MMORPG characters have challenges not faced in traditional PnP RP: You have to find interaction yourself, as it doesn’t come automatically from your game master and party members. Conversely, though, you have a much larger community of players around you. Characters typically have much longer lifetimes and so you must find ways to ensure that your interest in the character lasts. MMOG characters and their needs differ strongly with written characters due to the nature of the medium in which they exist.
So let’s talk about three essential elements of MMOG characters for roleplay purposes. Please note that some portions of this come from extended conversations with Tziena (the current Roleplay Senator for Star Wars Galaxies and community admin for Starsider Galaxy).
1. Character Theme
This element usually comes relatively easily: what is the character about? It can include core motivation and typical activities (e.g. those related to your gameplay). You might find it helpful to create an “elevator pitch”: a one-sentence summary of your character. Most roleplayers create this element almost automatically, and we won’t spend too much time on it in this article. In fact, you might even want to avoid driving too deep here in your own planning so that you can explore the character and let it define itself somewhat through interaction and gameplay.
2. Character Hook
Many players forget to ask themselves this. What makes the character grab others’ attention? Why should anyone take an interest in your character? In other words, what reaches out and hooks other people? This hook should differ materially from the theme, or your character will end up very shallow. In other words, they come for the hook and stay for the theme.
3. Interaction Reason
Roleplayers sometimes complain that their characters won’t do certain things and so stay off by themselves. So ask yourself, why does your character seek out interaction with others? The answers might include a personality aspect, a quest, etc. If you don’t have a reason to seek out other characters, but instead just lurk silently in your secret lair, you will lose interest in the character (at least in a roleplay sense).
- Tziena, mentioned above, plays Saraii Phime in Star Wars Galaxies. Thematically, the character is a Jedi with a strong interest in belief systems and religions due to her academic and Force-related training. But other players take an interest in her because she is a Miraluka and thus physically “blind”. And the player can easily start interaction with others by asking questions about their beliefs and how they interpret various events.
- Another well-known SWG roleplay character (at least on the Starsider server) is “Masquerade“, a Bothan. The character revolves somewhat around the in-universe stereotype of Bothan spies, and so he engages in espionage, information brokerage, and related activities. When you meet him, though, the character pulls you in through his unique appearance (e.g. cybernetic from the waist down), raspy voice, and smoking habit. And, since the character takes an interest in nearly every happening around him (due to the nature of his business), interaction is built-in.
- As a final example, and stepping away from Star Wars Galaxies for a moment, I play Casiella Truza in EVE Online. Casiella is a traditional cyberpunk character in many ways, so she engages in research, exploration, covert operations, and related field operations like hacking and salvaging. But her initial hook likely comes from her strong views on religion and “stateless societies“. And when I want IC interaction, her interest in political machinations and desire for information regarding specific technical areas drives that easily.
Nearly all roleplayers can come up with a theme that interests them, but you also need a hook to grab other player’s attention. For the sake of character depth, this should differ materially from the theme. And to avoid boredom and stagnation, create a reason for interaction.
What other elements do you think all roleplayers should consider when planning a new character?