How to Play a Lupus (W:tA)

January 4, 2018 at 10:30 pm (character design) ()

This post comes to you via special request (thanks for weighing in, John!) Hey, it’s always nice to know I’m not just posting content out into space, you know? 

John asked me to cover how to play a successful lupus. So here goes!

If you want to play a successful lupus, research is key.

People make a lot of assumptions about wolves. Some of those piss-poor assumptions even made it into the rule set underpinning parts of the Werewolf universe. But wolf research has come a long way since the game was written, and, well, werewolf culture is not wolf culture is not human culture.

With a little research you’ll learn things about wolves that aren’t covered in the RPG guides. For example:

  • Wolves use facial expressions to communicate just as much as they use body language or verbalization. Tail position is also extremely important. Your lupus probably will not favor being in homid as much as most people like to play that they will, simply because they won’t have a tail to communicate with and their facial expressions will translate all wrong.
  • Wolves will sometimes intentionally roll around in different smells and run off to share the smells with their pack mates. This is entertainment to them.
  • Wolf packs are often larger than the typical RPG pack, which tends to have 3-5 members. A wolf pack tends to have anywhere from 8 to 30 members. Packs are also related by blood in the wild, which means the whole concept of “alpha” and “beta” is way different. Alphas and betas are Mom and Dad! Of course, a lupus would be aware that his adopted pack member who is practically his mental age is not his or her Mom or Dad, so this does not preclude challenging for leadership. But it might impact how a lupus alpha approaches his pack. Less like a general, more like the oldest family member.
  • Wolves mourn their dead. They especially mourn their omegas! “It is interesting to note that in packs that have been observed losing their omega, the entire pack has entered into a long period of mourning where the entire pack stops hunting and just lays around looking miserable.”
  • Wolves are already quite smart, even if they don’t have the Garou gene. Their brains are larger than domestic dogs. They exhibit a full range of personality characteristics, the ability to learn, curiosity, and the ability to decide on and execute strategies.
  • Wolves love puppies and seem to exhibit an “it takes a village” mentality when it comes to raising them.
  • “Though shalt not suffer another to tend thy sickness” is a Garou concept. Wolves nurture each other when they’re sick.
  • Wolves form friendships within the pack, play, and spend time together.

You can pull up some research of your own; you get the point. It might be useful to keep a reference of wolf communication stances and facial expressions close by while playing a lupus so you can describe their behavior without resorting to long-winded human speeches. You’ll be surprised how much you can communicate with a little description.

Here’s a few examples.


Jane says, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this, guys.”


Whisper’s tail makes a gentle J, betraying her concern. The line of her mouth is flat in her muzzle, ears flattening towards her skull.


Jane says, “Don’t worry guys, we got this.”


Whisper’s tail is straight up like a flag, and her posture is confident. Her ears are straight up and the line of her mouth curves slightly upwards. It’s closed, it’s not a smile, not by wolf standards, but it does say she’s not too concerned yet.

You can do this if you’re playing online, but you can do it on a tabletop too; people describe their actions on a tabletop all the time.

It’s worth noting that lupus characters do talk. They just tend to strip unnecessary words from the equation.

Jane: “Let’s go, guys.”

Whisper: “Go.”

For using homid words or Garou tongue you might look to Eleven from Stranger Things. She conveys entire concepts with one to three words.


“Bad men.”


“Friends don’t lie.”

Compare this to the far more vocal and homid-minded Dustin. Where Eleven might say, “Need that,” Dustin, colorfully and in animated fashion, implores us to “avoid closing this curiosity gateway,” and gets flustered when his friends won’t adopt his “Demo-dog” term for various monsters.


You also need a personality other than “wolf.”

This is actually the biggest mistake I see lupus players make. They just sort of boil the entire personality of their character down to “he is a wolf.”

But wolves have personality. Hell, dogs do too. So do cats. Any animal you’ve ever met.

I have four cats. All of them have personalities.

One of them is anxious but cuddly. He tries to pretend to be aloof. He loves his collar and tag, stamped, as they are, with a big skull and crossbones that doesn’t match his personality at all. I think he thinks it makes him look tougher. If you let him outside he’ll sit on the porch, watch the world go by, and venture no further. If you let him, he’ll steal Cheetoes. When frightened, he hides. Or wails. A lot. He is not tough, he just wants you to think he is. He will come into your lap and watch if a cop show is on TV.

One of them is confident and affectionate, and smart as Hell. We know he understands English. We know this because when a friend of mine asked if I was sure he was a boy he rolled over to show her his balls. When she acknowledged this he (I shit you not) nodded and rolled back over. He has a sense of humor. He roams far and wide and gets affection from every neighborhood kid he can find, but can easily find his way back to me even in unfamiliar places. He loves to hunt, but often engages in ‘Catch and Release.’ If he doesn’t like the status of his litter box he will go find a roll of toilet paper, tear it up, throw it in there, and poop on that. If you haven’t fed him fast enough he will go drag the bag out of the cabinet and bring it to you. And if he wants my attention he is not above sitting on my wrist so I can’t type. He’s twenty pounds. He gets his attention. When I watch TV he pays attention for Supernatural and Once Upon a Time but turns away from the television in boredom when I watch cop shows. Trying to put a collar and tag on him are a waste of money; he will get out of them every time. I keep trying, he keeps losing them. Outside. Where I can’t retrieve them.

