Posted by: Sean | June 2, 2009

The Lone Wolf: The dangers of being one, and how it can be done. (With help, and without.)

First of all, let’s start with the bad news. I did not win the Blizzard Creative Writing Contest . This means no interview with the story team for the ‘blog. Alas.

Cheerfully, however, I was a runner up! This means that I get four books (signed) and… well, that I was a runner up. Still, I’m proud of this. It also probably means my story will see the light of day either online or otherwise. We’ll see where that goes.

Now, on with the show!

— —

David Bowers has yet another great freaking post up on Seriously, how does he do this week in, week out? This time it’s all about layers and background; the need to have intriguing surface details but depth underneath. All very true. I dispute (as I have in the past) that you need to plan all this out up front. A lot of back story can be filled in as you go. Still, it’s all very good and I like his “surface, inside, core” criteria. Read it all.

See this guy? Dont be this guy!

See this guy? Don't be this guy!

Because there you will see an admonishment: Don’t be a lone wolf. It’s good advice, because lone wolves are notoriously difficult to play. As David says, the lone wolf is basically all inner material with no surface to draw someone in. They tend to be gruff, difficult to get to know.

But they can be played.

To be fair, David never says you can’t, and there are three ways to do this. Without any help straight, with friends straight, and subverted.

Before we talk about them, let’s ask: What is the core appeal of the lone wolf archetype?

  • He’s a badass; bad version. Role-playing geeks (particular guys, but a lot of ladies too, I notice) love the self-reliance of the lone wolf. He needs no-one! He does just fine on his own! You guys would break in the woods, but I never would. I’m the lone wolf! You guys need me!

    Um. Kind of lost myself there. Hold on.

    Not every geek gets into the whole Lone Wolf thing out of some subsumed need for respect. (Both from others and from self.) But some unquestionably do, and it’s worth asking if this is the reason you’re doing it. If it is, well, reconsider. Everyone in World of Warcraft is a badass. Nearly all of them are incredibly self-reliant and sharp.

  • He’s a badass; good version. OK, but he’s a badass! Dude, he needs nobody and he kicks ass and women find him irresistible. Or men find her irresistible. Or women find her irresistible. Whatever. The point is: The lone wolf is bringin’ sexy badass.
  • He’s mysterious. The true Lone Wolf has no real backstory. Wolverine’s (as Wolverine is a good example of a Lone Wolf) past is mysterious, difficult to pin down, and no writer worth his salt would be stupid enough to try and fill in that backstory with, say, a prequel movie or whatever. This means he maintains his mystery no matter what. While there may be endless conflicting rumours of his history, none will ever emerge as the truth. And that’s a good thing. Think about it. Imagine if Lone Wolf badass Darth Vader had been given a full back story and we found out that he was just some whiny kid who got pissed off. Could you really maintain the awe you had for him before? No. Thankfully, nobody would ever be stupid enough to give Darth Vader a prequel, either.
  • Sean is just a bit bitter. OK, done. Back to the analysis.
  • Underneath is a gentle soul. People often see the ‘lone’ part, but miss the ‘wolf’. The lone wolf would by nature be part of a pack, but his pack has been wiped out. He’s been hurt and can’t join a new one because he distrusts it. Underneath the Lone Wolf is an abiding sadness, which is why he has such a romantic power. When gamers try to play the Lone Wolf, this is the quality they miss the most often. But it’s essential. To go back to our examples, Wolverine was ultra-protective of Jubilee/Rogue. Darth Vader’s turn to the light side in no way undermined his Lone Wolf badass status: It was a fulfilment of it. At its heart, the Lone Wolf is a wounded archetype.

So what do you get at the core of all of this? Reputation. The Lone Wolf’s ‘surface’ is never told by him. It’s told by others.

This gives you the hard way of achieving this: Earn it. No help, played straight.

Before you begin playing the Lone Wolf? Buddy, you’d better be level 80. Ideally, you should have a title. A hard one to get. Say, Vanquisher, Conqueror or Justicar. You should then start acting mysteriously. Show up at open role-playing events but stay at the fringes. Keep your FlagRSP flag on (and NO! BAD PUPPY! do not make your character a Mary Sue. Lone Wolves are rarely even ruggedly handsome – They’re older, scarred and cynical.) so people can see you’re a role-player, but speak little and emote often.

Try hanging out in lower-level areas. Show up unexpectedly to help out lowbies who get in trouble. (Especially lowbies with role-playing flags.) Play up the lone wolf schtick there, too.

This is one thing I do think players who play Lone Wolves forget. You can be awfully expressive with emotes. If you want to be the strong silent type, then make sure you write great emotes that really let you act with your body. Don’t join a guild, but try to end up associated with one, doing raids or PVP with them. Lake Wintergrasp is probably a great place to earn your Lone Wolf status.

If you think this all sounds like a lot of work, I concur.

That brings us to option number 2: Fake it. Play it straight, with help.

You should still be at level 80 before you begin trying to play this role, so just power-level through and then show up with your guild, ready to play the appropriate role. But, and here’s the key point: Get your friends to start a whisper campaign. Essentially, let them play you up as the total Lone Wolf badass. Heck, they may even have fun with coming up with more outlandish ones. Meanwhile, you play your part as the Lone Wolf, hanging on the periphery and leaping in to save ass. Easier, but still potentially difficult. I mean, if nothing else, you got hella lead up time in there. I’m still not level 80 with anyone. I’m not even level 70 with anyone.

Which brings me to best option, to my mind: Subvert it.

Play the guy who wants to be the badass loner, but fails. Play the lovable loser with way too much self-importance.

Insist loudly that you are dangerous and mysterious, and then run screaming from a level one hungry wolf. Sure, it’s not got the same cachet as playing it straight, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun, you can do it right from the get go, and there’s a lot more quirkiness and surface to it. And hell, once you hit higher levels and begin to grow into your myth, you can even play it out to others. The fun thing there will be the smirk on your friends faces, who know the Lone Wolf’s past.

Whatever you do, don’t neglect the deeper levels. You need those inner layers to give your character sustainability beyond the initial moment. If you’re playing it straight, find someone you can open up to. If you’re subverting, give your character some noble traits. Give yourself room to play.

And have fun. As always with role-play, that’s the main thing.


  1. I was going to say… someone doesn’t like the Origins series (either the comic or the (waste of money)movie)… then I read further and almost spat my yogurt all over my monitor. I do admit, it was kinda nice to get to know a little bit about him, though I liked the vague bits of childhood I picked up instead of the storyline-rape of the movie. And I don’t think Wolverine will be as much of a badass to the youth because they’ve got a whole storyline now. Albiet not a good one cause you know all kids do now is stare at the TV and dislike reading… where was I?

    Well played, sir.

  2. Get…a…life.

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