Roleplay Advice – What Happens In-Character Stays In-Character

I have a confession to make. I am fairly strict about lore-oriented roleplay. There’s a part of me that says, “I am so sorry the game won’t allow you to roll an evil shapeshifting alien from some unknown planet who has come to enslave all our women, but your druid is just a druid!” Azeroth has an established history, and the game is a storytelling medium that looks closer at the lives of people than the strategy games did. I can’t help but feel like someone who doesn’t want to roleplay a character who really “fits” into the world of Azeroth should perhaps find somewhere better suited to the character they want to play. Or keep it within a closed circle of other roleplayers, rather than presenting the general roleplay populace with a thousand different “realities” they have to keep straight, depending on who they are talking to.

However, I don’t consider myself a “lore nazi” the way I often see the phrase used. And I was bothered today when I read Indiri’s post about cyber-bullying because that kind of behavior is destructive on at least two levels. It’s just plain wrong. Beating down others as a means of lifting yourself up doesn’t do any good… it just causes more pain for everyone, including the bully. Quite honestly, I think it’s a sad sign that this kind of behavior is rampant among adults in real life. I’m from the US, and I can’t turn on the news or read much of anything on the internet without seeing adults throw around huge assumptions about people with different political views than them, make outrageous accusations about each other’s motives for voting the way they do, and sprinkle it all with terms like “libtard” (liberal), “repuke” (Republican), and “lolz racist repuke teabaggers hate america so much i hope they die” (I’m not even going to explain that).

And we wonder why there’s so much hate in the world? BECAUSE YOU CAN’T GET RID OF HATE BY SPREADING IT AROUND!

(Side note: I don’t want to see political debate in the comments. In fact, I’ll delete it if I do see it. This isn’t about politics, it’s about the bullying. All sides have been guilty of that, and not just in politics. The point is not which party is right and which party is wrong, but that name calling and a lack of asking, “What makes you see it that way?” hurt everyone. And that adults set a horrible example for children by treating each other that way.)

That applies to RP in WoW, too. Which is the other way lore nazi bullies cause trouble. It’s not helping the roleplay, and it’s hurting the reputation of roleplayers. I see a lot of comments and conversations where anyone who shows an interest in the story, or feels a particular attachment to a quest reward because of the story in that questline, is either called a “RPer” as if it’s a dirty word, or pre-emptively defends themself against any possible accusations by starting with something like, “I’m not a RPer, I’ve never even rolled on an RP server, but this questline has a great story.” Sure, some of this is because some people just have ideas of roleplay as something other than what it is. But I don’t think people who treat others as if they are a blight on civilized society because they don’t conform perfectly to established lore are really helping the image of roleplayers being “people who take it too seriously and treat it like it’s real life”.

There are times when Out of Character communication about things is necessary to a good roleplay environment, but I like to stick to a simple rule as much as possible: Things that happen In-Character should be dealt with In-Character. My advice is for handling issues that come up in the course of roleplay. If someone is keeping their roleplay within a closed circle, so it’s not affecting your roleplay unless you go stick your nose in it, just keep your nose out of it.

Just Because You’re Right Doesn’t Mean Your Character Has to Be

When you meet someone in real life and they tell you something about themself, you have to decide if you believe that’s true or not. (Assuming it’s not something you can see evidence of.) Sometimes that’s not very hard to decide. I could tell you I’m Amelia Earhart, and that I never disappeared… everyone just forgot about me for a long time. You would probably decide I’m either crazy or a bad liar. Other things, we tend to accept even though we have no proof they are true and could easily not be. If I tell you I went grocery shopping yesterday, are you really going to interrogate me to see if I’m lying? Why not? You don’t know that it’s true. You’ve just decided – probably because it’s a very believable thing and there’s no clear reason for me to lie about it – that I’m telling you the truth.

As players, we have access to a lot of information our characters don’t. Even Brann Bronzebeard doesn’t know everything, so a well-educated character is going to be missing information somewhere. And our characters are… well, they’re people. They are flawed. They sometimes reach the wrong conclusions about things. They sometimes whole-heartedly believe something that may or may not really be true.

