The Art of ICC

April 2, 2018 at 5:25 pm (Roleplaying Posts) ()

Today’s post is aimed a lot more at the online gaming crowd than the tabletop.

If you play on any MUSH or MUX (and maybe on forum games too) you’ll find this phrase buried in the rules, as if it is some great new revelation or something which needs to be said:


In character actions equal in character consequences.

If you play on a tabletop I think this is a lot more understood; people expect the GM to mess with them. They expect terrible things to happen. In online gaming, though, you get a broader range of people who sometimes want to exercise more creative control. The “consent” aspect of online games also means that people, in general, can.

Thus, disagreements arise over whether ICC should be incurred, how bad it should be, and what it should entail.

And for all that it’s a staple of any RPG, it’s terribly misunderstood, widely misused, and usually badly handled.

First, let’s talk about the true meaning of ICC.

ICC is the story.

You don’t get story without ICC. A consequence isn’t good or bad, it’s just a consequence. Drop a dish and it breaks. Tell off your boyfriend, and you break up. Break your boyfriend’s nose, he maybe presses charges.

Make a character and you’re guaranteed some ICC, even if all you ever want to play is slice of life scenes. After all, sooner or later tensions can arise in even the most mundane of coffee house confabs, and those can lead to consequences, even if they’re little more than social ones.

So. ICC is not something to be afraid of. It’s not a doom hammer, waiting to slam down on your head so that your character gets taken away from you. So why would anyone make the disclaimer at all?

Sometimes people do stupid stuff in character.

They go rob the King’s treasury without the skill set to get off Scott-free. They bop Elder Gods on the nose. They commit crimes in front of dozens of witnesses. Whatever. And they largely want to get away with it.

Sometimes they should. If they have the skill-set to back up their outrageous actions, execute their plan intelligently and, in an online format, adhere to the boundaries of consent and negotiation, then this can be fine. This is especially true when they take the time to negotiate the entire affair with the relevant players and characters before enacting their dastardly schemes. ICC will still rain down, but upon the victims of these events, who must now account for them.

But, in general, when people do outrageous things that would get them into hot water and don’t do them very intelligently those who are in charge of dealing with those things, like the King, or the player of the Elder God’s chief cult leader, or the local police detective…well, they’re going to want to play their characters, and they’re going to want to look competent at doing so, which means they have to respond.

And here’s where communication often starts breaking down, because few people have mastered either the art of giving ICC or the art of receiving ICC.

What you need to know about assigning ICC:

You’re playing an authority figure and it is now time to assign some ICC. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Your out-of-character attitude is everything. If you are gleefully “out to get” the other player or to punish the character for playing, they will sense it. Keep in mind the attitude behind the RP matters far more than the actual content of the RP about 99% of the time. You can do just about anything well, if you’re doing it in the spirit of providing fun for everyone involved in the story. If you start acting like it’s all about “punishment,” the other player may actually be will within his or her rights to say they don’t want to deal with you anymore. Being pleasant and OOCly kind costs nothing.
  2. Consequences do not have to be realistic. Like comic books, television, novels and movies, they only have to land somewhere that is realism-adjacent.
  3. Whenever possible, you do not want to create consequences that take characters out of play for good. Jailed for life is a bad consequence. Temporarily in jail, where you agree to run prison fights and run-ins with guards while a trial unfolds? That could be cool. Letting the trial be its own punishment with an ultimate acquittal to get the character back out and about (under heavy suspicion of course) could be the way to go. Or you might have to be more creative. Maybe a mysterious benefactor pays the bail…but now the player is beholden to the mysterious benefactor. Maybe they just get an RFID bracelet. Maybe they’re super-skilled, and so you’ll clear them of all charges if they come work for you…whatever.
  4. Know your format. In a tabletop game consequences can just be sprung on an unsuspecting player. In an online game you might want to negotiate them out prior to the arrest, confrontation, or whatever.
  5. Really, truly, check their character sheet or wiki or backstory or concept or whatever. Re-read the logs. Maybe they really do have what it takes to get away with it. At least be open to considering this might be true.
  6. Approach everything as a negotiation. Try to stay calm.

Of all these points, the first three are where authority characters really tend to fall down on the job. They either have a bad attitude, get really rigid about “realism” on games about werewolves or dragons or what-have-you, and, as a result, create ICC which essentially shuts down the character.

