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The hero you once were: Roleplaying the death knight

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.

A hero... that's what you once were. You stood boldly against the Shadow and purchased another dawn for the world... with your life.

The death knight class was introduced in Wrath of the Lich King as the first, and to date only, hero class. Former minions and soldiers of the Lich King, these warriors of darkness have now risen against their dark master and obtained their own freedom, of sorts. But the path to acceptance is much more difficult for a death knight than any other class in the game. After all, you were a tool of darkness at its finest, when you were "born."

This makes death knights a really unique opportunity for roleplay, because they essentially have two lives -- the life before they died, and the life after. It's that reconciliation between the two that offers the most fascinating moments for roleplay. How does a person come to terms with the fact that they were turned from hero to butcher in what should have been their final moment of saving grace?

The hero you once were Roleplaying the death knight SAT

Who you are

For a death knight, the answer to who you are is pretty simple -- you are a former citizen of Azeroth who died in one fashion or another, and were raised by the Lich King for the purpose of filling out his army of undead. But there is much, much more to consider when you're roleplaying a death knight, because your life didn't begin at the moment you came to awareness in Acherus, heeding the Lich King's call and wreaking havoc on the Scarlet Crusade. It did not begin when you broke free from the Lich King, joining Highlord Darion Mograine as a member of the Ebon Blade.

No, your life began much as anyone else in Azeroth. You were a traveler, a hero, a friend, a confidant, a lover, a husband or wife, a daughter or a son. You were born into this world and you followed your own path, seeking out your destiny, whatever it may have been. Your character may have been a different class entirely at one point -- a spellweaving mage of the Kirin Tor, a devout follower of the Light, a simple hunter that sought solace in the wild.

These are all things that you should determine when you're thinking about that death knight character. Where did he come from? Who were his parents? Are they still alive? Did he have any relationships prior to his death? Did he have any children? What path did he follow -- was he a warrior, a priest, a rogue? What, ultimately, led to his death? Was it a moment of heroic intent, or an act of cowardice that led to his demise?

The hero you once were Roleplaying the death knight SAT
Flesh out that character as much as you can -- treat it as seriously as you'd treat any other character's backstory. Write down everything about that character's life, any major moments that had particular impact on his life. When you are all done writing, take a long look at everything that has happened in the scope of your character's life to date. Consider what kind of person your character was, what kinds of hopes and dreams they possessed. And then put that paper away, because all of that was lost the moment your character died.

Now consider this: Your character is undead. Everything that he was prior to his death is in its way a chapter of his life that can never, ever be opened again. He can visit his old friends, his lovers, his parents, but they will never react to him the same way again. He is, by all accounts, dead. It's the fact that he's come back to life and started wielding unholy powers that many may have issue with.

The hero you once were Roleplaying the death knight SAT

What defines you, and why you fight

That is what a death knight of the Ebon Blade is -- a sum of everything he learned and experienced in his life, prior to undeath. A death knight of the Ebon Blade doesn't start out remembering all of these events, but as a player quests through the opening zone, they will begin to realize, and remember, and quite possibly be horrified at what they have done. It is that horror that causes a death knight to eventually turn on his master -- because the Lich King is the one being responsible for ripping his life away, and ensuring that whatever happiness he achieved in life will forever remain just beyond the reach of his cold, dead hands.

If this sounds morose, it's because it is. Death knights are not particularly happy people. Think about it -- would you be, if you had suffered the way that your character has suffered? In a way, the death knight situation mimicks the Forsaken to a degree -- dead characters that have suddenly found themselves returned to unlife. But unlike the Forsaken, a death knight almost has it worse. Because he has the opportunity to return home. He can look into the eyes of his loved ones, and he can see the horror, the unease, the hint of disgust hidden there.

That is the defining factor of what made a death knight fight, in Wrath of the Lich King. The knights of the Ebon Blade wanted revenge for what the Lich King had done to them. And in a way, a death knight may also have fought for his former life, fought to protect his former family and loved ones from sharing his fate. It's a dark, grim reason to fight.

But now that the Lich King has been defeated, the death knights of the Ebon Hold are without purpose. And a death knight character now has to contend with the fact that his destiny is entirely in his own hands. So why does your character continue to fight? Is he trying to regain some semblance of life before he died? Is he trying to make up for whatever sins he may have committed while under the sway of the Lich King?

Is he fighting in order to do what is good, to make up for the bad that has happened in his life? Or does he fight, does he kill, does he torture with the intent of somehow punishing himself? Is he fighting because he wants to right what's wrong in the world, or is he fighting and secretly hoping that someone will put an end to him for good?

The hero you once were Roleplaying the death knight SAT

Interaction with others

Needless to say, a death knight isn't exactly the most fun person to be around, and a death knight's interaction with others may be slightly awkward at best, painful at worst. Death knights were not welcomed with open arms into the Alliance or Horde -- they had to run a gauntlet of rotten fruit and screams of those that were affected by the Scourge. It's a painful way to gain acceptance, and it's not soon forgotten.

There are two things that ultimately wander through the mind of a death knight as he talks to the living: Is this person I am speaking to looking at me differently, is that fear lurking in the back of their eyes? Will I ever be able to have a normal conversation with a person again?

But while a death knight is far from a cheerful character, it doesn't mean that he can't crack a joke, even if that joke is grim. It doesn't mean that he's unable to have friends. It just means that even though he has friends, there's still that wall between himself and others. No matter what he says, no matter what he does, no matter who he was when he was alive, he can never go back.

A death knight's journey officially begins the moment he enters the starting zone. That passage of time in your character's life is quite clearly defined through quests and events, so there is little for a roleplayer to invent, in that aspect. The challenge of a roleplayer in this case is to define what came before, and use that to determine what comes next in their character's life.

Death knights may be a grim bunch, they may seem sad and morose, but there's something sweet in all that sorrow. There's an ultimately fascinating element to that journey of trying to balance who a character used to be and who a character is now. That dual nature of the death knight represents an emotional, powerful journey that allows for far deeper roleplay than one would expect.

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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