Blogatelle notes: We’ve had this post for a while, when Chris was writing for us during Theme Week Genre. We were waiting for a good time to publish it, but really? We should simply have published it as soon as we could. So, ladies and gentlemen, Chris.
There’s one thing that has always bothered me since I started roleplaying in various worlds online. World of Warcraft seems to have an abundance of these inconveniences. I speak of characters that play to the various cliche character stories, specifically demonic possession, multiple personalities, and character who seem impervious to death or death-like effects. If done well, with an original twist to things, these can be great character stories. Sadly most people don’t take that above and beyond measure, and fall into the categories listed below.
These characters can be either the most interesting, or the most frustrating to roleplay with. These are the victims of some form of dark pact, ritual or curse. Often the demon exerts a certain amount of control over the character; a whispered word of the mind, to complete and total physical, mental, and emotional control. Sometimes the character was willing, sacrificing part of themselves to acquire demonic powers, accepting the demon into them and sharing their mind and body. Various physical features could change, magical auras are distorted, and perhaps vocal capabilities are altered. All of these make for very interesting social encounters, and rather interesting backstories which make great dinner conversation. However, often people take it to extremes, and the following problems are seen.
In the case of forming a dark pact or a demon having a lot of control over the character, it’s not uncommon for the player to act as if the character has greater than average strength, be it physical or magical. The toughest of players to work with are the ones whose characters then become impervious to normal attacks because of their newfound dark energies. When faced with challenges, they can take their demonic powers, growing wings to pass obstacles, exerting various dark powers to distort reality or control others, or even just being more socially aggressive. Of course, with that comes the problem of scene stealing; typically these characters DEMAND the attention of all who are watching, changing all focus to them, and holding it on them. Whether it’s a power struggle, a battle between a character trying to stop the possessed being, or some other conflict, when these characters are played as beyond human, it’s going to become a frustration for all those attempting to roleplay with them. Sometimes, the possession leaks into my other topics: Multiple personalities, and Immortality.
Now, not all things need to be negative. I’ve seen this situation played well in the past, and one of my favorite characters is joined to an Eredar. When a demonic character is played right, they often have some interesting discerning features that act as quirks to those who look closely enough. This can be anything to a different aura, an unusual eye color, or an altered voice. The characters will go through their struggles, but a good player will always know that they have a weakness; in my character’s case, it was a rock to the back of the head. Even better are the characters who tie their own class powers into their demonic abilities; with my character, the demon he is possessed with was a Pyromancer (Fire Mage for those unfamiliar with the lingo) so he has a bit of an adept control over fire magic and heat. When he uses Combustion, he is tapping the power of the demon. When he has Icy Veins, he suppresses the power of the demon to control the opposite energy. Molten Armor is the result of his corrupted blood, providing stronger attacks (High critical strike chance) and damage to any who dare to attack him. There are many other cases of these situations, and taking this example is a great way to play a demonic character without acting as if he is stronger that everyone else, while still setting him apart from the rest.
I hear voices…
The next topic I’d like to cover are those who play their characters with multiple personalities on varying degrees. In the right hands, it makes for some interesting roleplay (Though often, it is still an attention grab), and in the wrong hands, it serves as a powerful annoyance to those who try to interact with this character.
There are many factors that modify how a character with multiple personalities works. For example, are they completely different people, or do they retain knowledge of who they are, just acting as a separate iteration of the character? How many different personalities does the character have? How often does the character switch their personalities, and is there a specific trigger? Do the personalities starkly contrast each other?
Playing these characters well is all about consistency and timing. When you design your character, find a backstory that supports specific personality quirks, and stick with it. Some people try pulling off progressive changes; these don’t work very often and commonly lead to confusion for other players. And as for timing, the choice of when to switch personalities will have a profound effect on the character’s social encounters. So again, I shall switch now to positives and negatives.
The most common mistake with playing these characters is addition of the will of the player. Choosing to switch personalities on a whim, this is often confusing for other characters and will leave your character stranded with nobody to roleplay with, because they will avoid him. Here is an example of what I mean:
Andy (Cheerily): So I heard that there is going to be a large celebration in Stormwind park tonight. Have any plans?
Serena (Smiling): No, I don’t. Would you like to go together?
Andy (Glaring at her): No. I’d never go anywhere with you. Who would want to be stuck seen around Stormwind with someone like you?
Serena (Dejected, tear welling up in her eyes): Wow… I… I thought you liked me… do you really feel this way?
Andy (Blinking, confused): Yes… I’ve had my eyes on you for awhile. I’d love to take you, if you wouldn’t mind.
Serena (Confused): What? Are you trying to play with my emotions? Stop it. I’m going home.
Andy (Angry and yelling): I wouldn’t play ANYTHING with you. Go cry and hide in your little hovel. Maybe you’ll get lucky and someone will set fire to it in the night.