One cat is skittish but intelligent. She doesn’t like it when you pet her but she likes sitting on your legs and companionably hanging out. She doesn’t much care what you’re doing as long as you are sprawling in a way that lets her curl up to her comfort. She loves hair ties. For reasons I do not understand, she will ‘hunt’ them, then race to drop them in the toilet. This usually results in a not-too-fun hunt for me. She loves her collar too, and often intentionally makes her tags jingle for funsies.  She only bothers getting affectionate when her food bowl is empty. And if you’re in the bathroom? Well she wants to be in the bathroom too, if only to stare at you in fascination as she tries to understand why you are voluntarily immersing yourself in water.

One likes to hide in my kitchen cabinets when she’s not outside. She only shows affection when she thinks you are asleep. She does this for brief periods, then she wanders off again. But she is aware she is cute. She will use this to her advantage when she thinks it’s necessary. I could write more about her except she barely talks to me. She’s the loner kid in a leather jacket who doesn’t quite have the intelligence to pull off the vibe. Or maybe she’s smart as hell, I dunno, and she’s only displaying it when she’s outside or in my kitchen cabinets.

All different, all distinct. You need to put at least as much thought into the personality of your lupus character as you would into a human character.

Remember, a lupus is not exactly a wolf.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse restricts starting lupus characters from taking certain skills. But a lupus has every bit as much ability to learn those skills later as a homid does. Furthermore, a truly curious lupus will want to.

So no, you can’t drive a car at chargen, but you can bug your packmate to teach you, and bug your other packmate to give you the strange card that gives you permission to do this. Or you can if you’re a member of a tribe that wouldn’t frown on such things, anyway, or if you live and work primarily in a city where it’s necessary.

However, you might not want to focus there. Since so many skills are restricted from the start you’re going to tend to be better at certain things, out of the gate, then most of your pack, and have more justification for having more 4s in:

  • Alertness
  • Athletics
  • Brawl
  • Empathy
  • Intimidation
  • Primal-Urge
  • Animal Ken
  • Leadership
  • Stealth
  • Survival
  • Enigmas
  • Possibly Rituals (depends on your auspice/training)
  • Possibly Occult (depends on your auspice/training)

Incidentally many of these things are things your homid packmates are going to suck at. And even if they don’t, well, a lupus ragabash or theurge can still justify being almost as good at brawl as a homid ahroun right out of the gate, because you’ve lived your life in the wild, hunting for food and touseling with packmates. Your lupus, depending on his personality and disposition, might not see a whole lot of point in taking the time to learn to use a computer, though he might be interested in melee weapons or even firearms. Medicine, too, might strike him as instantly useful, even if his only medical training to date has been ‘lick it till it looks better and then bring the packmate food.’ So let your lupus learn, but keep in mind what he or she might see as actually desirable or interesting.

Still, don’t be afraid to be quirky. I once played a lupus who thought human language was fascinating and hilarious. She learned to read, and got a word-a-day calendar she shoved in her den. She was also a malaprop, using many of these words incorrectly or out of context. She was a ragabash, and words, especially big words, were both a fascinating new toy for her and a sort of running joke that she was slyly telling at all times. This had nothing to do with anything on her sheet other than me eventually buying her some dots of expression, but it did help me distinguish her as a unique character.

Let’s talk about naming for a sec.

Your lupus will get a deed name eventually, but like everyone else he’ll probably have a regular name too. This gives you options.

Since wolves make friends we’ve got to assume they identify each other somehow. We don’t know how they think about it or verbalize it, so the easiest is to think that they’d use concepts and things out of nature. A few examples:

  • Juniper (named for her habit of rolling in that very stuff on the regular).
  • Whispers (named more for the concept of the sound of snow very lightly falling on snow than for the human concept of a whisper).
  • Pinecone (he’s a prickly bastard that reminds his packmates of a pinecone).
  • Swiftwater

Of course, most starter chars are Rank 1 chars who already have deed names, which means you can just go with the deed name or a short form of it. Nevertheless, your lupus had a name/concept prior to that deedname and it doesn’t hurt to think about what it was and why it was applied to him.

Don’t overthink it.

A lot of people never try a lupus char cause they’re intimidated. Purists have scared them off by sneering at various lupus interpretations. They have trouble imagining their way out of a human body, a human thought process, a human skill set.

But playing a lupus can be rewarding. For one thing, you’ll be portraying a portion of the Werewolf experience that tends to be overlooked because most people are afraid to do it. For another, you get to really think about how another creature handles the world. Scent and taste and hearing will matter more than sight, for example. If you really get into it and really manage to shift your mindset you’ll bring a new perspective to the table the other characters do not have.