Look. Death is often a really boring consequence. So is lifelong imprisonment. If you’re in a position of power, try to exercise more creativity than that.

What you need to know about taking ICC:

One reason authority figures do such a bad job with ICC is players do a really bad job taking it. They get ultra defensive over their characters, their character’s actions, and their character’s ultimate fate. Here’s what you need to know about taking ICC.

  1. Check your attitude. If you’re coming from the position that your character should never take ICC, if you’re feeling defensive or angry because you don’t understand why everyone doesn’t see your actions as 100% perfect and right, or even if you’re just fearful that whatever’s going on will render your character “unplayable” then you’re creating a situation where both you and everyone else will be frustrated. Take a step back, go for a walk, and realize everyone involved is a person devoted to the same hobby. Nobody’s out to get you…but they might well care about the integrity of the story, and their ability to play their own character’s reactions as they see fit.
  2. Come to the table armed with some suggestions other than “my character gets off Scott free, no matter how incompetent that makes the rest of you look.” Indeed, approach these negotiations with an eye towards making the constable, or King, or whatever look as good as possible.
  3. Think about how all these consequences could in fact make your RP more fun by giving you more story to work through. Sit down and brainstorm it. What could it look like? You go to prison, but bribe your way to privileges and make a grand escape? You go to prison, but get off on appeal? You go to trial, walk, but now have to earn back the trust of everyone you know? You appeal to a powerful criminal underworld character, and now you owe that person your work, time, and allegiance? Are you now under a geas or curse of some kind? The more you can sell everyone involved on this would make some cool story and this would create a lot of RP for lots of people the more likely you are to get what you want.
  4. Be honest and realistic about your character’s capabilities…and about his or her plan. Maybe setting off that bomb in the middle of the mall really was kind of a goofy thing to do.
  5. Approach everything as a negotiation. Try to stay calm.
  6. Recognize you can probably RP your way back from anything short of permanent death. Your character’s current situation sucks? It’s on you to find a way for them to move forward. Start paging people for scenes to make it happen.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to get stuck to the point where you’re not sure how to continue your character’s story. I am saying most people assume they’re hitting that point long before they actually are.

Note that as a person receiving ICC much of your success will depend on how you’ve acted in the past. Have you been a big problem player? A thorn in the side of everyone else? Then chances are you’re going to have more trouble than if you’re known to be a pleasant, reasonable, fun person to deal with. If you’ve always played with an eye towards helping others have fun then people will remember that when you’re facing what may look like insurmountable ICC. At that point you’ll have the capital to go to staff, or the player of the person trying to levy the ICC, or other friends you may have made to ask, “Help me brainstorm some things my character can try to get his or her story moving again.”

Get a mediator if you have to.

It doesn’t have to be a staff member. It could be anyone both you and the other player trust. Someone who is a third party to a tense situation might see options both you and the other player are overlooking. This can be a very good thing when both players are at loggerheads.

It can also be a good thing if the other player is genuinely acting like an asshole, whether as the giver of ICC or as the receiver. It certainly does happen.

Disagreements are going to arise. But you have common ground.

Theoretically both you and everyone else involved all love the game, or you wouldn’t keep logging in to play. You all love to RP. That might mean different things to both you and the other players involved. You may prefer one style of play, they may prefer another. But you both love whatever world you’re in, which means you and whomever you’re in the dispute with should both care enough about the integrity of the story to want to keep it strong.

Start from there, and work your way to a resolution that works for both of you. It can be done. It doesn’t have to be a headache.

If your hearts are in the right place, it can even be fun.


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How to Become a Popular Player

July 19, 2017 at 6:45 am (Roleplaying Posts) (, , , )

The other day I asked a friend when he might be available for some RP. He named a day, and I said, “Great! I’ll write that in my day planner.”

“You actually need a day planner for your RP?”

“I’d be lost without my day planner.”

I actually use my day planner for everything–what meals I’m going to cook, which house chores I need to get done, deadlines and work commitments, even a running to-do list of the various errata that pops up in the course of adult life. And that’s what I honestly meant when I said these words. But…it’s true. Every single RP scene usually makes it into my day planner, and I definitely usually have something lined up at least a week in advance every night I know I will be available for RP.

“I’m not that popular,” my friend said, and I felt a burst of true exasperation.