I have a character who is convinced imps are baby demons. She spent a long time trying to “save” them before they get older and it’s too late. I know this isn’t true. She’s the one who doesn’t know that. I’m not wrong… my character is. You can try to tell her the truth, but she’s pretty stubborn and hasn’t accepted it yet. Trying to tell me the truth, however, is just going to get you a , “Yes, I know that. It’s just what she thinks.” Because I’m not trying to change the lore and expecting everyone else to accept that imps are baby demons. I simply have a character who has a lot of knowledge packed into her brain and very often reaches the wrong conclusions with it.

If your character meets someone who gives them a story they just don’t believe – let’s say because the other character’s player has gone way outside the lore with things – your character can simply choose not to believe them and speculate about why they’ve told this tale. I met a blood elf character who insisted he’d grown up in the Horde always hearing how cruel the Alliance is. My character raised concerns that this couldn’t be possible because the blood elves had only joined the Horde in the past few years. The other player wasn’t budging on this, though.  My character took pity on them and mumbled something about how the destruction of the Sunwell must have affected their memory.

This does not mean my character is right. This does not mean I have changed that other player’s character’s story so that it is now true that the destruction of the Sunwell did that to them. My character simply THINKS that must be what happened. But it does mean my character does not have to act as if it’s true that this blood elf grew up in the Horde, because she doesn’t believe that. And it means the other player has been offered an idea for a way out of this if they ever decide to change that but don’t want to have to ret-con their character’s entire story.

If your draenei is actually an officer in the Burning Legion, it is highly unlikely that they’ll be walking around Stormwind unnoticed. I won’t get into an Out-of-Character argument with you, but my character doesn’t have to believe you. If your druid is a giant half-furbolg/half-murloc, my character may assume you spent some time in the Emerald Dream and came back a little bit crazy.

I don’t have to accept your “screw the lore, I’ll play what I want to” approach. But I have no right to bully you about it, either.

And there’s always one more choice. Have your character suddenly remember they needed to go somewhere/hear someone calling for them/whatever, and simply remove yourself from the RP.

Nit-Picking: “Can’t Happen” and “Doesn’t Usually Happen” are Different Things

Know when to correct someone and when to just let it go. Some things just don’t work. A 5,0000 year old Night Elf was NOT born on Teldrassil, I don’t care how many times you say she was. But there are other things people try to make a hard rule out of that would make a better “general guideline, but exceptions are possible”.

I see that most often in the case of race changes. I don’t like the idea that an In-Character race change could never happen. I would, however, agree that it has to be handled well to be believable.

If something happened that altered your character’s physical appearance so much they were taken for a member of another race, this would have a huge effect on their life! A Tauren who found themself in a dwarven body probably would not take well to riding a ram at first, and they would not stroll comfortably around Ironforge as if they’d always lived there. I don’t think problems with race changed characters really come from the race change not being believable, but from the character’s reactions to it not being believable.

I’ll also admit I’m biased on the subject. I didn’t do a paid race change on a character, but I did change a character’s race by rolling up a new toon. Well… sort of. I played a gnome who had never really been happy with her life in Gnomeregan. She felt a little guilty because she was much happier in Ironforge after Gnomeregan fell. She was found unconcious and rescued, taken to a dwarf woman who took care of her because the woman’s son was away and she just kind of needed someone to care for. In time, the gnome was “adopted” by the woman and her son, which was how my gnome had a dwarven brother. Through roleplay with others, my gnomes story eventually exapanded so that we all discovered she had been so unhappy until she was adopted by them and treated like a dwarf because she actually was part dwarf, several generations back.