After all, having new experiences is what roleplaying is all about!


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How to Play a Trickster Without Being a Douche

June 22, 2016 at 4:47 am (character design, Roleplaying Posts) (, , , , )

There are some character types that make players and GMs cringe because they have a reputation for causing havoc and disrupting the game. Most often, they’re tricksters (the others are the so-called “mad” character types, but I’ll address those in another post). They’re the Coraxes and Nuwisha in WoD. They’re the Kinder (or sometimes, for God’s sake, any freaking thief character) in D&D. They’re known for being spastic, loud, and silly.

But there’s more than one way to play a trickster. You don’t have to default to these stereotypes when you set out to play one. I’m about to offer you some alternative tropes that you can dive into instead. You may notice some overlap and you may not agree with where I placed all of my examples, but…such is life.

The Refined Trickster

This trickster is a master of etiquette and social graces. He or she may even know the cultural norms of multiple groups, and can use them to best advantage. He or she may be snarky, but it will always be a more clever, understated kind of snark. This trickster doesn’t have to have a lot of money, and he or she does not have to radiate sex appeal (but often does). You could do an earnest yet utterly charming young person who is just getting his or her start in life, too.

This person knows how to work a room, and may get a lot of his or her work done through rumors, manipulation, and a simple skill for talking people around to his or her point of view. Sometimes this trickster can accomplish things simply by predicting what people are likely to do, and then setting up the dominoes.

Of course, this kind of trickster isn’t limited to that sort of work, and can be surprisingly effective in other ways.

Examples: James Bond, Irene Adler (Sherlock), Raymond Redding (Black List)

Techno Trickster

This trickster may be your typical hacker, but one doesn’t have to take it in that direction. He or she may simply be good with gadgets, or have an awful lot of them. They may also be adept at improvising different solutions on the fly.

It’s easy to fall into the stereotype of playing the over-the-top bragger hacker, but there are a lot of different ways to play this. Taken from my examples…Charlie is often anxious and socially awkward until there’s a girl she wants to do. MacGuyver is charming and charismatic in the extreme, though those are never the tools he really uses to his advantage…the tech is. Phil is again incredibly charming, witty, and funny, but mostly he makes great use of the tools he’s been given. The unifying thread here, however, is intellect: all of these tricksters are usually wickedly intelligent.

Examples: Charlie Bradbury (Supernatural), MacGuyver, Phil Coulson (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

The Social Engineer

This trickster is similar to the refined trickster, but he or she will take it in a slightly different direction. In this case, our social engineer is adept at making up new identities, fast-talking, and convincing people he or she is someone other than what they say they are. They may be outstanding at getting other people to open up and offer more information, too.

When they’re “off the job” they can be serious, focused, and earnest in the extreme, since they spend most of their time lying to their enemies. As it is, sometimes their friends have trouble trusting them, as they know just how easy it is for their friend to spin a big fat story.

Sometimes, this kind of trickster can make people believe a lie without speaking a word, simply by manipulating appearances or playing into other people’s expectations.

Examples: Michael Westen (Burn Notice), Sam Winchester (Supernatural), Black Widow (The Avengers).

The Covert Ops Trickster

This trickster is more about his or her skills than demeanor. This could include sneaking, sniping, and getting into places he or she is not meant to go. He or she may also have some of the other skills, like social engineering.

In truth, most thieves would fall into this category, but the thing about a covert ops person is they’re a professional. They’re not going to draw attention to themselves with over-the-top behavior. They’re not going to attract attention if they don’t have to attract attention. And if they have friends, for the love of god they’re going to protect their team at all costs, because that team may consist of the few people in the world this person can possibly trust. (Unless, of course, the people who appear to be their friends are not, in fact, their friends, but then they will usually at least appear loyal until it’s time to strike).

This trickster may focus primarily on taking targets down both quickly and quietly. This trickster may also focus on getting in and out without killing anybody at all, stealing information or sabotaging enemy assets with ease.

Examples: Thane Krios (Mass Effect),  Bobbi Morse (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Robin Hood (Once Upon a Time).

The Tactician

The Tactician is more focused on coming up with a broad, overarching plan that will make use of the entire team’s talents. He or she is intimately acquainted with what every member of the team can do. This person will also poke a lot of holes in plans that have problems. The tactician may also be concerned with setting up advantages: he or she might lay traps, figure out how to use environmental factors such as higher ground, or otherwise do things to mess with the enemy while the tanks and bruisers of the party do their thing. They find the loopholes, and they exploit them ruthlessly.

The tactician is, above all, a big picture thinker and an amazing communicator. This person finds ways to inspire loyalty in “the troops,” whether that’s the rest of the PC group or an entire organization. They may be funny and get into antics (see Mat Cauthon, below) but only really when the rubber isn’t hitting the road.

