around him, or does he fling spells around with abandon, with little regard for the safety of others?
Patch 5.1 brings up some interesting events with the Kirin Tor. If you're a mage roleplayer, I highly recommend playing through either the Operation Shieldwall or Dominance Offensive dailies, because they offer an incredible amount of food for thought, particularly where the Kirin Tor and Dalaran are concerned.
Interaction with others
Mages are highly analytical, and often incredibly passionate about what they do. Because of this, mages can be quite volatile in temperament. Some may be patient and kind, while others are quick to anger and slow to cool down. Mages are often far more interested in the how of the world than the why, and would rather study what makes things like spells and artifacts tick than spend an evening in a tavern telling tales of battles won and lost.
This means that mages aren't exactly the most friendly creatures in the world -- unless you happen to be another mage, or intelligent enough to follow along in a conversation. If you can hold your own while talking about the arcane arts, you're far more likely to have a mage's respect. And if you're excellent at gathering materials and artifacts for study, that's an exceptionally quick way to get on a mage's good side.
This isn't to say that mages cannot be friendly. There are plenty of mages out in the world who are incredibly friendly to any and all. The Kirin Tor was a neutral organization in Wrath of the Lich King, and it welcomed all who came with open arms, regardless of intelligence level. But interpersonal relationships may be slightly harder for mages than for other classes. After all, if you've spent any number of years with your nose buried in books, your social skills are apt to be a little rusty.
Quick-witted and fiercely devoted to knowledge in any form, mages offer a lot of history and a lot of entertainment value to a roleplayer. Good in nearly any role, a mage can just as soon be a source of comedy relief, or serious as a stone, or just as easily a power-hungry villain, making them an excellent choice for a roleplayer. Whether you're starting from day one of a mage's first day at the academy, or choosing to create a character that already has considerable prowess with the arcane, roleplaying a mage is bound to be entertaining. And in the light of events popping up in patch 5.1 reputation grinds, mages have a lot more to play with these days.
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