When I decided I didn’t enjoy playing my class and wanted to play a hunter, I had concerns about letting go of that character. I wasn’t done with her as a character, wouldn’t have time to play her if I was leveling a hunter, and couldn’t make a gnome hunter. It took a lot of planning between my husband and myself, and help from a friend in the game, but my gnome fell strangely ill. She was running a fever, having weird dreams, suffering from cramps, and itching deep inside in a way that felt like her bones were trying to splinter. She locked up everything she could (everything not Soulbound) and packed up a lot of stuff into her flying machine (everything that was Soulbound) and took off for the Storm Peaks because, for reasons she didn’t understand, she just felt like she HAD to visit the Earthen at Bouldercrag’s Refuge again… that maybe they could help.

She lost control of her flying machine and blacked out as it crashed. (The flying machine and everything she owned that was Soulbound were lost… imagine that.) Nobody actually knows what happened to her. She was at Bouldercrag’s Refuge when she finally woke up, but apparently she was already a dwarf when she turned up there. So the Earthen didn’t know what happened to her and couldn’t tell her. She thinks it might have been all the time she’d spent in the Storm Peaks so close to Ulduar. Something there may have changed her because she was part-dwarf. On the other hand, a friend of hers had been giving her some vials of Winterfall Fire Water to allow her to be dwarf-sized for brief periods of time while she was still a gnome. And she drank them because, being her trusting self, she had never asked where they came from… just assumed they were alchemist potions. If she drank enough of them, could that have had some permanent effect?

I made a lot of things possible, but nothing definite. What, exactly, changed her remains a mystery. Most folks adjusted the the fact that it’s a sort of blessing, whatever it was, because she was so unhappy as a gnome. It gave her a new lease on life, and she made a lot of changes to how she does things. And she rarely talks about having ever been a gnome. Most people who meet her will never know she hasn’t always been a dwarf. There’s no reason for her to introduce herself and then say, “Oh, and I used to be a gnome.”

One of the most interesting people she’s ever met was Apple’s paladin, Lisan. Lisan is a human suffering from what seems to be a permanent DNA mix-up from one of the gnomish teleporters. Note that I said Lisan IS human. She didn’t sound like a dwarf, and she acted a bit off for a dwarf. She didn’t just announce to my character that she was actually human, and my character wasn’t very quick to explain that she grew up a gnome. It was mildly hilarious to watch those two dance around the subject, each one not sure how the other would react if they knew “the truth”.

I’ve seen it argued that the DNA mix-up effect is temporary, so it’s not an acceptable explanation for a race change. Have you ever really paid attention to gnomish technology? There’s a reason that stuff doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee… the gnomes would go broke giving out refunds! Just because it’s usually temporary is no guarantee that it’s never permanent. Or maybe it is temporary. Just a longer “temporary” than usual. Maybe Lisan will find out someday that it wasn’t permanent… in twenty or thirty years when she wakes up human again. Who knows? For now, Lisan believes it’s permanent, and she still acts like a human because that’s really what she is.

I think the important part for it being believable might that the character isn’t broadcasting the change to everyone they meet. Whether these things happen often or not, it seems people don’t think it happens very often. It makes sense not to talk to much or too loudly about it.

If you see a worgen outside the Auction House casually mentioning they’re actually an orc, but an accident with gnomish technology changed them and it turns out Stormwind is pretty cool, either walk away or shake your character’s head and pit the poor chap who must have gone a bit crazy. After all the rumors you’ve heard about what happened in Gilneas, can’t you find some sympathy for him? But if you’re enjoying roleplay with a well-played character who has been through a change with a reasonable explanation and appropriate reactions to it, don’t ruin the fun by telling them Out of Character that it’s impossible.

Trauma Makes Details Fuzzy

The little lore mistakes that can greatly alter the reality of things on Azeroth… the blood elf who becomes a Blood Knight (specifically a Blood Knight) because the men in his family have been Blood Knights for many generations. The Night Elf who was born on Teldrassil and grew up in Dolanaar thousands of years ago. The worgen who just moved to Gilneas about a year before the Forsaken attacked it.

These are, usually, timeline issues. The person playing the character just doesn’t realize what they said doesn’t fit the timeline. If these things are said In Character, your character should be surprised and ask about it. If you give them a nudge, hopefully they’ll correct it.

