The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

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The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Gossamer on March 9th, 2010, 5:57 pm


Hello Fellow Mizaharians!

The Founders Circle would like to proudly present a brand new feature to the site. We would like to take and highlight one very special Player Character per month and feature them on the front page of the site and award them a new medal. Featured Characters must have the qualities we are looking for in outstanding pcs: originality, balance, strengths and weaknesses, and be a driving force in some region or area of the game. Featured Characters can be brand new to the game or long time Mizaharians. Once nominated Featured Characters must sit down for a ten question interview which will be posted within this thread. Feel free to add your congratulations here, but also feel free to ask the featured character your own set of questions. And remember, the first of each month we will be selecting a new featured character (in which past featured characters get a vote).

So join me in reading Ashivirsthargon's interview and congratulating him on being the very first Featured Character: March 2010.

The Interview

Gossamer: We'd love to see a glimpse into your character creation process. How do you come up with your character concepts? Do you use inspiration or perhaps play people that are alot like/dislike your own personality?

Ashivirsthargon: First off, I'd like to thank the Academy, my director, and Kanye West (just so he doesn't rush up here and say something obnoxious).

For Sthargon in specific, a lot of this tied into why I chose Zinrah and the Dhani to begin with, which I'll talk about in a bit. For characters I come up with in general, I'd say there are two, main factors.

One is that I want to avoid cliches, which is actually more challenging than it seems. Characters that subvert our expectations are fun to play and really stand out. A concept like Drizzt Do'Urden captures people's fancy because he subverts so much of your expectations about the Drow. This not only makes him stand out, but it provides fodder for his stories - how he deals with prejudices, his own people, etc. The thing is, though, today's groundbreaking concept is tomorrow's cliche, and that's why it can be challenging. Everyone and their dog has done the "my race is evil, but I'm actually good" thing by now. Ironically, character ideas have almost come full circle. It's almost like playing directly to type is what's unique, now, and trying to avoid being a cliche is cliche. I'm sure that made perfect sense to everyone.

Two is that I usually take aspects of my own personality and exaggerate or emphasize them. This isn't something I necessarily choose to do. I don't have a list of my real-life personality traits and make characters off of them (although that sounds kind of interesting), but all of my characters have something of "me" in them. I'm not sure I could convincingly roleplay characters that were nothing like me at all. In a play or something, it's different, because you know what you're supposed to do and say. In RP where I am coming up with the characters motives, thoughts, feelings, and actions, I have to really understand my character to be able to do that in a way that isn't over the top or cliche (see Point One). The most natural way for my characters to "flow" are if there's something of myself in them.

That's not to say my characters are exactly like me in all respects. I, personally, don't enjoy eating children, but Sthargon seems cool with it. Sthargon, however, represents the combative aspects of my personality, along with things like rage and desires for vengeance when faced with a horrible injustice. Sexuality, to a point. Belonging to a group united by certain values that you agree with, but you generally have a hard time relating to those people. These things get exaggerated to fictional points, perhaps, but they're expressions of parts of myself. Other characters I make express other things.

I think, though, good RPers are ones that have personal connections with their characters. Now, let me say I believe in strong IC/OOC separation, and I've been on the receiving end of some bad situations when that barrier has broken down, as I'm sure a lot of people have. But to me, IC/OOC separation is more about keeping your connection in perspective as opposed to feeling no connection with your character. I think it's perfectly legit and very powerful from a narrative perspective to feel some of the sadness, pain, joys, love, and anger that your character experiences. It really lends a lot of power to your writing. At the same time, you have to keep it in perspective, though. Siiri and Sthargon are enemies. If I allowed their interaction to influence my real life interaction with Siiri's player (other than joking around), then I've lost perspective and my IC/OOC separation has truly broken down to an unwise point.

You read a book or watch a movie, and you get emotionally connected to the characters and events. RP isn't any different. In fact, it's perhaps even moreso because you are interacting in it. But when you close the book or leave the theater, you aren't building shrines to honor Raistlin's memory in your backyard or allowing that experience to influence the way you behave in real life. Well, unless the movie is "Avatar," in which case it's kind of a thing right now to go all nutjobby about that movie. Curse you, unobtainium!

Gossamer: When picking out a character’s strengths and weaknesses, how do you try and be objective and balancing? Are realistic strengths and weaknesses important to you in a fantasy setting or do you prefer larger than life personality types?

Ashivirsthargon: There is a kind of story where larger than life types are appropriate. Movies aren't bad for this sort of thing, sometimes. It can be cool to enjoy an hour or so of some unstoppable force tearing through the bad guys and getting the girl or becoming king or whatever else Conan does (the Barbarian, not the O'Brien). And if you look at earlier literature where heroic epics serve a purpose of stirring up your particular people group to burn thatched roofs in England or whatever, you'll find these larger than life characters. Beowulf. Gilgamesh. So, larger than life characters can be completely ok depending on purpose. And, generally, even the characters in these stories usually have -something- like a fatal flaw that also becomes part of the story. Superman and kryptonite.