Popularity — Perception vs. Reality

This is actually a comment I’d heard before, from other people on the game. Most people do not have RP every single night that they want it. They wait, and wait, and wait to be asked, like girls at a 1950s sock hop, all lined up against the wall, hoping to get lucky.

These players perceive and believe that I am getting asked for every single scene I want to do. They believe people are just lining up, clamoring to RP with me. In reality, I do most of the asking. If I do 20 scenes in a month, someone else would have suggested 3 to 5 of them. Sometimes more. Sometimes less.

I get most of these scenes because I asked for them. I paged a person I wanted to scene with, suggested a scene, and asked when they might be available, clearly and concisely and with no room for any other interpretation. They said yes. We were off to the races. Done. Boom. We both got to do something fun that night.

Blanket Asks Don’t Work

[RP Channel] Random Player asks, “Does anyone want to RP?”

Most common answer: crickets. Nobody knows what to do with that. Nobody. It also reeks of desperation and a lack of skill. That’s why 99% of the time nobody says a word.

When I say I ask for RP every single night I want it I mean I pick someone off the WHO, page them, and ask them for RP, personally. I have a conversation with them. A great good deal of the time, RP happens as a result.

What does work:

[RP Channel] Savvy MUSHer says, “Anyone want to go on a frantic search for a missing child with me this evening?”

See the difference? You’re providing people with an idea of what they’d be doing and why they’d be there. You’ll get takers. You’ll meet people your char didn’t know before, and this will in turn spark more RP. It’s magic!

Passive Asks Don’t Work

A lot of players get really coy.

They page and they make some comment on RP they’ve seen you doing. They’re hoping to be noticed, to be invited, but the invitation just never comes, because when you do this, you are putting all of the onus on the other player to figure out fun for both of you, and unless the stars align– which, every once in awhile, they do– they’re never going to do that. They’re going to run off and RP and do whatever they’ve already planned to do with their existing character arc and character trajectory.

Another coy, passive tactic is to say something like, “Well, let me know if you need me for anything on that plot.”

My friends.

Nobody needs you for anything on that plot. Not if you’re doing it that way.

What a plot runner really needs is someone to go, “Holy shit, the entire village turned purple? Will you NPC the Mayor of that village? I wanna find out what’s wrong.”


“Holy shit, everyone’s purple? Well, I go take some blood samples. If I bring them to Dr. Fantastic, what will we find together in our scene? Can we scene around that?”


“Hey, my character is an expert on weird skin phenomenon. Says so right on my sheet. Everyone’s purple. What does that tell him? Who is already in the plot so he can go tell them all about it?”

See the difference?

This doesn’t work all the time. Some plot runners are bad plot runners. Some plot runners are really only interested in running this thing for people they know, and you gotta respect that. You might have to run your own plot to get the ball rolling. You might also just have to be persistent, to keep right on trying with different plot runners. But I’d say it works 9 times out of 10. Plot runners are hurting for people who will take a consistent and intelligent interest in the things they are doing. Seriously.

Sometimes You Gotta be the Idea Machine

There is an art to the ask if you want to get RP almost all the time. It requires some work on your part.

“Wanna RP? Just something random in a bar?”

Meh. I guess. Maybe. Actually, maybe not. I could go on a Netflix marathon, that sounds way more engaging.

Everyone these days usually has some sort of wiki or something that tells you about their character. Go. Scour those things. Look for ideas. Come up with something more creative.

“I see that you run a garage. How would you feel about my char showing up with a car problem?”

Ok, that’s better. It’s tailored specifically to the other player, and allows them to do some sort of RP they obviously wanted to do, or they would not have picked a mechanic. Anyone can come up with that kind of a scene. You don’t gotta be a plot genius, you dig? Now you have a reason to be there and the other player has a reason to stick around. Great.

Feeling really ambitious? You can make it even better in one of two ways.

“Someone’s wired my char’s car with a remote detonator bomb that hasn’t gone off yet, and I was thinking of taking it to a garage just in time for things to get really bad.”

Um. Hell yes. That’s a scene anyone is going to jump right on doing.

You can also just emit the car bomb being there as they work on the car and let them react. That’s fun too. You’ll get a bit of a reputation for being a person who makes things fun and interesting.