Blood Knight: “I come from a long line of Blood Knights! My father was a paladin, as was his father before him.”

Your Character: “Oh? I know some High Elves served the Light, but I thought the Blood Knights were, um… a recent development… in your people’s culture.”

Blood Knight: “Did I say Blood Knight? Must be the wine making my head fuzzy. I meant that I became a Blood Knight because the men in my family already have a long history of being rather close to the Light. Not that they were Blood Knight themselves, of course.”


Night Elf 1: “And where were you born, Nelf’thoriel?”

Night Elf 2: “Teldrassil, of course, Purple’dorei! Dolanaar was so beautiful 3,000 years ago…”

Night Elf 1: “I’m sorry, what did you say? I must have misheard. Since Archdruid Staghelm just created Teldrassil a few years ago, you couldn’t possibly have said what I thought you did.”

Night Elf 2: “Oh, I do apologize, Purple’dorie! I think I did say Teldrassil. But I meant Ashenvale, of course. Strange… I do seem to feel sometimes like Teldrassil’s always been there. Isn’t that funny?”


Worgen: “This is a rotten turn of events! Simply rotten, I do say! Why, I moved everything to Gilneas just one year before such devestation! Should have stayed right here in Stormwind, that’s what I should have done.”

Human: “Really? You moved there just a year before it all happened?”

Worgen: “Good sir, do you think I cannot keep track of my own schedule?”

Human: “Well, it’s just… the Greymane Wall! No one and nothing was getting in or out! How did you move in?”

Worgen: “You may be correct, sir. I may have lost my sense of time on these things. Well, then, at least I have a better sense of smell to make up for it now! Shall we be off to the pub then?”

Okay, those are some really simple examples. And the person you’re correcting may not take the correction. But the point is that you don’t have to start an OOC argument over something that can be addressed within the conversation your characters are having.

I know my views on what roleplay “should” be aren’t everyone’s views.  I have as much of a right to my opinion that roleplay should be lore-oriented as they do to their view that roleplay can be as open and free as you want it to be. Blizzard hasn’t laid down any rules on that, so there’s no definitive way to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. And if you are a lore-oriented roleplayer, that does not give you the right to ridicule and bully someone who isn’t. Walk away, or work around it.

Next time: “The In-Character Paladin”.

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6 Responses to Roleplay Advice – What Happens In-Character Stays In-Character

  1. Apple says:

    I’m always slightly nervous when I tell someone new (specifically RPers) OOCly about Lis, since she’s… unique so far as I’ve seen. Not because I think it’s lorebreaky and I really shouldn’t have done it, but because of… well, people thinking I’m a fail!RPer because of it, or trying to tell me I CAN’T DO THAT OMG.

    Though I did have a case of timeline confusion myself up until recently! Saga asked me to write a post about Lis’ story, who she is and how she got there, that sort of thing. Lis’ background has always been kind of vague, but it was “grew up in SW orphanage, was 19 when Arthas went batshit” because I wasn’t clear on the timeline – I decided to doublecheck timelines just to see exactly where that would’ve put her birth… and lo and behold, she was born right around the time the second war started, when Stormwind was kind of, uh, rubble.

    So I fixed it. And actually, I rather like the final outcome a lot more than the previous version.

    But if I’d run into one of those lore nazis, saying I can’t play Lis because of X, Y, and Z… man, I just don’t even know. Lis is so very dear to my heart, and I don’t want people declaring that she can’t be a Dwarf, that she can’t have a Worgen sister she doesn’t know about, that she can’t have been raised in SW… even if that last part’s true.

    It’s just rude, and unnecessary. Asking “hey, I just wanted to know if you meant she was raised in SW if she was 19 during the 3rd war? Because SW wasn’t rebuilt until very shortly before then.” is NOT going to make me mad. That would’ve made me go “oh, shit, seriously? I fail at timelines, thanks!” But if someone had said “L2RP, Stormwind was DESTROYED then, you fail”, I would’ve… been very put out. >:| Grrrr, fear my floral insults, I learned from the best! (ilu, Alas!)

