Saturday, 20 March 2010

Introduction to roleplaying: part 5 - the art of darkness

This is the final part of a series of posts designed to introduce fellow MMO players to roleplaying. Part 1 covered the basics of what roleplaying is, part 2 described how you can decide what your character is like as a person, part 3 discussed how you can portray that to others and part 4 explained how you can get involved. This last post deals with some of the problems you may encounter and makes some suggestions about how you can deal with them.

Bad roleplaying

Bad roleplaying is a topic that is often discussed amongst RPers and there is much debate about what makes RP "bad" to begin with. There's an interesting discussion of this by Spinks here.

One of the most common problems beginning roleplayers encounter is how to make a character interesting without it being over the top. Because most of our experience with characterisation is with major characters from fiction, the temptation is to make your character uniquely powerful and special in some way, just as Luke Skywalker, Gandalf or Harry Potter are. The problem with this is that you are in a multi-player game, not a single-player one, and we can't all be the hero. Try to avoid giving your character special powers that don't exist in the game or making them too closely related to major lore characters.

It works fine for Luke & Leia to be Darth Vader's secret children, because there are only two of them, but how ridiculous would it have sounded if Yoda had said: "no, there are seven hundred and thirty four others"? In an MMO, creating a character that is super-powered or super-important is considered bad roleplaying. If someone comes up to you portraying themselves as Thrall & Jaina's secret love child, react to them as you would in character - with disbelief.

A common problem associated with this kind of "super-powered" bad RP is the use of what are called power emotes. This is where a player uses the game's built in emote system to try to control the behaviour of others. For example:
/em sneaks up behind you and knocks you unconscious
Roleplaying is essentially a community activity and you should try to avoid doing things that cause others to lose control of their character, unless it's part of a pre-arranged plot between the two of you. What are you going to do if the other player doesn't want their character to be knocked out? Either they play along with it and get annoyed that you're interfering with their game or they ignore you and you just look ridiculous. If you really want to simulate conflict, use the /duel system and the actual powers your character has, or arrange a "fixed fight" with your opponent in advance if you think it would make an interesting spectacle.

What do you do if someone tries to power-emote you? Well, first of all you should decide whether it would be fun to play along. If you do, then respond appropriately, for example:
/em sneaks up behind you and knocks you unconscious
/em falls in a heap on the floor
However, I'd advise you only to improvise like this with roleplayers you know and whose style you understand. Otherwise you could end up with:

/em sneaks up behind you and knocks you unconscious
/em falls in a heap on the floor
/em ties you naked to the Goldshire mailbox 
If at any stage an improvised plot is going in a direction you aren't comfortable with, simply withdraw, with an whispered explanation in double brackets if need be. Roleplaying must be consensual - if others don't accept that, put them on ignore. If they persist in harassing you (e.g. via an alt), report them.

A slightly trickier area to deal with is lore errors. It's easy to spot really excessive lore errors, such as pulling characters from other works of fiction into the game, but mistakes within the lore of Azeroth itself are harder to pick up.

The back story of WOW is extremely complex and ever-changing, with multiple different sources (from the original Warcraft games, via the Warcraft RPG to the more recent comics ad novels). Even worse, these sources don't fully agree and some are considered more canon than others, although the exact order of precedence isn't clear. Furthermore, Blizzard sometimes retcon parts of the story to suit their future needs. This makes it hard even for lore-followers to keep up, so an ordinary player is bound to make a few mistakes. A good place to start in deciding your character history is the timeline at WOWWiki. This allows you to check if a plotline involving your character growing up in Sen'jin village is plausible. If you want more detailed information, I'd suggest going to Scrolls of Lore and reading a lot. Some of the guys there probably know the lore better than Blizzard themselves.

Small errors in lore (e.g. a mistake about how long ago Silvermoon was attacked by the Scourge) are best left for polite, private whispers or mails to the person concerned, e.g. "((I noticed you mentioning that you were a child when the Scourge attacked Silvermoon in the conversation we had earlier. I didn't want to disrupt the roleplaying at the time, but you may wish to look at the timeline on WOWWiki to check it matches your character story))".

There are other milder forms of bad roleplaying, too, such as over-acting. Only Brian Blessed is allowed to do this. If you are not him, don't! If you come across others behaving in an OTT manner, again the best way to deal with this is in character - treat them as a buffoon. Bad acting isn't a reportable offence, though, so just grin and bear it!