Again, this doesn’t always work. Sometimes people will turn you down. They’ll be busy, or tired, or you simply won’t exactly hit it out of the park when it comes to guessing the scene they might actually like. It’s fine. Move on, ask someone else.

No Ideas? No Excuse!

Yeah, I get creatively dry sometimes too. I’m not saying that you gotta be Mr./Ms. idea machine all the time. Cause something cool happens when you do this enough times. Eventually your char has a zillion friends ICly, and sooner or later they sort of catch on or have things they want to do with your char, and you get those rare but awesome asks from people you already know you enjoy RPing with.

But if you never have any ideas and you just sort of sit around the RP lounge hoping to get lucky, you’re not working hard enough. This is an RP game. Ideas are the literal coin of the realm. And they’re just not hard to come up with. I present three exercises you can do to get more RP than you can shake a stick at within the next 3 months. I dare you to try these exercises, and then the entire method, and then tell me in the comments how all this went for you.

Exercise 1: Wiki-Fu

I want you to pull up every character on the game that has not personally upset, offended, or harassed you in some way. I personally absolve you if you wish to exclude someone who is creepy or threatening. Got your list? Great.

Go through their wikis. If you’re on a game with +finger or +info instead of a Wiki, go through that. Do it with a pencil in hand. Write down at least 1 scene idea per character based on their char concepts, RP hooks, places you might mutually hang out, or whatever.

If there is literally no reason on all the earth why your char would or could ever have a conversation with that character, you can skip it, but 99% of the time you can think of something. You are all chars in a TV show and the Unlikely is the bread and butter of your fictional existences. Write it as a wishlist, even. It doesn’t have to be plausible. It just has to be interesting, and plausible enough to get the job done.

Exercise 2: Random Scene Starters

Write down 10 random scene starters that could work for anyone. This is stuff you can toss out on the RP channel, or just throw out at someone you kind of think looks cool and want your character to meet. Keep in mind that by using these you’re committing to emitting any NPCs that are involved, but…that’s not really that hard. It’s like playing a char, only it’s one you didn’t have to app and don’t have to keep.

I’ll do this one right now, just off the top of my head:

  1. Missing child example from above.
  2. Trapped in an elevator. Variant – Trapped in an elevator…with a bomb.
  3. Convenience store robbery.
  4. Beached whale needs help getting back into the ocean, or he’ll die. Variant: stray dog trapped in a fence.
  5. Chars take shelter in an unlikely place when a tornado places them in danger. IRL, my kiddo and my parents ended up locked in a bank vault with the bank employees once due to this very thing.
  6. Troll! In the dungeon! Thought you’d wanna know! See also monster at the pier, giant bird-thing in the sky plucking up virgins, whatever. May not work on all genres.
  7. Help! My character’s trapped on thin ice on an extremely dangerous river! Variant…Help! My character fell overboard!
  8. Car broken down on the side of the road. Variant: car wreck with two chars.
  9. Classic: I’ve got a short term danger and I need a rescue. Anyone can get poisoned by the way, even if you’re badass. Just…roll with it. You can figure out why later. More RP for everyone.
  10. Block party time! Everyone’s invited.

Congrats, now you have 10 scene proposals to launch at people until you get 10 great nights of RP. You will probably be more creative than me, since you know your theme. The theme itself probably has some unique hidden gems in it.

Exercise 3: Guess the Wish List

I am under the firm opinion that every character comes with a wish list attached to it, whether people realize it or not. You can, in fact, draw a direct line from the character concept to the type of RP that person likely wanted to do.


  • Someone who is playing a cop/PI/federal agent, etc. wants to investigate crimes. They probably want to have chases too. Car chases, foot chases. Chances to shadow someone dangerous. Chances to find missing people and items, or catch murderers.
  • Someone who is playing a hacker or other computer type wants opportunities to use those skills to gather information. They also want to be able to “shut down the grid” or some such from their van, or install a virus into someone’s systems.
  • Someone who is playing a doctor obviously wants the opportunity to patch people up, diagnose interesting diseases, and perform breathtaking acts of lifesaving fury under extreme circumstances.
  • Someone who is playing an absolutely gorgeous knock-out who owns a club, is a dancer, sings, or whatever probably wants lots of opportunities to be seen and admired, and/or to seduce/talk her way out of trouble.
  • Someone who is playing an inventor or engineer wants the chance to design something cool for people. Taking something apart, dismantling traps, reverse engineering bad guy crap…all on the table.

