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Meddling in Roleplay: Classes & Their Function in Roleplay
by Harlwystyr, Writer — Category: Editorials
Posted February 15th 2014 11:05 AM
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you now a series of articles purely aimed for the roleplaying demographic. What do I mean by this? Well, imagine all those gaming articles around the internet being posted to inform players and potential costumers of the features of the game in question. These details range from skills, stats, world design, as well as PvP and PvE features. These articles, however, will be focusing on the roleplay that can be had within a genre, tips that might help you in getting immersed, and general news that might change how roleplay in a social media like an MMO works.
Classes & their Functions in Roleplay
First a short history. Usually, the first thing that springs to mind when the word "roleplay" is mentioned is the system and game known as Dungeons & Dragons, or D&D for short. It allowed people, through the use of statistics, mathematics, and the roll of a dice to play a given role in a setting outside the real world. Hence, people with ordinary jobs could come home after a long day of work, settle with their friends, and become heroes in their very own tale.
Since then, multiple forms of roleplay have sprung up, from live action roleplay (LARP) to various games that claim the name of RPGS, and later, MMORPGS. Arguably first came Neverwinter Nights, which gave a whole series of classes in the typical D&D format. However, the most famous MMORPG to date is World of Warcraft (WoW), in which several classes unique to the setting were implemented.
Paladins, warlocks, mages, warriors, etc. have since been portrayed and played by people across the multitude of roleplaying servers attributed to the game. Their skills, abilities and so forth are usually grounded in lore, reason, and realism (to some extent) - but what relevance do these facts lend to roleplay on its base form, you might ask? Well, sit tight, for this might get ugly!
Roleplaying is essentially the art (aye, you heard me!) of portraying a role within a sitting, not unlike the job of an actor. However, whereas the actor is often bound to a role written for him, the roleplayer is free to choose a play style, background story, and so on. Yet immersion remains a very powerful decider in roleplay, and is very easily broken by different ideas and interpretations of the world and lore. More often than not, it is broken by class functions.
By class functions I refer to the large range of abilities and skills available to a given class, such as fireballs for mages, poisoning knives for assassins, etc. Let us take a look back at WoW and the rogue class. Available are such abilities as pickpocketing, stealth, sprinting, and so on. Now, a clear distinction is in order here. Abilities such as these do not lend themselves to roleplay, and here's my reasoning why.
In the picture above, you see a rogue in WoW using the stealth ability. Whilst it certainly helps in combat and PvP, it is by far the greatest tool for breaking immersion within roleplay. If we look at the rogue class in the game, we see that its resource pool is "energy", which is built up through combos in combat. As previously mentioned, immersion when roleplaying lies in the faithful portrayal of a "role", and for this to be faithful, it needs to be grounded on fact.
Rogues are not a "magical" class, like the mage, warlock, priest, and so on, and so their skills are restricted to realistic approaches, like activities we do in the real world. As such, stealth (described as such: Conceals you in the shadows, allowing you to stalk enemies without being seen. Lasts until canceled.) cannot function in a roleplaying environment. In roleplay, there is ALWAYS a chance that those you're trying to hide from might spot you, and even so, the skill can even be used in broad daylight!
These skills are, by veteran roleplayers, thankfully avoided through the use of the /emote system. Here, the roleplayer can write that or she attempts to duck out of view into the shadows. Naturally, this action requires a few things to be in order. For example, it needs to be dark enough that the roleplayer might hide, and second, the surroundings much lend to the immersion, as no one can disappear in a plain, flat field. A city with many small alleys would naturally give a better opportunity for this.
But what does all this talk of class abilities and functions in WoW have to do with your experience with the Elder Scrolls Online, that's an entirely different series? To answer this, we must first look back at the single player games. If we avoid the far refined, and heavily retconned, Arena, let's jump right into Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim.
In these games, the mechanics in the four first allowed the player to pick a class, or to customise one according to what gameplay was desired. Three main archetypes existed: the warrior, the rogue, and the mage. Now, a player could advance to the point where all of his skills were maxed out - so that a great warrior becomes the sneakiest thief, as well as the most powerful mage. NPCs, on the other hand, were bound to certain restrictions, especially those who belonged to factions such as the Mages Guild and Fighters Guild.
