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The ins and outs of pandaren roleplay characters

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.

We've had new races in two expansions so far -- the alien draenei and the native blood elves, the scheming goblins and the beaten-down worgen. Each of these races had their own quirks and reasons for allying with the Alliance and Horde, and they were good ones. The draenei chose the Alliance because the night elves made first contact with their people, and the ideals of the Alliance matched what the draenei were all about. The sin'dorei allied with the Horde partially because of the help offered by Sylvanas Windrunner and partially because the Alliance had already turned their back on the blood elves in their most dire of hours.

As for the goblins and the worgen, well, the worgen were a natural match to the Alliance as they were an Alliance race already -- human, save for the curse. The goblins allied with the Horde out of sheer necessity more than anything. The Bilgewater Cartel was in ruins, and the Horde helped them out. Each race chose Alliance or Horde, and each had its own reasons for doing so.

But the pandaren pose a different kind of problem for roleplayers, because they can choose either side to ally with. So how do you roleplay a pandaren character who's allied with one side or the other?

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For the pandaren of the Wandering Isle, there's a much different dynamic going on than a simple "Well, this side helped me out, so I'm going to ally with them." You choose what side you're going to take based on which school of thinking your pandaren more closely follows -- the quick-to-act Huojin or the quick-to-think Tushui. The Huojin follow the Horde, while the Tushui follow the Alliance. While both have their reasons for following their respective factions, it's not a choice made out of hatred for the other side -- and that's the part that's going to be a little harder to deal with.

Neither path you choose is the wrong one; it's simply a choice made. Because the Alliance and Horde both pitched in to help the residents of the Wandering Isle and the pandaren are pretty curious about these strange people and what they're up to in the world, it's only natural that they'd want to follow both sides. Here's the catch, however: Once you pick a side, your friends on the other side are no longer your friends.

This isn't because you're suddenly imbued with faction hatred, by any means. It's because the faction leader of whichever side you happen to choose lets you know in no uncertain terms that those people you called friend aren't your friends anymore, and you aren't allowed to contact them any longer. It makes sense from a story point of view. With all of the tension ramping up between Alliance and Horde, fraternizing with the enemy is a huge no-no.

But it opens up a really cool space for your pandaren to be in, from a roleplay perspective. Although Aysa Cloudsinger, the Alliance pandaren representative, agrees to Varian's terms and conditions, her tone is an almost disappointed one. Your pandaren may be feeling the same way. After all, on the Wandering Isle, both paths of thought had mutual respect for each other. Both Huojin and Tushui were good friends, regardless of the path they chose to follow. This isn't reflected in the rest of the world, and the demands of your new faction leader may come as a bit of a shock to any pandaren character.

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Culture shock

Lines drawn in the sand between Alliance and Horde are the first of many shocks your pandaren is going to encounter while leveling through Azeroth. The problem with pandaren is that they're a blank canvases, essentially. But what could be considered a problem is also a boon for roleplaying, because this opens so many opportunities for roleplay situations that there are almost too many to choose from! Consider the following when you're thinking about your pandaren character:
  • The Sundering as ancient history While legends in Pandaria tell tale of the last of the pandaren emperors and the separation of Pandaria from the rest of the world, the root of the separation, the Sundering, isn't really something most pandaren are intimately familiar with. And as a pandaren of the Wandering Isle, your pandaren likely knows even less about these events. They're just history, legends, things that happened an incredibly long time ago.
  • Portals to new planets? Pandaren culture separated from the mainland so long ago that the concept of traveling to another world is incomprehensible. Any pandaren headed to Outland is going to be a little weirded out -- although the curious nature of the pandaren of the Wandering Isle means that it's apt to be the good kind of weirded out, rather than the limiting kind.
  • Outgoing to a fault The pandaren of the Wandering Isle differ from the pandaren in Pandaria. They're on the Wandering Isle specifically because they've got the wanderlust, curiosity and zest for exploration that the natives of Pandaria don't really have. Because of this, a pandaren character is apt to be incredibly friendly and outgoing. You won't really see any sullen, withdrawn pandaren wandering around; it would be entirely against their nature.
  • The Light as a foreign concept The church of the Holy Light and the followers of the Light didn't really surface until thousands and thousands of years after the Sundering. Pandaren have no idea what paladins are. They have priests, but their priests don't really follow the ways of the Light or have any deep understanding of it. They simply heal the wounded and call it a day.
  • The strangeness of other religions In fact, pretty much every religion practiced out there is going to be kind of a foreign concept for the pandaren. The loa and gods of the trolls aren't going to be a familiar thing, nor is the concept of the Emerald Dream. However, pandaren are more apt to be fascinated by foreign religions and cultures rather than put off by them -- and pandaren are likely to try and draw parallels between their beliefs and the beliefs of others in an attempt to understand them, rather than simply pronouncing them wrong.
  • Wars as a foreign concept The First, Second and Third wars, the Lich King, the Burning Legion, the War of the Shifting Sands, the Old Gods -- these are all foreign concepts to pandaren. They don't really know any of Azeroth's history, nor are they really familiar with Azeroth's other races. Pandaria had a great war back in the early days of pandaren history, but since then, there hasn't really been a lot of major cultural conflict. And the pandaren of the Wandering Isle have been separated from Pandaria for so long that it might not even be something they remember.
This may seem almost overwhelming, but really all this means is that a roleplayer who is going to play a pandaren character needs to simply forget everything they know about Azeroth and Azeroth's history and just look at the world through a fresh set of eyes. Pandaren aren't really judgmental at all, and in the case of the pandaren from the Wandering Isle, they're intensely curious about the rest of the world and everything in it. Foreign foods and brews are a delight, and so is absorbing all that fascinating culture that the residents of Azeroth take for granted.

The various species of Azeroth are also going to be an endless source of fascination. For the pandaren of the Wandering Isle, alien races like the orcs and draenei are going to be a complete unknown. Their otherworldly origins are something the pandaren have no idea about. The gnomes are also apt to be a source of rapt fascination, because the gnomes don't really have a belief system at all. And the titanic origins of both gnomes and dwarves are likely to be a source of endless conversation.

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Coming to terms with the rest of the world

While pandaren aren't really sullen by nature, this doesn't mean your pandaren needs to be happy-go-lucky with everyone they meet. The tone of Aysa's voice as she agrees to Varian's terms regarding pandaren on the other side of the faction fence isn't a very happy one. Pandaren are by nature friendly, outgoing, and non-judgmental; this is something they're going to have to reconcile with the rest of the world. And as they travel through that world and learn more about it, you're going to have to decide how the rest of the world affects them.

The other races of Azeroth are in constant struggle with each other, while the pandaren are perfectly content to get along with everyone. The contrast of these two points of belief may create some struggle for a pandaren character; after all, it's not easy to simply say goodbye to former friends just because someone tells you to. This also creates an opportunity for cross-faction roleplay, secret meetings between pandaren on both sides, or simply struggle with the decision of how far to follow the path chosen.

That said, pandaren characters represent a fantastic opportunity to see the world through new eyes. Situations that may have seemed cut and dry to an Alliance or Horde character may look entirely different through the eyes of someone who isn't accustomed to faction battles or the evils of the world. And a pandaren heading out into that world with fresh views and an optimistic attitude may come out the other side at level 85, ready to head to Pandaria, as a pandaren who's been changed by the nature of the world around them, whether it be for the good or for the bad.

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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