First, look at your char. You probably had some specific RP experiences in mind, things you wanted to do when you took that character. Write them down, because they all suggest scene ideas.

Then, go back to your Wiki list. Ask yourself what was on other people’s wish list when they took that character. That’s probably a real good hint as to the types of scenes that will entice that person to get out of the lounge and get out onto the grid with you. You can use that to your advantage when you ask someone (again, directly, concisely) for RP.

You of course can throw out any scene ideas that you come up with that don’t excite you, too. If you’re not having fun, nobody else in that scene will have fun either. Just try to end up with a good long list. Get adept at setting these scenes, too…few people like being put on the spot when it comes to setting. Many like having that little warm up so they can put themselves in the scene. You probably like that too, but look, someone’s gotta be the hero here, and today I’m asking you to do it. You’re the one over here reading a very long blog post on how to be a popular RPer on a multi-player MUSH, after all. Or play-by-post game or whatever, as it happens, since the same principles basically apply.

Everyone is Here for the Same Thing

There is nobody who is not on this game to RP. Nobody really wants to sit around the lounge, or idle in their private room, bored to tears. Nobody.

So unless you are overtly creepy or rude, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get RP whenever you want it. Especially if you put some effort into your scenes and give the other players a lot to work with. Next time you’re bored, don’t wait around. Put on your thinking cap, come up with a scene proposal…and ask for what you want.

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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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The Care and Proper Feeding of NPCs

December 12, 2009 at 6:08 pm (Roleplaying Posts) (, , , , , )

The use of truly good NPCs is one of the most overlooked strategies by any MU* admin or any player anywhere on any game.

You need good NPCs.

  • NPCs help flesh out the people around your PC, so that you don’t have to be an orphan.
  • NPCs help move plots forward by dropping information, being villains, and being victims.  Nobody’s feelings get hurt (mostly!) when ICC happens to these NPCs.  That means you can kill them (mostly) without arguing with anyone over consent.
  • NPCs help flesh out all the roles that should be filled in the game but that just aren’t for whatever reasons.  You can’t get any normal humans?  Time to make a bunch of memorable normal human NPCs then so that people don’t start snarking that the city is filled with nothing but supers, even though there are 18 players RPing in a city of 4.3 million people.
  • NPCs help your players feel like they’re in a vibrant world that goes on around them–that things happen that they don’t directly see and influence.  This makes the world more believable and fun.

Of course, all of this applies when you do NPCs right.  Basic Redshirt #5 evokes no emotion.  The guy we’ve all known and loved and laughed at for years does.   So how do you TRULY do good NPCs?

  • Give your NPC a first name and a last name.
  • When you pose the NPC add physical characteristics, dress, everything that will help players really visualize this guy.
  • When you pose the NPC use quirks, speech patterns, slang, and expressions that are unique to the NPC.  In other words emit your NPC the same way you’d play a character.  Believably and with attention.
  • Have the NPC in question occasionally seek scenes with the player base the same way you would do with a PC.  Be available to play these NPCs should they be requested.  Have them show up in the places they belong (like where they work) again and again.  Let them interact with people and form friendships. (A downfall here is that you might end up playing your NPCs more than your PCs and feeling grouchy about that.  I have, and that’s why I now set a note on my @doing to let people know when I’m ready and willing to play NPCs and when I want to play my own characters, thank you very much).
  • Allow the NPCs to help forward the story but NEVER treat the NPC as nothing more than story fodder.
  • Don’t stat any NPC until some character declares an intention to fight and/or kill said NPC.

You know you’ve put together a good NPC when:

  • People’s characters reference the NPC in conversation the same way they do a PC.
  • You get physically mauled or tomato’d should you so much as breathe the suggestion that you plan to kill off someone’s favorite NPC
  • You get tears and pages of NOOOOOOOO! when you do kill off someone’s favorite NPC
  • People ask for RP with the NPC
  • Many people on the playerbase know who that NPC is.

In short it’s like running a bunch of other characters, only not as regularly and not as in-depth, but with the illusion that you’re doing just that.  It does take a lot of work, to be sure.  However, if you begin to think of yourself as a storyteller participating in a collaborative story, rather than as just a player out for your own adventures and enjoyment, then this process becomes one of world weaving and you have a lot more fun with it.

