All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. In World of Warcraft, that player is you! Each week, Anne Stickney brings you All the World's a Stage with helpful hints, tips and tricks on the art of roleplay in WoW.
Sure, some people want to roleplay serious characters and serious situations. Maybe you like roleplaying the fight against Deathwing, or maybe your character has some major issues in their life to work out, or maybe they've got some dire task they need to accomplish. Everyone would like their character to be important and significant within their circle of friends, whether they're playing the hero or playing the villain.
But there's a different class of roleplayer out there who looks at the Warcraft world in a decidedly different way. You know who I'm talking about -- the class clowns, the cut-ups, the jokers. The roleplayers who can't seem to take anything seriously, nor do they want to. After all, we're playing a game! It's a game with giant talking cows, squid-faced spacemen, tragic werewolves and greedy little green guys who would do anything for a buck. Of course these characters are really fun to play ... but what happens when they go too far? How funny is just funny enough without being irritating beyond all reason? How do you roleplay a comic relief character without going overboard?
Creating a comic character
So you'd like to roleplay, but you're much more inclined to crack a joke than talk tragic history, right? You'd rather be fooling around and having fun than defending yourself, your honor, your faction's honor, or the world itself? Awesome! Comic characters are incredibly fun to roleplay, which is only to be expected, considering their lighthearted nature. But there are a few things you should keep in mind when you're creating that type of character.
Create a cohesive background. Yes, you're making a funny guy or girl. No, you don't have to be as incredibly detailed with their history, and you can certainly pepper it with plenty of amusing tales of mischief. But just because you want to create a comedic character doesn't give you free license on the lore of the game or permission to break it entirely. There's a difference between a wisecracking former resident of Kezan and someone who claims to be the beefy man candy of Sylvanas. While both characters are ripe for amusement, one of them fits within the context of the lore, and the other does not.
Stay away from the crazy. There's a difference between a character being played for comedy and a babbling madman who spouts off ridiculous words at a moment's notice. Once of these characters interacts with people in a meaningful way, even if it is a comedic one. The other simply spouts funny lines in the air and expects people to fall over laughing. Generally speaking, you want people to react with you, not to you.
Avoid stereotyping. It seems odd to bring up racism in regards to funny roleplay, especially funny roleplay in a fantasy game, but guess what? It can happen, sometimes. Warcraft races have references to real-world races. If you choose to play up these races as overblown reflections of their real-world counterparts, you run the risk of offending people. Racial jokes aren't really funny, and they shouldn't leak into your roleplay. I'm not talking about the type where you punt a gnome because he is small (although that's awfully overplayed); I'm talking about making your tauren a reflection of every ridiculous and offensive Native American stereotype you can because you think it's funny. Trust me, it's not.
Keep it real. I don't mean keep it real in the sense of real life, here -- I mean give your character some semblance of genuine character while you are creating him. Making a character to crack jokes and make people laugh is fun enough, but your character should have some real reason for existing in the world beyond telling jokes and being silly. You don't have to give them a dreadfully serious side, but you want to make sure there are moments when that joker comes down to reality, even if they are few and far between.
How to be funny
There's an art to being funny. I'd pinpoint it if I could, but there's no real definition for what is funny and what is not. However, there's a difference between a well-rounded character that tells a lot of really good tales and a character that's been created for the express purpose of trying to be funny. It all comes back to character development with this one, honestly. If you've created your character simply to be as ridiculous as possible, chances are you're not doing it right. If you've created a character with a good backstory that lends itself to humor, that will probably go over better with the rest of the roleplaying crowd.
Probably the best way to give an idea of what's funny is to simply list the things that are not funny.
Ridiculous outfits or behavior Jokes and stories are all fun, but if a character is dressed in funny gear and wanders around interrupting the roleplay of others with outlandish behavior, it's not likely they're going to go over very well. Simply walking into a bar and boasting about how funny you are isn't really funny at all, nor is trying to grab attention by improvising ridiculous actions.
Disruptive roleplay In a similar vein, wandering into a group of roleplayers who are in the middle of a serious conversation and demanding the center of attention through jokes is also not going to be received very well. Think of it like wandering into the middle of a funeral for someone you've never met and telling a really raunchy joke. How well would that go over in real life? It's not going to go over very well with other roleplayers, either.
Expecting attention Everyone wants to be the center of attention, and none more so than the joker. After all, what good is a joke if you've got nobody to tell it to? However, expecting to be the center of attention and demanding that attention never goes over well with other roleplayers. It doesn't matter if you're a comedian or just someone who wants to stir up drama; most people don't appreciate it.
Begging for a reaction Hand in hand with expecting attention is begging for a reaction to a joke or something humorous that you've done. If you've just told what you think is the funniest story in the history of Warcraft and nobody is laughing, it's likely that the story you just told wasn't really all that funny to begin with. Which leads to the next point.
Watch the roleplayers around you. Gauge their reaction and where they are at before you move in and try to play up the comedy. If they're in the middle of a lighthearted situation, moving in and telling a complicated story about a gnome in a bar should be fine. Read their roleplaying profiles to find out what kind of characters you are dealing with. A lone assassin sitting in a bar isn't likely to be the best recipient for a lighthearted conversation.
Playing a villain and playing a joker are oddly enough kind of similar in some respects, and it mainly involves their interactions with other people. Villains have just as much potential for being over the top as comedians do, and for similar reasons; both are being played for the purpose of getting a reaction out of other roleplayers. With villains, you're looking for heroes who want to foil your evil schemes; with comedians, you're looking for people to entertain with your antics. If you don't have someone to play with, roleplaying a villain or a comedian is almost a pointless activity.
However, there is a time for being funny and a time for being serious. Far too often I have seen roleplayers who want to be ridiculous and funny in every situation they are given, with no room for seriousness at all. There is nothing stopping you from this kind of roleplay, but at the same time, many roleplayers really like those serious moments. If all you are offering is slapstick comedy, they may look elsewhere.
Remember, roleplaying is a social activity, and in all that social activity is a series of give and take. You may really enjoy playing a paladin with an overblown sense of importance and the tendency to refer to himself in the third person, but sometimes all another character wants is someone to just have a serious conversation with. If you want to play that greedy goblin who is continually creating schemes à la Wile E. Coyote to create more income, that's fantastic -- but keep in mind that other roleplayers may not be into 24/7 contact with that type of character. Keep it fun, keep it lighthearted, but keep in mind there may be a time where you need to keep it real, too.