((The RP XP with MJ))
First, a quick thank you to everyone who responded to my first article, “A Jedi Walks Into a Bar….” It’s great to see so much response to my intro and the subject of RP. In fact, I was so moved by the awesome questions and comments, I decided to jump the gun on Friday’s article and give you something else to chew over until then. If you’re new to RP, this is for you.
Four Imperial soldiers stood in formation on the action deck of the destroyer Shroud. Only one of them would be chosen for promotion and a field assignment that would grant limitless power through complete autonomy. Only one would be given the position of Imperial Agent.
As the colonel approached to inspect the four officers, each one stiffened even more than they already were.
Lieutenant 8311, Jenla Ruf, stood at rigid attention just like the other three, but she stood out more than the others. She was the only Chiss in the line. She was also the only female. She also sported a bruised left cheek, a broken nose and assorted other bruises and contusions all covered by her starched Imperial uniform. Though all four soldiers had served the Empire well, and all were decorated similarly, the inspecting colonel couldn’t take his eyes off this Chiss woman’s deep blue skin and glowing red eyes.
Whether it was her obvious differences that held his eye, or the unasked question concerning her injuries, Jenla couldn’t say. She wondered if the colonel would recognize the signs of hazing a non-human in the ranks.
After taking a long time soaking up Jenla’s perfectly precise form, from her long jet black hair pulled back tight under her cap to her spit-shined boots, the colonel glanced over the other three before speaking. “As you know, Moff Liraja has authorized me to only accept one of you as a field agent for this sector. I will commence by interviewing each of you one at a time.” He pointed to Jenla. “I’ll start with the Chiss. The rest of you can stand down until you are called.”
The officers simultaneously clicked their heels and about-faced, except for Jenla Ruf who bowed slightly in salute before following the colonel to his office.
Once in the office, Jenla snapped to attention and locked her eyes on a point on thew all in front of her as the colonel made his way around the desk and sat down. “Name.” The colonel said it as a statement, but Jenla knew the drill.
“Lieutenat 8311, Jenla Ruf, sir.”
She remained silent, staring, sensing his movements through her peripheral vision, noting that he was looking through data tablets and reviewing her file. He said nothing for a long time before finally looking up and frowning. “According to your record, you served the Chiss Ascendancy as a linguist but were never taken as Trial-born.”
Jenla nodded curtly. “No sir.”
“While my family had contacts and Trial-Borns within the military, sir, I felt it best to prove myself outside of the Ascendancy in service of the Empire… sir.”
The colonel leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. Jenla could detect his grim smile. “Why? …I mean… why not prove yourself to your own people? The Ascendancy is allied to the Imperial cause. You could have gained valuable experience as a Trial-born.”
“I disassociated myself from my family, colonel. I felt I had more to contribute to the greater good of the galaxy.” She swallowed. “Besides, the Empire is greater… sir.”
“So you left Csilla and joined the Empire.”
Jenla nodded but remained focused straight ahead. “Yes, sir.”
“I must say you have quite an impressive record for a runaway, though your career path is marked with conduct issues, fighting…” The colonel stood so that his eyes locked with hers. “Tell me the truth, Lieutenant Ruf. You fled Csilla because you actually couldn’t make the cut as a Trial-born, isn’t that correct? You didn’t choose the Empire over the Ascendancy. You ran away, a coward to your own culture and a failure, isn’t that true?”
Jenla blinked and felt the rims of her eyes burn. She remembered the ranting, the yelling and the insults she endured from her own father, his demands that she marry Lord Fronosen’s son, to forge new grounds and become the first Ruf to marry into a connected family, drawn up into the political ranks of the Chiss, to be seated in the House Palace as the wife of a ruling family clansman. It would have been easy to acquiesce, to let her father’s demands win and to become a servant to the Chiss hierarchy, but she didn’t want to serve the Ascendancy; so close to her father and Fronosen’s family, she’d have no room to grow, to be free, to find power of her own.
“Answer me, lieutenant,” The colonel growled, “Isn’t it true that you turned your back on your own family, your own heritage, disavowed the very family that struggled to find a place among the ruling houses on Csilla?”
