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Behind the Mask: Roleplaying in a modern way

Patrick Mackey

This week on Behind the Mask, I faced a startling dilemma. On the one hand, the developers have proposed the most universally disliked gameplay change ever. The issue is very troublesome, and I could probably write a pretty convincing argument on the subject. My hope is that the devs give in to the wailing voices of the playerbase begging not to implement the changes. If these changes hit the test server, Behind the Mask will be right there with the coverage, but it's important to not jump the gun too early.

Instead, we're going to talk about roleplaying. Champions Online has a very unusual roleplaying culture. Unlike other MMORPGs, Champions is pretty respectful of the people that don the roleplaying hat. It is not strange to find a group of roleplayers journeying through Millenium City or one of the other hot zones for heroes. The devs understand the plights of roleplayers, and a lot of the various features that are implemented in CO have no real "value" except as roleplaying tools. Often roleplayers can be seen as "losers" or "nerds." Not so much in CO.

Hit the jump, and we'll explore the place I call "IC."

Familiar places, unfamiliar faces

In Champions, the setting is that of modern-day Detroit, in the wake of a catastrophic attack by the evil supervillain Dr. Destroyer. The city may be called Millenium City, but its placement in the real-life Motor City gives us all sorts of unique factoids that might be useful for roleplayers. For instance, a few quick Google searches can find us schools in the Detroit area for characters pursuing higher learning. If your character is the bar-hopping type, a list of local breweries can give you some helpful info on what your character might be drinking.

Being in Detroit is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Because CO is placed in the real world, most of the real-world knowledge that we have carries over into the CO world. In Champions Online, our characters are likely to have Facebook pages (probably fictional; making real FB pages for characters seems a little overboard), listen to modern popular music, and have opinions on modern events. Our characters probably drive cars and have real life jobs working for real-life companies. Some roleplaying characters might even play World of Warcraft or even other superhero-themed MMORPGs. In fact, you could even make a superhero who was an Iraq War veteran and writes articles for a wildly popular MMORPG news site.

While a fantasy setting allows for a lot of freedom, a modern setting like Champions lets a roleplayer draw on tons of resources present in the real world. While not everything is going to be identical, we are given quite a bit of freedom to assume what is. Because things are so familiar, it's a little easier to come up with new ideas for our characters. None of us live in a fantasy world in real life (I hope!), so coming up with fantasy or sci-fi characters and giving them flavor is a little bit harder compared to a character set in a world we've been intimately familiar with since the day we were born.

A superhero game legacy

Champions Online is full of a tremendous amount of lore. The original Champions was published in 1981. Since then, there have been five different editions of the rules as well as numerous sourcebooks adding new material to the game. If you have a little extra cash, the various sourcebooks can provide a portal into the breadth of Champions lore. It should be unsurprising to you readers, but very few roleplayers in CO reference much of anything from Champions lore that isn't from the game itself. This is for a variety of reasons.

The first is most obvious. Most roleplayers don't have access to the books. Even though it is possible to illegally download them for free, I literally know of no one who has. Perhaps the internet has more integrity than we give it credit for. Buying extra books only to use for character roleplaying is a bit excessive for most people. It's a little strange to me at how few fans of the roleplaying game can be found.

The second reason why few people use the lore is because they don't really like the lore. I'm not saying that all the stories are bad, but the majority of the settings in Champions are very Silver Age superhero comic fare, with a little bit of Captain Planet added in for good measure. I like playing through some of the stories, but when I am pitted against robotic cowboys activated from a theme park gone horribly horribly wrong, I have to draw the line. Most roleplayers prefer deeper, less one-sided roleplaying where choices aren't as clear and people aren't clearly labeled as "good guy" or "bad guy." While there is a fair bit of source material for that in the Champions RPG books, there's almost none in Champions Online.

The final reason I think most people don't use the lore is because people like original stories. When I see character backstories that flirt with the lore, they often do so very loosely. Some characters have dealings with VIPER, or were summoned by DEMON or are agents of ARGENT, UNTIL, or UNITY. Most of these backstories are plausible enough to make sense, but lack specifics of what the organization did or what it is capable of doing. That's okay, honestly. A character backstory only needs to have enough plausibility to make sense in the game world. More than that is nice, but not essential to roleplay in a fun way.

A community you can get involved in

As I mentioned way back in my community guide, CO likes roleplaying, and roleplayers like CO. There's a large community of roleplayers on the official forums, but the easiest way to get in touch with them is through the unofficial roleplaying boards at Champions Online Roleplayers. In-game, you can also hook up with them via the the "CORP" global channel. They also have an in-character channel, called "Champions RP", but I don't spend much time in there, so I can't honestly say what it's like.

Exploring the roleplayer world is a little bit daunting, and talking about the RP community could easily fill the content of another dozen articles. I can provide a few tips though, to people just starting out.

  • Don't be afraid to walk up and say hi, especially to people not engaged in conversation. Even if they are, a polite /tell asking them if they would mind some company is totally acceptable. Some of the coolest friends I've met in RP, I've met through randomly butting into their conversation from an off-handed comment.
  • Roleplaying in an online game vastly favors extroverted people. Even if you're not very outgoing, it pays to break it a little bit to meet new people.
  • Write a character bio, and include a tag like ((RP friendly)) in it. Although it isn't mandatory, adding OOC tags to your bio help identify you in an appropriate light. [No ERP] is a good way of letting people know that you're not a cyberbunny.
  • Actually, on that note, surrounding your text with either (( )) or [ ] denotes that text is out-of-character. Occasionally, some supergroups may designate a channel exclusively for OOC chat to make it easier to separate from the in-character chat.
  • Even though CO's roleplayers are generally more accepted, getting griefed in Club Caprice every now and then is pretty much expected. Don't let some moron spamming Iniquity on you ruin your evening. And for you griefers, yes, that is the skill that breaks other people's emotes.
Don't think that this will be the end, though. In later editions of Behind the Mask, we'll cover more about roleplaying -- what to expect from the RP scene, tips on fleshing out your characters, and of course, addressing the popular controversy of whether RPvP or textfighting is the superior conflict resolution mechanic.

Got a question or comment? If there's something you'd like to see addressed in a future Behind the Mask, send me an email at patrick AT massively DOT com.

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