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Neutrality and you: Roleplaying the antihero, part 2

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.

Antiheroes are some of the most difficult characters to roleplay within the context of an MMO. It's hard to roleplay someone who is a neutral character when the entire context of gameplay is based on the concept of side versus side. In the case of the Warcraft franchise, it's always been about that unending struggle between Alliance and Horde. Admittedly, in the history of the game we have definitely had ceasefires called every now and again, and we've cooperated every now and again.

But when push comes to shove, Alliance and Horde seem like they're destined to never get along. That conflict is highlighted in Mists of Pandaria in a major way, and if datamining on the 5.1 PTR is any indication, it's showing no signs at all of slowing down. Now that you have an idea of some of the various degrees of neutrality, and an idea of what the antihero's role is in a story, how do you apply that to your character?

Neutrality and you Roleplaying the antihero, part 2 SAT

Roleplay within game mechanics

Obviously within the context of game mechanics, Alliance and Horde can never really work together. The game does not allow communication between factions. Characters that enter an opposing faction's city will find themselves taking a dirt nap courtesy of the city guards. Your night elf will never be able to sit down and have a long, reasonable conversation with Vol'jin; nor will your orc be able to have a friendly chat with Varian Wrynn.

However, game mechanics and roleplay are two entirely different things. You can make exceptions in the case of roleplay, and you can use game mechanics to get around certain restrictions. In the case of the language barrier, simply adding your Alliance or Horde friend to your friends list via Battletag or RealID will allow you to talk to each other regardless of faction. Open world conversations may be an impossibility, but private conversations are entirely possible.

Although the guards of major cities won't let opposing faction characters inside to chat, you can still meet up in neutral locations. Halfhill Market is usually bustling with both Horde and Alliance characters, and most of the inns located across Pandaria are occupied by both factions. The only exceptions are the starting zone villages, and the shrines -- everywhere else in Pandaria is fair game.

Neutrality and you Roleplaying the antihero, part 2 SAT

Roleplay within restrictions

As a playable character, game mechanics pretty much force you to play through and do the bidding of your faction leader. As a roleplayer, this doesn't mean that you need to consider these actions as those made out of loyalty or pride. Your character may be doing these tasks because he needs the gold. Or perhaps he's afraid of the consequences if he disobeys. Or perhaps he's trying to observe and really understand what exactly his faction is up to -- whether their actions are honorable. Or maybe he's just trying to muddle through the mystery of what exactly his own personal definition of the word honor happens to be.

In the novel Tides of War, both Baine Bloodhoof and Vol'jin illustrate exactly this method of thinking. As faction leaders within the Horde, they are pretty much required to follow the orders of Warchief Garrosh. But neither really agrees with what Garrosh is doing, nor do they think his idea of the Horde is an ideal one. They follow his orders, yes. But they follow those orders to the letter and nothing more. Baine is ordered to take his troops to Theramore and attack, which he does -- but not before sending a messenger to Theramore warning of the impending attack right under Garrosh's nose.

This kind of subterfuge is subtle, yet intriguing. From a roleplay standpoint, it leaves your character straddling the line between loyal member and traitor. If you wish to take this path, you'll have to be extremely careful in situations where your character is interacting with loyalists -- one wrong word and he could have his friends turn him in for treason, or worse.

Neutrality and you Roleplaying the antihero, part 2 SAT

Roleplay within reason

For a roleplayer that wants to take on the role of antihero, the reasoning for doing so has never been as blatant as it is in Mists. And for the new playable race, the reasons are clear as day. As a pandaren from the Wandering Isle, your character was standing in a place of neutrality from day one. It was only his travels off of the Wandering Isle that forced him into a faction choice. Although he may have agreed to swear his allegiance to Alliance or Horde, he did so without truly knowing what the meaning of being Alliance or Horde really is.

That meaning has changed drastically over the past couple of expansions, and it's something your pandaren will encounter face-to-face as he travels throughout Azeroth. The atrocities that both sides have committed against each other in this latest iteration of war seem to be reasonable depending on which side of the faction fence your character is on -- but they may seem meaningless and shameful to a once-neutral pandaren.

As for the other races of the Alliance and Horde, now is when the war is finally rearing its ugly head. For some, the thought of finally getting revenge or retribution on the Horde or Alliance is tremendously appealing. For others, it may seem like a foolish, costly struggle that makes no sense. It's up to you and how you have defined your character to make that distinction.

Neutrality and you Roleplaying the antihero, part 2 SAT

Roleplay within morality

At its most basic, an antihero or a neutral character boils down to a character that lives within the context of their own morals. He knows there are laws in place, he knows that there is a government and there are restrictions set in place, but he doesn't necessarily agree with those laws or restrictions. What he agrees with is his own moral code, and he follows that moral code even if it flies in the face of the law.

Take a good look at your character, and start asking yourself questions about his way of thinking. Is he happy with how his faction is progressing? Is he content with the decisions his faction leader has made? Is he comfortable with killing indiscriminately, as long as he is following orders? Is he comfortable with sabotage, as long as it benefits his own faction? Is he well and truly loyal to his faction, or does he question his faction's ideals?

Does he have his reservations about killing? Does he refuse to kill innocents? What is his definition of honor? Does it match what his faction's idea of honor currently happens to be? Is he beginning to doubt the motives of his faction leader? Is he willing to skirt the line of treason, or is that a path he doesn't dare tread?

If your character is currently having concerns with how the war between factions is going to affect Pandaria, he may be an antihero in the making. If he is feeling content in this blissful land of idyllic landscapes, he may be an antihero in the making, once his faction hits Pandaria's shores in earnest. If he is questioning why he's fighting, and who he is fighting for, he may be an antihero in the making.

Neutrality and you Roleplaying the antihero, part 2 SAT

Roleplay within conviction

All of these ideals of morality, all of these questions tie into the antihero or neutral perspective. And it's logical for your character to think this way. Think about it -- your character has been fighting for the Alliance or for the Horde for years now. They have seen conflict after conflict, battled foe after foe, in the name of their faction. But what has their faction done for them?

Is your character really a valued soldier, a person who is respected and admired for his years of unshakable loyalty and service? Or is he beginning to think that he is perhaps thought of as mere cannon fodder that is simply being repeatedly thrown at the other side? These are things that may come up in conversation and interaction with the roleplayers around you.

Obviously your character cannot be truly neutral in the face of game mechanics. But your character can occupy a space of neutrality based on how you have him react to certain situations and events. He may not be able to walk up to a character from the opposing faction in game and have a conversation, but he can think about who he is, why he fights, what he is fighting for, and whether his life is truly playing out the way he intended it to.

While roleplaying an antihero or a neutral character isn't really everyone's cup of tea, it's a path that many have taken over the years. And over the course of the story, it's beginning to become far more clear why a character would choose this path. While you're certainly not required to play an antihero, nor are you required to take a stance of neutrality, the Mists expansion is definitely offering far more food for thought when it comes to this sometimes unorthodox way of gameplay.

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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