It was the dawn of the third-generation patch of the World of Warcraft, two years after the The Burning Crusade. The Katafray Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to explore the creative process by creating a place where a quarter-dozen player-versus-player and player-versus-environment players could share their thoughts about role-play with the world. It was a blog – a place to write about character creation, role-playing experiences, entertaining whims, and perhaps a bit of cyber-nookie(*). Friends and strangers lost in virtual world with five million, nine hundred and twenty thousand characters, all alone on the web. It can be a brain-murdering(**) task, but it’s our last, best hope for Warcraft role-play. This is the story of the first of many Blogatelle role-play endeavors. The year is 2008. The name of project is Katafary.
* Love it or hate it, cyber (or the bedroom whispers, or ERP, or whatever you want to call it) is a part of the role-play scene. It was bound to come up eventually. I don’t feel particularly strongly about it one way or another. Still, I never cease to be surprised by the sheer number of elves, little people, and zombies that I have found engaging in “the public nasty”.
** I had a hard time coming up with an adjective as accurate as “brain-murdering”. I think anyone who has role-played more than once has been in a scene where the term “brain-murdering” applies.
So, yeah, I went there. I’m hardcore, old-school geek, bah-bey.
Blogatelle has commanded from on high that I am to begin my post with an introduction. My name is Travis, I live in the Midwest United States, and I own a prodigious amount of shoujo anime and manga. I’ve been involved with paper/dice role-playing games since 1987 when I was first introduced to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and have been hooked on the hobby ever since. I met Sean about ten years ago through an online, text-based role-playing game. I met Jess about three years ago through a different text-based game. As far as video games are concerned, I enjoy simulation, real-time strategy and (obviously) massively multiplayer online role-playing games. I’m currently unemployed… so, if any of our beautiful, kind, lovely, and oh-so-intelligent readers have need of a would-be writer with lots of free time and a house-payment to be made, email Blogatelle, who will pass the word on to me! (I’m also shameless.) I’ve been a fan(atic) of the Warcraft setting since the days of the original real-time strategy game, and consider myself as being, at the very least, well-versed in its comprehensive story. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft since the original beta.
I’ve been cursorily involved with the blog for a while, behind the scenes; which you should read as that I have been following the blog and commenting on it directly to Sean and Jess, as opposed to doing anything genuinely constructive of useful, like making posts of my own or commenting directly on their posts where everyone can see. It was quite some time ago that Blogatelle actually gave me a set of keys to the place and told me to go wild (within reason), and I’ve clearly done a bang-up job. I’ll be posting more or less by whim, going back and picking up past ideas as the notion strikes me. It’s likely to become a Travis habit of revisiting theme weeks past so as to toss in my own two cents. (Fortunately, Sean has already set precedence for this, thus relieving the need for guilt on my end. Huzzah!). For the purposes of the Katafray project, I created a night elf priestess named Fegari.
Let me begin by saying that I play role-play, I play player-versus-player, and I play Horde. I am a Thrall’s thrall, Cairn’s captive, Vol’jin’s vassal, Sylvanas’s slave, and Lor’themar’s liegeman. I’m a hardcore role-player. I enjoy the thrill of playing in a dangerous environment, where one either slays his or her enemies, or is slain by them. (It has always struck me as somewhat inappropriate to role-play one side of a hostile conflict in an environment where you can not engage the potential enemy.) In general, I relate less to the Alliance races and find their associated lore less compelling than their Horde counterparts. For these reasons and more, I prefer to play Horde characters and I prefer and play on role-play, player-versus-player servers. Unfortunately, it seems to be a common theme among hardcore player-versus-player and Horde players that a small group of friends, relatives, and/or other miscellaneous acquaintances with whom we would otherwise desire with which to share our favorite game with will inevitably roll Alliance. I have been no exception. My character roster looks like nothing as much as a graveyard of Alliance lowbies; a collective of fledgling adventurers that were glanced upon briefly and then touched again only after being nagged enough by the aforementioned friends, relatives, or acquaintances to bother. And even more unfortunate for me, most of those servers use a non-role-play, player-versus-environment rule set. There are a couple of exceptions, but it’s seems pretty universal; my friends love the Alliance, love the Carebears, and love to keep me away from the beautiful pinnacles of Thunder Bluff where I belong.
