Oct 21, 2011

Posted by in All The Galaxy's A Stage | 17 Comments

All The Galaxy’s A Stage: Does SW:TOR Define Your RP?

All The Galaxy’s A Stage is a regular column at Ask A Jedi with some lofty, creative goals.  On one hand, we will be discussing and exploring meaningful topics to support the role-play experience and community.  On the other hand, we also want to introduce the casual Role-Player to the writing-acting experience that can add so much more to an MMORPG like Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Share your perspectives and experience as we co-create magical story in that galaxy far, far away!

An interesting and yet very relevant question was posed on the official forums.  “Does your class define your RP?”  This question and ensuing responses not only reminded me of a concept in RP that I consider sacrosanct but also got me to thinking that there may be RPers that allow the game to not only define their class but also their story.

Character Sovereignty

Character Sovereignty basically means that only you get to decide what choices your character makes.  Your character and their background are yours.  This, in my humble opinion, is an essential and sacrosanct concept in RP.  In essence, this means that someone can’t come in and tell you what your character does or what your character did.

This also means that even though BioWare have created these nifty classes and class stories you do not have to follow what has been presented to you.  It is completely your perogative whether or not to incorporate some or all of the class stories and class make-up as a part of your character.

Choosing Your Character Class

The main intent of the question was to see if anyone else had encountered the same constraint that they had.  The Star Wars galaxy is big and those familiar with the movies and Extended Universe are aware that the 8 classes (and 16 advanced classes, or ACs) are by no means the sum total of what people do in the galaxy.  The 16 ACs are the classes we have been presented with by BW for the purposes of playing through a heroic story in the Star Wars galaxy.

From my point of view no one, and certainly not a game, should define my RP.  However, I want to play a Jedi that uses the Force and so rolling a Jedi Sage makes a lot of sense.

That said, a valid point is being made in the post.  If you want to play an Imperial Trooper, a law enforcement official, a member of the militia, or even a moisture farmer, then what class do you play?  Those who do not RP might not appreciate the significance of this question but it is a valid one.

I am aware of RPers that are not only create guilds to do things like run cantinas and smuggling rings, but also of players who are looking forward to creating roles that sit on the fringes of regular RP.  They’re not looking (in character) to be that hero that BW has created the class stories around.  They are looking to explore what it’s like to be a normal person in a galaxy far, far away.  This is all good stuff.  But such a choice does present the conundrum of what class to play.  But in the end, I am only letting the class define my RP if I set a concept aside and only considered RPing one of the original eight.

Story and background

The class stories are also worth considering too.  BioWare’s class story does not define my RP.   If you’re the kind of RPer that creates a background for your character (your story) and then plays SWTOR you will find these two stories at odds.

I get the impression that some players might feel that their immersion is broken.  Others might decide to play the story and accept as their own.  Obviously, this presents a bit of a challenge in that you’ve now got many other people with the same story as yours.  If every such player met up in the local cantina and started telling their SWTOR-inspired war stories over a glass of Rhodian ale then it might get a bit confusing.

The typical seasoned role-player will not face this issue.  They have created (or will create) a backstory for their character, will play the game, will ignore most of the story, and will get on with RPing with their buddies.  However, the purpose of this column is to raise awareness to those who are getting their heads around what role-play is for the first time.

Wrap Up

In closing, I wanted to play a Jedi that uses the Force as my main and so the class choice is easy.  However, do you have a character concept in mind that doesn’t fit with any of the 8 classes?  What’s your plan to deal with this?  Are you a newer role-player who is wondering how to deal with this?  Please share your thoughts and questions below.

  1. Right now I wan to Play a Jedi Knight/Guardian because that fits with the RP that I want to play. As far as story goes some of what happens on Tython I will put into my storyline, however I have a complete back story as to why I am on Tython, and it’s not just because I am an exceptional force user about to go through his trials. after for what happens with Bioware’s class story, if I like it I’ll put it into my story if not I will enjoy the experience and move on creating my story as I go.

    • That and Force Leap may never, ever get old :D

      I think you’ve got a good approach. One of the things that stands out in good story for me is that classic themes and character archetypes presented through an experience like this really can be inspirational for ones own story.

  2. I actually realized after I read this column, how much I’m looking forward to TOR. I’ve played or tried so many MMORPG’s and basically, I usually follow the same formula-I goto the character creator and get a simple background in my head while I’m designing my avatar. TOR has already changed my thinking. I wanted to get some really good, unique names for my avatars, so I started a simple list. Then I decided, ok..I’ll add races/classes to them. Next thing I know I’ve got several short histories written for them. My excitement for this release has already snuck up on me, and this column got me thinking about it enough to realize how much I’m really excited about RP’ing again.

