RoleCraft: Instanced Roleplaying

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Follow along with me as I describe this all-too-common event that seems to have taken root amongst many MMORPG roleplayers. Characters team together to venture forth into a dangerous local dungeon, or instance, as they are perhaps better known now. All in character, the group meets in town, gathers supplies, mounts up, and rides off to the location. They know each other well enough to be comfortable with each other’s play and RP style, so the conversation goes smoothly during the ride. Dismounting at the instance entrance, last minute instructions and buffs are shared, and drawing their weapons, the group charges forth with their clan / house RP warcries , bravely and boldly crossing the threshold into the instance. Once inside, and for the entire time it takes until they exit, not a single hint of RP is executed by any of them. It’s as if the instance entrance has an ‘RP block’ on, instantly denying players who enter in the ability to roleplay. In case some may not be aware, this is simply not the case. Which brings up the question, what gives?

Hear me now and believe me later, there is no reason why roleplayers cannot and should not engage in the same high quality RP within an instance as without. Personally, I’m not at all knowledgeable as to where the notion started from, but I absolutely aim to crush it here and henceforth. More than that, I want to share with fellow roleplayers why I think instances are the best places for RP, and provide some tips on how to take on these adventures with RP in mind. I hope they help!

In preparation, think about real life for a minute. I know, it’s painful, so I’ll make it quick. When you have ever taken a planned vacation, or experienced a sudden emergency, how did you act or react? Did you abruptly stop being human, cast aside the personality you’ve been developing all your years, or quickly turn into an automaton? I daresay you didn’t. In fact, at least in my experience, such times in life have been where I have witnessed the truth about what it means to be human, both from others and in myself. So, it stands to reason that your characters could very well act and react in similar fashion, especially when faced with the duress that can and does occur within an instance. An orc who walks about displaying an aloof attitude in public could easily become the most heroic protector ever seen when confronted with the dangers present in an instance, or vice-versa. Take a look at the example of Boromir in The Lord of the Rings. In that entire mythos, humans are known as weak and frail, especially in spirit and fortitude. Boromir is no exception, and for most of his time with the Fellowship, doesn’t do much to quell those fears about him. That is, until it comes time to battle the uruk-hai orcs in an effort to save the lives of two little hobbits. It’s during that fleeting moment in his life when the true character of Boromir shines. I ask you to please keep that example in mind the next time your character enters an instance in your favorite MMORPG, and see how your thoughts about RP may change.

I’ve read comments from many roleplayers, and been verbally told by an equal number of roleplayers, that the greatest reason they don’t RP in instances is because there’s just too much going on at once. What with combat, concentrating on playing your class and skills to the best of your ability, and trying not to wipe, there’s just no time and place to fit RP in. Bollocks! I submit that any excuse why some think it’s much too difficult to instance RP is a self-induced reason, and has very little to nothing to do with the environment. I think MMORPG’s make instances a bit too linear for the most part, which in turn causes many players to develop the ‘hush-n-rush’ attitude, whereas the aim is to get through the instance in as short a time as possible. I hope for enjoyment’s sake that no roleplayers fall into this trap. If you have, consider this article my way of dropping the rope down to you.

On the flip side of the above example, I’ve also come to know that roleplayers are often looking for out-of-the-way locales for RP events. I’ve scouted and keep track of such locations myself, where I can gather with fellow roleplayers away from horrid gold spammers and other players who don’t know (and/or don’t care) how rude and obnoxious it is to /yell across the entire zone on an RP server. Well, the way instances are designed, you’ll not find a more remote area in game, period. Just think: it’s you and a few of your closest roleplaying friends, and some bad guys. That’s it! Pick your favorite communication channel(s) without fear of other players stepping on your comments. Even chatting with your friends becomes easier and more fluid, and affords the use of /say chat without it being visible to some jerk who decides to come over do their best to ruin your attempt at a fun time. These are but a couple of reasons why the closed environment of an instance can and should be prime places for your RP.

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Of course, it never hurts to plan beforehand, which will certainly help in creating an even more solid instance RP experience, so be sure to! As I mentioned earlier, it’s way too easy to initiate an instance run, and one way is by enlisting help via chat channels, then just meeting at the instance entrance. BOR-ing ! This method ignores a lot of possible RP fun that could be had even before going in, not to mention greatly reduces the same possible RP fun to be had once inside. Rather than trying to coordinate everyone and everything over a chat channel, even if the conversation is IC , why not gather at a pub, guildhall, library, or some darkened room at an inn to discuss the plans and roles for the upcoming adventure? This could be right before going in, or once a day for five days prior to. This time can be used to share any knowledge players and characters may have of the instance, to insure the team knows what equipment is needed, and to gather that equipment. Is the party gathering for the benefit of one or two of its members, or to accomplish a wholly group mission? Does anyone have quests, potions, enchants, and RP ideas to share? What is the plan in case an RL event happens, like someone gets disconnected or called away abruptly? How about planning a specific place or time for a bio break? Honestly, not every instance adventure has to be planned with military precision, but some amount of planning should be done.

