Written by | Posted September 8, 2015 – 9:51 pm Descent and Ascent

It didn’t take long to get from Thunder Bluff to the Echo Isles – Ankona took advantage of a wyvern so she could think and plan before getting to her destination. She had information to confirm with the spirits – was Gromnor dead? Was he really in the northern part of the Eastern Kingdoms, somewhere […]

filed under Roleplay
Character Independence
comment 10 Written by on October 15, 2009 – 12:27 pm

So one of the things I talk about every now and again is character creation. How to make a new character, things to think about, ways to make them balanced and interesting, and even lists of questions to consider about them.

But at some point, at least in my experience, you get a character built up and start RPing with them… and then all hell breaks loose.


Because that character takes on a life of his or her own.

And every once in awhile, you turn around in the middle of an RP conversation, look at your character, and say “WAIT WUT? WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?!”

Maybe this is a product of my very free and unconcerned attitude towards backstory.

None of my characters have a document where I tell you exactly what happened to them, and when, and how, and why. Aely’s childhood story is the closest thing to that – and she was a fully developed character before any of that came to be. When I start RPing with a character, they do have a loose history, but I’m more interested in seeing where they go from here – seeing how interaction brings them to life and how they take shape.

Without a backstory that’s set in stone, their history is (mostly) their own. I don’t decide when I roll a new character exactly what their opinions are on everything – those opinions are shaped by their interactions in game… and sometimes they come out of left field and reveal something new, and I’m left stammering, wondering when or where they got that from.

The character basically becomes independent from my conscious development process – and I’m free to set them up for things without knowing exactly how they might respond.

Does this happen to anyone else? Do you guys encourage this kind of independence for your characters or do you prefer to keep more control over where things go and how they react?


*This post is inspired by Aely, who threw me a curveball last night. I’m still trying to process exactly what the implications are, but what happened, and what she said, puts a lot of things about her character into very stark relief.

If you enjoyed the article, why not subscribe?

10 Responses to “Character Independence”

  1. It happens to me on occasion, probably most often with Annalea. I didn’t know that she smoked every now and then until the night Tarquin offered her a cigarette and she accepted it. But it felt right, so I went with it.

    More significantly, one of the defining parts of her backstory came to me in two different pieces. I was writing up a conversation between Threnn and Anna that came a month or two before Threnn and Bricu’s wedding. I knew that the al’Cair women had a family history of difficult pregnancies, and Threnn was scared about telling Bricu about it — she knew how badly he wanted children, and she was afraid she couldn’t have any.

    What I didn’t know was that Annalea herself had miscarried, until about halfway through their talk. Anna tried downplaying Threnn’s fears, logically explaining their mother’s and grandmother’s problems. Then Threnn looked at Anna and said, “But what about you?

    I sat back from the keyboard and was like, “Whoa. Am I sure about this?” It turned out that yes, I was.

    But the story remained vague for a long, long time. I stayed away from it. Outside of Threnn flashing back to the night it happened, I didn’t explain what had caused the miscarriage because I didn’t know; all I had was Threnn’s point of view, and Annalea was too out of it to say anything.

    Then, nearly a year later, I had Anna get into a scuffle in Shattrath. It was supposed to be a little bit of comic relief because the RP channels were quiet. As the night went on, though, it became more than that — it was someone she knew from her past, someone who frightened her. But someone she was angry enough at to pick a fight with despite the fear.

    As I thought about what someone could have done to her to get that reaction, I remembered that not only had the cause of Anna’s miscarriage never been mentioned, I’d also stated that she’d never named who the baby’s father was. It was information I didn’t ever think I’d fill in, but there I was, watching those two facts and her fisticuffs unveil her backstory.

    So, yeah, it does happen. I’ve steered away from other plot points from time to time — there’s something I’m mulling over for Lyr right now, actually — but most of the time, I run with it.

  2. It happens to me, yes. On in-game quests as well as in stories… Kayeri was doing the early quests up at the Argent Tourney grounds when they were still building. Kay got SO upset at the idea of killing young tree spirits that she absolutely refused to proceed. Instead she went and blew up some rocks in the Storm Peaks, and worked out her anger by imagining those goblins strapped to the exploding rocks…

    Even though she’s a druid, that rather shocked me… She also flat refuses to participate in any “For the Alliance” runs, because she respects Thrall and Cairne. If everything we’ve heard about Cataclysm goes through, that may change, I don’t know… 🙂

    By Kayeri on Oct 15, 2009 | Reply
  3. Windstar is constantly surprising me. When I created her and Tad, all I really had worked out was their rather vague backstory, which would have led up to when they each stepped into Shadowglen. I am mostly shy and quiet IRL, and that’s how I was imagining my little twins. Then Star started coming to the Pig and meeting people, and now she has friends she enjoys talking with, and has even had some surprisingly fierce protective moments with a couple of them (Varenna meets obnoxious deathknight, for example). Each time something like that happens, I wind up looking at my little druid and wondering what happened. Honestly, I think it makes RPing that much more fun. 🙂

    By Kelesaria on Oct 15, 2009 | Reply
  4. I like to have at least a vague idea of what I can -do- with a backstory before I start RPing in game (or writing). Sometimes I feel unprepared that way, but it allows me and my characters to develop as they interact, rather than me trying to follow instructions. Plus, it gives me a chance to tweak and flesh out my rough outline based on who I see them becoming (and how they got there).

