Thursday, 11 March 2010

An introduction to roleplaying: part 3 - finding a voice

This is part 3 of a series of posts designed to introduce fellow MMO players to roleplaying. Part 1 covered the basics of what roleplaying is and part 2 described how you can decide what your character is like as a person. This installment talks about how you portray your new character to the outside world. In part 4, I'll go on to discuss how you can meet up with like minded people and actually start roleplaying.

What is this voice thing you're talking about?
In the sense I'm going to use the word here, voice means far more than how your character talks, although that is a part of it. It's the whole way your character presents themselves to the world and the impression that gives: that includes the way they speak, the subjects they choose to talk about, the people they choose to socialise with, their mannerisms and the way they dress. 

Talking in character
It's hard to know how this one began, but there's a common misconception that roleplaying involves talking in a funny faux-Shakespearian manner, like this:
"Well, met, good fellow! What say you that we depart to the tavern and quaff some ales? I hear there be some most comely wenches therein."
Perhaps it comes from the idea that roleplayers are slightly pretentious and theatrical, and some people associate theatre with Shakespeare. Whilst that kind of language may be appropriate for 17th century England, that's not where WOW is set. You're in Azeroth now, so different rules apply.

We type in english (or other languages, depending on the server), but that's just a game mechanic: our characters are speaking in Orcish (or Common or the various racial tongues). To find an appropriate way of speaking for your character, you need to find the modern-english equivalent of the way he speaks. Now that's not to say you should speak in purely modern idiom, either. The following would be even worse:
"Yo, homie! Let's hit the bar and go check out the hos."
There's no group in Azeroth that speaks like that.

Try to constrain your choice of words to those that your character would actually use. So, for example, an unworldly academic might use very elaborate words, even when simpler ones would do. On the other hand, a hardened soldier might use simple, direct words, heavily seasoned with swearing. The content of their conversation may well be different too, with the academic talking about abstract issues and the soldier sticking to practical matters. Let's look at how our two examples (we'll make them human for now) might respond to seeing some orcs approaching their town. First, the academic:
"How extraordinary! It seems we have received an unsolicited visitation from Orgrimmar. I wonder what they want?"
Now the soldier:
"You! Trooper! Get that fucking gate closed before the greenskins burn this place down!" 
Their contrasting world views lead to them speaking in distinctive ways, but also focussing on different aspects of the situation. Their varied responses could lead to very different outcomes, depending on whether those orcs are friendly or not.

A valuable way of showing your character's personality can be to think about how the way they talk varies with different audiences. Our swearing soldier may be the model of politeness and good conduct when women and children are present. That tells the people around you some interesting things about his personality: he feels that it's his job to protect the innocent from the evils of the world around them, but also that he may see women as too frail to look after themselves.

Another aspect of the way your character talks that's worth looking at is their accent. In some cases, Blizzard have given us some pretty strong hints as to how they imagine a particular race speaking. For example trolls are portrayed as speaking in a Caribbean inspired patois (although their architecture seems more South-American) and dwarves are often given a Scottish accent. For others, you have a little more freedom. Is your human rogue from a rural area, with a slow, country accent, or a fast-talking city-boy with fancy ways?

Body language

It's sometimes said that body language accounts for over 90% of human communication. Whilst the exact figure is debateable, there's no doubt it has a big effect on how others see you.

A good rule to follow when thinking about how to present your character is that old writer's maxim: show, don't tell. This can be a bit harder in an MMO than a book or a film, because of the limited range of postures available to your toon. Fortunately, there is an in-game mechanic that can  help us out: the emote. Blizzard supply us with a wide range of pre-defined emotes and we can supplement them with custom ones by typing things like /em stifles a yawn.

Let's see how we can use these to modify the way our character appears to others. Here are two examples, using the built-in /smile and /sigh emotes:
Rundor smiles: "Good evening, magister, what an unexpected surprise!"
Rundor lets out a long, drawn-out sigh: "Good evening, magister, what an unexpected surprise!" 
In each case, the words are the same, but the emotes tell us something different. In the first example, Rundor seems genuinely pleased to meet the magister, whereas in the second he gives the impression it's the last thing he needs.

An often-overlooked aspect of body language in MMOs is the use of character positioning to send messages. A group that moves apart to make space for a newcomer will be seen as welcoming, whereas one that remains in a closed circle is sending a powerful "go away" message. You can use this on an individual level, too, by turning towards people you are interested in and away from those you wish to avoid.

Dress the part

Many roleplayers maintain several sets of clothing for RP purposes, from party dresses to simple brown robes. You can also use some of the in-game flavour items such as wine glasses or flowers to convey a particular mood. Pets can be used for a smilar purpose. There are thousands of different items of clothing out there in WOW, so you're bound to be able to find one that suits the image you're after. Just remember to take it off when you go to ICC!

One interesting aspect of this is that your character may themselves be choosing a particular outfit to convey an impression. For example, my scheming warlock likes to wander around town in the aurora set, because people tend to associate wearing white with being one of the good-guys.

There is a good list of many of the coordinated clothing options at Kirina's closet.

You can add extra detail beyond what your character can be seen to be wearing by using the character description settings in addons like FlagRSP2. Consider the two sentences below:
Risa's armour is filthy, with patches of rust in several places.
 Risa's armour has been polished so brightly that you can see your reflection in the breastplate.
Even though they may both be wearing the same set in game, the two descriptions give you a very different impression of the kind of person wearing it. Ercles of The Barrens Chat has suggested a good rule to follow with FlagRSP: "a description should not tell another player more than you would be able to tell about a person you walked past on the street"

Hopefully this post has given you some ideas about how to make your character stand out to the other people around you. In part 4, I'll go on to discuss how you can go out & meet new people with your fascinating new persona.

No comments:

Post a Comment