Posted by: Sean | May 8, 2009

A Rambling Tale of Spoiled Brats and Blood Elf Orphans; or, “How to turn an NPC into a character.”

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that amaze us.

Yesterday, Jess and I finally got around to doing the Outland Children’s Week quests. (This is the first year we’ve had characters at high enough levels to do so.) Jess had already done the quests earlier in the week, but agreed to come around on them again so we could role-play it out. This created a fairly neat dynamic in that there was one orphan between the two of us; this prevented it from becoming a repeat of the Grunth and Gurk show, which happens with our orcish orphans. The general dynamic is: Jess’s character spends most of her time trying to stop Grunth and Gurk from laughing at explosions and yelling ‘tally ho’ constantly, while my character causes explosions and yells ‘tally ho’ constantly. Good times.

But in order to try and vary things up a bit, I adjusted the balance for Salandria the Blood Elf orphan. First, as noted, there’d be only one orphan, not two. Second, because Grunth and Gurk loved the crazy explosion prone undead baron, Salandria was going to hate him. She’d like Jess’s mage instead. Finally, where Grunth and Gurk were dirty screaming boys with low intelligence, Salandria was going to be smart and prissy.

You will note that not one thing in that above paragraph had any justification beyond, “It’ll be fun for role-play.” See, that’s me. I don’t tend to think about backstory, or reasoning. Much like my undead warrior, I rush in yelling, “TALLY HO!” and let the chips fall where they may. Jess, much like her undead mage, is more careful about these things. She actually tends to think about backstory and the like.

Our first trip out was fairly non-eventful. We rode through Terrokar Forest to Zangarmarsh, and crossed over to Sporeggar, stopping at Zabra’jin along the way. Jess had to stop and go out to buy food at this point, so I played some Plants vs. Zombies and waited for her to come back. When she did, I leapt in media res into a debate with Salandria about how slavery was wrong, and we should be freeing the enslaved gnome. I emoted her reply as an infuriating, “Why?” Jess’s character, frustrated with having to babysit two children, informed my character that Salandria wasn’t that bad, and then vice versa.

You will note, again, that so far I’ve yet to justify any of this. Why is she so unfazed by slavery? (“I dunno. She’s a blood elf.”) Why does she dislike my undead warrior so much? (“He smells.”) Why is she fonder of Jess’s character? (“She doesn’t smell as much, and she does magic.”)

So we went to Sporregar, and enjoyed the little cut-scene. Then it was on to the Throne of the Elements, and (as she always does), Salandria immediately ran up to the big-ass fire elemental and burned herself. My warrior rushed forward to try and pull her away, and Jess’s character rushed up immediately to find out what was going on and – because she hates my character – Salandria lied immediately, “He burned me!”

What happened next truly floored me.

Jess’s character demanded I apologise, and chastised Salandria – Not for lying, but for being so mean to my character. My character, of course, absolutely refused. He’d done nothing wrong! That was it, he decided. He was leaving, and it could be up to Jess’s character to return Salandria to the orphanage.

The two PCs had a brief argument. Jess’s character brought up an incident with Grunth and Gurk, and whether or not they’d been put in danger by bomb explosions. (The argument, “But they’re BOYS. They can handle a fireball!” failed to persuade the female fire mage.) She retorted, “It’s true, it’s hard to deal with high spirited girls. I’m sure she’s doing it just to be annoying. She couldn’t possibly be acting out because she misses her father, like she keeps sniffling about every day at the orphanage.”

And my mind was BLOWN.

I’d never put that into Salandria’s character. My thought was that she was just an annoying, prissy blood elf girl. I enjoyed the idea of her getting into arguments with my ramshackle, decaying warrior.

But I’d never considered why she’d act that way. Jess did.

From that point on, our role-play took a different tone. Salandria continued to be a brat, but my responses were more measured as my character understood why she was acting how she did. And by the time we reached the Caverns of Time and she got rushed by soldiers, she was genuinely thankful for my warrior drawing sword and shield and protecting her rapidly. She still LIKED Jess’s mage more, but my warrior and Salandria left with a measure of respect for each other that wasn’t there at the start of the arc.

And THAT made for a terrific scene.

Bravo, Jess. Maybe you are right about the need for depth after all.

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