Why Thersa must die (a roleplaying philosophy)

Zounds, a roleplaying post? WTF IS THIS.

Anea recently wrote a very interesting post inspecting the dubious morality of a certain Horde quest. In the quest, you meet a female tauren named Thersa Windsong in the Undercity, who after drinking some strange water, has developed a strange illness that priests and shamans have been unable to cure. A Forsaken scientist named Chemist Cuely asks you to fetch some water samples, ostensibly for a cure. However, the "cure" ends up killing Thersa, and Cuely thanks you for helping advance the Forsaken's plague research.

Anea's point was that she hated the quest because of how evil and sad it was, and how it went against everything her character (a shaman) stood for - namely, healing, life, etc.

My take on it was very different. I actually think Anea's shaman *would* have done the quest, and without any hesitation at all. Why? Because not doing the quest would be condemning Thersa to death.

From an RP perspective, there are severe repercussions to ignoring Cuely's request. Thersa is dying, and the only possible solution available to us is Cuely's potential cure. Even if we as players know the outcome, our characters do not, an important fact to remember when roleplaying. Our characters cannot preemptively hate the outcome of a quest because to them, it hasn't happened yet.

Another important distinction lies with Chemist Cuely himself. While not technically a member of the Royal Apothecary Society, his actions and goals tie in very strongly with the R.A.S. Anyone who's experienced the Wrathgate knows what that means. They're pretty despicable folk, and yes, our level 80 veterans knocking down the Lich King's doors know this very well.

But a low-level, fresh-to-the-world character? They don't hate the Royal Apothecaries. They probably don't even know who they are yet. Refusing to associate with them because of their evil ways makes no sense when you have never seen them do anything bad. In fact, it's actually quite the opposite - if you (as a player) hate the Royal Apothecaries and you want your character to as well, you SHOULD do their quests! How else is your character going to learn to dislike them? It doesn't really make sense to hate them when all you've ever seen them do is stand around Undercity waving beakers around.

Pretend for a second that you have never done this quest before. Maybe you're a new player, or you've never played Horde before, whatever. You go fill Cuely's vials, maybe a little suspicious of his motives, or maybe completely unaware of what will happen. And so you hand in the quest and witness the tragic results.

Some characters, like Anea's shaman, would be horrified at trying to save a poor Tauren's life only to have her expire horribly and immediately upon drinking the supposed "cure". Likely she would be very shaken and disturbed, and probably strongly distrust the Society (if not ALL Forsaken) afterward.

Others, like Chas's Forsaken Warlock, would probably revel in the terror and death they had caused, embracing it as the destiny of their race and justified vengeance for the suffering they had experienced.

The point is, THESE are the types of experiences that establish your character; powerful, emotionally gripping events that make you, the player, stop and think. For example, the shock and brutal nature of Thersa's story could easily become one of the most important, pivotal events in a young adventurer's life.

It's important to remember that not all of your character's life experiences have to be positive ones, and in fact probably shouldn't be. Just like in real life, some experiences are sad, some are unsatisfying, some are ones they probably wish they could forget. But just as a person's happy memories influence who they become, so too do their unhappy ones. Together they shape and mold our characters from lifeless pixels on a screen into - in our minds - living, unique people with their own opinions, motivations and beliefs.

This doesn't just apply to our characters. Consider poor Thersa, whose sole purpose in the game is to die. For roleplaying purposes, she doesn't exist except in a doomed state. She is both alive and dead; she will never die until you know of her, but the act of meeting her is what makes her death possible and inevitable. She is Schrödinger's cow.

Ironically, only by exploring her story and unknowingly killing her are we able to bring her to life as a person. She has no dialogue, doesn't tell us any important information, and in fact never even moves from her spot...yet she becomes a unique, sympathetic individual, whose story is capable of evoking incredibly genuine player emotion.

So roleplayers, embrace the bad with the good. Look at the old classic Disney movies; nothing builds character like tragedy and tough experiences. By avoiding uncomfortable or unpleasant experiences, you are robbing your character of crucial opportunities for self-discovery and growth. The heartbreaking memory of poor Thersa is one that sticks with many players, but it's only possible because she dies!

Alive, she's nameless and meaningless. In death, she's a martyr, an unforgettable life lesson, and a motivation.

So don't ignore Thersa's little questline. Yes, it's a sad story, and you may feel bad about killing her...but it's her destiny.

Only in death can she help you bring your character to life.

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    Rades, this is a brilliant post and a very good point.
    When I read Anea's post I was reminded of the first time I did one of these poisoning quests. I believe it may have even been the one in Brill she talks about - I was horrified that I had caused the prisoner's death, but how was I to know? After starting a night elf, I also really didn't want to do the quest that the satyr gives you outside Dolanaar, because he sounded like he was up to no good.
    Since then I've done all manner of nasty things in the name of xp, but more recently after getting to Dragonblight as Horde for the second time on my mage, I decided that I really didn't enjoy doing the Venomspite quests again that require you to do nasty things, so I wouldn't do them again. From a character development point of view, this is valid - Aefa declined to do something distasteful that she was asked to do, and as a Blood Elf there's no reason for her to have any particular love of the Apothecaries. As our characters gain levels they also develop more IC reasons or excuses for you to take the leveling path that you choose.