That isn’t to say I despise the Alliance entirely or their lore; the War of the Ancients Trilogy remains my favorite Warcraft novel series, despite my Horde hard-on and Thrall addiction. Nor it to say that I don’t see value in playing on a server that prohibits spontaneous, cross-faction combat or that doesn’t actively support role-playing. I do, honestly. It is simply that, left to my own devices, I wouldn’t choose to play the game that way.
So when I was tapped for the Katafray Project, I’ll admit that I groaned; yet another Alliance character on yet another player-versus-environment server. But this time it was going to be a role-play rule set, at least. And it certainly didn’t hurt that I knew two of the role-players with whom I would be regularly interacting to be among the best, brightest, and most engaging I have ever known. Add in the opportunity to finally share some in-character text and creativity with the Pixilated Executioner, whom I respect a great deal and whose posts on this blog I have enjoyed immensely and it didn’t take too long to actually sell me on the whole enterprise.
Before we go any further, however, I feel compelled to explain my normal method of creating characters; which is to say that I don’t so much create characters as that the characters usually emerge from my mind in rather frequent and sudden bursts of inspiration. That sounds so very artsy-fartsy, I know, but it’s how my mind operates. This happens to me constantly; anyone who has role-played with me, in real life or online, knows that I keep a myriad of characters. When I play in paper-and-dice role-playing games, I’m always rolling up “blister characters” (unleveled/inexperienced characters who can be written in to a story should something happen to the character you usually play) because I’ve had a half-dozen new ideas since the beginning of that game session that I wanted to commit to paper. It’s a complete, organic process; the characters that I create this way are more or less whole from their conception, with a strong, working knowledge of their history, personality, and appearance. They might require a bit of smoothing out and I might not know everything about them at the onset, but I tend to learn things about them through play that are as much a surprise to me as to those I am playing with.
Those surprises are usually subtle, such as vague differences in how the character chooses to interact with a given person than I would have otherwise expected or minor details about the character’s history that the character itself chooses to reveal over the course of role-play. While this could be simply be written off as “making things up as I go” (and to some point I would consider that a valid assessment) it doesn’t feel that way to me. When a character of mine reveals a detail of its background that I didn’t before know, it never strikes me as the player as was having been my idea. It always feels to me like it was something the character itself always knew; that it was fact which was always a part of its life and existence. That I myself was just learning it was inconsequential, because it couldn’t alter the inviolable truth of the character being portrayed. There are times I feel more like a creative conduit than an author.
I also tend to think in the cinematic and I visualize random notions (read: daydream) through most of my waking hours. Sometimes a character idea will inspire a movie in my mind which then further cements the character’s identity to me. Sometimes a mental image will actually spawn a character with a soul and a sense of self. A lot of my daydreams are outlandish, and a lot involve characters that I am currently playing or have already been created by my usual, organic process. They can be just plain wild, but they can also muse upon plot threads and surprisingly complex story arcs which sometimes work, and sometimes don’t. But most of my stories, plotlines, and random character musings over the years have come from these daydreams. More than my knack for character genesis, these daydreams tend to be influenced more by external sources. I often will daydream about what it would be like if a character I’ve made had a magical power from the last anime I watched or what would happen if one of my overly-cheerful, giddy schoolgirl characters sudden started acting like House.