    • That’s great to read. I’m really looking forward to playing it (and already have had the pleasure of a beta testing weekend). The excitement is mounting and after three years of waiting it really is a great time to get a concept or two ready…

    • That is exactly what i did i started to come up with names then i developed the spiecies then the class and then the AC and then walah i have a short backstory for every play i will have

  3. These are some good points to consider. Not unlike the whole “multiple versions of the same companions running around”. I too have my own backstory that I’ve crafted within my own guild. I think that the way I’m going to reconcile between the story I’ve created and BW’s, is that BW’s occurs after my written history. Obviously my intro, < level 10 story, will not match my background, but with a little creative licensing (hey, it's my bio BTW I can do what I want), I can adjust as I feel appropriate.

    I'd briefly considered and thought about how the two histories would mesh, but it's good to know that I'm not the only one who's thought about this.

    • I think anyone who’s RPed is going to be thinking at some level about this. Given that my main character’s background is as a Jedi Master I’d actually have to adjust the entire story to accept any part of it. But then the player whose character is my character’s Padawan has to do a lot less finessing since his character is a Padawan at game launch. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

  4. I think there are three basic ways folks will interact with Bioware’s scripted storytelling.

    1) The newbie or non-roleplayer will probably take much or all of the story at face value as their own character’s story (to the extent a non-roleplayer sees his character as anything more than a tool to advance in the game). Why shouldn’t they? That’s what it’s made for.

    2) A, theoretical, pure roleplayer would immediately recoil from the idea of anyone telling him how to play his character. In fact, many of the default assumptions of most MMOs put off this kind of roleplayer, limiting their creativity or constantly testing suspension of disbelief, so much that they’d only theoretically ever be in one.

    3) A veteran MMO roleplayer tends be somewhere in between. They want to be able to tell their own stories so they take scripted content with a big grain of salt, it’s maybe part of some general background but it’s not something that directly tells their own story.

    For reasons noted, MMO-RP vets understand, unlike newbies, you can’t have a bunch of folks with the same story running around and hope to have meaningful interactions.

    They may not feel as constrained by the limits graphical, commercial, MMOs place on the environment as a pure roleplayer: they’re used it. Many have also developed the imaginative callous to ignore things that don’t fit whether disruptive players or stupid developer decisions (winged cupid Ewoks? Really SWG? Okay…maybe we can’t TOTALLY ignore them). This stuff can make a pure, immersionist, roleplayer’s head explode. “How do you put up with it?”

    My concern initially, and still is, whether there’s really a role for roleplayers if Bioware’s largely done our job for us. One part of our success in SWG, I think, was that our creativity and storytelling filled a void. Roleplayers gave meaning to the community and brought a Star Wars flair to an otherwise fairly soulless (if in many ways brilliant) creation.

    Are the stories we tell, we talented amateurs, to each other going to be remotely as interesting as the ones presented with lovely cut-scenes and voice acting that Bioware presents us with? Am I going to want to sit around a cantina and listen to parlour-room politics and soap opera gossip when I can, instead, roll up a new alt and get launched into a grand adventure? We don’t even have Player Generated Content tools to create our own grand adventures for the more talented and ambitious roleplayers out there. How can we compete?

    I know. Many roleplayers will want to do what they’ve done in other MMOs regardless of how good Bioware’s storytelling is and there’s not an infinite amount of it (just close to that much). But, man, many of us are really into story and character and roleplaying is just one way to get that fix. If there’s another, slicker, easier way so close to hand…

    • A great set of comments, OddJob :)

      On the balance I don’t have concerns. You make a good point that with SWG there was a void to fill and that SWTOR presents a different challenge. However, I think that RPers are very adaptable. If the LotRO main storyline has proven anything it is you can take a great story and add pieces onto it. Much like many of the RPers who played out the Galactic Civil War in SWG I think we’ll see many RP guilds and RPers play out their interpretation and story of the current cold-war and potential escalation into the next war.

      I had the occasion to play through a beta testing weekend recently. And whilst I can’t obviously speak about that experience I can offer a perspective based on what cutscene snippets we have been able to watch. I don’t think it’s about competing. I think we’ve got the best of both worlds. What do I mean by this?

      Well, I remember SWG and having to grind levels to get certain equipment or whatnot. In LotRO I had to grind my characters to level 20 to get the appearence tab. However, it was worth it since I got great flexibility for presenting my visual character in the game. With SWTOR the experience to gain levels and get access to the cooler higher-level stuff will be easier. At the same time, whilst I have a fair amount to compete with in BW’s story I still have rigid options for my dialog and a story that does eventually get done. I might not have cutscenes for other players but I do have emotes and with carefully crafted story and events can present something that is just as engaging to the imagination.

