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Role Play 101: Character Building Part 3 – Appearance

By: Qai

These were originally written while role playing in WoW, but all of the general concepts and advice still very much apply. Even if you've been role playing for years, there are some things in here will likely help you develop even further.

While I take no credit for writing this guide, I cannot actually name the person who wrote it. It is a handbook that has been passed around for a little over 9 years now, the authors have changed (or at least user names) many times over. Though I thought it would be good to share for those who do actively or are interested in role playing.

Role Play 101: Character Building Part 3 – Appearance

WoW is a visual game. Truly it is. They have fantastic scenery, lighting effects, spell effects, even clouds that slowly move across the sky! It truly is amazing what the developers have given us visually.

The same applies for character avatars – mostly. The females are buxom, beautiful, and fit; the males are tall, strong, and muscular (though the faces for human males have to be the most awful in game. They all look like Neanderthals with a hare-lip followed in close second by night elf males who look constipated.).

Many people are content to approach their character avatars with a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) attitude, which is just fine. My mage is much like that, aristocratic face, long black hair, average build. Countless role players though are not content with what is offered on the character generation screen. What if that big beefy male avatar does not suit the character of the slight, quiet rogue you are building?

That’s when you start thinking about what your character really looks like. Sunken cheeks? Slightly plump? Short? These are features that cannot be shown by the in-game models. Other things the models don’t show might include jewelry, feathers in the hair, scars, missing digits; the list could go on for days.

There are ways to communicate appearance for the role player. One can emote favoring a bad leg, or brushing irritating curls out of the character’s face, or any number of other emotes. One could speak about it casually in conversation. Write it out in stories or forum RP. Or use a mod like Merrisioux. (This mod, which can be found on curse, will allow you to write up physical descriptions of your character in game that other users can read.)

Whether you are writing a forum description or one for an addon, however, there is some skill and forethought involved. You want to have an appearance that fits the character. It might not necessarily fit their role as a hardened warrior or a skulky rogue, but for some reason or another, it fits the character concept, personality, ideal – whatever. In your mind it makes sense, and you can present it in a way that makes sense to others – I hope.

Tips For Writing A Good Description

When writing a description for your character, remember that there are five senses; Sight, Sound, Taste, Touch and Smell. Now it is unlikely you’ll write what your character tastes like. I know I don’t usually walk up to someone I’ve just met and lick them. Touch might be a bit awkward, but there are some situations where this sense should not be written off entirely. Your most commonly used sense in descriptions is going to be sight, however sound and smell have their own validity.

Sound

This could cover the sound of their voice, the sound of the bells woven into their hair, the rattle of their armor, the beads on their shirt. There are many things that could be incorporated into the sound of a character. Remember to listen to your character’s appearance when writing about it.

Smell

The sense of smell is one of the most powerful we have. It can draw us to someone or repel us. There are many things that could stimulate our sense of smell. Does the character wear any scented oils? Are they consistently sweaty? Do they smell of horse? Herbs? Close your eyes a moment when writing about the character and think about how they would smell. If something stands out, then put it in the description.

Sight

This is going to be the sense most characters will touch first. What they see will be a key indicator in other’s first impression. Some of the basic descriptors are hair length, color (if it is different than the avatar), build, height, and weight. Some of the more detailed descriptors are eye shape, color, face shape, jewelry worn, or condition of clothing (neat, ragged, dirty, etc). Then there are outstanding features.

Outstanding features can cover a number of things; missing limbs, eye patches, limps, anything of that sort. Large ornamentation, visible body paint, oddly colored stripes in the hair. Something that would stand out. These outstanding features should most definitely be included in the description. Be creative on these. Don’t go for easy. Take some time and think about the character and what, if anything might stand out.

And be sure to include at least something on how they dress. Loose fitting, ragged, neat, and armored? Think about that as well. And while I realize this is, indeed, a fantasy game, understand before you write “this person wears armor, even while sleeping”, that you understand (from a person that has worn plate armor for several hours on end on numerous occasions) that armor is uncomfortable. It is bulky, difficult to move in, noisy, stiff, and pinches in places that a body was never meant to be pinched!

