[The Secret World] The Secret Roleplayer

Funcom’s ‘The Secret World’.

You’ve heard of it, you’ve looked into some of the concepts or gone through their initiation test to see which of their three factions you naturally fall in to. If you’re like me, you’ve shrugged that answer off and picked which faction you like the sound of based purely on their name, or external factors!

It’s a classless secret society MMO, set in a semi-real world environment (of course taking London and New York and the rest of the world and giving us the urban fantasy versions of the cities, where monsters and magic exist). If you’ve jumped aboard the hype train, you’ve also seen the Facebook videos, the ARG sites, and stepped firmly into the ‘Secret’ World.

I’m intrigued by the concept as an MMO. Not necessarily just because it’s something different, but because it harks back to the books I enjoy reading, the RPGs I played with pen and paper back in the day, and even to some extent to the card games I learned years ago and still play with friends when I get the chance (yes, Illuminati, I’m looking at you!!). But over the past few weeks I’ve realised that there’s another big hole for me in MMOs, and which I think The Secret World has the best chance of plugging amongst all the games that are coming up for release. It may actually offer a really good platform for roleplay in MMOs.

I’ve had this discussion and debate since the days of Dark Age of Camelot, and in order to make my point, I should perhaps list the MMOs I’ve played (it makes a difference, trust me). They are: Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online. Any others I’ve dipped into very briefly, such as Everquest 2, Age of Conan and Vanguard with maybe a month of each and not really in with a group or guild – or even seeking out other players, just keeping my head down and seeing what the game was like for a relatively short period.

In games I have played I always join the roleplay server. I try to roleplay, I will ALWAYS respond in roleplay fashion if spoken to first in one. But Dark Age of Camelot was the one most people around me /tried/ to roleplay in. We had some great events, we tried, we really did, but it never came close to text-based roleplay found in MUSHes and MUXes back in the day.

MMO roleplay is restricted by it’s very nature. It’s very inflexible. There’s no human GM tailoring the setting and story to the players. You can’t really choose any look or any background that works, instead you have to fit into a more fixed settingr, the emotes are often rubbish, and it’s hard to really settle into a character, for me, anyway. There are also lots of players who think exchanging ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ for ‘you’ is actual roleplay. Or ‘I have reached my 30th season of experience’ (ding 30!). No further comment.

You can’t really take the role of a baddie, your story progression is there for you, and it’s a hard reach to really think ‘what is my motivation for killing these 10 rats instead of telling this lazy guard with a massive sword to do it himself’. But we forgive those in the name of story and people genuinely DO roleplay on all MMOs… I just don’t have the tolerance for it as things stand right now.

But when it comes to The Secret World, my interest in roleplay is piqued. It reminds me of my World of Darkness MUSH days, and actually  creating a character that I could write a detailed background for and who could be internally conflicted and act appropriately. Maybe it’s because I did more World of Darkness and In Nomine roleplay than I did the more fantasy settings as I was growing up, and the urban fantasy really does grab me far more than Middle-Earth as a world I want to really roleplay in (with apologies to all the lovely fantasy settings, but they just don’t do it for me, roleplay-wise). Like nostalgia for board games, I’m now feeling it for roleplay games and ready to embrace it in a setting I like.

So, I find myself looking at the trailers and information differently. Instead of really caring about the smack-talk about what factions people will play and how much we’ll all hate one another and seek each other out, I am starting to create the background of the character I will play and that I will flesh out and breath life into regardless of everything else. It’s not a case of wanting to even know where and what my friends will play, I believe I’ll be able to have contact with them even if it’s cross-faction and we can form uneasy truces if we want to play together… but with a level-less, classless system, and the ability to play around more with character style and fashion (even if still limited to certain faces and body types), it’ll be an interesting journey, whether it succeeds wildly or falls to its face. And that’s the kind of anticipation I can live with.

Thoughts? Have you played pen and paper RPGs, and if so, how do you think roleplay has worked in current games? Do you avoid like the plague or actively seek it out a lot more than I do? Or if you are an MMO RPer, do you think the pen and paper grognards have totally unrealistic expectations?

And what do you think The Secret World might add or ruin for the genre?

