Taking the roleplay out of WoW

I like messing around with roleplay every now and again, especially during the waning months of an expansion. When there's little else to do, roleplay helps keep me entertained, and has the added side vantage of giving me a space where I can indulge in trying to answer lore questions that invariably make their way into lore columns. But beyond that, there's just something kind of fun about taking an hour or two off every now and again and just letting my brain be creative without the pressure of stress.

But one of the big problems with roleplay in WoW is the actual process of any kind of meaningful roleplay itself. Major, sweeping campaigns that are common with tabletop roleplaying systems just aren't possible in WoW -- trying to get everyone on an entire roleplay server to agree to a set list of rules for combat is an exercise in futility. Because of this, there's always been a limited scope to roleplay, a wall that simply couldn't be broken within the confines of an MMO. NPCs can't be controlled, players can't really influence major events in fear of somehow running into contradictions with canon lore. You can either dance around the limits, or you can ignore them entirely.

Or, as I recently discovered, you can simply leave it all behind. How do you make the limits in WoW work for your roleplay guild? By taking your roleplay out of WoW entirely.

Roll20 is an online tabletop roleplaying system that allows players to put together their own campaigns for pretty much every tabletop system under the sun. And, as it turns out, it can easily be utilized (and has been) by roleplaying guilds looking for a better way to do combat and campaigns that aren't limited by what your character can do in WoW. Players can create a free account to join the site, and GMs can create campaigns for players to join, and tokens to represent individual players. Once a campaign is set up, it works just like any other tabletop RPG -- each character has a certain number of hit points, and dice are rolled to determine who hits, who misses, and who dies.

It goes far beyond that, however. GMs have the freedom to create campaigns outside of the constrictions that the in-game world provides. Want to reclaim Stromgarde? You can create your own map of the dilapidated ruins using screenshots and maps from the game, and plunk in whatever enemies you see fit. Want to explore the outer reaches of Outland's shattered continents? Put together some landscape maps, throw in some Legion opponents and it's easily accomplished. While this is incredibly suitable for roleplaying guilds with a particular theme, smaller campaigns between groups of friends are entirely possible as well.

But the real reason Roll20 is so crazy amazing at what it does is the fact that it eliminates pretty much every problem I've seen in in-game roleplay and combat situations. You don't have to worry about lower-level guild or party members not being able to attend events in high-level areas. You don't have to think about whether or not that person you're dueling is fully decked-out in PvP gear, while you're sitting around in some fashionably put together blues. You don't have to argue about whether or not a character can reasonably hit another character, or major enemy -- because it's all up to the roll of the dice. You don't have to have a translator valiantly typing between Alliance and Horde players, because the language barrier is nonexistent, outside of WoW.

There are a few things that must be established for a system like this to work, however. Guild members or group members need to be on the same page as far as rules for the campaign are concerned. And just like any tabletop roleplaying game, each class should have a limited set of attacks they can use -- no going off the charts rolling 1d100 just because you think your character is particularly awesome. These rules and limitations need to be made clear to anyone joining your campaign, so they know exactly what is and is not allowed.

It also puts a lot more weight on GMs in general. On the one hand, creating maps, tokens, and campaigns is more for the GM to do, and might be a little stressful -- on the other, it makes it incredibly clear that the GM is in full control of the situation. Let's face it, if you have a set list of rules for campaigns, a set list of attacks your players can perform, and a set limit of hit points that puts every player in your group on an even playing field, squabbles are almost guaranteed to be kept at a minimum. Sure, there might be some shouting at online dice involved, but that's part of the fun of any tabletop game.

This might seem like a counterproductive measure to those trying to encourage roleplay in WoW. It's not. What Roll20 seems to be for a lot of roleplayers is a supplemental addition to the kinds of roleplay that already exist in WoW. Free-form roleplay, social roleplay, open world roleplay -- these should always be encouraged. But Roll20 gives you the ability to create major campaigns to keep your guildmates and roleplay buddies engaged beyond the scope of WoW, while still allowing for all the in-game roleplay you already love.

It may not be a perfect solution to roleplay woes, but its an amazing start. I have to admit, I was initially hesitant about trying an out-of-game system for WoW roleplay, but after comparing it to trying to wrangle a mass number of players in game, it's a far more useful, entertaining experience, with a complete absence of the usual troubles associated with combat and campaigns. And with Warlords still at some unknown point on the horizon, Roll20 offers a really creative way to keep your roleplayers in the moment and still playing. Even if WoW isn't presenting anything new or interesting for roleplayers to deal with, you can keep them engaged by running campaigns of your own -- the only limit to Roll20 is the limit of your imagination as a GM and a roleplayer.

For more roleplay hints, tips, and general character development information, be sure to check our Complete Guide to Roleplay in WoW.