Isn't it weird how the only source of kryptonite was the remains of the destroyed planet Krypton, completely in another solar system, and yet, every supervillain ever seemed to have some? If I were Superman, Project Numero Uno would be to hunt down all kryptonite samples and destroy them. Maybe Aquaman could do it. Give him something to do in all those episodes that didn't involve the ocean. But, I digress.

For a long term story, larger than life characters are neither fun nor interesting, and I have no idea why people make them unless they really want to escape their own real life weaknesses. A person told me once, "I'm ugly in real life, so why would I want to play an ugly character?" So, at some level, I can understand not wanting to RP weaknesses if the primary purpose of your RP is a kind of relaxing escape.

If the primary purpose is to tell a good story, though, and the story is longer than an hour and a half, characters without meaningful weaknesses are completely unrealistic and, what's worse, boring as Hell. Or boring as Limbo, I guess. Hell probably isn't boring, per se.

I admit, I sometimes flinch when I see some of these character sheets and it's all just, "Joe is strong, quick, smart, handsome, and charming. He can kill almost anyone with minimal effort. He has a mysterious past that keeps him distant. Everyone loves him. If you saw Joe, you'd instantly want to get to know him, and his constant brooding over how both his parents were killed my raiders only makes him sexy."

Zzzzzzzzz. Come on.

I think it takes a certain level of sophistication to appreciate how much weaknesses and shortcomings can add to, or even create, a really good story. Frodo Baggins couldn't kill an orc's grandmother, but he's epic, and his physical and moral weaknesses really shape his part of the story. I think it's difficult for people to want to play a character with solid weaknesses, but man, you can't beat that for adding power and interest to a story. It's not interesting when Master Swordsman Darkdeath kills three men, but it's very interesting when a frail, scholarly, pacifist type kills even one man.

Gossamer: What was your deciding factor on starting location? Do you feel intimidated/challenged ever as a player because you basically started in a place where there was no active roleplay going on?

Ashivirsthargon: I like to leave my mark on things. I like to have had a hand in shaping things for other people to experience and enjoy. So, when I was checking Mizahar out, I looked for the areas that had little activity, and there were three or four that had none at all - Zinrah included. I wanted to play in one of those areas because I knew that, whatever I did, I would be setting the tone for anyone else who played there. Besides, activity begets activity. Most new players will want to start where there are others to play with and, as a result, an inactive area will tend to stay inactive as new players will just go elsewhere. Someone has to break the chain, and that guy is me.

Out of those no-activity areas, I was most intrigued by the Wind Reaches. However, there was virtually no information whatsoever available - not even on a race specific to the area. Anything I did ran a serious risk of being completely out of whack with canon. Zinrah did not have a wiki entry. However, the Dhani entry was detailed enough to know what the basic society was like. Cayenne had put in NPC Dhani in other posts, so I sort of had a model to go off of, so it seemed I hit the right combination of available information as well as plenty of room to contribute and build and leave my own footprints in the cement, so to speak. So, I started as a Dhani. I contacted Cayenne immediately so we could talk through it, and she went to work right away on fleshing out enough of Zinrah for play. In one week, Zinrah went from 0 thread to 2, and in two weeks, it had 6 threads with several posts. I'm really pleased with how things are rolling there, and it would not have happened without Cayenne's hard work and the willingness of other players to jump in and play with me.

So, I wasn't intimidated, but challenged is a good word for it. I figured that, if I could start there and create some RP that other people found interesting, that people would create alts or new people would start there. I saw it as an opportunity to co-create a region, not in the sense of defining the region necessarily or fleshing out the lore - a lot of that stuff is in Cayenne's head, and I've heard you don't want to go kicking around in there - but in the sense of providing an example of what RP in that area might look like, what the Zinrah Dhani might be like, and the things I do will lay an RP foundation there for other players to build on. Whatever happens with Sthargon, any male Dhani who comes later is going to have to interact with the legacy he's building somehow, even if to break away from it, and I like that.

Gossamer: When choosing a set of skills for your PC, do you like to have your concept first or do you weigh your concept based on the skills you want to play? Skills are odd things, some people play what they know, others like to learn new things. Which type are you, or do you enjoy a mixture of known and unknown?

Ashivirsthargon: I start with the character concept, first, then pick skills on the basis of that idea. I think it's perfectly legitimate to do it the other way around, but I don't really work that way. I have kind of a top-down way of doing this stuff. You start with the setting and the larger story. That dictates your character concept. That dictates the particulars of your character. Everything is ultimately subservient to a larger story thats bigger, even, than my character. My fear would be that if I started with, say, a skill that I thought was cool, I'd end up with a one-dimensional character that might not really fit into the larger story when I was done. Some people can work that way, but I can't, so I don't.