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9 thoughts on “[The Secret World] The Secret Roleplayer

  1. Illuminati all the way, baby!

    I think that MMO RPing has evolved its own conventions. I’ve dabbled a bit in RP guilds in WoW and find the whole thing a bit alien to me, even coming from a RPG background. It’s really marked that you can’t easily play a bad character, and they tend to have no GM to stop the more ‘look at me’ character types (and then my character was TOTALLY possessed by a demon and had to run away from her childhood sweetheart and hide in the woods before she found out that Illidan and Maev were her parents omg omg omg.)

  2. One of my all time favourite in pen and paper RPG’s was the classic original Call of Cthulhu and I definitely fell head over heels for the Cthulhu Gaslight, so this kind of MMO has been on my wishlish for a long time (I even wrote about such being my dream MMO way back when).

    So to be able to roleplay in this kind of setting and leave most of the min-maxing powerplaying away? I’m all for it. Also the possibility to retire a character and testament everything to a sibling character would be nice, making it possible for the character to lose their sanity, arm, leg or even life along the way.

    So far the only way to roleplay a bad or evil type is to be a serial ganker, and everyone knows how good thing that is. However, if you could help the real bad guys in the game to achieve their ends… now that would be something! Or prevent them from acquiring the world domination, of course… what was I thinking…

    Iä, Iä, Cthulhu fthang!

    C out

  3. I think breaking into role-playing society can be as difficult as breaking into hardcore raiding – it’s probably much easier if you can start a group of your own with friends, and then make a reputation for yourselves. Indeed, there are Gevlons of the RP world, with websites dedicated to pointing what they consider to be the morons and slackers of their domain.

    I think it helps that MMOs are starting to reduce the seemingly arbitrary restrictions on character customisation with respect to armour, weapons, race/class combinations. This certainly allows the player to create a character that is more suited to their tastes, and is thus easier to assume the role of.

    The problem with MMOs is that they have to have a more rigid structure than Pen and Paper games. Where PnP provides a framework of rules and the imagination draws the scene, MMOs have to have each scene strictly defined. It’s much harder to say that your character is a Dragon spy in the Illuminati if the game does not provide any easy way for you to reflect that to others. As such, it’s all too easy to meta-game any given situation “I am a Dragon spy!” “No you’re not, I just checked your character sheet”, and so I imagine many people don’t role-play outside of closed circles because they can’t easily impose their world view on an already rigidly defined world.

    I would certainly hope that there is scope for the various factions to cooperate; I’ve found some of the best role-playing comes from the ‘enemies working together against a common threat’ trope.

    And it would give the other factions a small chance to bathe in the glorious heavenly radiant superiority of the Templars, of course.

    • That’s very true.

      RP-wise, there are whole spheres that I’ve never dipped into. A lot of cooperative fanfic writing groups are probably closer to MMO RP than standard tabletop games with dice and rules would be. I think the atmosphere really does favour a more cooperative style of interactive fiction than using rules and GMs to make sure everyone sticks to the theme and tows the line.

      At its best, it can really bring a game to life. Walking through an in game town where there’s a PC-run market, festival or play going on is just that cool. And I do remember us putting on theatrical events in camelot.

      And yes, am quite sure there are very hardcore groups with very strict rules. Also ERP friendly groups where it’s all about the cybering. So needs a bit of looking around to find the group that suits you, if it even exists.

      Not really sure how it’ll work with TSW but it may well be that the modern day setting is inspiring to more people.

    • Can you imagine if you’re too paranoid in-game to say which faction you are? That would rock :-)

      And I agree with you and Spinks, there’s probably tons of RP going on that I’m missing – but it’s a personal thing for me, and I definitely feel more at home with the TSW setting!

  4. Nice write-up Arbitrary; really looking forward to this game.

    @ Spinks
    Sorry, but the Templars are where it’s happening. Well, ok, not necessarily like it happens for the Illuminati! But, when you’re all done partying like it’s the end of the world (oh, yea, it is the end of the world), you know us Templars will have a nice, quiet sitting room in which to recover from your sordid activities – please wipe your feet at the door.

    *crosses fingers and hopes Funcom delivers a great product*

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