Because of the organic, instinctive way that I tend to create characters, I often find it difficult to weave a character from whole cloth when on those few occasions when my knack for characterization refuses to express itself. I have developed an informal rule for myself; when I start thinking too hard about a character’s background, personality, or appearance, it’s time to scrap the idea and spin the wheel again. When I find myself struggling early, I can be almost certain that the character won’t have the spark of life (you’ll hear me talk about that a lot, the “spark”) that will make it enjoyable for me to play and for others to read about. These struggles usually come about when I try to force an idea or concept that I don’t necessarily want to play, or when I feel that I’m having a role or concept forced on to me. Alternatively, the struggles result from my simply not being invested in a setting or campaign. I suppose it’s my own personal form of writer’s block. Now, my hard-fought characters aren’t always failures; I have several that took me a while to fully get my mind around and whom I love to play. But there is an invisible line somewhere in my mind that I instinctively know is a “point of no return”; if I don’t know the character by then, the idea just isn’t going to work out.
So, now I think you can grasp the place from which I began creating Fegari; I’d been asked to make an Alliance character on a role-playing, player-versus-environment server. I love the Warcraft setting and the people I was going to be playing with, but the player-versus-environment server rule set and my lack of interest in the Alliance was prohibiting character ideas.
I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do for it. I had nothing. Zero ideas. El zilcho. Nada.
That didn’t bode well for my early Katafray Project experience.
So, what to do? Well, Blogatelle gave me no instruction or limitation as to the character I could make. He did tell me that Sean was going to be playing a paladin and that Jess was going to be doing a warlock, but I can’t recall if he gave me their races. Logically, our little group is only missing on necessary element to create a party; a healer. But I worried about what the entirely perceptional, irrational idea of being locked in to a character because I needed to fill a role would do to my ability to create a fully living, breathing character. A notion made even more irrational due to the fact that I adore playing a healer. My first level seventy was a healing priest, and I’m working slowly on leveling a healing shaman on another server with some friends. It’s a role that I enjoy a lot. So much so that I have never talented my priest Shadow and I never intend to. But with that thought in my head, hoping that I would head off and troubles with my fickle creativity early and try to make things easier on myself, I settled on the idea of making a human mage.
I have always enjoyed the mage class. I have leveled it to twenty several times on several servers but have never finished it off. Mostly because my friends moved on, and I simply had no connection to the servers (which were inevitably non-role-play, player-versus-environment) or the characters (which were inevitably Alliance) to finish them off. With the encouragement of the Katafray Project to spur me on, it seemed like a good time to finally get it done. I chose human simply for the racial reputation bonus; it’s simply too good to pass up. While talking to Sean over instant messenger, over the course of two or so hours, I wrote a basic character idea. (I do that a lot, blather on about a character concept, daydream, or random idea; enough that I wonder how often it gets on Sean’s nerves. Or anyone else’s, for that matter. I get rather wordy.)
I had the television on in the background and was listening to a documentary about racism at the time. I thought that could make for an interesting character concept, and noted that most of the people they were interviewing were uneducated and fit all the stereotypes we Midwestern folk have come to know and abhor about the Ku Klux Klan. However, every so often they would speak to someone whom sounded as if they were a highly educated, intellectual individual, whom just happened to also be an absolute bigot. I thought that could be a fun line of characterization to explore; a highly intellectual, highly-aggressive Human supremacist from Dalaran, left behind when the city vanished.
The idea was functional, the character was complete enough. The personality and notion I had were strong and interesting. But this mage character, to me, just felt flat. The more I tried to make her solid in my mind, the more it felt to me that she had no life. She lacked the spark.
So I sat back and occupied myself with my favorite method of killing time; I began to daydream. I tried to concentrate my thoughts on the mage character, thinking I would discover her spark if I just examined her enough. And I came close. The angry, bigoted mage is a character I want to explore at a later date. At the time, however, I just couldn’t find her. But while I was musing, I noticed that she was never alone in the mental snapshots I saw of her. She was forever accompanied by a young, night elf girl with a quiet, sad smile. After three or four times of seeing this priestess with the bigoted mage, I began to wonder who the night elf was and why she was traveling with someone whom so obviously and outwardly would despise and degrade her.
