An enjoyable, if grainy, documentary called The Dungeons & Dragons Experience led me down an Internet spiral the other night that included the woefully produced Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated film and settled eventually on a nostalgic blast from the past that is the 1980s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon.
This clip in particular, the intro from season 2 of the show, inspired a new alt creation for DDO as well as a question in my mind: what makes a character stick? Framed in the context of DDO, for me it all comes down to personality. New toons get rolled up all the time, and the vast majority wind up in the scrap heap. The most recent of these, however, carved out a niche for himself in my heart so i think he’ll stick around a while. We’ll get to that in a bit. As prologue, a peek into what makes a DDO character stick around in my stable.
As a rule of thumb, they must be ten times more charming than that Arnold on Green Acres.
Thinking, feeling, behaving
In DDO, with its static storylines and essentially linear quests, there aren’t any opportunities in-game to shape a character’s personality. You either accept the quests presented by NPCs, or you don’t. And in the course of completing them, your only real option is to follow the path to the end and eliminate a boss monster to finish it out.
For a game based on the preeminent model that the entire genre stems from, this has always struck me as somewhat odd. But, it is what it is and nevertheless i’ve been enjoying it since 2006. Incorporating my ideas of how any of my characters think, feel or behave within the confines of the game system occurs only in my imagination – there’s no way to make any choices that affect the outcome of quests in a measurable way.
To illustrate this point, my two main characters are vastly different. Schir Gold, currently a capped warlock, has many past lives which are all some form of ranged combatant whether magical or mundane. She is always chaotic neutral, sports Free Agent Fuschia hair and loves engaging with the forces of Xoriat or any quests or stories involving madness.
At the other end of the spectrum is Experimenta, a disciplined soldier in any incarnation who cleaves to her sword-and-board roots, these days as a vanguard paladin. Ever-mohawked and adorned with Stormhorn Specs Cosmetic Goggles, she fights to keep some semblance or goodliness and order in her world.
Do either of these characters make any decisions that affect the outcome of their progression? Not really, no.
There are some quests either of them could avoid, based on my perceptions of their individual personalities. Purge the Heretics comes to mind, a longtime sticking point with many players that sees your characters doing some rather nasty work. But i would argue that, if you take the time to read and think about them, there’s an enormous number of quests that paint your characters as not so good and heroic – more like a greedy mercenary who will do anything for coin and loot.
Individual differences in characteristics
You’ve chosen your class and race, allocated ability and skill points, picked feats and selected starting spells, played around with the much-to-be-desired appearance options and finally, chosen an alignment (which has everything to do with gear choices later on and nothing to do with any sort of in-game paths).
Most of the time, players make these choices based on performance. There are some exceptions though, like building a Swim Cleric/Lifeguard or following a single weapon fighting path on a pure rogue assassin (more on this a bit later). And if you’re me, all of your characters feature a scar across one of their eyes. Even my own swimcleric, Jumponin Watersfine, whose facial detail came from an unfortunate incident at Siber Atoll – the best place for a high dive.
How any of this factors into a character’s personality lies, again, purely in the realm of imagination. As a non-min-maxer, i have no spreadsheets or analyses to reference to eke out every possible point of spell power or DPS. Multiclassing to achieve interesting syngeries is likewise not an activity i engage in, although i do try to build reasonably effective characters.
Whenever i am faced with a choice, which in DDO amounts to things you get to pick when you reach a new level, my first consideration is “what would this character do?”
For Experimenta, that always involves anything with the word “shield” in it, so feats, enhancements and the like are prioritized along those guidelines. At the other end of the spectrum, Schir Gold picks up anything that sounds otherworldly to me. That began way back in her first life, when she started the epic destiny of Magister solely because of the ability to “phase out from reality briefly.” And yes, i still twist that in to this day, every time.
Parts come together as a whole
Talking builds in DDO is probably the most frequent topic of conversation on our guild channel, at least in the odd hours i’m typically on there. Although i consider myself reasonably knowledgeable about game mechanics, i detect once in a while a note of bewilderment from my fellow conversationalists regarding the choices i make.
At the end of the day though, it usually gets mentioned that playstyle is paramount, and finding a build that’s right for you is of utmost importance. Something can make all the sense in the world on paper, but in practice it doesn’t work out the same for everyone.
In this way, DDO always reminds me a lot of Magic: The Gathering (i.e. the greatest game ever invented). The pilot makes the deck, and the right player with a starter deck could conceivably trump a novice playing a tournament-worthy deck because of this.
Likewise in DDO, knowing how to play the collection of pixel and points you’ve constructed is more vital than choosing what to play based on a net build.
A large portion of my playstyle boils down to the imagined character personalities. Experimenta likes to be able to charge to the front, protecting her teammates with a combination of tanking and mild crowd control. Schir Gold prefers to pelt enemies with a dizzying array of effects like DoTs and AOEs while madly jumping and tumbling around.
Sometimes there’s a half-orc
i won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? But sometimes there’s a half-orc.
And i’m talking about my new alt toon here.
Sometimes there’s a half-orc who, well, he’s the half-orc for his time and place – he fits right in there – and that’s Zzarak in Eberron.
Zzarak, as you may have guessed, is a half-orc. Inspired through several avenues, he’s been skulking around Stormreach lately, primarily making repeated forays into the Temple of Elemental Evil.
The seed of Zzarak was planted by Stefan Pokorny, a devoted D&D gamer featured prominently in the documentary mentioned at the start of this post. Pokorny, who incidentally parlayed his love of the tabletop game into a career by starting Dwarven Forge, a company that makes 3-D gaming terrain and accessories, mentioned anecdotally that he’s always liked half-orcs because of their nature as societal outliers.
Further down the Internet rabbit hole were the old D&D cartoon and the line of toys TSR put out. Many excursions were made to KB Toys for these (really dating myself here). The crown jewel of my collection back then was Warduke, one of the coolest and underutilized bad guy creations ever. If any DDO devs are reading this – give us some Warduke!
Another of these figures was, as you’ve probably guessed, this fella:
Something about the hood, and the foundation of imagination that had already been built the other evening, plus an overflowing bank vault with rogue assassin-y stuff i might not otherwise use, led to the creation of Zzarak, neutral half-orc assassin of DDO.
Like Experimenta’s first life, Zzarak is far from optimal. He’s doing single weapon fighting with a dagger – Assassin’s Kiss seen here – and the cosmetic indigo hood works nicely to complete the look.
So far, i’ve been enjoying playing this sneaky killer quite a bit. He (and by default, me) have been getting well-versed in the Temple of Elemental Evil. That quest is quite divisive in the DDO community, and personally i love it. Each time i play through parts 1 and 2, i enjoy it more and i hope to see more quests like this in the future.
As for Zzarak, i like to think of him as a fellow with a penchant for evil just like the monsters who keep attacking him, and in my imagination he’s desperately trying to communicate to them that he’s not there to ransack them – he only wants to help!
On a side note, the name “Zarak” was already taken, hence the extra “Z” in his name. Is there another half-orc assassin out there on Sarlona somewhere?
Despite a lack of real opportunities to make story choices in DDO, characters can still act and react to things differently, if you use your imagination.
Do your characters have their own personalities? Do they affect your mechanical choices or playstyle?
Giving your characters their own personalities and stories can make the game much more interesting. Give it a try sometime!