With the release of Wrath of the Lich King, I’d be surprised if the majority of people weren’t trying to answer this question in some way – how do you roleplay a Death Knight?
Having not done it myself yet, I don’t want to provide any definitive answers, but I want to call attention to a few things I have noticed about it and can say for sure.
One, I want to share this conversation I witnessed on City General the other day.
Person1: So, who’s going to roll a Death Knight?
Whole Variety of People: Me!
Person2: I’m going to roll an orc Death Knight.
Person3: I’m going to roll a gnome Death Knight. With pigtails.
Person4: I’m going to roll an undead Death Knight.
Person5: An undead Death Knight? Um, that makes no sense.
This was where I had to stop and think. Hold on – either I’m missing something very important, or Person5 in my story is. Why couldn’t an Undead be a Death Knight?
Let me go into some background, here. The original death knights, the first generation ones, (some of whom may or may not still exist; it’s uncertain) were the soul and all associated bits bound within the body of a reanimated human corpse. The second generation death knights are the immortalized soul and associated bits of a hero pledged to the Lich King.
Now, without going into all the details of free will and realignment with factions, which are the essential role of the PC Death Knights in our story – I can’t imagine where anyone would get the idea that an Undead couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be a Death Knight.
Apart from the fact that as far as the casual viewer is concerned, all first generation Death Knights would look pretty undead, there’s quite a few compelling storylines that could come out of an undead (by which I mean, for the purposes of this of this post, mean a Forsaken) opting to realign himself or herself with the Lich King.
Unusual, you bet. Most of the Forsaken are actively against anything to do with the Lich King, and who can blame them? But ‘makes no sense’? I could come up with a tonne of different reasons why it could happen, and every one of them is probably a more interesting and compelling character story than the last one.
Several of them require sociopathy as a major character trait, and one of them requires exactly three zeppelins and a piece of cheese, but I could do it.
So, alright, the question remains: how do you play a Death Knight?
If we assume that all PC Death Knights are heroes who have pledged themselves to the Lich King, and that they are then going to realign themselves with their relevant faction, that’s a big hunk of characterisation you need to explain right there. What caused them to pledge themselves to the Lich King? Did they actually admire him? Did they just want a bit of power for themselves? Did they feel threatened by him? Were they a double-agent who got sucked in too deep? Had their girlfriend just left them, so they did it out of spite?
For Elune’s sake, don’t go with that last one, please.
Now, once you’ve answered this question, you need to go about explaining how they feel about that, now. Presumably they have some feelings about it, and quite strong ones at that. How do they express these feelings? To whom?
I can’t answer these for you, as I’m not your character and, you know, I’m not entirely sure myself — but here’s another post for you on the general lines of ‘Jess rambles about characterisation while offering no actual helpful hints’.
I’d make a tag for it along the lines of Sean’s game design tag, but sometimes I like to pretend my posts are more than that.
(Edited for clarity.)