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The Roleplayer's Redoubt

Is there a really place for roleplaying in MMOs? What do roleplayers bring to the table? How can developers foster stronger roleplaying communities? How do traditional concepts fit into the realities of contemporary online roleplaying?

Author: OddjobXL

Fitting Character To Game

Posted by OddjobXL Tuesday March 24 2009 at 8:29AM
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"Funny, I was just thinking last night that if you're in need of topics you might consider writing about how to flesh out characters. Perhaps expand on the tips and tricks of what works well (or doesn't) given the available interface (i.e. text only, graphical emotes, "stances", etc) vs. tabletop play.

Also, building characters appropriate to the game. We (roleplayers) have a tendency to come up with cool character ideas that don't always fit well with the rules of the game. For example, a pacifist preacher might be a very fun character to roleplay, but in a diku game where combat=advancement, you'll constantly find yourself in conflict with your own character."

-Tychus

Some of my friends are shy.  I get many comments in assorted forums where I pimp this blog, tastefully and subtly of course, but here not so much.  More like this please!   But, also, chime in with your own ideas in the comments section here.  The comments section for each post is a good place to get a conversation going with people who might be interested in what you have to say besides just me.  I know many smart folks from many different places, I haven't yet met still many more, and if they want to talk to each other in the comments section of this blog that's fantastic.  One day I may be hanging out in your comments section too.

I'll address Tychus' second suggestion first as that's the easy one.  Don't make characters you can't sustain in the context of the game.  A pacifist in any MMO to date, short of Sims Online or A Tale in The Desesrt, is just asking for trouble.  Everyone's toting weapons and lookin' to do some harm even if it's just to NPC rats on the outskirts of town.  Maybe, maybe, it could work as a Federation officer in the upcoming Star Trek Online, they're going to include non-violent resolutions and missions to resolve and systems like diplomacy (somehow) at least for Starfleet captains, but odds are even the sweetest tempered ambassador's going to need a hold-out phaser in her boot and a team of security standing by in the transporter room.

This goes back to my continual exhortations to know the setting first.  The collerary is that gameplay is as much setting as fluff text and flavorful graphics are.  To be successful with a long term character, rather than a one-off experiment or NPC in a story you're telling, you need to find a sweet spot where the melieu described in words and images matches the world described by what the game actually does.   MMOs are generally not brilliant at this. 

Very often you'll create a great character who should work well in a game but the gameplay itself doesn't translate what this person is supposed to be able to do.  The rest of your roleplaying life will be spent in OOC conversations explaining how your character works compared to how things really are in the game.   This is an immersion buster not only for you but for everyone who has to remember quirky things about your character.  "Right, you look like a Twi'lek but you're really a Bith.  Got it."  "You're a martial artist with psychic powers but neither are in the game?"

Try, please try, to work with what's there. You are imaginative or you wouldn't be a roleplayer.  Roleplayers do like to push boundaries, experiment, have favorite tropes they tend to pursue through different games and so forth.  But sometimes it can be most rewarding to color inside the lines but with new twists.  There's no need to claim to be a giant space-going dragon in Star Wars Galaxies.  People are just going to look at you funny, ignore you, or they'll just honestly forget thus prompting you to break character and remind them.   Again, your character is the mirror-mirror in which other players see themselves reflected.  Be something that doesn't work well for them and you're not going to be hanging on the wall for long.

But even on a more basic level, entertaining yourself and achieving immersion for yourself, you'll have much more success looking at what character classes are in the game already, what the fictional archetypes and stereotypes are as well, and then working out some variation on those functional mechanics to make an interesting character for yourself both on a roleplaying level and a daily grind level.

Tomorrow we'll explore being a puppeteer.