Jenla swallowed. “I did, sir. I–“
“Then how do I know I can trust you to command Imperial resources in the field?” He slammed a gloved index finger down onto a stack of tablets and sent a couple of the clattering to the floor. “Tell me how I can trust that you won’t turn your back on the Emperor, on Moff Liraja, on me.” He held out a hand and waved it over her features. “I mean look at you. You’re a mess.”
Jenla broke her gaze and looked into the colonel’s eyes. In a soft voice that slowly escalated, she said, “Because, sir, I threw all of that away, cast off the chaff of my birthright, spit on my family, turned my back on a chance to be Trial-born, all so I could prove my strength as part of the Empire. I saw Imperial service as the greater challenge. Yes, sir, it’s true that I turned my back on Csilla. But it’s also true that I served the Imperial military with courage and determination.” Junla’s teeth clenched as the vein in her temple throbbed. “I have found my place and my purpose, colonel. I love the Empire. I shall serve it and the Emperor until my death.” She nodded to the tablets. “Those marks on my record, sir, they came in self defense as well as defense of the Empire.”
“To what do you aspire, Ruf?”
Without missing a beat, as if this was the one question she had been waiting for, Jenla said, “I will be Grand Moff one day, sir.”
The colonel smirked and folded his arms across his chest. “Indeed.”
Roleplaying is more than just “rolling up” an appearance for an avatar and coming up with a cool name. It’s all about giving birth to a character, a living, breathing product of your creativity. The best RP experiences are those created by players whose characters achieve depths beyond the numbers and their physical appearance. They have a history before any other role-played character meets them, and they’ll continue to build upon that history as they progress. Having a good character means having a history to draw upon.
Let’s take poor Jenla Ruf for example. What do we know about her? Well, we know that she’s Chiss, that she’s a proud soldier of the Empire and that her loyalties to the Empire are stronger than the bonds she had to her own family. We know that her father was cruel to her, that she was destined to be married into the Aristocra of the Ruling Families of Csilla but decided to run away instead. We know that she could have been highly placed, almost regal among her people, but she’d rather get dirty and struggle with her own hands to get to the top, and that the Chiss military wasn’t a good enough test for her abilities. We know that she’s a dedicated career officer, is prone to taking chance, and we can assume that she had a hard time getting where she was because she was different than the fellow officers who — if her bruises are any indication — took their impressions to physical limits. We know Jenla is proud, that she’ll stand tall in the face of threat or adversity. She’s a fighter. She can — and will — defend herself. We also know she’s poor and only has what the Empire has given her. We know she’s undoubtedly well-schooled in the art of assassination and other activities of potential Imperial Agents because she has thought of nothing but. We know she’ll be loyal to the colonel, and that she’ll maintain her loyalty all the way to the top.
Beyond that, we know what we’ve learned from the SWTOR sources and articles online about the Chiss in general, so we can surmise that the Chiss make good Imperial Agents. Among the things that aren’t mentioned that we can assume, we can probably guess that Jenla Ruf would have an ample storehouse of past emotions and experiences that would lead her to revenge. If she gets the promotion, for example, what will she do with that power where the other officers are concerned, the ones who hazed her? And how will she be when she meets others of her kind. Many Chiss are Imperial Agents. She’s bound to run into one sooner or later. Will they know she turned her back on her home? Would they find out or would she build a pack of lies to protect herself? Would she fall in love, or remain faithful to her career?
That’s a lot of info for a character that hasn’t even stepped out of the opening cinematic of Star Wars: The Old Republic. It’s all back story, characterization, It’s a history created by the player of Jenla Ruf to give her a broad spectrum of points to play off of in RP.
If you’re new to roleplaying, there’s only a couple of things for you to note before we begin. First, your character is not you. It’s not an extension of you, it’s not who you wish you could be, it’s not you “only evil.” Your character is to you what an actor is to a director. It is the avatar of the creative history you’re making. Second, keep in mind that nothing is arbitrary. Everything from your character’s name to the way they walk and talk to what they wear — even their class — is tied in to who they are and how they live.
Begin with an Archetype
An archetype is a broad generalization for your character. One of the easiest ways to narrow down your character’s voice is to begin as open as possible. Archetypes may include something like: hero, villain, mother figure, career-oriented, cheater, comedian, scoundrel. Jenla, for example, was built upon a “Career Officer” archetype. We know that most of her motivations will be geared toward advancement in the Imperial military and that she takes her job more seriously than anything else.