When I run DnD games online, one of the things that really bugs me is the whole syndrome of people having made this character that they're in love with, so they want to play them somewhere. They don't care about the setting. They don't care about the adventure. They post these elaborate, epic backgrounds that show an incredible attention to detail and give virtually no thought to how the character fits into the larger story. Personally, that drives me nuts, and I don't accept those kinds of players. They're obviously way more interested in their own personal story than collaborating with others to tell a story that's bigger than their own character. I'm digressing, I guess, but I think it's important when we talk about the priorities we have in putting our characters together. I never come to a setting thinking, "I want to play a wizard. How can I play a wizard in this world?" I want to learn the setting, see what's going on there, see what it has to offer, and see what's interesting out of those materials. All good art operates under a set of constraints. That's where the skill comes in.

In Miz, skills are tricky things. If you think about it, you have an amazing number of skills in real life, even if you're not very good at most of the things you can passably do. In real life, I can sing ok. Nobody would hear me and go, "Wow! That guy can really sing!" nor do I think of myself as a "singer" at any level. But I can do it ok. So, if I were trying to make a CS built around me in real life, would I put Singing on there? Probably not at all, but the reality is that I do have a very small amount of skill in it, and you could extend that to dozens of other things.

But you're limited to 30 points, right, so you have to be very selective in what you actually put points into, and this can create some real challenges from an RP perspective. If I don't put any points whatsoever in Singing, does that mean that my character is abjectly horrible at it? You could say you could put 1 to 5 points in a smattering of minor skills, but the problem is you can only do that a few times before you don't have enough points to really define your "primary" set of skills.

This is challenging for me because I think it's important to try to RP the success of your actions commensurate with your actual skill points. But if I did that completely rigorously, my characters would be so supernally incompetent at life in general that it would be unrealistic. So, there's a sense in which your skill choices do define your character, but I also think it's ok to stretch a little bit, especially if you're not doing anything spectacular with them, and it's probably good to include in your narrative that your performance is nothing to write home about.

But then that raises a problem, doesn't it? If I'm ok playing 0 points in a skill as "I could accomplish this to an unremarkable degree," then how do I differentiate between that and something my character is legitimately bad at? What if I do want to sing terribly? I'm not sure I have a great answer for that. It all seems to wash out in the RP, but I'm not sure I can completely answer it from a perspective of how to spend skill points. And maybe that's the real lesson, here - that skill points serve as guides and constraints and not an absolute, hard and fast mechanical equivalent to what you can and can't do. But they're guides and constraints that cannot be ignored. You have to play in the sandbox they provide for you, but that doesn't mean you're necessarily always in the same spot in every sandbox. Is there a forum medal for obtuse metaphors?

For those select things you want your character to be proficient at, though, you definitely need the skill points to back it up, and this is an area I think nearly all players, myself included, need to do a better job with. We all want our characters to be remarkable, but we all start out very unremarkable, don't we? I mean, the maximum you can begin a skill in is 30. So, let's say I put 30 in Weaponry: Longsword. Well, every person I meet who has skill in the Longsword, there is a 70% chance they'll be a better swordsman than I am. You just can't RP being a flashy swordsman at that level. You'll be better than someone with no skill, sure, and you may get to "flashy swordsman" level someday, but you cannot start there. Not only is that important for threads, but it's important for character sheets as well. Especially character history. In your history, you're supposed to be even -worse- than you are right now. I think people need to think of the characters they create at the Luke Skywalker: Farm Boy level as opposed to the Luke Skywalker: Jedi Knight level. Once again, this becomes part of your story. If you're already some super-competent and powerful dude, where's your room to grow and progress?

I feel like I've already talked this question to death, but you did ask if I like to stick with skills I know something about. I really don't consider that, to be honest. As it happens, I teach martial arts and have trained in a number of the skills that Sthargon has, and I fight competitively on a reasonably regular basis so I feel pretty comfortable being realistic, there. But I don't purposefully limit myself to that. However, if I want to portray my use of skills in detail, then I really need to do some basic research into skills I know very little about. You have to know what those skills realistically look like in practice and how practitioners think about those skills.

I don't know how to play the bagpipes. That would not stop me from making a character who did. However, you can bet I'm -at least- going to read a Wikipedia page or two on the subject to learn what the different parts of the bagpipe are called, how the sound is generated, what the basic challenges are in playing such an instrument, etc. Siana and I used to play this one game together where people would design stringed instrument descriptions where the instruments were made of materials that couldn't possibly produce a resonant sound. If they really existed, they would make no sound whatsoever. But the people who created those descriptions obviously never took the time to figure out the basics of what goes into making instruments like that.