Examples: Mat Cauthon (The Wheel of Time), Leliana the Nightengale (Dragon Age), John “Hannibal” Smith (The A-Team).

Notice how not one of these characters is played in the douchey, limelight grabbing fashion that players and GMs know so well when people start proposing trickster characters. 

In many cases, it’s quite the opposite. Trickster does not mean “plays pranks.” It doesn’t even have to mean funny, though almost all tricksters offer some good zingers every now and then. A trickster is anyone who can pull shit other people don’t see coming. A trickster uses deception to get his or her way. A trickster works from the shadows and sees what others don’t see.

In short, tricksters can be bloody amazing, and you should honor that when you design one.

What are your thoughts? Have you played a trickster in the past? Did they fall into any of these tropes? Did I miss an amazing trickster trope? Let me know in the comments!

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How to Play a Successful Ahroun

June 14, 2015 at 1:35 am (character design) (, )

This is the first of a series of guides that was written for a Werewolf: The Apocalypse game. I thought they were pretty good guides, so I wanted to preserve them here. This one, I believe, was written by Raven of Phoenix Rising MUSH, not by me personally. I think I shoved it off on him because he was playing an Ahroun at the time.

Initial Character Build

Ahrouns: in a society full of death-dealing werewolves, these guys are the heavy-hitters. Some might argue that Ahrouns are the easiest auspice to play for a newbie, and in a lot of respects, this is absolutely true. The main focus of an Ahroun is dealing out as much destruction and death to the enemy as absolutely possible. They are the front-line tanks, the ones to whom the rest of the Garou Nation turn when they need leadership in battle. There’re no complicated rituals to learn, no subtle nuances of judgement to make, no artsy-fartsy crap to go through or complicated schemes to cook up. You don’t need to be as experienced with all of the more nit-picky details of the Apocalyptic world simply because the other auspices are already handling the bulk of it, leaving you free to do what you do best. Kill kill kill. And rack up Glory. FOR GAIA.

But at the same time, while you could be playing a dunderhead killing machine, that really would be doing a disservice to the Ahroun auspice. They can be the angry jocks and the meatheads, simply thanks to the high amounts of Rage they’re given, but there’s potential to be so much more. That, and, really, trying to play a brute who’s on a constant ass period can alienate you from a lot of character developmental RP. So while your character is most certainly going to focus on combat as his primary objective and duty in life, you should consider… What does he do when he’s not in the midst of a GM’ed battle? What else is important to him or her? How does he handle all that Rage when he’s not slaughtering things? Is he interested in training the other auspices to be better combatants, or does he try to round himself out a bit more by studying the Litany, studying rituals, or trying to serve his Sept?

For now, however, let’s focus on the starting stats. No doubt about it, an Ahroun will want to put his physical attributes as his primary selection: Strength, Stamina, and Dexterity. Build them up. You will need them. And as an Ahroun, in the normal course of events in your Garou-ish upbringing, you would have been taught the basics of combat, especially Brawl, since many of an Ahroun’s Gifts rely upon teeth and claws. Melee is often a secondary choice, especially if you have a fetish weapon of some sort, and finally, Throwing or Firearms. Having a long-range weapon to fall back on when you have the opportunity to use it is always smart, and yes, Ahrouns CAN and DO fight intelligently. The Ragabash don’t have to have the monopoly on that.

After you’ve got your combat Abilities arranged the way you like them, you might wish to put a point or two into Leadership. An Ahroun is not often chosen as a leader during peace time – high Rage gives you a TERRIBLE temper for dealing with mundane idiocy – but he is most certainly a leader during battle, and it is not uncommon for a pack alpha to turn over leadership temporarily to the Ahroun in a fight. Alertness is useful on your +init roll, Athletics will help you to dodge. Intimidation also walks hand in hand with an Ahroun. In short, you are likely to want to make Talents your primary Ability category for your Ahroun.

Your Role, as Seen by the Sept

In short, a young Ahroun is a shock troop and a more experienced Ahroun is a general. Garou society is often compared to a military, so these guys are often the rising stars who rack up the most kills and gain the most attention and glory. It’s an easy path to high rank, but the trade-off is that most Ahrouns die very young before they ever see that high rank. Getting up in the front lines and getting in the Wyrm’s face is very, very likely going to get you eaten. And Garou society hopes you’ve sired or mothered a few cubs by then to replace you after you’ve gone.

That said, there aren’t a lot of Sept roles that are given to Ahrouns. Their high Rage and their usefulness in battle means that the Nation often wants to send most of them out on missions rather than keep them at the homefront, but in a traditional, wilderness Sept, the Caern Warder is often an Ahroun, due to the fact that this position is all about the defence of the Sept and preparing against the possibility of an attack against the Sept. Urban caerns are another kettle of fish entirely, who often put a Theurge into this position. The Wyrmfoe is another position given to Ahrouns. During a moot, it’s a ritual position that honours the Ahroun auspice. The chosen Wyrmfoe stirs the passions of the Garou into a near-frenzy through a ritual hunt, wild dancing, or some other form of expression so that they may release their Gnosis and give the caern its monthly recharging. In traditional wilderness Septs that have a permanent Wyrmfoe position, an Ahroun is still frequently called upon to fill it, because this is a position that involves organising offensive strikes against the Wyrm’s forces.