The character I would actually be playing for the Project came soon after.
Putting Together The Pieces
Once I noticed the night elf girl and had become intrigued by her, I only had to ask the character a few questions to really grasp who she was. The race had already been chosen for me, as had most of her visual ascetic. The rest of her I knew, more or less, as her identity came tumbling in to my head.
Q.) “How old are you?”
A.) “Two hundred and eighty six summers.” (A relative cherub by night elf standards, according the World of Wacraft RPG, where it is stated that Night Elves reach adulthood at around three hundred years old. I saw this character as being in that last transition between later teenager and young adult.)
Q.) “What do you do?”
A.) “I serve the divine will of Elune.”
Q.) “Why do you endure?”
A.) “Because I live.”
Q.) “What are your goals.”
A.) “To encourage the growth of soul in others and to spread the soft glow of Elune’s light. To stand tall in the Her light and be proud of what Her divine glow reveals inside my heart when my time comes.”
Q.) “How far will you go to achieve these goals?”
A.) “To the ends of my life.”
Q.) “What is your greatest hope?”
A.) “That we all can be forgiven.”
I knew she was a priestess, that she was young, and that she had enormous regrets. While folding my mind around her, and trying to see her place in the lore and history of the last few hundred years of Warcraft lore, I saw her story play out in front of me. She had just been made a fledgling priestess during the Third War and just before the battle of Mount Hyjal and the voluntary destruction of that cost the night elves their immortality, but ultimately saved Azeroth from complete dominion by the Burning Legion. She opposed the destruction of the World Tree and tried to prevent it. She didn’t want to die. And now she has to live with the weight of that choice. She was a child, she panicked, and has been forgiven by her church. After all, there was very little she could have done to have stopped Malfurion Stormrage and Tyrande Whisperwind from actually unleashing the primal forces of Nordrassil upon the Legion. But she continues to hold it against herself. In that moment, she would have eagerly traded the lives of millions of innocent others in order to preserve her own immortality. That isn’t something she can easily forgive, even of herself. Especially of herself.
A few of the finer details required a bit of smoothing here and there, but she came out of the box more or less assembled. I had a character who was asking to be played.
A Rose By Any Other…
And now she needed a name.
I went around Darnassus with one of my Alliance alternates and looked at the names of the non-player characters. I typed a few at random in to Google, and came up with a couple of languages which those names seemed to have roots from. The most common shared language among those names I sampled was Greek.
I gave it some thought, opened my browser to good ol’ Google Translate, set it to translate English to Greek, and entered the word I connect most to the night elves.
Fegari means “moon” in Greek.
When The Fat Lady (Er… Man?) Sings
And that’s it. That’s how Fegari came about. Helpful to others when creating a character? Maybe not. But that’s how it happened. If I had any actual advice to give about creating a character, it would be to trust your instincts. For some, the organic process works best. For others, they need to shape every detail of their characters themselves with their bare hands from the ground up. Either method has its virtues and will influence how you experience the character after creation. One of my greatest hobbies is psycho-analyzing my characters. Someone who shapes his or her characters completely from the beginning won’t understand this fascination, because they’ll more than likely feel they already know the character’s thoughts and motivations wholly. But regardless of how you create, there comes a certain understanding of what you’re doing, what you’re trying to achieve, and how you’ll get there.
If you feel yourself swimming upstream the entire way when making a character, I’d suggest that you trust your instincts and set it aside for a while or give a different concept a go. You can always come back to the original idea later, pick it back up, and look at it from a fresh perspective. Yeah, that’s more or less it. Trust your instincts. Good lesson, Travis. Thirty five hundred words for a three word lesson.
Can’t you just wait for my next post? I’ll try to filter myself better next time. Then again, maybe not. Babbling is part of my process.