A lot of times when I see people who are new to the idea of RPing in WoW starting to become curious about it, they have some questions about how to handle game play mechanics as opposed to story mechanics. We can assume that gameplay does not exactly equal the world that our characters live in. It’s obviously not possible for our toons to walk around carrying a bunch of bags with several sets of armor, bushels of herbs, raw fish that are months old, and explosives. There are many things that the world game needs to have from a practical view-point that make the game not annoying to play that just don’t work when you try to think of your character as a real person. But how do you decide what is a purely gameplay mechanic and what is something your character could be experiencing in their world? This is something that I encourage roleplayers to think about when they’re writing or RPing on their characters, and it can add to some interest in their stories as well. Some examples of what I mean:
Travel – All things considered, even in game terms, Azeroth is pretty big. It takes awhile to get from place to place even on a flying mount. However, when I handle myRP,I think of the world as being much larger than it could possibly be in game. I treat travel back and forth between Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms as a gigantic and expensive pain that takes quite a long time. I imagine zones being far more vast and expansive, and not possible to being walked across in a few minutes (And to make things more difficult, I vary how I handle this from zone to zone. Eversong and Ghostlands I imagine being slightly larger than they are in game, where a place like Mulgore or the Barrens I imagine being much much larger.) For the most part, I ignore the existence of portals, especially the ones that are in cities to help you get around. I don’t even really like including mage portals in my RP, but I will do that occasionally. But I tend to think of it as something that is very expensive and not commonly done.
Why do I make things harder on my character like this? For me, I feel it cheapens the world to be able to get around it so quickly in character. I want the world to feel big, and so when a character of mine has to travel from one continent to another, it feels as though it’s a serious investment of their time to do so. One of the themes I play with a lot in my RP is the idea of being away from loved ones for the sake of duty, and that entire things feels a lot cheaper if you can just instantly walk through portal and be wherever you want.
Reputations - I do a lot of rep grinding on paladin, mostly because she’s my mount collector. For this reason, she’s exalted with many factions that, in character,she just couldn’t care less about. She may be exalted with, for example, Ramkahen, but in character she’s only spent about a week in Uldum, and that was on vacation. She’s exalted with the Darkspear Trolls because I wanted the Crusader title for her, but in character she just really does not like trolls.
Generally what I do for my characters is pick a couple of factions that I do think they would actually care about, and gently work them into my RP. My paladin has done a lot of work with the Argent Crusade. My druid is all about all things…druid. My second pally worked a lot with Wyrmrest Accord when he was in Northrend. I really try to think of what is important to my character’s personality and determine important groups for them from there.
Raiding – When my guild killed LK, the way that I personally handled it in my RP was to write an epic battle scene with the Alliance and Horde vs. the Scourge. The assault on the citadel had gone on for a long time, with constant setbacks to explain why we didn’t just storm in and kill LK in one day. When we finally got to the point where we fought LK, I decided having it climax in an epic battle would be more fun than simply progressing through bosses as we did in the raid. In my version of that final battle, the platform we were all fighting on was a lot bigger, and there was a gigantic Braveheart style battle that broke out, with the two sides charging each other once the attack began. I used certain elements from the actual LK fight in the story, including Tirion’s beginning speech and some of the fight mechanics, but I also drew from other parts of ICC for inspiration as well.
I also tried to use the idea of raid groups in my story. My pally fought with a small unit, including a couple of healers, but once the chaos of battle started, it was easy for things to go wrong. She fought a group of Darkfallen, for instance, when she was seriously injured. And in the end, I used the same climax that we saw in the raid, complete with LK killing everyone and then getting a mass rez, but it wasn’t my character, or even my raid group alone, that killed LK. It was a very large group effort.
Healing and Rezzing – The concept of rezzing is one I most often hear asked about by new roleplayers. In the game, it’s such a common mechanic. All of the healers can rez you. DKs and locks can rez you. Strange spirit ladies with wings that like to hang out in graveyards can rez you, but they like to break your armor first. Without rezzing, the game would be no fun at all. That doesn’t mean it makes for a good story mechanic though. I like for my character’s lives to have weight and matter, and if their deaths could be solved with a simple spell, suddenly difficult choices no longer have an important meaning. Death is one of the most imposing aspects of life, and to take that away from your characters really cheapens everything they do.
Generally I don’t even think that rezzing exists in the world of Azeroth, unless you’re talking about extreme cases, like in the fight with LK. I tend to view it as when we see a character “die” in game, they’re just being knocked out or have grievous injuries that will take a long time to heal. I also don’t tend to write about healing being as easy and effective as it is in game. I like the idea that my characters can walk out of a battle banged up with cuts and bruises and scars. Generally, I view healing as something that allows them to keep fighting, but only time and rest can truly heal wounds.
There are plenty other pieces of gameplay mechanics that don’t necessarily fit into good storytelling. As is probably clear, I prefer to cut out a lot of the things that are convenient and would make my character’s lives easier. Just as Lord of the Rings wouldn’t have been as compelling if the fellowship could have ported to Mordor or Order of the Phoenix would have lost its weight if Sirius simply could have accepted a rez, I think in general good story telling comes from difficult situations that need to be overcome. Letting your characters have things to easily makes for a boring story. And boring stories make for boring RP!
What are some gameplay mechanics that you’ve felt have no place in storytelling?