— End scene —
Yes, this was an extreme example, but only exaggerated to emphasize some points. Lets analyze. Andy was a character with two starkly contracted personalities. One was a nice, caring person, one was an angry, hostile person. They seem to have some recollection of their conversations in the other personality as they switch, and they switch quite often. As we can see at the ending, Serena is most likely not ever going to go near Andy in the future. The result of the common and confusing switches (Especially if Serena’s player was not expecting this) will also be a deterrent to interact with him in the future. The reason is thus: The common switches halt any form of proper social interaction. Because they are so dangerously contrasted, anything brought forth by one personality will be blocked and reversed by the other personality. Any social interaction will the result in a standstill.
Extremes aside, there are ways that these characters can be played well. A strong technique is one with a consistent but uncommon switch. The example I’ll use here would be a character that wakes up every morning as someone new, or as one of her personalities, in a rotation. Lets say, going to Serena, she has three personalities. The first of which is a timid, shy, caring girl. The second is a strong willed, protective person. The third might be a flirt and a party animal. Lets take the path of knowledge retention; each personality remembers what happened the day previous, but how they act on it is much different than her other personalities.
Serena meets a nice person on her way home after being insulted by Andy. She runs into a friendly Rogue near a back alley, startling her at first. Serena is in timid mode, and reacts shyly to the Rogue. He explains to her that he watched her and Andy while learning the backstreets of Stormwind, and asks if she is okay. He offers to escort her home and talk with her as he does. She accepts, but is a bit untrusting of the Rogue at first. He seems warm to her, and by the end of the night, she thanks him for the talk and being someone to confide in. Still a bit untrusting, she goes to sleep.
Awakening in her more stalwart personality, she returns to patrolling the streets on with her sword and armor equipped. She decides to take a stroll through Old Town, a bit curious about the Rogue from the night before. She does happen across him, to find him being assaulted by two local ruffians. She is quick to act and step in, stunning the two assailants with surprising strength and combat prowess. The Rogue thanks her and invites her to a drink the next night at the Blue Recluse. She accepts, and goes about her business. At the end of the day, she goes to sleep.
When she awakens, she goes into the trade district for some shopping. The Rogue is appealing to her, so she wants to give him a bit of a reward. Some new makeup, a cute yet provocative dress, and some new perfume in hand, she returns home. That evening, she dresses up and goes out to meet the Rogue at the Blue Recluse. A few hours and several drinks later, she invites him into her home and the two of them proceed to have a rather fun night together. After their love making, she falls asleep.
When she wakes up, her eyes grow wide as she realizes what she has done. Looking at the sleeping Rogue beside her with fear, she quietly gets up and gets dressed, going for a walk to get away from him. When she sees him later in the day, she blushes and avoids him to the best of her ability, refusing to speak to him. The Rogue, confused but intrigued by her actions, continues to interact with her in following days.
— End example —
The reason this works better than the first example is for a few reasons. Firstly, the personalities are more accepting of each other instead of starkly contrasted. The timid one is scared of relationships, and tries to hide and protect herself, but does enjoy company and will grow warm to someone over time. The defender personality will win over people that the timid character would attract the day before, and then the flirty personality would progress most of those into friendships or relationships. When she switches back, she will be noticeably different, but this would spike more curiosity than insult or dejection. Characters are more likely to stick around to learn about the changes of the character, and with a concrete, easy to learn pattern, it won’t take characters long to understand what is different about her. That said, I’d like to touch on the final subject: Immortality.
Not even Kryptonite can stop me…
These characters are the most frustrating in conflict. They can be played well to a point, but more often than not, these characters are selected by your standard god-modder players. There are varying degrees of immortality. Some take it to extremes: The character can’t die or be harmed on any degree. The good way of playing this? It can be salvaged as a character who knows they have this power but only uses it when they are protecting those they care about. The character still feels pain, so taking a fireball to the face will still hurt a lot, even if it has no effect in the long run. The bad way is a character who abuses the power, making any interaction or conflict with the character pointless. The character may or may not feel pain, but to him, it doesn’t matter, because everything will always go his way.
The next type of immortal is one who dies… but always comes back. This could be someone with regenerative capabilities, some sort of guardian angel, or some other unseen force. A good way to play this? A character with a divine mission who is confused and maybe even afraid of what is happening to them. Perhaps it is a Forsaken who is struck down, but denied the mercy of death, always rising again. Tying to the demonic possession, a demon who refuses to let his host die.
The bad way to play this is the character who can be killed in combat, only to rise from the dead when their assailant least expects it. The character has complete control over when they rise again. These characters sometimes even commit suicide to produce drama, only to come back hours or days later.
Of course, you have your normal immortals. Normal being relative, of course. A character who will live forever unless killed by artificial means (Combat), or a vampire. These are easily played and have no major effect and don’t draw too much attention. Both are very vulnerable, and can still die, but left to their devices, they will never perish.
All in all, these are powerful quirks in the hands of the right people. However, those “right people” are rather hard to find. Many characters take and RP as these being/concepts, and usually only create frustration in those around them.