  2. TheGrumpyElf says:

    As a long time role player (not so much in wow, hell, can’t say I have ever seen a RP in wow) I’ve joined many communities and know that getting the first step in is often the hardest part. Some people, no matter how much you know about the role play you are joining in, will always give you crap because that is what they do.

    Lorejerks try to ruin it for everyone by showing how much they know to make themselves feel better. Personally, I say stay away from those types, they are bad for game play.

    Some tips for the new role player that have helped me in the past.

    1) Sit and listen, you can tell a lot about the people that play the character from the way they play them.
    2) Limit your early talk, saying you are sorry but you are deep in thought at the moment will usually have someone move on.
    3) Be forgetful, either as a trait or as an accident, if you make it known you are having issues with your memory it can explain away a lot of things.
    4) Don’t go OOC, if you keep it RP there is less chance of someone picking on your lack of knowledge. You can never win against a lorejerk OOC, they only go OOC because they are not a good RPer, keep it RP and they will drop it.
    5) Keep them guessing, don’t give up your story immediately, people like to work for their information and you will lose a major play point if you give people your life story up front. Not to mention, if you do not give up your story, you can not make a mistake early on.
    6) Be active, even if just as a wall flower. You will be amazed at how people grow accepting to people they always see even if they’ve never talked to them.
    7) Don’t become a lorejerk, even if you know everything there is to know, that doesn’t mean your character does. Sure, you know something could not have happened in that time frame, but is your character a historian or a warrior? If they are a warrior, let it go, they probably don’t know any better anyway.

    In the end, don’t let people get to you. You can easily explain away almost anything you forget or make a mistake on if you are quick witted or imaginative. Worst case scenario, play absent minded, oh look something shiny, must go get it, and walk away.

    Sometimes, even your mistake can turn into a major development point in your own story as a character. Unless you have something written in stone, being able to adapt your story to those around you that are more knowledgeable will be a key to successful role playing.

    I am presently on three RP servers, with 5 characters on BWRs alone, but I’ve yet to find anyone to RP with as strange as that sounds. Personally, from my perspective, wow is not a large RP community, but again, that is just from the small amount of experience I have with it. Glad to see some have found some RP.

    Interesting post and as odd as it sounds, it makes me want to go and find some RP even if it is aimed at the jerks in it. Like I said, odd, right.

    • No RP? And you’re on RP servers? That is odd! Well, I can say from experience there is RP on the Alliance side on Sisters of Elune. It can be a little difficult to find when you’re new, but hang out in The Blue Recluse or Pig-n-Whistle in Stormwind long enough and someone will come in. Using an addon like MyRolePlay or FlagRSP also helps because a lot of the RPers on SoE aren’t In-Character all the time, but will respond IC if approached IC. All of my RP characters are on SoE on the Alliance side.

      I know there are Horde RPers on SoE, but I don’t know what the RP atmosphere is like on that side. The Horde guilds are always way ahead of the Alliance guilds on progression raiding, and it’s often be speculated on the Alliance side that maybe they put more emphasis on raiding than RP. But I know for a fact they exist because I’ve had some wonderful RP in Dalaran with some of them, thanks to creative use of emotes.

      I’ve heard from a lot of people that Wyrmrest Accord has a thriving RP community on the Horde side, and I did roll a character over there once just to check things out. Both in Tirisfal Glades and Orgrimmar, I saw a lot of people playing In-Character. Even just passing by someone else in a city, if they gave me a buff they’d emote something to go with it so that it was done IC.

      • TheGrumpyElf says:

        Thanks perhaps I will try there.

        I have some characters on three different RP servers and haven’t had any luck but I admit, I don’t go out of my way looking so that is partly the problem.

        I think a new troll shaman is required on wyrmrest now. Maybe I will move my troll shaman from scarlet crusade over or start new.

        Again, thanks.

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