Narrow the Focus
Once you have a generalized archetype, start to narrow it down and refine it into something unique or individual. If you’re having trouble, ask yourself how or why that character would be pegged as that archetype. Was she always like that or was she something else before the war? Did her parents or culture drive her to that archetype? Is she the way she is because of peer pressure or some other outside stimulus? As I established with Jenla, her desire to get out on her own and “prove herself,” coupled with a desire to be in the military rather than an aristocracy, all contributed to Jenla’s archetype. She chose to be a soldier, and to be the best soldier she can be, she has to set her sights high. Why not Grand Moff one day?
Choose an Alignment
Thanks to the game designers at Bioware, you can find comfort in the fact that SWTOR isn’t all black and white. There are several shades of gray that exist between the light and dark sides, the Republic and the Empire. A Jedi, for example, can choose the Dark path and answer accordingly during the in-game conversation choices. In RP, the Jedi can behave coldly toward those around him, even exhibiting signs of angst, greed or callousness. Jenla Ruf hovers somewhere between chaotic good and neutral evil. Would she save an innocent life as long as it wouldn’t jeopardize her climb of power? Sure. Would she sacrifice herself to save a fellow soldier? Probably not. Would she kill a friend if it meant a promotion? Hmm. Probably. She’s not unpredictable, but she can be hard to read in any given day-to-day circumstance. She’s also selfish (remember, she left her family and entire culture behind to suit her own desires).
Write the History
Don’t start with, “Trooper Tom was born on….” No. Start at present time (game start) and work backwards. Jenla is a soldier with the Empire. Was she something else before that? Yes, a linguist. How long ago was that and what did she do for a living? How old is she? What prompted her to join the military? What was it like growing up on Csilla? You can really get deep with questions relating to your history. I’ll cover things like politics and religion in another article. For now, keep it as simple as a timeline working backwards from present until you reach the catalyst for your character’s archetype. Example: When Jenla was only 10 years old, her father began showing signs of favoritism toward her brothers. It seems he didn’t want a girl. He wanted another boy. Work family members into the history, but include them only if they add to your characterization. Don’t give your character a dozen siblings, aunts, uncles or cousins unless it’s an important part of why he is the way he is. Remember, nothing is arbitrary.
Avoid the “Mary Sue” Trap
Your character is a “Mary Sue” if he or she is too idealistic. If you step into your roleplay with a character who is the “The best gunfighter in the galaxy,” “The youngest, most successful bounty hunter who ever lived,” “The Jedi who holds a seat on the Council at Tython,” “The most beautiful woman in the universe,” you’re locking yourself out of the RP. It would be like walking into your job and saying, “I’m the boss.” Just saying it doesn’t make it so and actually does the opposite to empower you among other RPers. It makes your character (and you) a joke. A simple rule to avoid the Mary Sue trap is to NEVER put your character on the “top” or “best” of anything. NEVER be perfect. Add flaws and weaknesses to your character to make them more believable and real. Be very careful with “used to” as well. You’re not really avoiding the Mary Sue brand if all that power, wealth or experience is just out of reach, but accessible. That’s not to say you can’t weave power, wealth or experience into your story. There are ways to bring the gold to the table without being a Mary Sue. Let’s take Jenla Ruf for example. The interviewing colonel points out that she could have been aristocracy on her home world, that she could have married into wealth (and possibly power). That’s true, but notice that her history makes it clear that she burned that bridge. Not only is Jenla NOT part of the Chiss Ascendancy, she’s an outcast. She’d never be able to pull political strings, call in favors, or exercise power. She doesn’t have it. The fact that she COULD have had it but turned her back gives her an interesting history, sure, but it’s unobtainable. Oh, and for the love of the Force, NEVER NEVER NEVER tie yourself to canon. Even if you say, “My character is the long lost cousin of Bastilla from KOTOR,” you’re setting yourself up for giggles and eye-rolls. “Long lost” doesn’t change the fact that you tied yourself to galactic history. In a future article I’ll go into greater detail about character histories and connections in- and out-of canon. For now, you’d do yourself a favor by avoiding any canon correlations right from the start.
