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All the World's a Stage: Roleplaying the wolf

Friday night was a special evening for me, as I finally got around to watching New Moon. I admit that the movie really wasn't my cup of tea, and I mostly watched it out of a sort of morbid curiousity. I felt a clear, unnatural compulsion to see what Dakota Fanning's performance was like, and I will report that she was definitely a shining point for the movie. The Volturi portions of the movie were fairly cool, but the rest of the movie really didn't work out for me. I don't know, just not my thing.

Ironically, one of the biggest issues I had with New Moon was the performance of the werewolves. I'm sure there's a few dozen people who will tell me that they're not technically werewolves or whatever. But as a relatively uninitiated viewer, Jacob and his pack were indistinguishable from your general furry, toothy werewolf. But they just didn't act that way. Nothing about the pack really struck me as wolfish, and the lack of that canine behavior totally kept me from buying these guys as lupines. So, of course, I couldn't help but think about our own upcoming Worgen in Azeroth.

There's already a few different avenues built into the lore for roleplaying "beasts." The longest standing option, of course, is roleplaying a druid who spends a lot of time as a cat or bear. But, even aside from that, you can assume some hunters probably spend more time with their pet wolf than other humanoids. And you always have the odd baby lost in the woods who ends up raised by the local pack. (It's amazing how many character one comes across who's raised by wolves.)

So, ultimately, if we're going to roleplay canine-like characters, here's some tips on how to make it a little convincing. I think we can do better than Twilight. I'm not claiming to be a wolf expert here, I'm just talking about the literary and connotative ideas of playing a wolf-inspired character.

A wolf is a social creature

There is certainly the occasional solo wolf roaming the woods, but those are old farts who got driven away from their pack. So if your wolf-inspired character is a loner, you should have a very good reason for it. (For example, you got in a serious melodramatic fight with the "alpha," and was forced to take off on your own.)

But, in general, a wolf-like character is going to want to be around others. Their pack doesn't need to be other canines, but it should be something that "resonates." Packs tend to be fairly family-like, with a male and a female, and a handful of children. There's sometimes an "old friend" thrown in there, but it's not a gaggle of local teenagers hanging out. I think this is where I started struggling with Jacob's pack: where was Mom and Dad?

The whole "alpha, beta, omega" thing is mostly based on wolves in captivity, and isn't something that tends to exist out in the wild. That's because the people who would be the beta instead wander off and form their own pack. Packs are family; mom and dad are in charge, and the kids tend to honor their parents.

A wolf covets and protects its territory

Did you see The Wolfman? (If not, don't, it's not great.) While it was another movie I had to struggle to get through, there was one thing about it I really, really loved. Old man Talbot hung out in his ancestral home, and refused to leave. A huge number of his troubles could have been instantly mitigated if he'd just pulled up roots and split. But that was his territory, and by god, he was going to stay there.

Wolves constantly move through their territory, howling and marking trees and the like to communicate to other wolves, "Yo, man, this is my space." I like how Greymane is already exhibiting this kind of habits via the Greymane Wall. It will be interesting to see if Blizzard continues to let the Gilneans be so incredibly territorial.

Wolves communicate by scent

Canines live in a whole other world of scent than we humans can understand. Urine markers, fecal matter, and exuded pheremones all scream to a wolf about pack membership, mood, and territory. While I'm not sure I buy the idea of Gilneans or shaman constantly sniffing party members, it's important to roleplay this other world when emoting as a lupine character.

Using phrases like "this smells like trouble" and "you reek of battle" will probably do fine for bringing scent into your roleplay scenes. It'd be obnoxious to constantly emote bending over to sniff other players, but omitting olfactory roleplay from your character will equally break believability.

Body language speaks volume for wolves

Wolves aren't generally subtle about how they're feeling. Their posture, facial expressions, and tail all describe leagues about a canine's mood. Now, wolves obviously don't talk, so maybe their posture wouldn't be so important if they could have a conversation over tea. That being said, a humanoid Azerothian infected with bestial behavior would probably be pretty communicative via body language.

Brush up on your descriptive language, so that you can emote this behavior. Say things like "Ragnor takes a wide stance, his shoulders and stomach getting more and more tense as the stranger approaches." When you enter a new dungeon for the first time, express that your character crouches low, and that he seems to be habitually pawing at the ground. Not only is the good roleplay anyway, but these body language tics will do a lot to communicate your werewolf's bestial nature.

Don't forget to bare your teeth when angry. C'mon, the vampire roleplayers are constantly talking about their fangs. Your werewolf character should peel back their lips when angry, appearing as if they're ready to tear out someone's throat. Anger needs to be a visual thing for a lupine character.

Howling around the fire

Wolves howl as a communicative measure, usually centered around territory. They're claiming their land, their kill, or their pack. There's been some evidence that howling might also be a social bond.

It would be fun to think of your wolf character as a singer, who's constantly trying to encourage his party members to join in with him or her. After all, this is an important part of the wolf's life, and they'd want to share it with the pack.

Wolves believe in their personal space

Wolves don't sleep in puppy piles, and they're not interested in having other people paw them. This behavior gets stronger as they age, and it's probably expressed in roleplay in the same vein as territorialism.

What does this mean? Your werewolf character won't shake hands, won't playfully slap friends on the back, and he won't be interested in being crowded. Even laughing and playing around a campfire, your werewolf will want its space.

Wolves have a little bit of xenophobia. Strangers and rapid change will be very uncomfortable to your wolf character. If they've been at the bar all night, and a whole new wave of people come in after a local show, there werewolf won't be happy. They might pick a fight as a way of defending their territory, or they might just decide to leave.

Summary

This article wasn't meant to be a scientific study of wolf behavior. My point is that there's plenty of factual wolf information out there. And while vampires don't have a real life counterpart, werewolves do. Take the time to bring some real-life wolf behavior into your roleplay. Your audience will "buy" your behavior much more. Don't be a gaggle of pretty teenagers; be something you'd find in the wild.



All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations, and ironies. You might wonder what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, or to totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying, or even how to RP on a non-RP server!

Filed under: All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

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