Posted by: Sean | August 21, 2008

Role-playing the Five Man Band (Part Two)

Earlier today I looked at the idea of the Five Man Band, a classic set of archetypal characters, as a way to structure instanced role-play. There I put forward a potential model of a five man band that was fairly typical, the sort of thing you could easily structure a pick-up group around. (Granted, provided your tank was male and your healer female.) I tried to make a loose, non-specific format that showed how easily World of Warcraft classes can fit into the Five Man Band.

But what if you create your characters together, deliberately constructing a Five Man Band from the word go? This is an idea I’ve long toyed with and really wanted to get the chance to try, though sadly I’ve yet to do so. There are definite dangers in pre-making characters; the best role-play characters in my experience are created independently, allowing character relationships to form naturally. But the possibilities here are tremendous, and if you can all get together and play together regularly you could easily go through instance after instance, which would be a spectacularly rewarding way to play Warcraft.

Plus, you can start making your team genuinely weird. Here are some odder Five Man Band conceits that you could do if you’re planning the Five Man Band from the word go.

The Horde Set

In the previous model, I put the Hero, Lancer and Chick each in one of the three standard MMORPG roles; tank, DPS and healer respectively. This was designed so that the three ‘driving’ members of the five man band each were actively involved in doing different things. This next set inverts that principle, setting up the Smart Guy and the Big Guy as the specialists of the team, while the Hero, Lancer and Chick compete directly with each other. One wonders if the Chick won’t end up with whomever wins the DPS race; and if she wins, she might not end up with either of them.

  • The Hero: An Orc Hunter with a big, heroic pet. (A lion would be a great choice.) Instead of a straight arrow, the Orc Hunter is now a determined follower of Thrall; driven and patriotic but not above a sneaky plan. He’s still the leader of the group by virtue of his ambition and vision. While his ambition and likely powerful position within the Horde (if not now, then someday soon,) makes him an appealing figure to the Chick, the fact that he often seems to see her as just the perfect minor player in his starring story repulses her. (For those who are X-Men fans, just imagine this guy as an orcish Cyclops, with Thrall standing in for Professor X. You’ll have the idea instantly.)
  • The Lancer: A Troll Mage or DPS specced Shaman. Relax, mon! Chilled out, lazy and laconic, the character exists primarily to fire off pithy one-liners to the Hero’s enraged tirades. During fights that the party looks certain to win, he might even refuse to bother fighting, curling up at the back of the party and going to /sleep. Why bother? They had it all in hand. While the Chick is openly repulsed by his sloth, she finds his contentedness intriguing and knows that he can be much more emotionally supportive in hard times. Plus, while the trolls are close enough to the orcs to make a romance between them not out of the question, the spicy inter-racial element adds a dangerous appeal.
  • The Chick: Orc rogue, combat axesFine, maces then. Orc rogues should bloody well be able to use axes, though. As much a warrior as any man, the Chick here gets through agility and guile where most orcs rely on brute force. She too is deeply devoted to the cause, but her true loyalties lie less with Thrall and more with the Horde as a whole, which is why she handles the Big Guy and the Smart Guy well. While both the Lancer and Hero respect her in combat, she frequently scouts ahead, using her stealth to good advantage. This time out of sight gives both of them plenty of time to worry about her. She is aware of their affections for her, and quite capable of using this to bring them into line if need be – This Chick is far from a naive innocent.
  • The Big Gal: Tauren Warrior. Probably the most traditional part of the team, the Big Gal takes the front line position and tanks hard and well. Much younger than the rest of the team, she often feels overwhelmed by the testosterone driven Hero and frustrated by the mercurial Lancer, and it falls to the more understanding Chick to keep him feeling part of the team. (The two, if nothing else, at least have gender in common.) While not stupid, she can be more than a bit naive and is prone to doing stupid things that force the rest of the team to save her.
  • The Smart Guy: Undead Holy Priest. Bitter, sarcastic and nasty, the Smart Guy in this team has been adventuring literally before any of the rest were born. Already on the verge of retirement when he was hit by the plague, he’s now decided that since he’s never going to ‘die’ (even if technically, he already has) he’s got no real reason to every bother quitting. He’s frustrated by the ‘immature’ Hero and Lancer, whom he mocks endlessly; a pointless tactic that has done nothing but cause the Hero to pointedly ignore him and the Lancer quietly ignore him. As such, the Chick ends up acting as an intermediary. He’s taken something of a shine to the Big Gal, though, and sees himself as the kid’s mentor. Prone to whining a lot, especially when resurrecting people. “Oh, heaven weeps you lot. Look what you’ve done! One of these times this isn’t going to work, and then where will you be, hmm?”