Lore plays an important part with instances, much more so than while your character is going about their daily business. Instances are a microcosm, a world within a world, and for this reason it behooves roleplayers to have at least common knowledge about those world. This awareness could lead into you creating RP circumstances for your character, or for helping someone else with theirs. For example, one of my favorite instances in LotRO is The Great Barrow, found deep with the Barrow-Downs of Bree-Land. It’s a wretched hive of scum and villainy, to say the least, infested with undead and Barrow crawlers. There is a large section of it which is nothing more than a huge maze, and though I’ve traversed it more than a few times, it is still able to twist and turn me in every direction but the one I want to go in. For this reason, my hobbit burglar has taken it upon himself to brave the instance and its maze solo, as many times as it takes for him to learn the correct paths through to the caverns beyond, and as a superb test of his burgle skills of stealth and cunning. It’s not easy, but it’s a whole lotta fun! As I negotiate the instance, I’m learning more and more about the environment, the denizens, the treasures that can be found within. This is making me and my character into a worthwhile guide should I hear someone looking to hire one for their own adventure into the place.

For a completely different example, I point to WoW and my character Arsonite, who’s current storyline and goal has him building his mechanostrider mount. Not content with merely purchasing a make and model built by unknown hands, Arson takes pride in his engineering skill, to the point where he shies away from mechanical contraptions not constructed by him. To that end, he’s been making forays into the depths of Gnomeregan and out onto the desolate expanse of The Shimmering Flats in order to gather the materials he needs. Now, in the above example, my hobbit started his RP goals after having completed all the game quests he had to accomplish in The Great Barrows. With Arson, I matched more than a few game quests to coincide with and as a reasoning for him visiting those two areas. Because I know the lore of Gnomeregan and the reason there are gnomes out on The Shimmering Flats, I was able to quickly put together an RP sub-segment within his overall storyline that has kept him busy and in RP mode for five levels now.

As you can see, finding or creating RP reasons for going into an instance is very easily done, but what about continuing that ease of RP once inside? Fear not, for it’s just as easy, as long as you keep your imagination alive and flowing. You’ve done all the planning necessary or desired, and your stalwart team of adventurers is standing on the other side of the instance entrance. The primary thought on a roleplayers ‘ mind should be RP, not whatever loot is going to drop, or do you have enough potions to last the dungeon, or how much longer until your girlfriend gets there. You know you don’t have one, so stop kidding yourself, and focus!

“Shoot, move, and communicate”. That’s a saying I picked up during my Army tour of duty used to describe the most basic elements that make up what a soldier should do in combat action. It is also a very handy mantra for actions within an instance, whether you are roleplaying or not. However, for roleplayers, doing these actions in their own group and individual RP styles will I think have a great effect at keeping us from falling into the ‘hush-n-rush’ pitfall. “Shoot” is of course meant for melee and magical combat. Does the spellcaster intone any words of power or emote using her ‘magic fingers’ when casting spells? Does the warrior /charge headlong into the fray, or shout curses at the enemy to intimidate and confuse them? Does the rogue do the pokity-poke and stabbity-back-stab dance? Roleplayers should!

Move” is just that – move, in an RP manner befitting your character. Note that it doesn’t mean run, or hurry, or draw aggro on an overpowering number of creatures. Take the action of scouting, especially in WoW. Stealth characters may be your first choice, of course, but what if you don’t have one in your party? Have an engineer with a Steam Tonk? A priests’ Mind Vision spell, or a warlock’s Eye of Kilrogg spell may also serve this purpose. Moving is knowing both when and where to move, and when and where NOT to move. It also means that, as long as it’s done safely, moving about the immediate area is okay. Game developers put in hundreds of hours working into the look and ambiance of these instances, and simply hurrying through them and not taking notice of the surroundings is a drastic shame! Maybe your character sees a book to read, or a beautiful wall tapestry or painting, or a tasty-looking ‘shroom. Improvise, adapt, and interact with the surroundings, RP style. Every time I’ve done this, it’s lead to something funny and memorable happening, and may also be an RP catalyst for another member of the group, or the group as a whole.

There is a disease running rampant amongst many non-RP players that causes them to look at nothing but your level and immediately conclude that you have been in so-and-so instance thousands of times, and that you should know beforehand exactly what to do every step of the way within said instance. This is to exclude them from fault in their mind when another character errors in some way. I found this out early through submitting my RP characters into pick up groups for instance runs with non-RP players. Their thinking follows that there is no time to talk. After seeing these types of groups instantly dissipate after experiencing a wipe that could’ve been avoided had they taken the time to simply talk about what may happen around the corner, I now only partner my RP characters with other RP characters. Communication is not only a vital part of RP, the chance to share and perhaps further your character’s RP story and personality, it is also the most critical component for a party to engage in while progressing through any instance. I’ve harped on RP communication in other articles, so that should suffice for this one.

Roleplaying in instances only seems a difficult task, until you actually get into it and give it a chance. Practice, and it will become as easy as roleplaying in the middle of town, perhaps easier! Take the “shoot, move, and communicate” concept with you next time, and employ them to the best of your RP ability, slowly at first if need be. Don’t rush anything, let what happens happen, and be ready to improvise on RP wherever it seems fitting. As always, I’d really like to hear from fellow roleplayers who take these tips and have their own successes or failures with them. Until next time, role on!

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