Playing Against Type: Transmogrification and Dual Specs

Most of my dual-spec characters are not really dual-role characters. My warrior is Prot/Prot (boss/AoE). My priest is Disc/Disc (PvE Smitespec/PvP regular). My DK is still Frost/Frost (tank/PvP) in my head, even though he’s really Blood/Frost at this point, and I haven’t really tanked anything more complex than Drek with him.

My Druid twink Cynli, though, is the only character where I can say that I’ve actually played two different roles with her throughout the leveling process. She’s primarily Resto, but I leveled a lot of the way to 70 as a Bear – all the way to the upper 40s, and then again through the 60s. I would PvP as a tree and LFD as a bear, which works surprisingly well. I even chose her hair color based on what color fur she would have as a Feral!

Funny. I hadn’t thought about that for a while, but I remember that impulse so clearly now – I wanted a white Bear/Cat, so that’s why I rolled Cynli way back in 2009. Huh.

Dual spec presents a significant role playing challenge in terms of character concept. It’s one of those MMO concepts that I can’t quite fit into my classically RPG-trained character model, of how one character could be so radically different from one moment to the other. How can you have a nurturing healer and savage gangrel in the same body? How do you have a specialist in demons coexist with a specialist in fire or shadow magic? It’s not that the concepts are necessarily exclusive, but they are often in opposition.

Druids have it a bit harder than other classes in this respect, I think. The shapeshifting tends to drive characterization in one direction or another. While a character like Catulla might understand and use nature magic (for healing) and her primal nature (for feral), the orientation of the character is decidedly towards the arcane facet of the class as a Boomkin. The various organizations of Druids illustrate that there’s a wide philosophical diversity within druidism – no one should mistake a Druid of the Claw or Druid of the Talon for a Druid of the Grove – and that there’s not an easy way to form a consistent characterization of someone who embodies all the parts of druidism. Archdruids like Staghelm and Malfurion approach this, but, trappings aside, in many ways they seem more like generic “heroes with druidic powers” than embodiments of druidism.

Thisalee Crow is a good counterexample to Malfurion in characterization. In a few short quests, we get the philosophy of the Druid of the Talon (sneaky, underhanded, ends justify the means), her personality (charmingly ruthless), and – without ever saying this druid is probably Feral – a glimpse into how the different camps of Druidism don’t always get along. She’s a badass character in ways I wish Malfurion was.

CLOTHING AS IDENTITY

Mogging is a way to define your character. The ability to change the visual appearance of your character now means that we, as players, finally get to choose how other players perceive us. Instead of having to choose between stats and appearance, we can say, this is my concept of the character. This is how they look, which reflects who they perceive themselves to be, which in turn reflects who they are.

Dual specs combine with transmogging to offer us a choice in how we define our characters. Are they a unified whole, embodying two different facets of an archetype (class)? Are they two separate aspects of a single being? Are they alternate versions of the same character? Are they different personalities – people, even – entirely?

These are not things which we need to think about within the game. We can dual spec our healers to DPS or tank as required by the needs of our guild and raid without thought to the rationale behind it. We can change DPS specs without going, you know, nothing in this character’s backstory indicates she would be a demonologist, how does it make sense for her to acquire this knowledge? We don’t have to think about that. Our digital avatars will respond to our configuration desires, no matter what.

But I think that there are times that they deserve more consideration than just that.

VISUAL DISTINCTIONS AND OUTFIT-DRIVEN PERSONALITIES

Something that I try to do on characters where I use their dual specs a lot is to make their outfits visually distinct. Before transmogrification was a thing, I would use Outfitter to vary the helm/cloak options so that looking at the portrait/back of my character I could tell what spec she was in. Sometimes tier/pvp gear would be really distinct, but in Wrath it actually wasn’t always obvious which gear set I was using. (Lots of dark colors.)

Mogging opens this up a lot more, where you can design outfits to be highly distinctive so that you really set apart each gearset and spec. Color, design, and silhouette can all work together to convey information about your character.

My original intention with Cynli was to color code her specs. Her healing outfit was going to be forest green to evoke her connection to natural, soothing, restorative magics. To contrast it, I thought a primal, fiery red outfit for her feral spec – to indicate a more destructive, wild side of druidic magic – would be suitable. Both emphasize druidism and nature worship, just different facets. This is a single personality that embraces the duality of nature.

Well, things don’t always turn out like you expect with characters. I adore Cynli’s Shattered Sun outfit for her Restoration/PvP spec, but it is a cold, austere look, very disciplined and military – and highly undruidic. It’s a very different look, which in turn leads to a very different interpretation of the character’s base personality. How does a druid do that, subsume herself in a cause that doesn’t really have much to do with nature at all?

Then, if you toss in this wild, feral side – dictated entirely by the outfit, keep that in mind – you have to make allowances for how that kind of dichotomy can work. A disciplined, military, perhaps even overly-logical person… with a wild, feral side?

I don’t know about you, but this sounds vaguely… Vulcan to me. A highly logical, emotionally repressed, logical being who occasionally lapses into massive emotional outbursts, hopefully controlled through ritual, but sometimes not. That’s actually kind of interesting to think about, isn’t it? Instead of a relatively sane and balanced approach to handling emotions, this is a pretty fundamental flaw. But that creates conflict, and interest – and it’s all driven by the outfit.

If I had a more firmly developed backstory for Cynli, perhaps this sort of outfit-driven shift wouldn’t work. I could turn around and say, no, this SSO outfit doesn’t work, back to the original concept. Or I could say, forget visual distinctiveness, she’s going to be an SSO soldier in both specs.

But sometimes, it’s interesting to take things that happen and go with them, see how you can make them work.

THE OUTFIT

This red leather outfit is relatively simple to obtain, requiring Honor and Justice Points. The foundation is the Inferno-Hardened Garb, BC-era fire resistance badge gear available from G’eras in Shattarath City.

Cynli converted Honor Points gained via PvP to Justice Points, which is how she got this gear at level 70.

Here it is in 3D.

Instead of going with the more sedate Volcanic Shoulders, I went with the much wilder, troll-inspired Gnarled Ironwood Pauldrons. This is one of the few outfits I’ve made where the focus is the shoulders – otherwise, this is just a red leather outfit.

Not that red leather outfits are a bad thing, mind you.

I am torn on the mask. I think it’s the right thing to use with this outfit, giving it a wild, animalistic look. But it might not be the right thing for Cynli – she looks striking without it. There’s something unsettling about considering a character undergoing such a radical personality shift, from civilized to wild, from cold to hot, from controlled to berserk.

So mostly I still keep the helm hidden.

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5 thoughts on “Playing Against Type: Transmogrification and Dual Specs

  1. Aw, I’m actually quite enamored with the helm, and I normally hate displaying helms. It is a huge change in appearance, and I think that’s what makes it work.

    My SO has a macro which you can use to toggle helm display on and off. He uses it to put his helm on in dungeons and take it off when he’s just milling about town or questing. It would be a little redundant when you’re tanking, but it may be something to consider; you can toggle on the feral look at the beginning of the dungeon before going into bear mode, and return to a more civilized appearance once you’re done mauling the bad guys ;)

    • That macro is a good idea, thanks! I like your take on how I should play her going feral – puts on the armor, puts on the mask, goes berserk, changes back.

      This is so different from how I play, by the way. PvP I can get pretty wild, tanking I’m all business. :)

      • Here’s the macro from my SO, in case you haven’t gotten around to writing one yourself:

        /run ShowHelm(not ShowingHelm())

  2. Pingback: Choosing Threads, Drafting Identity | Go Mog Yourself

  3. Pingback: Play Now, Not Then « Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

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