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On the Central Character Problem

September 10, 2009 at 5:05 pm (Roleplaying Posts) (, , )

I should be working right now, but this post won’t leave me alone.  So I’m going to take just a few moments to write about this.  I also added the wrong blog to my Facebook, because it should probably be the Big Bad Professional blog that updates to it.  But I hardly ever update that.  It’s my hobby blog that gets updated.  Ah well!

Today I want to talk about a method of character creation that most people almost do–but they don’t quite do.  It’s called Creating a Character through creating that character’s central problem.  In fiction this central problem would be described as:

“What does my character want more than anything in the world, what is stopping him from getting it, what happens if the character doesn’t get it, what is the character afraid of happening or not happening if the character doesn’t get it, and what is the character willing to do (and what will the character never do) to accomplish this goal?”

Most MUSHers don’t start with this.  They start with the character’s profession and powers.  They start with profession because they believe, sometimes accurately and sometimes mistakenly, that the character’s profession will create RP.  Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t.  The problem with profession-based RP is it often requires someone else to create that RP.  Let’s take a defense lawyer.  Theoretically you could get some really cool, interesting RP by finding a player who is accused of something and taking their case.  But this requires a character to break the law or be accused of breaking it, someone to play or NPC the prosecution and the judge, a jury to get gathered, and whatnot.  Someone might write that plot for you.  It might spring up out of the day to day course of RP.  If things just don’t work out that way though, your law career is going to be little more than the background and you’ll have to find other things to drive your char.  When you don’t have a central problem, all you’ve got at that point is socialization.  It has it’s place, but if your character has no central problem that socialization can begin to resemble cold, dirty dishwater that used to have fluffy suds in it but now doesn’t even have that.  “Klah sipping,” as it’s often called, and background sharing have their places–but they cannot provide a satisfying RP experience if they’re all you’re getting.

Some people try to build hooks through their backgrounds or their powers.  They’ll write in interesting enemies, hoping against hope some staffer will be intruiged enough to offer to NPC that interesting enemy, because that is how it works in tabletop.  If you write a nice background and fill it with interesting enemies in tabletop, a good GM will leap on that like white on rice, and they will soon play that enemy for you.  On a MUSH the chances of this happening are 1 in 100.  The staff has their own plot plans. They don’t know you yet and are not, for example, going to waste their time cooking up enemies for people who may or may not be one-liners, twinks, or drama queens.  It is only after a long, positive association with staff that the odds of them offering to take that enemy go up some–and then your chances are still only 30 in 100.  If you put an interesting enemy in your background, the high liklehood is that you’re going to take it yourself, play it yourself, knock your own character out of commission and let your Friends and Family on the MUSH knock him around for you.  This is awesome stuff, and shouldn’t be underestimated–it certainly adds to the MU* community!–but it might not get YOU the interesting story that you are looking for for YOUR character.  Don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t have the right to have this.

Some people will just get heavy on the powers side or the weird background side, figuring if they’re the lost son of the Baron d’ Awesome with the Sekrit Power to Sprout Unicorn Wings and Develop Obsidian Eyes that their character will not only be so interesting to all the other characters that they’ll instantly stand out and become popular, but they’ll be able to dominate every combat scene and thus be hailed as The Hero, too.  Bzzzzt.  Wrong again.  This is a strategy that usually just leaves people rolling their eyes even if your character makes it through the approval process.  It’s another hold over from tabletop, where the GM has only 3-5 other people to deal with and so can indulge your character’s Specialness with all of the attention it, um. Deserves.  On a MU* there are 78 characters or more to deal with, and all of them would like a little piece of being special, being admired, or getting a story.  Nobody wants to compete with something so over the top, especially as the people who try to play these things are often such complete goobers that you wouldn’t want to stay in a room with them for more than 5 minutes anyway.

The problem with the most common character methods is that they focus on external factors.  Not only are external factors often annoying and unlikly to be used, but they don’t help drive the best RP.  The best MUSH RP, the best story, sometimes does not happen, at all, from the preplanned tinyplots that MUSH admin and proactive players put together to make sure people have stuff to do.

It comes from the natural progression of consequences.


Let’s say Eve and Betsy, two MUSH characters, are chatting.  During that conversation they reveal they are both madly in love with Jerome, character #3.  They start having a little jealous spat, but they agree not to let this man get between them.  They both agree it’s all “Hands off” and they’ll neither one of them date Jerome.

