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5 things new roleplayers need to know

Anne Stickney

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.

Though we've done a lot of in-depth look at time lines, various lore elements, and the intricacies of character development, a lot of the recent emails I've been receiving have been of a much more basic nature. Why does anyone roleplay, and what do you do if you want to give roleplaying a try?

The first question is pretty simple to address. Did you ever play make-believe when you were a kid? Ever pretend you were a pirate, or a princess, or your favorite character from the Saturday morning cartoon show of your choice? That's roleplay.

With roleplay in video games, it gets a little more complicated than just "I wanna be a pirate!" Instead of playing with Tommy or Jessica from down the street, you're playing with a multitude of people from all over the world. Because of this, there are certain rules for roleplaying -- this is so that everyone is roughly on the same page and playing the same way. So when you're thinking of roleplay, think of it as a giant game of Let's Pretend that you experience with a wide, varied group of people. It's a creative exercise, a little bit story writing and a little bit improvisational acting.

If that sounds like your cup of tea, you might want to give it a try. And if you decide to make that leap, here are some things you should consider when you're getting started.

1. Create a character with a reason to exist. The first thing you need, of course, is a character to play. You can choose from any number of race and class combinations; pick one that looks like something you'd enjoy pretending to be. But beyond that, you want to start getting into the head of that character. Don't just think about the fact that he looks pretty cool -- think about who that guy is and why he's in Azeroth. What's his agenda, his motivation for being around? For a first-time character, you don't have to get too in-depth with this, because it can be developed over time.

Having a reason for being around means that you have a reason to interact with other people. With roleplaying, it's all about interacting with other people; roleplaying by yourself has no real purpose. For example, your character might simply be in the world because he's looking for his lost dog. It's a really simple purpose, but it is a reason for being around. Not only does he have a reason for wandering Azeroth -- an eternal quest to find faithful old Fido -- but he's got a reason to talk to other people as well and ask them if they've happened to see his precious pooch in their travels.

2. It's not all about you. Since roleplaying is such a social activity, you have to keep in mind that it's not all about your character when you're interacting with other people. You're in Azeroth looking for your lost dog -- but that guy you're asking about Fido's whereabouts? He's got his own reasons for being in Azeroth, too. In fact, those reasons may be just as cool and interesting as your search for Fido. He might even need help with whatever he's doing or have an interesting story or two to tell.

Think of other roleplayers like quest NPCs. Just like a quest NPC, another roleplayer could have something potentially fascinating for you to do. Unlike a quest NPC, this other roleplaying character has a fully fleshed life that existed before you spoke to them and will continue after you finish speaking to them as well. Every person you roleplay with in WoW has stories and reasons for being around, and playing with those assorted stories can be just as fascinating as looking for Fido -- sometimes, even more so.

Beyond that, you have to keep in mind that it's not all about character interaction -- you're also interacting with real-life people. There's a distinct line between what you say as your character and what you would say to someone in real life. That's where the terms in character (IC) and out of character (OOC) come from. What someone says to you in character isn't meant to be taken out of character. So say you run into a cranky character in a bad mood who says something rude to your character. That's not the player being mad at you -- that's their character being upset and taking it out on your character.

The same applies with any emotion that is roleplayed. A person playing a sad character isn't really sad in real life. A person playing a character that is romantically interested in your character isn't romantically interested in you. Be mindful of that line between what your character says and feels with what you say and feel, and don't let the two cross.

3. Leveling is the least important thing in the world. Conventionally speaking, most people play WoW to level and get to endgame and play in heroics and raid and PvP and do all that fun endgame stuff. That concept is almost completely thrown out the window by a lot of roleplayers. If you're just starting out roleplaying, leveling should be the absolute least of your concerns. Yes, leveling is fun! By all means, go out and do it! But don't put it at the top of your priority list.

With roleplay, it doesn't matter what level your gear is or how much DPS you can dish out. It doesn't matter if you're the best healer in the world, and it doesn't matter if you can take hits from Deathwing without flinching. It's about your character, the story you have to tell, and the other stories going on all around you. It's not about the finish line -- it's about the long journey to get there and all the fascinating things that happen along the way.

4. Go with the flow. The biggest mistake a rookie roleplayer can make is locking a character into one path. To go back to the Fido example, if all you're doing every time you log in is looking for your dog, how long is that going to keep you interested? If you find your lost dog, what are you going to do after that? If you lock yourself into one purpose, when you reach the end of that purpose, there's not going to be anything left for you.

All those people that you talk to? Find out what makes them tick, and see what they have to offer. All that exploring you're doing? Keep an eye out for new elements that could be added to your story. Some of the best stories and movies in the world start out as one simple concept and one simple character who, through the course of the journey, ends up on a completely different path than the one that was supposedly defined for them.

That buildup of multiple scenarios and events is what ultimately keeps roleplaying dynamic and fun. Having a crazy branch of multiple stories that all fall back into that quest to find Fido keeps everything fresh and interesting and keeps you interacting with other roleplayers. In the end, it's that group dynamic you're looking for, not Fido.

5. Stick to the rules of the universe you're in. Roleplay can take place in any number of worlds. Almost every popular game or book out there has a roleplay community of some sort, and each world has its own set of things that define it. Warcraft is a fantasy world where dragons and elves exist, everyone speaks a common tongue, and the dead walk the earth in a surprisingly animated fashion. Warcraft is not a world of superheroes like the Marvel or DC universes. It's not a world like present day; technology like laptops and cell phones simply doesn't exist.

So if you want to play a sword-swinging barbarian that roams the world in search of treasure, that totally works within the universe. However, if you want to play a high-powered Wall Street executive, that does not. Wall Street doesn't exist in Warcraft; executives in power suits really don't exist, either. If you really want to play that kind of character, you're far better off finding a roleplaying world in which that character could feasibly exist. There's nothing stopping you from playing that character in WoW -- but chances are, nobody's really going to want to play with you.

Beyond the basics

These five basic things should give you a good handle on the basic tools of roleplay -- but there's plenty more than that, of course. Next week, we'll delve into some more basic tools and information for those of you who want to give roleplay a shot.

All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. Let us help you imagine what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying or even RP on a non-RP realm!

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