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All the World's a Stage: Effectively roleplaying grief

We've talked a bit about character endings. Death is a fact of life and is thus a fact of roleplay. We're in a war story, after all, and it is somewhat inevitable that some characters will pass away. Someone may decide to end his character himself or he may have his character taken away from him. No matter exactly how it comes to the conclusion, many characters will experience death in their lives.

It therefore falls on us to roleplay out that grief. Your character is undergoing a significant experience. It may just be an acquaintance who's passed away peacefully or it could be as meaningful as a lover being cut down before their time. Your character will have emotions and thoughts, and you want the chance to express them.

There are tricks to it, of course. You want the chance to roleplay this life changing event without being obnoxious. Sure, you could fall on your knees in the middle of Ironforge and gnash your teeth and moan in misery. If you feel like beating your chest and back with a whip for everyone to see is the best expression of your character's angst, don't let me stop you. But at least a few other players will likely not respond with the gravitas and seriousness you'd like. Let's review some methods for getting your grief out for all to see, without being obnoxious about it.

It comes in waves

One of my favorite shows is Bones. (I promise, it's not just because I religiously follow any show involving Angel actors.) It tends to be incredibly well-written and insightful. During an interview of some college kids who should have been showing signs of grief, Dr. Sweets pegs them as having no such emotion. How could he tell? According to Sweets, "Well, real grief comes and goes, in waves. Those guys had their faces set in sad, the whole time."

This is a pretty accurate portrayal of any grief I've experienced in my life. I wander through my day, feeling relatively normal. Maybe I'm a little sad and downtrodden, but I'm not all that abnormal. And then I suddenly think, "I can't wait to tell this person about what just happened." And I realize that person is gone, and the wound and pain is as fresh as ever.

Mimic this behavior in your roleplay. Don't go out of your way to constantly be miserable, screaming, weeping, and snotting all over the place. Pick your moments. Maybe when a sexy little piece of gear drops that the dead character would have loved, your character will suddenly be forced to cover his fact to hide his grief. Maybe another character would pinch the bridge of his nose while he fights back tears.

You'll have to think your way through these waves of grief. Having the emotes of grief pop up to interrupt someone's scene will be distracting to other players. You want to "wait your turn," as it were. I still wouldn't give up clear opportunities, of course, but try to be respectful of what's happening around you.

Subtlety is power

I always tend to prefer subtle roleplay instead of over-the-top histrionics. The examples I used above as good archetypes for subtle. A tear. A quick sob. A character taking a moment to place his fist over his mouth, taking a second to get himself back under control. Why do I tend to lean to subtlety, especially when expressing grief?

The heart of this matter is one of scale. If your grief-for-the-public is to thrash your breasts and back with thorns, crying out for the Light to take you instead of your lover, then what on earth could ever top that? Later that night, when you're roleplaying one on one, how can you "take it to another level"?

Always keep your scale in mind. When the first wave of grief hits you, downturned eyes or a quick sniffle is probably about the level of emote you want to use. Then, toward the end of your roleplay, you can get a full, impactful breakdown out of your character. This kind of emotional decompression will let you squeeze out the full gamut of roleplay avaliable from the grief event.

Stages of grief

Of course, if you're having trouble nailing down a firm idea of what your character is actually feeling, the stages of grief are there to help you out. Originally introduced in the book on On Death and Dying, this model of feeling grief can help us write a basic progression of mourning for our characters.

The first step is Denial. The character either refuses to believe that they feel any angst at all, or that anyone has actually died. "Get a healer in here, and she'll be fine." Especially in Azeroth, where so many things could be possible through magic, many characters will refuse to believe that someone could die without resurrection.

Anger is the next step of grief, of course. A character who's coming to term with the death of a friend will be eager to lash out and attack those he considers responsible. He may not even be rational in his rage; he could attack the priest who failed to get a heal off in time.

Many characters will attempt to perform Bargaining. In this case, they may reach out to a higher power and try to buy back their friend. This is actually a pretty powerful roleplay opportunity for some players, who could foolishly seek out the Scourge or other magical races. In so meeting these powerful beings, the character could beg or sacrifice for the return of the dead friend.

Depression is the fourth stage of grief, even though most characters seem to jump right there. Again, I urge you to keep this stage subtle, or you'll lose the novelty

Lastly, a character going through mourning will come to accept what's happened. This doesn't mean the character is somehow happy about what's happened. Instead, he's simply come to accept that this is how things are, now, and he's made peace with it.

In conclusion

Grief is one of the defining human experiences. Our love for one another leads naturally to overwhelming grief when the subject of our love is torn away. Expressing this emotion will enhance your roleplay, but do so with a plan. Make it strong, since it will help define your roleplay just as much as it defines you as a person.
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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