Blizzard does stretch the imagination of fantasy armor with their chain mail panties and plated booby cups, but what it comes down to is that you are wearing plates of metal or leather (which when made for armor is thick and stiff). If you want to enjoy the hawt panty plate, that’s fine! Blizzard has made it so moving, running, sitting, etc is not affected by the armor. If you want a bit more realism, though, think about what it really feels like to wear armor for long periods of time.

Mannerisms should be considered when writing a description as well. Does this person flinch when new people approach? Do they have a notebook they carry with them at all times? Is their hand constantly on their weapon? Do they have a teddy bear tucked under their arm? These sorts of observations in the description give a bit of insight into the character’s personality, something that can be seen to support their actions and reactions when we encounter them in actual contact.

Keep It Simple

Now that I have told you all the wonderful things you should think about when describing your character, I’m going to confuse you by telling you to keep it short and simple. I can hear your cries of “Foul!” from all over, but honestly, especially when it comes to an in-game add-on description, few people will read one that is overly long and complicated. We don’t really need great details about how many buttons are on the characters shirt or which direction he laces his boots. Give us the most obvious in the most succinct manner possible. Having a novel for a description will actually hinder people reading it.

Avoid God-Modding

When writing a description, god-modding involves describing a trait and how the reader feels about that trait. Avoid writing things such as “Your jaw drops when you see her enormous bosom.” Honestly I couldn’t care less about her bosom. I’m not in the habit of looking at them. I have one of my very own that I have to look at every day.

That is an extreme example but they are out there. However there are others that are more subtle, but just as incorrect. For example if you were to write “He is the most handsome man you have ever seen.” How do you know? Whether a person is handsome or not is a matter of opinion. You should never try to force an opinion on someone else. Let them judge whether they find that character handsome or not. Instead of telling us he’s handsome; tell us about the traits that YOU think makes him handsome. Describe the dark skin, black hair, golden eyes – whatever! But don’t tell us we think he’s handsome.

Description Only Please

When writing a description, especially for in-game add-ons, do not include information such as the background of the character or what kind of personality traits they have. We can’t see that, hear it, smell it, the first time we encounter that person. A description is just that; a description. Do not include information that is not apparent to the senses of other players. By putting in that information you’re expanding the length of the description unnecessarily and making it less likely anyone will read it. If they want to know that, they’ll find out when talking to the character!

Avoid The /eyeroll

Now I’m not going to try to tell you what your character should look like; only you can decide that. What I am going to offer are some tips on what will elicit the /yawn or /eyeroll response.

Many role players when first starting out want a character that is particularly handsome or beautiful. There are probably a number of psychological reasons behind this and I won’t attempt to delve into them, however I can point out a few of the most common appearance traps.

The Buxom

The human models especially in game have inordinately large breasts. For some this is simply not enough. They must write about their character’s particularly large or perky assets. This is a sure way to elicit the /eyeroll or even a laugh and then have your character relegated to a footnote of unimportance. If they have large assets, fine, but don’t make them the center point of the character’s appearance.

The Scar

This is a harsh world our characters live in. Some scarring is going to happen. If that is the focus of your character’s description, then it is not a very interesting character. Where extreme scarring is rare IRL and shocking when you see it, it is so common in role play descriptions that it seldom elicits more than /yawn. If your character has scars and there is a reason for them, by all means, write about them, but don’t just use them to make the character “cool”. Chicks don’t dig scars.

The Cyber Bait

“…long silken hair flowing like molten gold down her back. Long eyelashes surrounding innocent blue eyes meet yours and a delicate blush darkens her perfect, ivory cheeks..” I’m sure many of you have read similar description, the descriptions that sound like something out of a .50 cent bodice-ripper. The attention these types of descriptions attract may not be the type you are hoping for and it is entirely possible you’ll be disregarded as part of the Goldshire crowd. Think real. Write real.

There are literally hundreds of ridiculous description traps that I could write about here, but that would make this article far too long. I’ll try to summarize and make this all fit together in a final bit of advice.

Keep it simple
Think with your senses
Avoid description opinions
If it sounds even slightly ridiculous to you, it probably is.

And one final bit of advice, especially if you are new to role play; if you have a friend who also role plays, get them to read your description and give an honest evaluation. Tell them they MUST be honest. Having others read it and tell you what works and what doesn’t work is a great way to learn.



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