    I’ve found if I spend too much time creating a wonderful backstory, I don’t get to the point where I can feel comfortable going in and just letting the interactions tell the rest of the story. Instead, it’s like I have to stick to just the written story and not the “live” story.

    When I joined in at the Pig last Tuesday, I had little developed in my mind about Veidma. If I would have sat and plotted too much, who knows if she would have discovered she was allergic to kitties? 😉

  5. It totally always happens to me. In fact, I stop RPing with characters who don’t acquire that sense of independence because they end up boring me.

    I generally have about two sentences of backstory in mind when I roll a new character with whom I intend to RP. Beyond that, who that character is really results from what she does in game and what she tells me when I sit down to write about her.

  6. That’s Dir! I rolled him, a male belf paladin, for the lulz. He was a good time boy, nothing serious or deep. I made him my DK’s brother for her plot.. and he ran off on his own and started doing great things.

    I never would have guessed that underneath that jaded and lecherous exterior, he is really easygoing and just genuinely likes people. He’s the kind of guy who keeps his ex-lovers as friends.. and he has A LOT of exes. Bit by bit, he’s telling me who he is. All of my characters have had their moments of revelation but he’s the one who took the bit between his teeth and ran off practically on his own.

  7. I’m always torn by questions like this. On the one hand, I like the sound of how free these simple backstories make characters. While I don’t script out lots of events, I do tend to have a general idea of where they came from. Sometimes, I even have an idea of where they are going.

    I’ll use Dorri as an example. I knew I wanted a paladin to play hordeside and the moment they were a confirmed class, that was decided. Ghaar’s decision to have his warlock’s conniving succubus also be trapped in a belf body as a paladin added a friend for my pally. I already knew that Elerlissa would end up corrupting Dorri. I knew that Dorri’s original path was that of a mage and I knew she was angry.

    What I didn’t know was that a few weeks into BC, Elerlissa would have talked Dorri into leaving her guild in a fit of anger. Or that Dorri would end up spending time in Shattrath with Keltyr after raids, walking around and boosting up his ego. Or that Keltyr would find Dorri similarly attractive.

    Anyway, I had more than just a general backstory to get to that point. It wasn’t point by point, but it had some really strong incidents already in there.

  8. Arvoss has been pretty easy to RP. His backstory, while not set in stone, was pretty much complete by the time he got out of Acherus. He does do things now & then that make me go “Huh, I didn’t know that” but for the most part he’s stayed true to what I had planned for him.

    Shaurria, on the other hand, has been completely surprising me for the past month. She’s done things that I never imagined her doing, like latching on to Aely and Feliche the way she did. Her deciding to sit and talk with them was completely her own idea. Her occasional episodes of “mama kitty” were another surprise, like a couple weeks ago when Aleros seemed to be sick and she kept going over to check on him. Last night with that death knight was another example. I’m still not sure why he creeped her out that much.

    I could go on and on about this, but I think I’ll make my own blog post rather than clutter yours up. >.>

  9. Heh… “character independence” pretty much sums up all of my characters all of the time. In fact, even when I do start out with a fairly well-defined idea of who and what my character is going to be, I often find myself needing to adjust those preconceived notions as time goes on. Usually, I I start out with a rough idea of the character’s personality and a few key points from their past, and I discover the rest as I go. On the rare occasions when I do try to be a bit more detailed with a character’s backstory, I find that it hinders me; like Syrana, I end up feeling constrained by what I’ve written.
    So my characters definitely get a lot of opportunities to surprise me in all sorts of ways, both as they fill in the details of their past and as they form surprising connections with other characters in the present. For example, I never would have guessed that Corise, a gnome rogue of questionable morals, would form an incredibly close friendship with a Light-loving paladin — or that Lakena, a Kaldorei whose parents witnessed the Sundering and impressed upon her the dangers of arcane magic, would end up married to a human mage. Jenive always struck me as entirely too logical and unemotional to have any romantic inclinations — until she met Imble and fell head over heels in her own hilariously awkward and endearing way. And Yelgah, who was originally intended to be almost dogmatic in her devotion to the Light, changed considerably when my husband and I decided to level our dwarflings in the draenei starting zone and thus exposed our characters to the shamanism of the Broken and the Stillpine Tribe of furbolgs.

    By Corise on Oct 17, 2009 | Reply
  10. I like having a very loose backstory because it does leave room for your characters to surprise you. Mine do all the time. All I decided for Kyraine before I rolled her right before TBC was that she was from Gilneas, liked hitting things with sharp objects for money, and took up herb/alchemy to pay the bills after she got hurt on a job and was sidelined from fighting for a while. I rolled her to level with a friend’s new Draenei priest and shaman, so I deliberately picked a loose background that would leave her without much attachment to any one place, a good deal of room to interact with others, and a reason to leave the Eastern Kingdoms for the Draenei lands.

    Everything else came after I started RPing with her in game. And she’s changed so much from when I first rolled her. While she still likes getting paid for fighting, she’s also found people she genuinely cares about and would drop everything to go help. I can’t really think of one character that I’ve had a real detailed backstory for, what I’ve done with Kyraine worked when I first started WoW with my druid and has kept on working since then. I like not knowing and discovering through game events who they are and being surprised by them. It’s just better that way.

    By Kyraine on Oct 18, 2009 | Reply

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.

Want to subscribe?   

 Subscribe in a reader Or, subscribe via email: