Portfolio of Bryan Cohen, Game Designer
Portfolio of Bryan Cohen, Game Designer
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Roleplay 101: Creating a Character

Hail and well met!

After the last couple of posts I made on Reddit about roleplay in World of Warcraft, I noticed many people brand new to roleplay asking for advice and tips for getting started. I’ve had quite a lot of experience in roleplaying and even more in creating characters, so I thought it would be nice to create a guide for those looking to dip their toes into roleplay (also know as RP). I’ll go into creating a character, developing a story, expanding that story as you play, and using tools to help you better interact with other players. I’ll also be creating a character alongside this guide to show my step-by-step process. This post will mainly be focused on World of Warcraft roleplaying, but my creation methods can be applied to any game, be they virtual or real. Alright, enough preamble - let’s dig in.

Who are you?

This is my favorite part of creating any character - the ideation phase. I’ve read a lot of guides on RP that say to “think of a overarching theme or archetype” and build off that, but I find that to be a bit to general and not very helpful to creating meaningful characters. If you just want to be “a paladin who fights evil” or “a deadly assassin who is edgey”, sure that’s fine - but it’s an incredibly played out trope and I know you can do better. So if you don’t focus on a theme or archetype, what do you do?

Lesson 1 - Focus on small details and let them bloom into big ideas

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So for my new roleplay character I know two things: I want the character to be affiliated with the Horde, and I want to begin their story attached to this sweet dagger I found the other day. I’m a fan of simple, realistic looking weapons that have a little bit of flair; I find they make characters more believable (no crazy effects or shapes), they make more sense for a low level character, and if they have fantastical properties they can be explained through good roleplay. It’s also good that this item’s “Transmog” (an aesthetic look that can be applied to your weapon in WoW) is available at level 1.

Some other good ideas you can use as your first building block could be a location that’s significant to the character like a bar or inn. It could be a specific spell such as a healing spell; the only one your character knows that they use to heal the sick and poor. Given how fleshed out the battle pet system in WoW is, it could even be a pet - a cat that has been with you forever, a ghost that follows you around, a spider that preys upon your victims making it look like an accident… actually that last one sounds pretty good, let’s use that one as well. And that brings us to lesson 2:

Lesson 2 - Develop as you go

Writing that last paragraph I did not have a pet companion in mind for this character, but as I was listing out examples, I came across the idea of a spider companion that helps my character ‘deal with problems’, making their murder look like an accident. Knowing that (and liking the idea), I now know that my character uses a knife that has some sort of emotional or physical value, and that they have a spider companion. The spider addition fits nicely with the ‘assassin’ trope, but as I said let’s not get too hung up on where a character goes, and stay focused on where they come from. So they have a dagger, and a spider that kills people. I’m feeling this character is moving towards being a rogue, and since I don’t have one yet, let’s say “Yes to Rogue”.

Okay, so I know want my character to have this dagger although I’m not sure it’s significance yet; is it a gift from a friend or parent? Was it left behind from a recently deceased relative? Perhaps it was found disregarded early on in my characters life and held sentimental value - all of these are strong starting ideas to build a character around. The other key aspect of my character is that I want them to be Horde, so let’s take a look at race selection (excluding allied races as not everyone has them unlocked).

Decisions.

Decisions.

I’ve recently made an Undead character that I’m RP’ing quite heavily, and I just am not super keen on Blood Elves, so they are both out. I really enjoy the way Orcs look in armor but spiders seem a bit too delicate for Orcs, plus it’s not very honorable way to kill someone so they are out as well. Trolls are interesting, and could potentially be good with spiders - Trolls also have a reason to be attracted to more undesirable careers due to their underclass association in the Horde. Goblins are pretty underhanded and would definitely resort to methods such as poison (or a deadly spider), however they seem pretty materialistic in getting the next biggest and best thing - not exactly a background of someone who would keep an old sentimental dagger. So they’re out.

Now that I think about it, an Undead would have good reason to hold tight to a relic of their past life before being risen from the grave. They also have a lot of interaction with spiders and spider taming, so let’s throw them back on the table. In fact, that reasoning is compelling enough that I’m going to say “Yes to Undead”.

Lesson 3 - Don’t be afraid to change your mind

I had originally ruled out Undead out of preference, but not out of roleplay. My core concept was ‘a sentimental dagger’ and ‘a deadly spider’. Both of these ideas fit an Undead character perfectly, and I let my core concepts lead me to a race. My advice to you? Be open to changes in your original idea; let your key ideas and core concepts inform your character - let your character tell you who they are.

