Posted by: Jess Riley | November 25, 2008

Theme Week Undead: Death-Induced Amnesia

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.


  1. My Forsaken can’t remember her full name, but she can recall the basic sound of it. To her death-muddled brain, Cella d’Arielle became, simply, Sarielle. Other players have commented on my non-warlocky name (I’m not on an RP server, so most of the ‘locks I run across are “Omgfeared” and “Dotdotdot”), but I love that it hints at her life before undeath.

    Sarielle can’t remember the details of her life, per se, but she has a general impression of the basics. As her player, I know that she was a human fire mage who craved magical power and was secretly attracted to a much darker art than the one she practiced. Her tragedy (and all Forsaken are inherently tragic) is that she gained in death what she most wanted in life: access to the demonic magic that makes her the warlock she is instead of the mage she was.

    Sar, for her part, retained her affinity for fire (I specced her affliction for leveling, but I raided as fire destruction in the Burning Crusade), her disdain for mages in general, and the overwhelming feeling that karma kicked her in the teeth … although I think she’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly why.

    I wish I was on a roleplay server, if only to experience her reaction to Dalaran. I have a feeling it would jog a lot of old memories, and perhaps a rivalry or two.

  2. It sounds like a nice bit of low-key RP you’ve got going there. I’m wondering if that wouldn’t make for a fun article… how to RP when your friends don’t. Hmm.

  3. “Other players have commented on my non-warlocky name[…]”

    I named my paladin like a death knight and my death knight like a paladin. Because inverting tropes is fun.

    “I’m not on an RP server, so most of the ‘locks I run across are “Omgfeared” and “Dotdotdot”[…]”

    Don’t get me started. I’d hunt down every name like this and forcibly change it, if I had the power. If I was feeling particularly vindictive, I’d probably hand out 72-hour suspensions to the particularly egregious offenders, too.

    “I wish I was on a roleplay server, if only to experience her reaction to Dalaran[…]”

    I feel your pain. One day…

    Eh what? No, I don’t have anything on-topic to say. Why do you ask?

  4. An addendum, because Sean ninja-commented on me:

    I’ve developed a kind of pseudo-RP that’s so far managed to avoid getting me flamed, a couple of semi-insults from my old guild aside.

    One important element is occasionally speaking like a pirate in the chat channel most of the people I play with are part of, so as to obfuscate any other eccentricities. I’ll let you decide whether that part was a joke or not.

  5. When it comes to this issue, the easiest way to judge just how much you character remembers from their old lives. Is to answer, just how preserved they were at the time of undeath.

    For example, if they were extensively rotted from being in the ground for months, then they will probably not remember much with all that rot. But if they were alive, turned undead by the plague then they probably remember quite a bit.

    So it comes down to the simple issue of the less rot to the brain, the more memory you have. Though with all the meta physical implications..this issue may not be so simple unfortunately.

    “Other players have commented on my non-warlocky name”

    What exactly be a warlock name? Mr. Evil lol. I mean really, what is wrong with people on your serve.

    “I wish I was on a roleplay server”

    What is stopping you? Do you have lots of friends on your current server or simply don’t want to transfer or something else?

    “I’m wondering if that wouldn’t make for a fun article… how to RP when your friends don’t.”

    That be a great article, you should do it!

    “Eh what? No, I don’t have anything on-topic to say. Why do you ask?”

    Haha… 🙂

  6. So it comes down to the simple issue of the less rot to the brain, the more memory you have.

    That’s what everyone says, but I’m not convinced. The fact is, that with the amount of rotting that a standard Forsaken has undergone, if it were all purely based in real biology and neurology, they wouldn’t be able to operate. Plain and simple. They clearly don’t have any nerve endings or muscles in their elbows and knees (for example), so they shouldn’t be able to move their arms or legs properly. Their hands are now just bone, so they shouldn’t have anything in the way of fine motor skills.

    When it comes down to brain material, if you’re judging the amount of memory they should have by the extent of the rot, then you’d have to take into account that rot to that degree would affect areas of the brain other than those related to memory, and so their speech, thoughts, motor control, etc, would suffer equally.

    From what we’ve seen, it’s perfectly possible that a Forsaken can physically function without their parasympathetic nervous system, and they can still talk without a lower jaw, in some cases, and they can clearly still think and communicate regardless of how much they have rotted, so their biology seems to be more rooted in ‘magic’ factors than biological ones.

    Ergo, I don’t think that ‘the more rotted they are, the less memory they have’ is a good rule of thumb, unless you apply that to all biological functions and the appropriate level of rot.