By the same token, I'll see training threads or combat with NPCs that, to me, quite clearly illustrate that the person posting has never been in a fight and/or received training in it. They've probably borrowed from movies or anime or some such, and I would argue that as entertaining as those kinds of venues can be, they're not great for really getting your arms around what combat involves. At the same time, this is fantasy, and there should be touch of the cinematic or fantastic, so you do have to be willing to let realism bend a little bit without breaking.

Gossamer: Is there anything you see yourself pioneering on Mizahar? Regardless of if you do or don't, what would one thing be if you could possibly make it happen?

Ashivirsthargon: There's a sense in which I think it would be difficult to truly "pioneer" something in Mizahar. We've almost got more races than active players. We've got more skills than anyone could possible hope to use in a number of characters. We have so many locations to play in that some of them sit empty. I don't say that as a criticism at all, but just to illustrate that there's so much material already present in Miz that we haven't even begun to use everything we've already got. So, in a climate like that, it's hard to come up with something totally new and, even if you do, you have to seriously think about the value of introducing that into the Miz ecosystem when you've got so much already there that needs developing as it is.

I mean, let's say I have this awesome idea for a new location. I have to ask myself questions like: Does this really contribute something completely unique to Mizahar that can't be done with pre-existing material? Is the playerbase big enough to support it? Will there be enough interest from people besides me or the one other person I asked about it? Am I willing for this idea to be torn to shreds and reconfigured by others who have more experience at world-building?

It's hard to apply those kinds of questions objectively to an idea that you, personally, love, but it has to be done. And it may just come down to a timing issue. If there are four or five regions already in Miz that are completely empty, there's no good reason to add another region that will also be completely empty. If nobody is playing three of the races, there's no point in adding in another race that will also go unplayed. That doesn't mean the idea is bad; it just means there aren't enough people who can support your idea, so you might have to write it down and table it for a while until the timing is better. If I were going to seriously pitch a new area in Miz, for example, I'd want to make sure I already had two or three people committed to making characters there. Otherwise, what am I doing? And if I can't find at least two or three people who like the idea enough to play there, why do I think it would be a successful idea? These are the kinds of issues that get blurry when you have an idea that you really love.

Having said that, one of the things I hope to stir up in Miz is not so much a particular new region, race, or lore, but I'd like to introduce evil as a more active force and have more player-versus-player and group-versus-group conflict. There is a real lack of anyone seriously pursuing "evil" as a PC and taking the fight to the other regions. I've seen characters that seem like they'd be good candidates for this, but they seem to have made their peace with getting along with society in general at least for the time being. That's totally fine, but I'd like to help foster that sense of meaningful conflict between players.

This is much, much more challenging than writing lore or creating a new location. I don't want to minimize the challenge in doing those things, because I've seen what people go through to do it. But in this case, you're dealing very much with player mind-sets, the metagame, and fitting in with the setting as a whole. Goss has impressed upon me that Mizahar does not always lend itself well to traditionally evil structures (large, evil empires, formalized assassin guilds, etc.). The evil in-game is more rag-tag than that for the most part. Raiders. Thugs. Small, isolated patrols. There are exceptions like Ebonstryfe, but even there, you're not really looking at a concerted effort to fight the other regions. More of an individual level. And as long as we're on this topic, I'd love to see Ebonstryfe really get in there and start mixing it up.

One of my goals for Ash is for him to eventually become a sort of warlord defined by this context. A kind of brigand-warlord. I want to take the fight to other players and other lands. I want to show up in someone's Open thread and start kicking butt during their tea party or shopping trip. Well, maybe not that, because that would be obnoxious, but you get the idea. Something where the realities of fighting evil (or fighting anyone, really) gives some meaning to all these warrior types you see going around.

I admit, this can be very difficult. Not everyone wants to play or is good at playing a bad guy. Not everyone wants to fight, and they will not have fun if fighting is forced upon them. Even if you get people who are willing to RP fighting, how is that going to play out in a way that's fun and acceptable to everyone involved? Very few people like playing the "loser" in a conflict, and even fewer are going to be cool with their character actually dying. So, there are a lot of things to work out, and there will probably be mistakes along the way, but I really think it could add a dimension to RP and stories that can be really powerful for the players who are interested in being part of that.

How will I do that? I'd like to coordinate that effort in some way. Whether it's Sthargon leading people into combat. Whether it's some other character running a pack of raiders that live off towns that are easy picking. I don't know. As a humble beginning, Sthargon and Siiri might start mixing it up pretty soon. Siiri is exactly the kind of player you want in a project like that. He's mature, realistic, reasonable, and he takes feedback in a great spirit. I look forward to seeing what those two will do together, combatwise. Also, I've been told it would be hot if they got together romantically in some kind of grappling match that gets out of hand. We'll see. PG-13, folks.