So I have some backstory items, I have a race, and I have a class - now I need to CREATE THE CHARACTER! Use this opportunity to inject even more backstory into your character! Using what’s available in the character creator you could describe your character in a variety of ways - a small scar on their face, a vacant look, a missing jaw, a strange hair-cut - all these things can be talking points and fluff your characters “Roleplaying Profile” (discussed later). Don’t be afraid to hit that ‘Randomize’ button either - it’s a good source of inspiration to see what the random-number generator throws at you.

One handsome devil.

One handsome devil.

Here’s what I decided on - he’s got some flesh rotting away from his jaw implying he’s been dead for quite some time. Perhaps he’s a victim of the third war, or perhaps a long dead Lordaeron’ian who has been living in the area long before Arthas came and went. His jaw is unhinged, implying a tired or frustrating undeath. His eyes are hollowed, potentially removed by years of decay, and his head is vacant of hair that has long since fallen out. Perhaps given the extended time in the grave makes his attachment to the dagger all the more meaningful - it’s a reminder of a bygone era long ago. Which brings us to lesson 4:

Lesson 4 - Build upon your concepts

Take each of the concepts you’ve decided on so far and see how they interact, how they build upon each other. A knife becomes a blade of a forgotten era, treasured as the last remaining reminder of where my character comes from. A spider becomes a companion and a potential asset in undeath. A jaw, missing eyes, and decayed flesh reinforce the idea that he’s been dead for a long time. Utilize each aspect of your character to strengthen the others - fleshing your character out this way makes them see complete and whole.

The last step in character creation is coming up with a name, which - full disclosure - is my least favorite part. I am terrible at coming up with names. There are plenty of random name generators out there that can help, but I am just rubbish at finding a good one. Lately I’ve made a hard and fast rule to only use the “Random Name Button” on the character creation screen - this time around I came out with Jaquesmont which I feel is a good name for an Undead and fits in well with the rest of the NPC’s you find within the Forsaken.

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Let the Roleplay COMMENCE!

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On to the nuts and bolts of setting up “Roleplaying Profile” - I use an addon called TRP (Total Roleplay). You can find out more information about it here. Total Roleplay is an addon that allows you to create a roleplaying profile that other players will be able to view. You’ll also be able to view other people’s profiles - and if you play on a designated roleplaying server such as Wyrmrest Accord, Moonguard, or Argent Dawn, you’ll see plenty. I recommend Downloading it on Curse; there are plenty of instructions on how, but in case you don’t know, it goes in the folder you see over yonder. After you put it in the right place, you’ll be able to access some new menus in Warcraft.

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In the above GIF, I’m going through the process of adding an At First Glance slot. These are accessed by selecting your character, which will pop a new user interface element. These are quick little tidbits of your characters lore that other players can can view to get a rough idea of you at first glance. In the above I mention the quality of my Undead’s skin. I’ve named it ‘Ancient Flesh’, which could possibly mean extremely old (older than possible as far as the game’s Human timeline goes), but I felt that ancient conjured images of mummies and old tombs, which is a feeling that is often associated with characters from long ago.

You can also have At First Glance slots for your pet! To be able to do this you must rename your pet to anything other then its default name. I’ve renamed my spider to Arachnid.

….and filled out!

….and filled out!

Not wanting to fill in too much backstory, I provided a brief description of my spider’s behavior and what it looks like. I included two At First Glance slots, one which is somewhat humorous and eludes to the insidious nature of the spider. The second gives the spider some more flair. Additionally, the fact that my spider and I are never apart creates somewhat of a character flaw; if we are never apart, then even when my rogue is steathed and hidden people could still potentially spot my spider creeping about. It creates an interesting dynamic that can be brought up in roleplay!

Lesson 5 - Use everything available in the game to expand your character concept

Once I was reached a point where I could choose a profession, I decided upon Leatherworking and Skinning. I decided that since my character has old, leathery skin he probably needs constant upkeep to maintain it’s integrity. Leatherworking seemed ideal for that, and the idea that he would skin animals and use their hides to repair his own skin sounded creepy and like an awesome addition to the characters lore.

I also had the thought that my spider pal would most definitely take the opportunity to cover our character in cobwebs, particularly their eye sockets. I’ve adjusted my At First Glance slots to reflect these new ideas.

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Lesson 6 - Take notes as you go

  • Undead <- Attracts Spiders

  • Uses his treasured knife for skinning corpses

  • Leatherworking & Skin-Craft

  • I use the cannibalize skill a lot, probably part of the character

  • Old, single-minded, possibly focused on “the hunt”

  • Possible views worn skin as trophies?