    One thing that was posed to me, however, is that the two are correlated but not in a causal relationship; that is, if the reason they are Forsaken and have their own minds is because of the strength of their will, then this same strength controls how fast they rot away and how good their memories are. Poor strength of mind leads to more rot and less memories; good strength of mind leads to less rot and more memories.

    I’m not sure if this is “right” either, but it seems to fit with canon more than the rotting of the hippocampus does.

  7. The of the two undead that I have chosen to seriously play, I tend toward the full-blown amnesia. Not for any particular reason than that it fit the personalities of those two specific characters.

    My Forsaken warrior, Sabrick, has absolutely no interest in his past. He is genuinely uninterested, and I find that an interesting character hook. It confuses the hell out of other players. He’s a merchant mercenary; he carries items from place to place for others, delivers large sums of gold, basically keeps things safe for others. He’s clearly educated, clearly a skilled warrior — skills he retained upon his awakening as a Forsaken. But he knew not his name nor his history, and has never really cared to know. In a lot of ways, he’s happy with his life as it is right now. “Knowing it wouldn’t allow me to change it,” he said once. “I exist here and now, like this. And I intend to make the best of it.” When he “awoke”, the crypt keeper called him Sabrick, and it sounded right to him. He doesn’t know if it’s his real name, and it sincerely doesn’t matter to him. It’s his name now.

    My tauren death knight, Tuqu, on the other hand, came to knowing only her name. Tuqu Skychaser. She had no memories of her past life, nor does she claim to be curious. Unlike Sabrick, however, she is curious, but extremely afraid to know. She was a Bluffwatcher and warrior; a brave of her tribe. But she had a vast respect for the Earthmother, and was on her way to being her tribe’s chieftain. She was kind and fair. She occasionally gets flashes of her from that life, but I try to make it very sparing. She avoids Thunder Bluff and tauren strongholds now. Her emotions are harder-edged now, and she’s ruthless — she’s gone from a noble sword to a bloody razor. And she doesn’t know how to digest the emotions of love and kindness and rage and passion she sometimes feels from her past life.

    I tend to attribute both to guilt-related trauma based on what they did while less in control of their actions. Tuqu more so than Sabrick. I’m sure Sabrick has some guilt, but he doesn’t hang on it as much as Tuqu does. They both, I believe, are frightened of being rejected by those they once loved as well. To that end, Sabrick hides from his past and forges new relationships with those who accept him as he is now. Tuqu hides from relationships in general.

    I have played Forsaken the other way as well, who have remembered everything. I personally like both takes, there’s drama and story to be found in either. But there’s a very fine line between story hook and abused trope.

    Also, I disagree with the “rotted brain=less memory” thing. Jess’ last comment pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter.

  8. “What is stopping you? Do you have lots of friends on your current server or simply don’t want to transfer or something else?”

    I just got around to checking comments and wanted to respond to this. I apologize for the untimeliness.

    My boyfriend and I lead a fairly successful raiding guild on our server. We’re invested in the guild and the friendships we’ve built through it, so a transfer is out of the question for us at this point. That said, we both tend to roleplay our characters. (His druid is convinced he’s a Night Elf who has mastered the art of Tauren form, and refuses to kill “other” Alliance characters except in self-defense.)

    One interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that some of the more “RP-inclined” (for lack of a better phrase) players in my guild tend to play different characters … well, differently. I don’t mean game mechanics, either! One of our officers raided on a Tauren warrior in TBC and is a Forsaken rogue for the current expansion. When he was playing his warrior, his (OOC, by default) interaction with the guild tended to be forthright, blunt, occasionally even loud. Now that he’s playing a rogue full time, he’s toned down the volume and upped the snark. He doesn’t mean to, but he’ll admit he channels the “feel” of the character he’s playing, even if he doesn’t consider himself a roleplayer and hasn’t bothered to craft a personality or backstory.

    I’ve wandered pretty far afield of topic at this point; suffice it to say that Sean’s idea for an upcoming post sounds like a great one to me!

  9. My reason for not playing on an RP server is decidedly more petty.

    See, since Wrath, I’ve developed a crippling addiction to my death knight, and while I’d LIKE to make a second one on another server, Blizzard aren’t allowing it yet.

    I’m waiting for some kind of Word of God on when that option will be opened up before I do anything drastic. In descending order of probability, but ascending order of preferability, my guesses are “Patch 3.1.0,” “Patch 3.0.4,” and “after maintenance tonight.”

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