RP Nazis

Just as in raiding, there are some people who just can't resist the urge to tell everybody else what to do. Sometimes that comes from a misplaced intention to help, but sometimes it results from an urge to be "king of the hill". Most roleplayers are fairly tolerant people, so I haven't seen much of this in practice. If you do encounter people being controlling or bossy over what you see as minor points, just ignore what they say and carry on. Don't get angry about it - just try to stay calm. As long as you aren't being actively disruptive you have as much right to be there as anybody else.


Just as there are people who seem determined to tell you how to RP, there are others who seem determined to interfere with it. Most of the time, these are just immature individuals yelling "LOL RP!" and are best put on ignore. Occasionally, there are organised attempts to disrupt roleplaying, such as mass-invasions of particular servers with an intent to cause annoyance. These are extremely rare (I've never seen it happen in my entire playing time), but have taken place occasionally. If you're unlucky enough to experience this, report those involved to Blizzard.


For some people, the line between the character they play and their own personality can get blurred. An insult to their character is an insult to them as a person and they react badly OOC. As with the bossy RP Nazi types, the most important thing is to stay calm. Don't respond to angry OOC comments with ones of your own, just ignore them. In many cases, the people involved will see sense in a few hours. If not, put them on /ignore permanently. 


Eh? What does ERP stand for? Well, for some people, roleplaying isn't just about portraying a character in a fantasy world, it's about the whole of their life, including sex. That's given rise to a sub-genre of roleplaying known as erotic roleplaying or ERP. This is rather like the cyb0r sex or text sex some people indulge in, but with the added twist that you are an elf or orc. It should be noted that ERP is not the same thing as flirting in character. ERP begins when the hinting ends and the explicit descriptions start. ERPers often concentrate in Goldshire (Alliance side) and Silvermoon (Horde side).

There are a number of problems with ERP:
  • You often have no idea who the other person is at the opposite end of the internet connection. That hawt female elf you are ERPing with may well be a 23 stone male truck driver called Barry or, even worse, a hormone-charged teenager below the age of consent. The first case is embarrassing, the second is just plain illegal. No, "but they said they were 21", is not a defence.
  • The sad truth is that MMOs, like many other online spaces, are a favoured hunting ground for sexual predators. It's foolish to risk becoming a victim of one or being mistaken for one.
  • WOW is a game that is open to many young players as well as adults. It's completely inappropriate to expose them to sexually explicit language.
  • By indulging in ERP in public you are effectively doing the cyber equivalent of flashing. Not everybody wants to see you having sex in public.
Some people manage to work up a great fury of righteous indignation about ERP. Personally, I don't care what consenting adults get up to in private, but there are two key words there: adults and private. The most practical approach is simply to avoid ERP, but if you do decide to indulge, make sure you do so safely. That means:
  • Never, ever, ever, ever (have I said that often enough yet?) indulge in ERP with someone that you are not absolutely 100% certain is above the age of consent. Since you can't be sure of this with people you know over the internet, that means sticking to people you know IRL (e.g. a partner who is away in another country for several months). Having spoken to someone over Vent or MSN does not count as being 100% certain.
  • Get a room! Do not ever indulge in ERP in public - move to an instance, where you can't annoy or offend other people. Goldshire, Silvermoon and other busy areas are right out. If you ERP there, there is a significant risk that someone will report you and you'll get banned.
  • Don't do it if you are in an exclusive relationship with someone else. Yes, it does count as sex. Yes, you will be found out. Good luck explaining that one...
Not everybody sees ERP in the way I described it here. Some view it as harmless risk-free recreational sex and some see it as an evil that must be destroyed, so you're bound to see people taking different approaches to this topic. My own view is that you should politely decline any offers you receive and report people who either won't take no for an answer or indulge in ERP in public spaces.

Edit: there is an excellent, balanced discussion of how to handle romantic relationships between characters at the Physician's Log.

Right, that's it! I hope I haven't put you off roleplaying too much in this final post. Please do remember that the problems I described above are rare. In most cases, the best way to deal with annoying people is to be polite and avoid lecturing them. Of course, if they are persistently annoying, put them on ignore, just like you would anybody who was causing trouble in other ways.

Good luck and have fun in Azeroth!

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