  • Needs some aspect that humanizes him

I find it extremely helpful to take notes about my character, their actions, and general thoughts about roleplay hooks I could explore in the future. It’s also a good way to remember and keep track of other characters you interact with. For some characters I’ve roleplayed I’ve even turned these notes into an actual physical journal! I’ve included some notes that I’ve written down for Jaquesmont up to this point in his “creation”.

You’ll notice the last note is “an aspect that humanizes him” - given the patchwork skin grafts, the “spooky spider webs” in his eye sockets, the spiders, the knife - it all began to feel a little too horrorshow-y and derivative. I needed to think of something that could bring him back down into reality and make him more relatable to other characters and not just a mindless horror.

After some brainstorming I reasoned that he would probably have some previous experience with tailoring before hand to know how to effectively sew new skin-grafts onto his body. Given that, I’ve decided that in his former life he was but a humble tailor - many a hero begin from modest beginnings. I also decided that the knowledge of grafting skin would not be something everyone would know; luckily there are plenty of Undead characters who experiment in this area already which folds nicely into our race selection. As such, Jaquesmont now carries around a book on Skincraft that acts as his primer to keeping himself together. Another small touch is the addition of needles and thread on his person, and a tradesman’s apron that holds his effects together. These reinforce the idea that he used to be a tailor and not a terrible monstrosity or a nameless assassin.

Wait a minute… treasured old slightly ruined knife… past life as a tailor…

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His knife is one half of a pair of tailoring shears! Of course he would hold on to such a treasured possession; not only is it his tool of the trade, but also the only remnant of his previous life as a tailor. The concept has come full circle back to the item I based it on, and is now a holistic character design. Let’s finish all the other little bits of fluff!

Lesson 7 - The devil is in the details

At First Look Slots

At First Look Slots

After a trip to the Transmogrifier

After a trip to the Transmogrifier

At this point my character concept is basically done. The only bits left are the finish my At First Glance slots, fill out his biography, and let people know I’m open to roleplay. This phase also includes my favorite bit; visiting the Transmogrifier to change my characters clothes and carried items. You can find the Transmogrifier here in Stormwind, and here in Orgrimmar. Even though rogues in Warcraft typically use two weapons (such as two daggers) I found I can reliably use one dagger and an offhand book with the Subtlety talent tree. My DPS may suffer but that’s not really the point of any of this, is it?

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I’ve done some basic filling out of my character’s profile, adding a bit of humor where I could to keep things light and let others know I’m not super serious all the time. I gave him enough of a rough backstory to aid in other players understanding his motivations and demure so he doesn’t just seem like a patchwork edge-lord. My ‘Currently’ description is a short blurb to help reinforce his story, and I’ve added a nice message to my ‘Out of Character’ (OOC) to let people know I am interested in others initiating roleplay.

Hearkening back to Lesson 3, one last minute addition to my character is switching out my spider pet for a maggot. I felt that having a maggot around would be handy for a character who works with old, new, and decaying flesh. Such flesh would probably already attract maggots to begin with, so why not befriend one! I also felt this reinforced my character concept even more, and since I rarely see people with maggot pets I thought it’d make a good talking point.

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Squishy and adorable.

Squishy and adorable.

And that’s basically it! My character concept is ready to go; it’s well-rounded and each aspect reinforces the last. He has rough backstory, and rational reason for his actions. I’ve left a lot up in the air to be able to come up with a more in-depth backstory in the future, but for now I have a super solid foundation ready to dip into any roleplaying scenario I might come across!

Which leads us to our final lesson:

Lesson 8 - Be brave; go forth and roleplay

The hardest thing for those new to roleplay is confidence in approaching others with experiencing. I’ve found most new roleplayers feel embarrassed or shy about roleplaying, and generally feel silly ‘pretending’; for many people it’s an activity left behind in childhood. You should of course wait until you’re comfortable, and perhaps have taken some time to observe others roleplaying before jumping in - but please eventually do jump in. You will become more comfortable with experience and most roleplayers are super friendly and accommodating to new players. Even though a community may seem niche, it’s more often because they are so wrapped up in the roleplay!

I hope you this was useful to you and helpful in your journey into roleplaying - I’ve been roleplaying for decades and it’s absolutely one of my favorite aspects of games. After you get a taste, you’ll never want to play on a non-roleplay server again!


Safe travels out there ❤

Bryan CohenComment