The Alliance Little Guys Set

Now let’s really much about with the Five Man Band structure. This time, we’ll shift the Chick into the most unlikely role of all – Tanking – while putting the Hero in as a healer. And we’ll do the whole thing with nothing but dwarves and gnomes.

  • The Hero: Dwarven Priest. A devout priest of the Titans, the Hero is a quiet, contemplative soul who believes that he is guided by the spirits of his ancestors. While gentle, he speaks with great courage in a low, gravelly voice that offers conviction and vision. His weakness and strength is in his introspection; constantly questioning himself, he acts as the moral center of his team, but sometimes wanders dangerously into inaction. None-the-less, he provides the leadership of this group, guiding them in nothing less than a holy quest.
  • The Lancer: Gnomish mage. A holy mission, that is, that the Lancer will have nothing to do with. A flamboyant, waxed-moustache dandy, the Lancer explodes literally and metaphorically on a number of occasions. Proud, even arrogant, he at least provides the spark that gets the group going when the Hero bogs down. He can’t understand the Hero’s holy pretenses, and the Hero in turn can’t stand the Lancer’s openly mercenary nature; the Lancer freely admits he’s in it for the money and the fame.
  • The Chick: Gnomish Warrior. But both the Hero and the Lancer admit that they’re smitten by the Chick, an absent minded professor whose engineering marvels are her strength, the greatest danger to her, and the greatest source of her appeal in one. She employs a bewildering number of Target Dummies, Compact Harvesters and bombs to complement her tanking. Lost in her inventions, she has an unbound free spirit, genuinely uncaring of what anyone thinks about her. Surprisingly, this actually makes her better at keeping the peace in the group. She treats everyone exactly evenly.
  • The Big Guy: Dwarven Hunter. How do you have a big guy in a crew of little people? By acting big as you can go. The Big Guy is a boozing, womanizing party animal whose pet wolf (or boar, or anything else really) is treated as nothing less than another sentient being whom he holds frequent conversations with. Nobody is quite sure if he really believes the pet is talking back, he might just be drunk enough to think so. He sticks with the group because he believes that the Hero is the only guy on earth holy enough to keep him going to heaven.
  • The Smart Guy: Gnomish Warlock. An old friend of the Hero, the Smart Guy hangs along mainly for the intellectual debates he has with him. Sneaky and deceptive, he makes the Lancer nervous and the Hero worry. (The Chick has yet to notice even one of his lies.) He gets along surprisingly well with the Big Guy though, because he enjoys someone he can reliably best in a debate and whom is stupid enough to keep on trying to beat him in one.

The Wrath of the Lich King Undead Set

Now we’re cooking. But I think we can yet go weirder. Let’s do one last one, specially designed for Wrath of the Lich King. And this time, it’s all undead. As an added plus, this one mixes up the standard DPS/Tank roles and allows the Hero and Lancer to trade off there. (According to what we’ve found out so far, Arms warriors should be able to tank most five-man instances in the expansion, and the Death Knights definitely can swing around.) Plus, it makes the Lancer more dependable and trustworthy than the Hero, and since they’re all undead (and kind of a bit beyond love and affection), it makes the Chick less a romantic figure than an inspirational one. This one is definitely pushing the boundaries, let me know if you think it works.

