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Some time ago I found a forum post asking the question how do you handle the lack of permanent death in WoW? Why don't PCs and NPCs really 'die' when 'killed'? The general consensus by others who posted their answers in that thread was a logical and unsurprising "it's magic!" I also would have to say I agree with them. In a fantastical world setting like WoW, magic is easily a possible answer to many things which defy a rational explanation. But to put more of an RP spin on it, and to make it more specific towards each individual character based on, say, race and class, I think it helps to take the overall realm of magic and mesh it with what Blizzard has incorporated into WoW for everyone.
One of the most obvious examples can be seen when a Warlock uses the spell Soulstone. The spell enables the target of the spell with the ability to instantly return back to life after death at any time in the spells' thirty minute duration. For my own Warlock, I RP the soulstone effect to be permanently cast on himself, so when he dies, he's simply able to rejoin the living world at his choosing. This can be done whether or not he actually has the soulstone spell cast on himself or not. It's just one of the perks of being aligned with the dark magics.
If you've happened upon Wichdocta wandering around the world on the Earthen Ring server, you may have noticed a Black Kingsnake or a turtle following him. For Wichdocta, I have built heavily upon the magical essences of voodoo that Blizzard mixed into the Troll race. Within voodoo beliefs, both in the real world and the realm of WoW, there are spirits known as Loa which are believed to be links between those on Earth and the one God. I RP that the snake and turtle that follow Wichdocta around are in fact such loa, and are his own link for returning from death, very much like the crow is to The Crow.
Now, hopefully your mind is racing right now in trying to figure out how you can fit this RP concept into your own character's class and race. To give them a specific anti-death objects or spell like the above examples are a very good and simple way to answer how and why your character doesn't really die. But what about NPCs and mobs? How can it be RPed that a boss creature can be slain, yet simply reappears untouched a few minutes later?
Well, for one quick answer, I again hearken back to my Dungeons & Dragons days of old, and RP such in the light of the avatar. Extremely simplified, an avatar is a representation of another being. As I came to know them in D&D, an avatar referred most often to the form taken by a higher being while on the Prime Material plane. Rarely did said higher beings actually visit the Prime Material plane in their true form, because if they were somehow killed while in their true form, then they were truly dead. So, from the safety of their home plane of existence, they instead would merely take on the form of an avatar, which could resemble any form of life they so deemed necessary.
How many times has Onyxia been slain? Has anyone seen and/or heard of any major Alliance or Horde leader being killed? And what do you know, a few minutes later, they return! Perhaps what our characters see of them is merely their avatar, and that their true selves in fact exist on another plane? Heck, stranger things have happened in WoW, right? Didn't we just have a spaceship crash not too long ago? With that, I reserve the right to RP any wild & crazy idea that my rampant imagination can create!
I do have to admit, though, that the avatar concept I think works well for major NPCs, and could even work for a PC who wishes to do so; for ordinary citizen NPCs and much of the fauna of WoW, not so much. That's something I'm still working on, albeit nothing I'm losing sleep over. Maybe it's just magic!
Now, there are a couple of non-magical ideas that would answer this question just as well. One is drawn from one of my favorite movie series, and the other is currently being used in another popular MMORPG. Both could open a whole new level of RP for those who choose to employ them or something similar.
"There can be only one!" I'm betting many of you instantly recognize that quote, the movie(s) it comes from, and the lore and history surrounding it. It is the mantra of the Immortals, introduced in the 1986 movie Highlander, starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery. Conner MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod (Lambert) found out that he was an Immortal, a race of beings destined to live forever. There was only one sure way he could die - have his head cut off. To me, this is a great idea that could be brought into WoW to explain why your character never dies. I see no reason why an entire group of like-minded RP'ers couldn't bring this into their game play, especially since there is no way to visibly behead a character in game. Unless and until Blizzard institutes such, I say 'role' with it!
Another example of MMO eternal life I like comes from The Lord of the Rings Online. In LotRO, 'death' has been replaced by 'defeat'. LotRO players who receive grievous wounds in battle to such a point that their Morale (health) is sapped are given the option to 'retreat' from battle to a safe point where they may rest and recuperate for a short time. In WoW, a quick macro could be set up stating something about having to retreat from battle, or "(character name) has been knocked unconscious from a tremendous blow". As long as it fits into the rest of the game play, just use what your imagination can create!
How do you RP life and death in WoW? Do you use magic to explain the unexplainable, or have you another RP concept completely different? Share with us, won't you? Role on!