By and large, we didn't really have to worry too much about expansion storyline and how it related to roleplay in Cataclysm, or even Wrath and Burning Crusade. The most complex quandary for a roleplayer to consider in those days was a matter of who, exactly, killed the final boss of the expansion, and when that final boss died. Who dealt the final blow to Arthas? When exactly did he die?
But in Mists of Pandaria, the story has taken a far more personal turn. Rather than the simple question of end bosses, roleplayers are presented with a multitude of emotional situations. And on top of that, there has been plenty of political movement from both Alliance and Horde. Instead of being a character acting on his own, roleplayers are now far more intimately involved with the inner workings of their respective factions, for better or for worse.
How does one incorporate lore into roleplay, when the lore turns personal?
The player and the Sha within
The events begin the moment your character sets foot on Pandaria. For better or for worse, your character is working in the service of either Wrynn or Hellscream. Is your character okay with this mission? Is he comfortable working as a soldier of the Horde or Alliance? Did he decide to go willingly, or was he somehow coerced into participating? How does he feel about the mission he's been assigned to?
As events in the Jade Forest escalate, it becomes clear that the Alliance and Horde are being drawn down the path to disaster. While you as a player may see this coming from a mile away, your character may not be quite so insightful. How did your character feel as he helped the Alliance or the Horde basically recruit the natives for the purposes of forming an army? Was he wary of what could possibly go wrong, or blind in the face of all the warning signs?
And when it all comes crashing down and the Sha are released across Pandaria, there is a very deliberate sense, lore-wise, that the weight of this burden rests clearly on the shoulders of your character and his faction. How did the destruction of the Jade Serpent affect your character? Was he horrified, or did he just not care at all? Did the events in the Jade Forest change the way your character looks at his faction? Is he still a blind follower, a soldier asking for orders -- or has he begun to question just what the purpose of all those orders is about?
Why we fight
Although the Jade Forest was pretty much focused on the conflict between Alliance and Horde, the rest of Pandaria addresses the aftermath of those events. The Sha are running wild all over Pandaria, and the pandaren need our help to set things right. But it's not just the pandaren that have been disturbed by the Sha -- the yaungol have been pushed out of the Townlong Steppes. The mantid have swarmed early. Everything that has occurred because of that one event in the Jade Forest seems to be quickly spiraling out of control.
And that should absolutely have some sort of effect on your character, be it good or bad. Perhaps your character is outraged at what his faction has done, or perhaps he's simply a soldier following orders, with no care or thought given to those around him. Regardless, it is incredibly unlikely that your character wasn't affected in the slightest as he quested through Pandaria.
This is what I mean about the lore getting far more personal. In this expansion, the actions of your character have a direct influence on the world around him -- both good and bad. The sights he sees as he travels the world, the locals that he speaks to, the errands that he's sent on, all of these things are personal moments for your character to experience. This expansion is a brilliant opportunity to do some deep soul-searching in terms of what exactly it is that makes your character tick -- and to change that something, if what is happening in Pandaria is affecting him badly enough.
Mists of Pandaria is very much about what makes up our characters -- about who they are -- and about what drives them to do the things that they do -- why they fight. As Chen Stormstout states in the trailer for the expansion; what is worth fighting for? Chen may be addressing the Alliance and Horde as a whole, but the question can be applied on a personal level as well.
Current politics and you
But it's not just Pandaria that is getting personal. Patch 5.1 introduced new daily quest and new storylines for both Alliance and Horde in Krasarang Wilds. For the Horde, the chain is an exploration into the seeming near-madness of Garrosh Hellscream as he grapples for power wherever it may be found. But it also highlights the discontent of some of the other races in the Horde.
Garrosh Hellscream is basically trying to wrestle the Horde into a position of superiority, using whatever is at his immediate disposal. In 5.1 quests, it's the powers of the Sha. He wants to use the same methods as the mogu -- the creatures that enslaved the pandaren for centuries. While Garrosh may lack the understanding to grasp what this means, your character certainly does not.
Your character has spent a good couple of months learning about the pandaren, the mogu, and the Sha. If he's helped the mantid enough, he's also learned what, exactly, those mysterious Sha are -- and he's learned what makes them powerful. He knows that they are dangerous, and he is watching his faction leader happily play with these dangerous things. How does he react to that? Does he embrace the opportunity for a more powerful Horde, or does he question Hellscream's sanity in all of this?
Varian is well aware that the Horde is fractured, and he knows that Hellscream is the catalyst for that fracture. Yet on the other hand, we have a still-grieving Jaina Proudmoore. She lost her home on Kalimdor's shores, and has taken up residence in Dalaran as its new leader. But the question of whether or not she is capable of leadership without being emotionally compromised is still very much up in the air.
Your character has spent just as much time wandering Pandaria as any Horde character, and they've seen what the Sha can do. The notion of Garrosh Hellscream harnessing the powers of the Sha should frankly be utterly terrifying, in the face of what happened to Theramore. Hellscream blew up a settlement without a second thought -- what else could he be capable of, with the Sha on his side?
The inner workings of inner conflict
How do you roleplay what is happening around you? The events in Pandaria are cause for some serious personal reflection for your character. It's an opportunity for him to question not only who he is, but why he's out fighting in the world. It's an opportunity for him to question whether he is comfortable with his position as a member of the Alliance or the Horde. And it's an opportunity to discuss those inner thoughts with his friends and companions.
So who exactly is your character? Why does he fight? What makes him get out of bed in the morning, and has this changed with the parting of the mists? How did he view the Alliance and the Horde in expansions past, and has that viewpoint changed? More importantly, is this something he is willing to discuss with others, or something he is keeping to himself?
How does he react when he meets others who have opposing opinions? Does he try to talk to them, to convince them that his way of thinking is better? Does he keep silent, lest he draw unwanted attention for his thoughts? Does he argue with those he once called friend, embrace those he once called foe?
In the end, the lore of Mists continues to offer far more to roleplayers than any expansion prior. It may be a lot to think about, but it's also something to be welcomed and embraced.
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