  • The Hero: Undead Death Knight. Finally released from the Lich King’s foul will, the Hero is determined to make amends, having gone through a strange path in life; a human paladin in life, a scourge lieutenant in his first death, and now in his ‘second’ death, a soldier of the Forsaken. He hopes to somehow find a way to win redemption by fighting the great evil he was once seduced by, feeling somehow that if he can destroy the Lich King. But his turbulent life and death has made him moody, prone to great rages and tempestuous furies. He’s avoided the dark sociopathy that so many Forsaken fall to, but what instead has he become?
  • The Lancer: Undead Warrior. The Hero may have avoided the Forsaken’s cold nonchallance, but the Lancer hasn’t. She’s a cold-blooded predator who could slaughter entire villages without flinching, but looks at the Hero and sees a traitor and nothing but. She can’t believe that one can serve two masters, or even leave one master for another and loudly declares this. One wonders why she stays at all, but the answer is clearly all wrapped up in the Chick.
  • The “Chick”: Undead Priest. A dark inspiration, the Chick follows the path of the Forgotten Shadow. In the absence of light, he preaches, lays a void. The void is bereft of rules, of order, and respects only those who seize it and make it their own. He is deeply loyal to Sylvanas and shares her hatred of the Lich King, but believes that somehow, the Forsaken have failed to become what they were meant to be. Perhaps, he thinks, the alliance of convenience with the rest of the Horde should be a true alliance, that five fingers form a better fist than one. He holds both awe and fear toward the Hero, seeing in him the potential for change and reformation of the Forsaken into something new and better. The Hero, for his part, drinks deep of the soothing words of the Chick, keeping his purpose in their confessions. But the Chick is also far more trusting of the Lancer, whose loyalty is unquestionable (unlike the Hero’s,) but whose ways are too fixed and static to really change things. The Lancer, for her part, is desperate to convince the Chick that the Hero is disloyal and must be destroyed; without his support, she knows she cannot succeed in this mission. To the Big Guy and Smart Guy, his relationship is less tense, but they still draw inspiration from his words.
  • The Big Guy: Undead Warlock. In life, she lived in the areas of Lordaeron that were most ravaged by the orcish hordes, and in the wreckage after the Second War, bandits and thieves ruled their shires. Somehow, despite a life lived in fear and terror, she survived, only to die at the hands of a cruel plague. Quiet and small, she has mastered the Fel arts and in moments of great anger transforms herself into the most frightening of beings. Otherwise, she stays quiet, whispers more than talks, and stays softly insane.
  • The Smart Guy: Undead mage. Phew. Given how intense the rest of this crew are, we need some comic relief, and thankfully this is a role the Smart Guy can deliver. This particular Smart Guy is a member of the Royal Apothecary Society and spends her days perfecting new diseases, poisons and toxins for use on the undead’s enemies. Unfortunately, undeath has rotted her brain. This has produced less dark sociopathy than it has forgetfulness, distraction and confusion on her behalf. Nobody doubts her skill, but it takes a lot of leadership to ensure she finishes the project she started on, rather than starting on one project and finishing it as something completely different. That said, like all undead, she has her scary side. To know this, one only has to watch her calmly forget her ‘test subject’ being horribly tortured for days on end, well past any use in study, because she forgot what she was testing.

I’m not expecting anyone to use these group concepts wholesale. (Although if you do, let me know!) My point is to show how the Five Man Band can be bent and twisted, but still provide a useful and above all flexible setup for a pre-made group. Any of these three groups could see endless amounts of twists and turns, loyalties inside the group shifting, and other plays to make role-playing never get dull or predictable within them. It’s like a mini-roleplay guild. If you ever try something like this, please, let us know how it goes. Leave a comment here, or write to blogatelle@gmail.com. And even if you don’t, hopefully this has given you some cause to think about group dynamics, and how they can be created.

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