Everything else? Better leave it to the other auspices.

Character Contributions

So, remember how it was mentioned that Ahrouns are good for kill, kill, killing? Well, that’s still true.

  • Ahrouns have a lot of Rage, and they can regain it pretty easily. So be sure to channel that Rage in battle to give you extra actions against the Wyrm. Kill things faster, live longer.
  • Consider getting the Falling Touch Gift. With one touch, your Ahroun can send a tough enemy sprawling to the ground, making it easier for your pack mates and other assorted allies to tear it apart. They’ll thank you for it.
  • Consider getting Gifts that will inspire and assist your pack mates in battle (Inspiration and Pack Tactics are good). The Ahroun is powerful, but he’s still not a one-man show here. If you have a chance to bolster your team in battle, then a good Ahroun is going to do so. You’re likely the biggest guy on the block. Take it as your duty to help and defend your brothers and sisters. Help them to achieve some glory too.
  • As the Ahroun, it’s up to you to figure out a good battle plan and enact it. Now, the ranks of other characters might complicate that situation a bit, but only an idiot wouldn’t at least LISTEN to an Ahroun and take her words into consideration when she’s got some advice to give.

RP Ideas

  • When you aren’t in battle, you’re likely going to need to take time to train. Battling the Wyrm is great and all, but you still can’t skip Torso Day, not if you want to keep yourself buff. That’s a good opportunity for you to spar with other people around the Sept and give them some training.
  • Go hunting. Go on a patrol. Wilderness Septs like fresh meat straight from the source, and there is always a need for someone to keep the borders of a bawn safe.
  • Find some secondary hobby to enjoy when you’re not fighting, lifting, or training. You can’t be fighting and training for twenty-four hours a day, after all, and a character who doesn’t try to branch out a little bit is just a cardboard cut-out stereotype.
  • Take a moot role. You’re the perfect choice to be the Wyrmfoe, so arrange for a ritual hunt, wild party or some rough sparring with the Sept mates. Help recharge Gaia! Get some honour for it.


The worst pitfall to playing an Ahroun would be playing a one-note character. It’s all too easy to play the Ahroun and then think: there’s nothing USEFUL for me to do outside of combat. Nowhere to go, nothing else to do but fight, fight, fight. While some people might enjoy that, a newbie who took an Ahroun while learning the ropes of Garou society might start to feel constrained by the extreme physical nature of an Ahroun and might be craving something a bit more complicated, socially or mentally-speaking. A lot of Sept roles are denied to the Ahroun, and human interaction is all but impossible thanks to the high amounts of Rage, often making it seem like there’s no other avenue the Ahroun can develop.

However, with some creativity, there are some places you can explore. Your Ahroun might not be able to handle human society so well, but you might turn towards developing stronger ties to his tribe’s society and to Kinfolk, who are a bit more resilient against that Rage. Boost up that Willpower to help counteract that Rage, and ask your pack’s Theurge (or another Theurge, if there’s none in your pack) to assist you on spirit quests to help you get a better handle on it. Ahrouns don’t have to be spiritually dead. In fact, that’d be a terrible idea. There are a few Rites that they can learn that would be appropriate, such as the Rite of Wounding, Rite of Cleansing, or some tribal Rites that have a martial slant to them. You might learn more of the Litany so that you can offer an opinion or some advice to your local Philodox, or you might learn a trick or two in investigating and scouting. You don’t need to go full-tilt on being a Philodox or Ragabash-wannabe, but it doesn’t hurt to give them some support the way they will support you in battle.

Also, really focus on finding a secondary hobby. Craftsmanship is one suggestion for the really crankier (or not so cranky) Ahrouns, but the more sociable types might go for team sports or more scholarly pursuits.

Combat Tips

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Really. Use your Rage. As an Ahroun, you start with five points of it, and it’s pretty easy to regain. Use them to enact Gifts (just remember you can’t use Gnosis in the same turn as using Rage), and use them for extra attacks during a turn of battle. It really helps.

Focus on a primary method of attack and buy Gifts to support it. For instance, if you are the claws and teeth kind of Ahroun, focus on using Gifts to enhance your claw attacks, like Razor Claws. If you get a chance, throw an enemy down with Falling Touch so that your packmates can gang up on it and finish it off. Ahrouns often have enough brute strength to finish off a whole group of enemies by themselves, but when fresh out of the gates, they sometimes don’t. In those cases, fight smarter, not hope to Gaia that your dice are going to favour you that night.


