With Pandaria launching today, we’re experiencing a lot of shifts in our WoW universe. There’s a new race and class available, a new continent to explore – and a whole new set of bad guys to fight.
The bad guys are the most important part.
In any video game (or story), without a good villain, you end up in a boring, repetitive feedback loop. I think this happened to a lot of us in Cataclysm, as Deathwing provided both an untouchable bad guy (randomly torching zones) and one that we just couldn’t relate to (off in his own little world). He was a bad guy out of nowhere, a random villain that didn’t have a lot of player connection. An end boss, but not a true supervillain that we all couldn’t wait to have killed so we could stick his head on a pike. While he did bad things, it mostly seemed like “bad things” were distant from us as characters – he lit things on fire, and he let loose the elemental lords, but he was never intimately involved in the high level content (low level content had better connection, especially in specific zones), and there was never the sense that he had chosen to do evil, horrible things to a group/groups of people specifically. He was just out-of-his-brain crazy and mad.
Deathwing also had the odd position of being an enemy that we couldn’t defeat on our own – the Aspects played a huge role in his defeat, which didn’t endear me to Deathwing as an enemy. It was cool to help the Aspects, certainly, but in the end, it felt like this was more about them than it was about us.
The need for a villain is also true in RP, and I think the lack of something to truly work against left a lot of RPers feeling stagnant in this expansion. Deathwing didn’t set himself up as the kind of enemy you could write into stories – he was too distant – and his cultists were largely just another group of nutcases. Sure, we have the option of creating our own content, but it’s hard when you don’t have a collective enemy to work against the way we all worked against Arthas and the Scourge.
With Pandaria, though, we have a different sort of bad guy. There’s the Sha, which I don’t know much of anything about (I’ve avoided lore spoilers as much as possible, and would like to continue to do so, so no spoilers in comments), but there’s also the Horde. And Garrosh is setting himself up to be the kind of villain that really polarizes people. Plus I’m sure a number of other, smaller bad guys will crop up for us to work against.
But the big thing that Pandaria is trying to promote, the big new villain we’re all going to work against?
Is each other.
Blog, meet Malkavet. Malkavet, meet blog. (HI MALKAVET, WANNA WRITE A GUEST POST?)
The advantage of RP, at least in a good sized group where there are cross-faction opportunities, is that you can create your own bad guys. Right now the Feathermoon RP community is setting up for war, a war that will involve being foils for each other. Malkavet (and his guild) is certainly top on the list of Alliance targets at the moment. And the Riders, especially certain Riders, are turning themselves into targets for the Horde as well.
As players, we all need something to work against. Something from which we draw inspiration; something to challenge our characters and bring out the best, and worst, in them. We define our characters both by what they are and by what they are not, and having a good villain around gives you the “are not” part in a really fun way. The things you fight can be things that define you; which battles are worth fighting? What things are worth fighting for?
Stories are driven by conflict.
The beauty of a conflict like that between the Alliance and the Horde, as much as it can seem cliche, is that when you get a bunch of creative minds working on either side, you have a lot of story opportunities to work through. Does your character want peace? If so why? Is your character angry about current events? How do they plan to attack the growing problem that is the Horde/Alliance?
What makes for good cross-faction enemies though?
In general, you want a villain to be both believable and conceivably beatable. Evil for the sake of evil only gets you so far, but pride, lust, greed and revenge each (and often, all) feed into a bad guy’s reputation for being “real”. You also don’t want someone that is so superamazingly overpowered that they steamroll all the RP into one long string of how awesomely evil they are. That might be fun for the bad guy, but it’s pretty un-fun for everyone else, and eventually you’ll run out of people interested in being steamrolled.
A villain also needs to be intimately connected to your character – or at least to characters that your character cares about. This is a lot easier with RP, because you’re not working with millions of subscribers, you’re working with a community of RPers on one server together (generally). You can’t develop true hatred without being directly involved with other characters, and a server community has the advantage of server-lore to build on and work from, guild connections to strengthen alliances or feuds, and old grudges to keep alive.
And, of course, you need communication. Leave the hatred for the opposite faction to your characters – if you’re going to work on cross-faction RP, you need to be communicating. Sure it’s fun to have surprises, and not everything needs to be scripted, but both teams need to be on the same page most of the time. Otherwise it stops being fun for one side or the other.
The goal of RP is, of course, to have fun. It’s fun to beat a character down and watch them put themself back together. It’s fun to have someone chasing you, with the intent to bring you down. It’s fun to chase someone else as part of a team of assassins. It’s fun to develop personal enemies and rivalries and work those out in new ways. It’s fun to work with PCs or shared NPC’s that get kidnapped or killed or turn traitor and inform the other side of your secrets.
It’s not fun to have someone else decide what happens to your character. Doubly not fun when “what happens” can conceivably be “permanent character death/disfigurement.”
**A short note on character death. All of our characters visit the spirit healer now and again – that’s part of the world in which we get to play. That sort of death is VERY different from permanent character death, which is the topic of an entirely different post. For this post, let me just warn that you need to tread VERY lightly when dealing with permanent character death, and let the person whose character is going to die and go away do the majority of the decision making. I’ll have more on this in the future. **
Collaborative kind of RP is all about give and take – the balance can swing one way or the other for a little while, but keeping it from becoming overly one-sided takes a lot of communication and a commitment to both sides having a good time. Especially as you’re both trying at all costs to destroy the other guy. It’s a fun balance to keep!
So don’t be afraid to work cross faction – through writing, PVP, forums, twitter, or whatever other means you find to roleplay. But remember to keep the lines of communication open, and let your character get a beat down as often as they beat someone else down. In a lot of ways, the losses provide longer-lasting stories anyway.
And remember. When we’re fighting against each other?
Everyone has a chance to be the bad guy.
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