Gossamer: What is your favorite part of roleplaying? And, tied to that, what is your favorite part of your pc? Is there anything about roleplaying and your pc that you dislike?

Ashivirsthargon: My favorite part of roleplaying is being immersed in an interactive story. Maybe it's the escape or the fun of leading another life or what, but it's definitely immersing myself in an interactive experience much larger than just me. I enjoy the atmosphere and the stories that other people provide, and I enjoy providing that for other people.

Earlier, I talked about the emotional connection to characters as similar to connecting with characters in a book or a movie. Roleplay in general is kind of like that. If you're watching a good movie or reading a good book, you want it to keep going. The experience is fun and interesting and emotionally powerful and it takes you away temporarily from the things you often have to deal with in real life. I think it's harmful when people are so immersed in those worlds that their actual life suffers, but it's a great experience, and roleplaying is sort of a way to keep that experience going. It's like a more sophisticated version of playing Let's Pretend like you did when you were a kid. It's just a ton of fun to pretend to be someone that you think is interesting in the middle of a world designed to help you do that.

I mean, that's why the RenFest is fun, right? They're really not anything close to historically accurate for the most part, but that's irrelevant. You don't go to the RenFest to learn the history of the Renaissance. You go to be immersed in another environment that's whimsical and fun. Roleplay does something similar, but it also opens up the full range of experiences for you. The thing is, we are moved by stories that more than just whimsy - we're moved by danger, love, sadness, celebration, anger - the full range of experiences are out there for you to have in a sort of fictional proxy that comes very naturally to people - engaging the imagination. Some people just like to be engaged passively, which is what a book or a movie can do for you. Others also like to be engaged actively, and that's where roleplay comes in, because you become an active part of your own experience. It's fun to have whole worlds full of that opportunity, and it's fun to know that you're a part of someone else's experience in that way. When I play, I feel like I have an obligation to make it as memorable for the other people who play with me as I can, and it's a fun obligation, for the most part.

My favorite part of RPing Sthargon is the aura of menace. Whether he's talking with a Dhani or a Myrian, something about him tends to exude this aura of playing with his prey. I actually saw Cayenne RP this way in a post, and it really stuck with me. Whenever Sthargon is around anyone else, I like for them not to feel completely at ease, and I try to incorporate this in his speech and actions. He knows that nobody feels safe around him, and he revels in that. They may not necessarily fear him, but they don't feel safe. I'm looking forward to when his skills are high enough that he is actually an entity whose name immediately makes people afraid - when he's a shapeless, formless -thing- that haunts the jungle - when he's a story that Myrian parents tell their kids. "You'd better eat all your brains, Hajj, or Sthargon will come for you in the night."

If there's something I dislike about roleplaying, especially on a site full of good writers, it's the expectations of quality. Not every post can be good or even interesting. You're going to have off days. You're going to have times when you need to advance the story, but you aren't really feeling it. There's going to be times you post drunk. This stuff happens. And you want everyone to squeal over all your posts, but it just isn't going to happen. There's a certain pressure around Miz to really shoot the lights out when you write. While this is a good pressure overall, it can also be discouraging when you put something out there and you know it isn't great, or you really do have about five sentences in you and that's all you've got to give.

On a side note, I'm not even sure that last bit is a legitimate pressure to feel. If I can write one, awesome paragraph and that paragraph does everything I wanted to do, why should I feel pressure to add more? But, I do, and you asked, so there it is.

I assume you're asking if there's anything I don't like about -playing- Sthargon, because there's certainly a lot to dislike about who he is. He's really a terrible, terrible person. Even the bad guys can't trust him. I don't like typing out the sibilant "S" sounds. It's annoying to write, and sometimes kind of hampering to read, too. I've thought about just including it in a description, but I'd be doing that on virtually every post, so I still haven't really figured that situation out, yet. Also, the crueler parts of Sthargon's personality are hard to play for me. In his first post, he kills two children in pretty awful ways, and that was actually hard to write. I felt sorry for them. But, hey, what are you gonna do? Stay out of Zinrah, kids.

And, overall, it goes against my nature to play a character who alienates everyone at some level. Already, I think he's being too nice to a person or two. But I'm sure I'll get that figured out. I really don't want him to become anyone's trusted ally, at least at first. You never know how someone will change over time.

Gossamer: Roleplaying is very dynamic. There are things we all love and hate about the artform. Is there anything you won't roleplay about? Is there something you repeatedly like to roleplay about? Why?

