Part of the issue a lot of people have with playing the Undead – not even necessarily about wanting to play them at all, but about how they ought to be played – is that of memories. In game, there seem to be conflicting ideas of how much people remember, and how much is ‘normal’ to remember.
There are those in game who seem to remember a lot about what their lives were like, when they were alive. Not just players, but NPCs – Jeremiah Payson for one, but presumably there are many others. How detailed their memory gets, I do not know, but they clearly seem to have some recollection of their lives before they became undead.
Other people, on the other hand, prefer to go with the idea that the Forsaken can’t remember anything at all; this, too, has some basis in lore. Apart from anything else, the World of Warcraft RPG states that some Forsaken cannot remember their real names and go by the names they read off headstones in the graveyard. Personally, I can’t imagine that forgetting your name would be one of the first things to go; that’s one of those things that sticks around, so if you’ve forgotten your name, you must have forgotten an awful lot.
Sure, this doesn’t imply that they lose all their memories, but it certainly indicates that it isn’t unheard of for them to lose a lot.
So where should your Forsaken stand? More to the point, what’s the more interesting way to play it? How do you roleplay having a shaky memory?
The first point is that regardless of how good their memory is, they won’t remember everything. I mean, you’re not even dead, but do you remember everything you’ve ever experienced? Even big things that you’d think you wouldn’t forget slip your mind from time to time – we’ve all been there, so there’s no reason to think that a Forsaken wouldn’t. Not to mention, the more time they spend away from the life they used to live, with less triggers of memories, the less they’ll recall.
The flipside of this is that should they face things that they used to know, a lot of things will come flooding back to them – even things that they thought they’d forgotten all together. It’s not like the game is running short of places you could go to trigger these memories – the Plaguelands are an absolute gold mine for, “I remember this place.” type roleplay. Context is important for a lot of memories – even obscure context. Have you ever been in a situation where someone was talking, and suddenly it sparked a memory of something that wasn’t even strictly related, but something they said, or the way they said it, reminded you?
Interestingly, this goes as far as body chemistry. I’ve read at least one study that indicates that having similar amounts of caffiene in your system when studying and when doing a test helps your recollection much more than having differing amounts.
That gets into nerdy territory, but back to my point. The less context you have, the less you remember. The more context you have, the more you remember.
So what if you’re one of those poor saps who can’t remember a thing? Our memories influence a lot of how we are, even if we don’t think of it like that. They shape who we are, how we react to things, possibly even the kind of personalities we have as adults. If you don’t have any of these memories, are you a new person? Are you, in fact, the same person that you were before, if you can’t remember anything about your life before?
This gets into unusual territory, and I don’t think there’s many hard and fast answers. The number one thing, however, that I would recommend for anyone taking this path is doing some basic research into retrograde amnesia – that is, the kind of thing we think of when we hear the word ‘amnesia’, the inability to remember things before a specific point of trauma.
Even in the case of retrograde amnesia, although there is no cure, exposure to things from their past often speeds the rate of recall; consider how this might affect your character. If they can’t remember a thing, and then they go into the Western Plaguelands and see Felstone Farm, and start to increasingly recall things about the area… well, think about how the roleplay coming out of that could go.