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More on Character Building, and On Getting Involved in RP

April 11, 2012 at 5:07 am (character design) (, , )

If you have trouble getting involved in the “best” RP–that is, the tinyplots and storylines that provide a break from endless slice-of-life vignettes and give your character a chance to play the hero in adventures–then your character build is one place you might need to look. There are several different problems that could be assaulting you, and any one of them is fully within your control.

It’s important to recognize these problems because all too often players get frustrated and decide that it is the staff that is targeting them, keeping them from all of these amazing opportunities. In reality, the staff usually has little to do with it. If a staff character seems to be blocking the player’s involvement these rumors can become even nastier, but the staff character is just the same as any other player’s character: beholden to act in an in-character fashion. This can happen especially when there are powerful authority figures dictating who comes on many of the missions on MUSH settings: a general, or a ruler, a faction head or a field commander who has every in-character right to say who should reasonably be involved. In a tabletop the GM often has to find some way to make even the most unlikely characters fit the plot…but on a MUSH, characters generally find themselves having to act and think more realistically, especially with the shadow of ICC and other character’s reactions hanging over their head. Let’s take a look at a few common problems.

You might want to play the ill-equipped professor who gets in over his head and rises to the challenge by his wits, but you’d best have a discussion with staff before you do it to see if they understand what you want to accomplish and to see if they are willing to give you enough of their personal time and plotting skills to make this work.

Your character lacks helpful skills.

I can’t tell you how many times shopkeepers and waitresses have gotten angry at me because I’ve told them that they are not going to be included on an invitation to go raid a vampire’s lair or crawl the Dark Dungeon of Dangerousness alongside the cops, soldiers, wizards, thieves and whatnot who might be able to actually help. They say that if the GM is only creative that of COURSE there would be a role for those people, to which I wind up thinking: red shirts and cannon fodder. Student characters are often in this category as well. Few experienced characters would be acting responsibly if they came along with a passel of apprentices, raw recruits, kids, or trainees. Sometimes theme allows for these sorts of issues,and sometimes students are exceptionally good at what they do, enough to be singled out (usually because they’ve either spent whatever character points they have in a productive direction OR because they RP so sensibly that they earn trust). In general, however, characters who don’t have the skills to face danger will be left at home. Nobody wants their death on their own hands or heads. Of course on a consent MUSH the shopkeeper might, improbably, live through the trip to Vampire Mansion, but this is also a reason why many MU*s are turning away from full consent in favor of an at least partial rolled or mediated system…it eliminates unrealistic RP like this.

Bottom line: If you want to investigate Vampire Mansion or The Dark Dungeon of Suck, create a character who is skilled enough to make the journey and who can prove it.

The Character Acts or Speaks Stupidly

I’m just going to have to be blunt here. Some people are really stupid. Really really stupid. Nobody wants a stupid person at their back. If this is your problem and you aren’t deliberately playing this way I am very sorry because nobody’s going to be willing to say this to your face, and you probably aren’t willing to hear it. Most stupid players I’ve met are extremely arrogant individuals convinced that they are actually Einstein and will get enraged at the thought that their actions are anything less than amazing. I could tell a story about an HE MUSH where a freaking diplomat got herself deliberately trapped with Lord Voldemort convinced that she was going to pull a spy maneuver of teh_awesome and slay Voldemort with her l33t skillz. When I told her she was dead with a capital D she insisted it was because I didn’t like her. No…I’m going to have to insist that it’s because you got in the way of the most powerful evil wizard on the game, and decades before the boy with the funny scar shows up to do something about him to boot.  When I told her that she’d simply been stupid (because I AM that blunt when my patience has finally snapped) she explained to me all of the reasons why this was the most intelligent thing anyone ever could have done. Like I said…difficult problem to deal with on both sides of the equation.

You Haven’t Put in the Character Work

This is going to be frustrating to hear because I know you want to go on the awesome missions right away, but unless you’re RPing in a military organization where anyone at all can be tapped (and you didn’t choose to play the Gimpy Quartermaster or the Secretary or the Recruiter  or the General’s Wife or something) most people won’t take you into the Dungeon of Doom unless they know you, like you, and trust you. This means you might have to put in 1-6 months of intensive RP around nothing but slice of life scenes which build relationships. This lets people know that you’re trustworthy ICly and that you’re fun to RP with OOCly, both vital elements. Maybe there will even be some big public scene and they’ll have a chance to see what you can do there, too. Eventually you’ll get asked along. Kind of like moving to a strange new town IRL.

You Put in the Character Work, But…

I know. MUSH people play so NICE all the time. There’s a reason for that. If you’ve chosen to play the insufferable asshole who makes teeth grit, particularly the teeth of decision makers, it’s going to be hard to get you involved. The whole trust part of the know, like, trust equation. Playing the asshole usually works better if you’re in a position to get involved in the awesome RP no matter what, or if you have an extensive OOC discussion with the decision maker where you pre-decide on a sort of frenemy relationship where he hates you but he knows he can rely on you…or whatever. Oh…it also works best when people have seen what you can do on other characters and actually trust YOU, too. Don’t expect to pull this as a complete unknown. It’s not going to work. Ditto for characters that like to sit creepily and mysteriously in corners. Ditto for the overeager and strange.