Forsaking the role of NPCs for a moment, let us focus on the skills of the rogue, warrior, and mage. Rogues were naturally good at pickpocketing and opening locks, whereas the mage and warrior respectively excelled at weaving spells and wearing armour professionally. This all seems "realistic" and good, which is exactly why it conflicts with the Elder Scrolls Online.
In ESO, four classes are available. The dragonknight, the nightblade, the templar, and the sorcerer. Let us take a look at the description of the dragonknight: (These skillful masters-at-arms use the ancient Akaviri martial arts tradition of battle-spirit, and wield fearsome magic that pounds, shatters and physically alters the world around them.)
This system or 'class' has never previously appeared in lore, nor does it lend itself to any set of immersive roleplay. First of all, the combat the dragonknight uses is described as "ancient Akaviri martial arts tradition of battle-spirit", which means the style comes from Akavir, and that it must have been taught by one of the Akaviri. If we look at the reasoning, it is clear that no Akaviri would teach this to their enemies, and even if one did, it'd be to a very special individual.
As such, it makes no sense that the class exists to be roleplayed, as everyone would have these mystical, "special" powers. The dragonknight is the closest thing you come to the warrior of previous Elder Scrolls games - which was heavily based on melee realism - and below you see the famous "dragon leap" ability in ESO. Needless to say, if everyone could conjure forth the wings of the dragon and spew fire, more than a bit of immersion would be lost.
The sorcerer is another example of a class that cannot be roleplayed faithfully in form of immersion. The description goes: (Sorcerers summon and control weather phenomenon: hurling lightning bolts and creating electrified fields, summoning tornadoes and impenetrable fog, and calling upon Daedric forces to summon Storm Atronachs and magical armor.)
Needless to say, this goes against everything in previously established lore concerning the mage archetype - which the sorcerer class represents in ESO - as skills here were based on the Colleges of Magic (restoration, destruction, illusion, etc.). Spells such as wards, fire shield, open lock, fireball, and so on are not available to the sorcerer class, and instead, entirely new concepts such as "dark magic" and "storm calling" exist.
Just as with the other two, the templar class also seems to be getting what I call the "snowflake treatment". They're associated with "powers drawn from the light and the sun", which in Elder Scrolls lore is linked with the Aedra - the Divines. However, the Aedra, unlike the Daedra, are known not to directly dabble in the affairs of mortals (the dragonborn being an exception), and for them to bestow "light-based" powers upon anyone seems nothing short of unlikely.
But by now you'll ask "but Harlwystyr, what's wrong with simply roleplaying these classes? They're available to everyone, and so are the skills they have." Well, to iterate on this, I'll draw forth my previous statement on NPCs having roles in immersion as well. If there is anything that lends and builds an immersive experience, it's the world design, which includes the NPCs. Notice that the NPCs are made up of soldiers, blacksmiths, maids, farmers, mages, thieves, and so on, yet not sorcerers, dragonknights, templars, and nightblades. In function, or in stories, they do not leap with great draconic wings, use "dark magic", or wield the powers of the Aedra. They are simply people more or less fit into the three archetypes - the warrior, the mage, and the thief.
Classes have and always will be a vital part of the in-game mechanics, and when out of character should naturally be utilized for gameplay and fun. Nevertheless, their function, skills, and abilities do not translate into the setting of roleplay, especially not into a universe that's already got established lore. As such, I do not see the in-game classes as viable for roleplaying opportunities, as the intended "special" thing about them - as Zenimax intended - ends up doing more harm than good.
If everyone were 'blessed with the light' or taught the 'ancient powers of the Akaviri', the joy of roleplaying one would lose its charm, and many of their abilities seem out of place in an immersive context. As such, I conclude that the three archetypes of the previous Elder Scrolls games prove far more suitable roles for any roleplayer interested in faithfully portraying a character in ESO.
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