Name your Character
The reason this comes last and not first is that your character’s name reflects who they are in fiction. Everything you built up to this point from the broad archetype to the deep history of your character has meaning that starts and ends with their name. Think of the names “Vader,” “Skywalker,” and “Solo,” and think of what they themselves evoke. Choose a name that presents a certain feeling about the character from the start, and avoid — AT ALL COSTS — names that cannot be pronounced phonetically. Remember, RP communication is typically text-based. The other players don’t know the “K is silent” because they don’t “hear” your character pronounce his name. It’s a good idea to avoid apostrophe clutter. Sure, throw an apostrophe into a name and it becomes “alien,” but keep in mind that the little hack between two letters changes the pronunciation of the name. And, sure “S’rak” may look cool, but why not simply say “Sorak” or “Serak” or “Srak” to make your character’s name easy to remember (and mentally pronounce). Let’s break down “Jenla Ruf.” First, it’s a short name, easy to pronounce phonetically and short enough to clearly remember. “Jen” is the diminutive of “Jenny” or “Jennifer,” a girl’s name that brings to mind a certain level of sweetness or innocence. “La” is musical. “Jenla,” then, may evoke a certain level of kindness or innocence, it also sounds like a Star Wars name. It’s obviously a contradiction to “Ruf,” which throws a curve ball. It could be pronounced “roof” but appears as “rough,” and either one applies to her character. Her last name is a gut-punch, a break in the lyrical flow of her first name. It puts a hard punctuation at the end of her name and makes it strong, solid, militaristic. It also adds to her history of hazing. “Roof” sounds silly for a name and you can easily see how it could have been used to tease her as she was growing up and going through military training. “Ruff” is a sound a dog makes. …Poor Jenla.
Flesh out the Personality
There’s a simple exercise used in fiction writing that will come in handy here. Write your character’s name in the middle of two sheets of paper, then draw five lines coming out from the name like spokes on a wheel. Each of the “spokes” connects to each of the five senses. Seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touch. On the first sheet, write down the words that others experience about your character. Use your imagination, step outside your character and look at her from another perspective. For example: Jenla LOOKs like a Chiss whose been through the ringer. Her voice SOUNDs feminine but has a hard edge to it. I can’t imagine what her lips must TASTE like because she’s married to her career and has probably never been kissed. She SMELLs of polished leather and uniform starch, sweat rather than perfume. She FEELs muscular, lean, scarred. Now do the same thing on the other sheet but direct it out from your character’s point of view. Jenla SEEs the world as black and white. There is no gray in her line of sight. Her favorite color is black. Jenla doesn’t LISTEN to music. She finds it distracting. The sound of blaster fire makes her happy. Her favorite food is anything SPICY, and she craves meals that are high in protein. The SMELL of gun oil excites her and makes her feel powerful. She enjoys the FEEL of a sniper rifle bucking in her arms as her target drops. The exercise can be as deep or shallow as you want to make it. It can also give you ideas that you can backtrack to your character’s history. The fact that Jenla Ruf had never been kissed never even occurred to me until I got to the “taste” spoke of the characterization wheel. As it crossed my mind, I might have added something to her history to make her more dynamic, give her a soft side that contradicts her military lifestyle. Maybe she’s too shy for intimacy. Maybe she’s always pined for a relationship that would give her life greater meaning. Be careful. Don’t make your character too cold and unapproachable. RP works best when you can share your story with others. If you create a character who’s too shy to talk to anyone or too cold-hearted to trust, you’ll never get to RP.
That should be enough to get you started. The rest will fall into place.
Naturally, there are other ways to go about creating a character for an MMO. This is just one of the very deep ways you can get into it if you’re creating a character to RP. In a future article I’ll talk about how you can create a perfectly viable RP character from bare bones and without a lot of forethought, a little something to add depth to your hastily-created alt, for example.
How do you create an RP character? Send your methods and ideas to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear about them! Also, if you use this method to create an RP character, and would like to share your results, please do! Let’s see what you come up with.
Next time I’ll talk about Forum RP and character appearance. Did you know color plays a big role in who you are?
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