Ashivirsthargon: I never say never as far as that stuff goes, but there are things I generally stay away from in RP. I don't play female characters, mostly because I think I'd do a terrible job. I don't play characters who are just completely sadistic and evil for evil's sake for largely the same reason. I remember reading, once, a very graphic RP description of someone torturing a child to death, and while I respected that would realistically happen with that person's character, I don't think I could really play that way and, to be honest, I wish I hadn't read it. There's just some places that, even though it's only pretend, I don't feel comfortable going personally, and a thoroughgoing misanthropic evil that knows no bounds is one of those places. I'm not even sure it's entirely healthy to give expression to those places in oneself, but that's up to each individual to decide.

I realize that paragraph sounded like I was conflating women characters and psychopathically evil characters. Purely coincidental.

Something I repeatedly like RPing is relationships. I don't necessarily mean romance, although that's fun, but the complexity of relationships, whether friend or foe, love or lust, superior or subordinate - whatever. It has to happen in a meaningful arena. I don't like the whole Jane Austen style of RP where it seems like every post is some kind of deep conversation with numerous relational speculations and a lot of noting of eye color or what have you. But assuming there's something going on that serves as an arena for relationships to develop and play out - politics, battle, or just accomplishing something together - the way two or more people interact and develop is fun.

In this area, I don't mind writing about the sexual aspect of relationships between characters assuming that aspect is a realistic part of their relationship, and it's done in a classy, realistic manner as opposed to some purient, pornographic manner. Obviously, the public nature of Miz's forums and the wide range of ages make that kind of RP a no-no, and that's totally fine, but left to my own devices, I don't shy away from it. It still amazes me how people can write incredibly graphic descriptions of disemboweling someone with a sword, but describing sex is crossing the line. I know which one I'd rather the people in my neighborhood were doing.

I also find that virtually any character I've ever made has a significant relationship with a deity. Once again, the nature of that relationship has been varied, but for some reason, that comes up really in every character concept I've ever had. One of the things I look forward to is playing with Cayenne qua Siku. For some reason, the deity / mortal RP angle is really fascinating to me, whether it's a positive or negative relationship. I think Greek mythology ruined me when I was a kid, or it may be the fact that I'm religious in real life. I don't know why, but it's always an ingredient.

Gossamer: What is one of your PCs happiest memory? In contrast, what is one of your player’s happiest memories? It’s always nice to give your adoring fans some contrast and a baseline.

Ashivirsthargon: I'm not sure Sthargon has ever been truly happy a day in his life. I don't mean that in some kind of brooding, emo, bad poetry in his livejournal, my soul is filled with tears of blood kind of way. To be honest, I have little patience for that kind of thing. I'm sure it makes for a cool image of the wind blowing through so and so's long hair as he stares at the ground and contemplates for the five-hundredth time how his parents were killed in an orc raid, but I almost fell asleep just typing that. No, really, I almost bored myself just talking about that.

What I mean is that it's difficult to imagine Sthargon as even being content. I mean, what makes a guy like this happy? He doesn't even like other Dhani very much. I'll tell you what, though, Cayenne is planning on introducing Siku to him in a flashback thread, and that stands a pretty good chance of being the closest he comes to happiness. I really don't know. Hard question. Maybe some hot Konti chick will rub his shoulders or something. Or something. I have a feeling his moments of happiness are yet to come. What did Conan (once again, the Barbarian) say about happiness? To see your enemies driven before you, etc. etc.? That sounds about right.

My happiest memory? Can I have two? I guess you can't really stop me, but I don't know how this will be edited.

One is when I was in elementary school. It was Friday afternoon in the late Spring. I was in my room, window open with a nice breeze. I had a Dole frozen pineapple juice bar and a cool sci-fi book I'd bought at the book fair that day. I just remember being so, blissfully happy. Like anything I could ever want to be content was right there. Funny how kids are always in such a hurry to grow up. It's a lot easier to be happy as a kid.

The other is when I was the keynote speaker at the Government Webmasters Conference a few years ago. I was doing a presentation on Cascading Style Sheets which was a whole new world for most of them. Hundreds of people. And I was on fire. The presentation was flowing, no bugs in the demo, and people just ate it up. Enormous applause at the end. People came up to me afterward telling me how this was going to change the way they did their jobs, etc. I love to teach, anyway, and that just rocked.

I guess that kind of gives you the two polarities of things that make me happiest: moments free of cares by myself (which have become almost unheard of as I've gotten older) and moments where tons of people think I'm awesome all at the same time.

Gossamer: What made you decide to play Dhani? They are somewhat under exposed in Mizahar and can be challenging. Will you tell us what you think the best and worst parts of portraying this race entail?

Ashivirsthargon: I'm going to be honest with you. When I first looked at the races, the Dhani were easily my last choice. They seemed the most superfluous race out of all of them. We're talking first impressions, you understand, but you start looking through that long list of races and you begin to wonder if were-snakes really filled a necessary niche or if they just sounded cool. You've got the half-spiders. You've got intellectual gorillas. You've got the aquatic race. You've got the bird people. You've got the Kelvic to sort of round out the rest. You wonder what snake people are really going to add in such a world, you know? They seemed unnecessary to me, and I harbored a suspicion that anyone who played them probably just had some kind of fetish of some sort.