You made a twinky character or some other eye-roll worthy concept.

Perhaps you went in the complete opposite direction. You made a character SO useful that you went off the deep end into the land of Mary and Gary Stu, and now nobody wants to play with you because…well…you’re no fun to play with. Reel it in, tone it down, pull it back. Take some time to see what successful players are doing. Then emulate it.

You just aren’t paying attention.

You know all those awesome plot hooks that admin post on the bbs? No, I bet you don’t, cause 97% of all MUSHers never read the bbs. If they did, they’d see something like: Purple fog was over the city at 3 am last night. @mail me if you want to investigate, open to anyone. And then they’d actually be proactive and @mail instead of wailing on public channel that they never get to the “good” RP. You know how often players ACTUALLY take the bull by the horns and do this? If you said, “Approximately never” you’d be correct. Players seem to expect that the Plot Fairy will take especial interest in their perfectly crafted background, float down from the sky, tap them on the head with the star wand and give them all the story. To which I say: you could win the lottery too, but it’s easier to just read and respond to the thrice damned bbs.

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On Writing A Good Background

December 12, 2009 at 5:58 pm (character design) ()

Almost every MUSH these days requires a background.  I can remember the days when that wasn’t the case–when you slapped on a description and a name, and as long as you didn’t break any of the rules expressly outlined in the newsfiles you were pretty much good to go.  But due to the fact that great creativity and great stupidity often combine to make a dance of woe, the trend took on.  And indeed, it does prevent many problems.

But background writing is an art, especially when it comes to avoiding things that make admin eyes bleed.  It’s easy to avoid Mary-Sue in a description.  Avoid purple eyes, gorgeous breasts, winning smiles, bouncing blonde hair, waifish frames and head turning beauty.  Right?  And for the partner Stu, avoid looking like Captain America Meets Colgate Commercial.  But in truth, you can play someone with purple eyes and not be annoying, and you can play Captain Colgate without being annoying, if all other things are equal.  If something else is going on between your character’s ears besides invitations for the world to Love You.

Few people set out to write a normal background. I’m not sure why this is.  Do they fear that a normal background will be denied?  Unlikely.  So many people step out to try to be abnormal that a normal, reasonably happy life in a background comes across as a breath of fresh air, really.  Normal, of course, within the context of the world.  If magic is normal for the world than magic in a background is normal.  If magic is not normal in the world then magic in a background is a denied application, or at least a highly scrutinized one if magic is possible but very rare.  So they set out to be special, tragic, or unusual.

Sometimes people do this because they think a tragic or unusual background will lead to more RP.  They are, they think, filling it full of “hooks.”  But as discussed, unless you yourself plan to use those hooks to draw other characters into RP revolving around those hooks, this isn’t really going to get you RP.  The admin aren’t going to go WOW COOL BACKGROUND CAN’T WAIT TO RUN FOR YOU DUDE.  Unless you’ve managed to work your background into the existing story so well that they can’t help but integrate it, you’re screwed on that angle.  Some backgrounds don’t even have the hope of good RP going for them.  They’re filled with child abuse, rape, murder, famine, and folly and the overall “vibe” of the background is “hug me, for I am woe,” without ever a hint that you want to examine the deeper implications of all of this nastiness.

Sad to say, too, that good writing counts.  If you’re a lousy writer and you’re going on about murder and child abuse to people who don’t know you, you come across as disturbed.  People start to wonder if there’s some sort of serial killer applying to RP on their site.   If you aren’t naturally a very good writer that’s fine, but just be aware.  Ditto backgrounds that seem to have an unhealthy relish in all the miasma of pain and hate.   In reality, the first six tinyplots you’re in will likely be adventure based, meaning they’ll have enough pathos for any sane person’s lifetime.

The attitude behind the background really counts.  It comes through the writing.  You don’t realize it does, but it does.  If you’re one of those players who feels like he or she does not count unless his character is the best thing since sliced awesome, then we’ll know.  If you’re one of those players who wants to be cuddled, hugged, and told how wonderful he or she is, we’ll know.

In truth MUSHers often play host to a lot of cool, confident people, but we get our share of people whose real lives have never gone very well.  They try to gain the esteem they don’t have for themselves through their character.  Then things get BAD.  And after 15 years of MUSHing, I can spot this scenario a mile away.  It usually involves over-doing it.  You can be insanely talented and do it well–if you’re willing to acknowledge the negatives of it.  You can do almost anything well. The question is whether or not you have the skill to do it well, without pissing off the game.  (Hint: The skill lies in using that to foster OTHER PEOPLE’S FUN and not just yours. OPF.  It’s the key).  If you’re doing it for your own purposes, such as bolstering faltering self-esteem, it’s not going to work.  At all.