    June 17, 2010 at 5:19 AM

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    Really good post, Rades. I always like talking about RP and character development even though I'm not on an RP server any more and seldom encounter other folks RPing. You're absolutely right - and yet I still stopped playing my Horde mage after refusing to do the quest in Hellfire where you are going to expose a Draenei to fel energies and make him a Broken. The thing is, I *knew* that my troll would do it - she doesn't care about Draenei, and she's generally fairly reprehensible. But *I* couldn't and it just turned me off the whole thing. I know that's metagaming in the extreme. :(

    June 17, 2010 at 7:28 AM

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    She is Schrödinger's Tauren!

    Ahem, this is an excellent post - I loved it, and I thought it was a very nicely executed quest lines.

    I can also see Anea's point though - in that because of the way quests work in MMOs you rarely have any *choice* - in character or out of it. So even if you're doing the quest for the first time, and alarm bells ring at this dodgy Forsaken there is no way for you translate that knowledge to your character. Your character either has to be naive or desperate enough to trust zomfie.

    June 17, 2010 at 7:59 AM

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    A great post, Rades! You make a lot of really good points here.

    One thing that bothers me, though -- and this is a limitation of the game and the quest rather than your argument -- is that we are forced to assume there are only two choices: Do the quest, or stand by and let her die.

    Of course, in the game, those are our only choices. But for our characters, it wouldn't be that way -- we wouldn't accept a black-and-white choice between pouring some mystery substance down poor Thersa's throat, and simply walking away. We would try other solutions like, get a second opinion (possibly from someone who looks less like a demented mad scientist! :), or even ask Thersa herself -- or her family in Thunder Bluff -- what they would like done. Consult a troll oracle! Go and beg Thrall to find a better doctor! Something! :)

    I mean, of course you can't do all those things in the game. I feel like you're exactly right to say if we're going to keep faith with our RP role, we can't just stand by. For me, though, the frustrating thing about some of these morally and ethically challenging quest lines isn't that they're challenging, it's that the (exactly two) alternatives they give you are both terrible. We're forced to choose the lesser of two evils. What's worse, one of the two is always "just walk away", so really, we only get one choice. Like it or lump it!

    This is one of the reasons I find it hard to really immerse myself in RP in WoW...choices like this make it really hard to maintain the fourth wall. One of the things I really loved about some of the older single-player RPG's like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale was that they offered you some more choices about what to say and do. (Also: Romance! But that's a separate issue... :) There were still only a few possible outcomes to each conversation, but at least you felt more in touch with your character. What would she say in this situation? Sometimes there wasn't a perfect fit, but I liked it better than the Hobson's choice.

    June 17, 2010 at 8:33 AM

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    Thanks for the comments guys!

    It was late when I finished writing this last night so here's a few responses. Reading it now it comes across as very aggressive and IF YOU'RE NOT DOING IT THIS WAY YOU ARE WRONG, which isn't quite what I intended, haha.

    @Angelya - That's exactly what I meant! It's a surprisingly emotional little quest. I haven't done the Nelf/Satyr quest you're referring to but it sounds similar - it probably does a lot to establish early life lessons for baby night elves.

    @Vid - I don't even *remember* that quest! I guess I'm just a heartless Hordie, haha. Was there a way that you could have interpreted it as your troll that even *she* felt bad doing it? Sometimes I suppose there are unavoidable disparities between the player and the character they are playing though, which is to be expected I guess!

    @Tam - Editing post now to say Schrodinger's Cow. (How did I miss that initially??) As for the alarm bells, I actually love that about the Royal Apothecary questlines. For the most part, they are very subtle and dark, never actually *telling* you what will happen, just...hinting at it. I find this very effective, as you don't realize what you've gotten yourself into until you've already become their unknowing accomplice!

    @Tam and @Lara - I completely agree about being limited by the game medium, and there being only two options. I had a neat tangent I decided not to delve into for length reasons comparing Thersa's plight to that of Arthas with the Culling of Strathholme. Arthas, who's a bit of a tool but certainly not evil at that point, is presented with two terrible, impossible choices - purge the city, or let them all die and become undead. Just as players wish there was some other option for Thersa, so too does Jaina implore Arthas to find another way. But he can't. For him, there is no third option. Like us with Thersa, the game has trapped him in a lose-lose scenario, and he is forced to choose between Bad and Worse. WE ARE ARTHAS. D:

    Something to think about next time you get Culling as a random heroic? ;)

    June 17, 2010 at 9:19 AM

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    You know, I was thinking about the Culling of Stratholme when I wrote my comment, too. :)

    I always felt a little bad for Arthas in the beginning -- he wasn't really prepared for the responsibilities that were thrust upon him. I feel like what made Arthas evil isn't the fact that he chose to cull Stratholme, but that he turned the experience into a vessel of such burning hatred in his soul, and wouldn't accept the help that Uther, his father, Muradin, and others were trying to give him. In the end, it burned him too.

    I thought the way it turns out after his demise in Icecrown Citadel was really moving. I won't say more, in case anybody reading this is holding off on watching that scene till they get to it naturally...but...wow.

    June 17, 2010 at 11:24 AM

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    I liked the elaboration of the post - I keep seeing people mention Wrathgate and Dragonblight and I feel like I've missed out. Lus and I never got to see/complete/whatever Wrathgate.

    Eventually I'll get there, Anarkali will have to do those distasteful quests... but I really feel like I need (want?) to see what Wrathgate is all about, I've seen it mentioned as an explanation for other things and I just don't get it 'cause I haven't been there.

    Plus, I'll be developing Anarkali. /nod

    June 17, 2010 at 7:50 PM