But you saw how I ended up deciding to play in Zinrah, and if you had the "mission" I did, the only way to do it was to play a Dhani and someone fairly close to type. If you try to set the pace being too different than the standard Dhani archetype, you aren't building that foundation. You might be doing something very cool, but you won't be setting a pace for Dhani RP. Personally, I still think it would rock if someone made a non-Dhani character and earned a mark from Siku so they could participate in Zinrah society even without having to be Dhani, but that road wasn't for me given what I wanted to accomplish, there. Even today, if someone wanted to play in Zinrah, I'd encourage them to play a Dhani, just because we need more. There's SO MUCH work to do there from an RP perspective. We're just scratching the surface.

The best parts of portraying this race is that you get to be evil in sort of a pro-social way. You are the victims of Myrian genocide, and you are trying to protect and grow your nearly-extinct race. So, you get all the fun and challenge of being evil characters while, at the same time, being at least a bit sympathetic to outsiders. It's a much more complex form of evil than a simple black and white situation, and that's the most fun kind of evil there is - the kind where you can actually understand why the bad guys do what they do. I'd also say the free love with all the hot snake women is nice, but once again, PG-13. All the implied free love is great, I guess. Anyway, if someone likes the Drow from popular fantasy but would like to see a somewhat less self-destructive version, I think they'd have a lot of fun in Zinrah or playing a Dhani.

The worst part is that there's kind of a built-in isolationism. The odds that Sthargon will go travel the world anytime soon are pretty slim, which is a limitation to how much I can play with other players I might want to RP with. The other Zinrah players are great, and Cayenne is great, but I don't have the flexibility to just show up in some random town to play with someone. I'm hoping that, as Sthargon's importance grows, this can change in realistic ways. It would be cool, for example, to travel somewhere to recruit other races to "the cause" or for people to actually seek him out because word has gotten around.

The other thing is that you have to watch the cliche. As I said, earlier, the Dhani are very well-defined. It can be a challenge to play "classical Dhani" without it being a cliche, or drifting too far away from "classical Dhani" such that you're the Dhani version of Drizzt. The ol' giant snake with a heart o' gold, deep down. Blech. You want to strike that fine tipping point where you're still a good example of Dhani-ness with things that are also uniquely yours. You said it - it can be a very challenging race to play. Some races are more tabula rasa than that - you have a lot of flexibility in how you portray them because there aren't strong, definitive characteristics. The Dhani are not that way, and you have to really think through how you're going to differentiate yourself without being dumb about it.

At the same time, this can make the Dhani a race that's not bad for a beginning RPer. I mean, you -could- play completely to type and still be a really excellent Dhani player, especially if you find an aspect of their society that you're really into. They have very well-defined societal characteristics that a beginner could run with. So, I hope brand new players are drawn to the race as well as veterans looking for a real challenge in character portrayal. And maybe this is where I get my Konti fetish, because when you think about it, the Konti race is very similar in this regard - tons of racial definition, so a new player has a lot to go off of to get their RP legs under them, while veteran players have the challenge of making their Konti unique without deviating so far from the norm that it's just another trope.

Gossamer: Would you please tell us how you got into roleplaying? What does roleplaying do for you in every day life?

Ashivirsthargon: I put on my robe and wizard hat.

Ok, no, I don't.

I guess I first played DnD in late elementary school. Of course, none of us really understood what we were doing. But I was always drawn to games where you pretended more than other kinds of games. I liked the Choose Your Own Adventure style stories. I bought Star Frontiers when it first came out, and it was then that it sort of started to click what a roleplaying game really entailed, although it still wasn't functionally more than "pretending" in some ways. Thoughts of things like coherent storylines and things like that just weren't on the radar.

I got older and got into computer RPGs (Ultima, Wizardry, Bard's Tale, etc.) and began to meet others who played DnD and similar games, and that's when things really started to come together, especially since they were older than I was and helped showed me the ropes, as it were, and we played all kinds of systems and adventures together.

I didn't really play much in college because I was, you know, doing other things, but after I graduated, I found some friends who played, and I played with the man who was the best DM I've ever played with to date. No props. No maps. He would play music during the battles. But he told such intricate and vivid stories and was able to describe things so well on the fly. He was artistic, too, so he would sketch out on the fly important things or people that we were seeing. I can't draw for anything, but in terms of his ability to weave a collective story, I knew I wanted to DM just like that. I'd point to that era as to when I really kindled a love for story-heavy RP. I still remember our games vividly even though they were over a decade ago.