      TL;DR – Access to the higher-level stuff is more interesting for this game for RPers and no amount of brilliant BW story and cutscene will keep me engaged indefinitely. Sooner rather than later I’ll be reminded that an experience of co-creating story with hundreds of other RPers and guilds, building animosities and rivalries, stories and dilemmas, will be something that BW will never truly be able to match.

  5. Okay I’ve only just preordered the game. So I guess it’s time to get a story together.
    But one thing I think I’ll do once the game launches, this coming from a guy who has never RPd in an MMO, is to level up alone until I hit lvl 20ish and then “start” my character. And that will be when it stops being my avatar and becomes a person. This way my background story will be unique (or as close as I can get) and I can use my experience with other players to build upon that.
    This is all experimental, I have no prior experiences to draw upon. But I’ve played MMOs for years and leveling is easy, so I should be able to get into the RP without loosing many days.

    • I think you’ve got a great approach in mind. I always enjoy reading that someone new to RP is thinking about it for SWTOR. It speaks to the potential that this game offers for RP on the whole. I think it’s going to bring a flood of people new to craft into trying it for themselves.

      And I think you make a great point about the experience shifting from being an avatar to being a person in your mind. The experiences we gain from the BW story will be one thing. But the experiences we gain from other RPers and the co-created stories will only build on that.

      Enjoy this time. You only ever have a first RP experience in an MMO. And I can think of worse places to get your footing than within SWTOR :D

  6. I do my best to steer away from anything remotely resembling a spoiler, so I have absolutely no idea how the story for my chosen class will unfold. Which basically means that the background for my first TOR roleplaying main character will be a total shot in the dark. I ignore the background that is laid out by Bioware out of necessity, in a way.

    I plan on rolling one or two alts, once I feel comfortable in my main’s skin. Depending on how well Bioware handles the in-game background stories, I see myself cherrypicking the best aspects and augmenting them with my own creativity.

    • I can relate with your approach. Although interestingly, I’ve already spoiled the Consular story for myself with my beta testing weekend experience (Consular will be my main). But then I’ve got a very clear backstory in mind that has very little to do with what BW is putting on offer. I’m like you – cherrypick the best aspects and build from there.

  7. Grinstone says:

    The key to roleplaying in this kind of environment is understanding that computer games have strong limitations, and these limitations require them to railroad the character. Some may disguise it well, others poorly, but in every instance the goal is set and the character will go from A to B by one means or another.

    As others have pointed out, there are various ways of dealing with it. Some people may draw a strict line between the game and their roleplay. They’ll enjoy playing the game, but what happens there – questing, flashpoints, operations, etc. – has no influence at all on their RP (barring, perhaps, certain planned events). Others will mix and match while there will be those who consider what happens while they play is their character’s story in a very strict sense.

    In short, one can go with the flow or ignore everything but the setting. None of the choices that can be made are wrongerer or righterer than the otherers.

    • Right on! Very well put. And I resonated with the idea that some will disguise it well, and others less so. Our SWTOR RP experience is going to be a mixed bag of such observations.

  8. Oh, this was exactly what I’ve been looking for the last couple of days. I’m a rusty RPer who’s only ever roleplayed in a PbP format, and that was five years ago. Now that TOR is on the doorstep, and considering I’m a huge Star Wars fan, the prospect of RPing again has got me all excited. But then I suddenly realized that I would have to deal with this predetermined story for all my characters… Which I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about.

    But this article, along with all the insightful comments, has relayed almost all my trepidation. I suddenly feel inspired again, and not at all limited in regards to gameplay vs. roleplay.
    Now it’s just about getting used to the seemingly more faster pace of RP in an MMO compared to posts, where I can take my time and really think about it – and the fact that English is only my second language, one I’ve never tried to RP in. But all in all, I’m up for the challenge and I feel even more excited than before for TOR, and especially TOR rp!

    • Well, given the quality of your comment I’d say that you’ve got a very strong grounding in English as a second language!

      Thank you for the inspiring feedback. It’s always a real treat to read when these articles make a meaningful difference. After all, that is purpose of these articles – to inspire and support Role-Play in SWTOR. And I agree with your comment about the quality of comments.

      RP in an MMO is definitely different than PbP (Play by Play) RP on the forums. You don’t have the luxury of sitting back and having the time to formulate and compose your reply. You have to think and respond on your feet. If you’re curious I would direct you to an earlier article I wrote about ’emoting’ and RP in SWTOR here.

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