That’s not to say you can’t ever have these things.  Just be careful how you treat them.  You can also consider other things.  People are always murdered but never dying of cancer.  People always have their fortunes stolen by conniving family members (who murder someone) but almost never by the much more likely devastating lawsuit with poor asset protection strategy.    The demon that attacks and kills your family doesn’t always have to be sent by someone if these events are common (though you can do interesting things with the fact that your character decides, wrongly, that they were).  Not everyone who grows up poor dodges jail.  It takes a bit of work to go beyond the stereotypes, and often that’s all it is–Television stereotypes, and that comes through loud and clear.  Your past as a tortured lab experiment won’t help you get RP if all you do is sit in the OOC room anyway.  If you look likely to spill every angle of your angsty past at the first player you see, you don’t come across as genuine.  Do you air every dirty tragedy in your life when you first meet someone at the coffee shop?  I hope not.

Most lives are a mix of good and bad, and few are simply, “Life-was-great-until…”  Life is great for awhile, then it sucks for awhile. It’s okay for awhile, then it’s blah for awhile.  Life is varied.  You could have trouble with the IRS, which is enough stress to last anyone a lifetime, but far more people think it’s better to have trouble with that MUSH’s version of Cobra Commander.

That’s not to say your background can’t be interesting, or a good story, or a great read.  Just recognize that the Admin have forgotten about it five seconds after approving it. It’s a tool to help them understand that you understand what you’re doing on their game.  It’s a tool to help you understand who and what you are playing and what some of the motivations of your character may be.  All of the television tropes can make it in there and still be done well, but if you’re not confident of your ability to write them well, in a way that doesn’t scream Melodrama, then it might just be a good time to have arrived in the city to make a fresh start after your divorce instead of arriving in the city to enact revenge on the people that cut off your best friend’s head.

You see, because Mary Sue begins at the background, but RP happens at the moment of RP.  RP is as interesting or as boring as you make it.

I’ll make a confession. One of my characters has a nasty, dramatic background.  I’d like to think I wrote it well, but I did it for no other reason than that is how she appeared in my head, fully loaded with enough baggage to make anyone want to blow their own head off.  The three biggest character building scenes for her, the ones that have impacted her the most, were:

  • An argument with her boyfriend about her putting her crusade over him
  • An argument with one of her dearest friends over a choice another character had made, that made her realize that her own choices weren’t that different
  • A long discussion about philosophy with a punk kid in a sandwich shop.

No guns, much as I like them, no tinyplot, much as I love them.  Three character-to-character interactions.  That’s taught me something, I think.

Another factor you need to consider is whether or not you’re willing to live with the consequences of that background. Admin can tell.  We can tell if it is a hug-me Sue tool or if it’s something you’re really exploring in the character.  My character panicked and committed what was, essentially, a vigilante murder outside of the bounds of the law.  It ruined her life, her career, her reputation.  She stayed out of jail, but at the price of putting her destiny in the hands of a shadowy organization.  I have made sure that every cop on the game knows it, too, to the point where another cop’s decision that her decision was not the wrong one meant that cop being painted with her same brush.  Not to mention the nightmares, the PTSD, the emotional distance, the issues, the inability to simply smile and “be nice” the way most MUSH chars are, which sometimes means less ability to just sit back and be social with just anyone who hits the grid.  She doesn’t like to talk about the story and when pressed hardly ever tells the whole story.  I’m not a perfect RPer or anything, it’s just that I have this example to share.  A background like this demands impact, and that impact sometimes requires negative ICC for your character.  If you aren’t willing to bring that ICC into play then, again, you need to be dealing with a new job in a new city after five years of unemployment and not the after effects of the cybernetic implant you received after your sixth alien abduction.

How long should a background be?  3-5 paragraphs. Ideally.  Some MU*s may like a lot more screen crunch, but for my part?  I don’t have the time to read a novel.  I want to make sure you’re not doing anything screwy.  I want to make sure you’re not being unthematic.  I want to understand what you’re going for.  I want to make sure your background isn’t stuffed with weird, disturbing porn (it has happened).  I want to get a sense of what you’re going for.  I want to make sure that you aren’t playing a trailer park kid who didn’t pass 12th grade only to put Ancient Greek at 50 on your character sheet.  After that?  I want to hit +approve and forget about you.

So what are the take-aways?

  • Consider normal–problems you yourself have encountered in your daily life.  You can RP them better anyway because you understand the emotion behind them.
  • Abnormal, dramatic, soap-opera or unusual aren’t bad–if you are a good writer, have good attitude behind them, aren’t Going Sue by contrasting these things against your utter moral and personal purity, and if you have other people’s fun at heart
  • 3-5 Paragraphs is plenty there, Tolstoy
  • Your RP happens at the point of RP, and if you get active you’ll have enough “unusual” in your life to satisfy the worst masochist, or at least you will if your game runs plots at all.
  • Backgrounds should be a mix of good and bad, light and dark, happy and sad, and explain a mix of hints at the character’s motivations and skills.

Hopefully that helps you kick your next character off the ground!

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