Since then, there was a brief fling with MMORPGs in the form of Ultima Online and some longer flings with MUDs (Achaea and Lusternia - which isn't about lust, turns out), then running some DnD games online in a play-by-post format which I still do, allegedly. Mizahar is my first collaborative, forum-based storytelling RP experience.

One thing RP does for me in everyday life is make it more bearable. Not that my everyday life is horrible - it's a pretty decent life, all told. But RP is fun and relaxing and... remember that little kid and his frozen pineapple juice bar from Question 8? Yeah.

More mechanics-based games like DnD have also made me pretty decent at basic math, which is a rarer skill than you might think.

I'd say, though, one very important thing roleplaying does is it cultivates my ability to think on my feet and think creatively, especially when it comes to problem solving. There are so many ways in RP you can approach a situation, not just tactically, but in terms of the attitude you want to bring to the situation. Sometimes, you have to sneak around the guard. Sometimes, you have to buy the guard a beer. Sometimes, you have to bash the guard's head in with a warhammer. A lot of situations in real life are not entirely different from that. In fact, a good warhammer would probably solve any number of issues, but less literally, the ability to think through the different ways to look at a situation and evaluate their consequences and do this quickly is a priceless skill.

I also owe my vocabulary primarily to roleplaying, and that has generally served me well. A lot of people mistake being well-spoken for intelligence, and that was worked in my favor a lot.

Finally, I'd say that being able to project yourself into a different persona can have a lot of applications in terms of dealing with people. I don't always agree with everyone, and I'm no relativist who feels like everyone's claims or behaviors are equally acceptable, but at the same time, I usually -understand- why people might say what they say or do what they do. I can put myself in their situation and, given their values and situation, understand how their words and actions would be commensurate with that. If nothing else, this (theoretically) allows me to deal with people with a lot more charity and grace than I might normally. I mean, hey, you might not like it, but it is what their character would do.

Gossamer: Lovely Interview - thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with the Mizaharian community as a whole!


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Re: The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Aneira Haimati on March 9th, 2010, 6:51 pm

Congratulations, Sthargon! You are very deserving of this. I enjoyed reading your interview and briefly getting inside the head of someone whose stories I admire, as well as can relate to. Thanks for all the great insights.

You're pretty funny, too. :)

I think the Featured Character of the Month is a brilliant idea!
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Re: The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Kamalia Timandre on March 9th, 2010, 7:00 pm

Congratulations, Ashivirsthargon!

Not only that you deserve to be the Featured Character of the Month, but also the Featured Player! You bring life to Zinrah and the Falyndrar region too, but personally, I must say your character's hotness has a huge factor in this. I'm still longing to see a Siiri x Ashivirsthargon to happen, even though Siiri just announced a while ago that the character is lesbian!

I'm happy for you and I really hope we get to roleplay someday together. :thumbsup:
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Re: The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Alice on March 9th, 2010, 8:28 pm

Congratulations, Ash, for being the very first featured char! This is incredible! :)

Also, I wonder if you were required to write that long answers or ... but that's not really important.

Reading the interview has been really interesting and refreshing for me (some kind of happy boost, believe it or not). I guess I can never quite forget the stalker in me, so I'm always interested in people talking about themselves, especially people I admire for their writing. Guess I should read some threads of yours soon ... and talk to you about that pressure for quality you mentioned. I sometimes feel the same and I think it would be nice to discuss that. :)

Anyway, you really deserve this! Keep up the awesome work in Zinrah and with the Dhani!
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Re: The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Tarot on March 9th, 2010, 9:29 pm

Congratulations, Ash. Your posts are always insightful and a great read. You are the perfect recipient of the first FC award. :)
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Re: The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Siiri on March 9th, 2010, 9:37 pm

Kaaaaaammmyyy!! That's a storyteller secret!

*patches up Siiri the PC with Dignity tape*

Lolz, anyways, congrats Ash on being the first featured player/character! Yay! I haven't read the whole thing (man, that is long O.O), but trust me, I will later on. A much deserved honor I think; I think you're a great writer and you bring so much personality in the game with your character. Nice one man! ^^
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Re: The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Satu on March 9th, 2010, 10:10 pm

A well-deserved honour Ashivi for all you bring to the roleplay game!

Now... what's this about Konti backrubs? :)

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Re: The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Liminal on March 9th, 2010, 10:29 pm

Congrats, and I enjoyed the interview
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Re: The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Alistair deGrey on March 9th, 2010, 11:04 pm

Thats fantastic. What a wonderful idea, and an excellent choice for the first recipient as well. Good job Ash! :D
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Re: The Featured Character of The Month: Ashivirsthargon!

Postby Hunter on March 10th, 2010, 12:16 am

Awesome! Congratulations, and I gotta say, the humor was well appreciated.
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