But then, only Betsy holds true to her word.  Eve and Jerome end up in a scene where they have a long chat at the coffee shop.  They share deep, soulful things (perhaps that painful background Jerome wrote up hoping that it would get him some RP) and at the end of the night they share a kiss.  Player #4, Lucy, sees the kiss and tells Betsy all about it.

Betsy then starts plotting Eve’s humiliation and begins spreading rumors all over the RP circles of something or another bad about Eve.

As high school as that example is, it does show how one scene can spark 4 other very interesting scenes that actually do have stakes for the characters involved, with nary a plot application or GM in sight.  You can almost never create these sorts of scenes with external hooks and motivations.

The central character problem is an internal hook.  And because it is an internal hook, it drives what your character does, what she says, how she speaks, who she speaks to, and why she speaks.  It drives why she acts, what plots she gets involved in, and what things she sets into motion.  It creates secrets that other characters can try to find out about her, still allows for the possibility of writing plots or emitting blasts from the past, and in general keeps the RP moving on a reasonably effortless flow, simply by virtue of the fact that your character wants and needs things and has to reach out to other PCs to get it.

Central problems can also grow, change, and evolve as the game grows, changes, and evolves.  As your character RPs he will meet people, have new experiences.  His priorities will grow, shift, expand, or change.  His central problem will change with it. For example:  “My character is under the Doom of Damocles, so she desperately wants to prove herself as a wizard and as a healer to redeem her past, but she has control and confidence issues,” can become, “My character is under the Doom of Damocles, so she desperately wants to prove herself as a wizard and as a healer to redeem her past.  She’s also involved with the local Warden, and she wants to make him happy above anything else.  She’s got control and confidence issues, and lots of people are trying to kill her.  She’s reclaimed her religious roots and is trying to get in touch with her spirituality at a time where people are in town persecuting members of her faith.”

Or, “My character is struggling with poverty and a failing business after Hurricane Katrina.  He made a bad deal once and is now in debt for about $90000 which he can’t pay off, so he’s been doing local prize fights to try to get some money and coming home hurt nightly,” can become, “My character is struggling with poverty and a failing business after Hurricane Katrina.  He made a bad deal once and is now in debt for about $90000 which he can’t pay off, and the mob boss who he owes has decided he’s useful for doing tasks, so he’s got that held over his head.  In addition he’s fallen in love with a girl who has mountains of money, but has trouble developing the relationship for fear of taking advantage of her or letting her down.”

On the surface those look like external problems, but when you break them down you realize they’re internal.

The apprentice wants validation and redemption.  She also wants security.

She’s being stopped by the fact that there are those who will always see a warlock when they look at her, by her own inexperience, and by the danger that surrounds her.  She’s also stopped by her love’s own internal conflicts, which keep him in a perpetual state of depression that threatens her own sense of security as much as it becomes an issue of honest love and worry for him.

She is afraid of being hated, seen as evil, hurt, harmed, killed, tortured, enslaved, or left alone.  She’s also afraid of herself–of letting the dark seed she planted in her own soul sprout and grow, thus betraying everyone’s trust, herself, and those who she’d hurt in the future.  Though she’s often cheerful, everything that drives her ties into these fears somehow.

She’s willing to study hard, be sweet, act as a servant, offer first aid to anyone who will let her, and stand by her convictions in the face of danger.  She is not willing to nurture combat abilities to full potential or to fight with intent to kill for fear of these things. She’s also not ever willing to betray those she loves–though in part this doesn’t count because betraying those she loves would run counter to her purposes anyway.

Or let’s take the poverty striken guy.  He wants his martial arts school back on stable ground and to take care of his father whose health is secretly failing after a nasty divorce.  He also wants to prove he’s worth it to his girl.  The fact that she requires no such proof is immaterial–he requires such proof.

He’s being stopped by the fact that $90K is really steep for anyone. He’s just a guy, unwittingly in a world full of stronger, tougher supernaturals.  He only heals as fast as anyone who is just a guy does and he can’t afford to keep getting the crap beat out of him.  His own hospital bills are running counter to his purposes because he’s ended up digging one hole to attempt to fix the other.  He’s also being stopped by the fact that he’s not really the brightest bulb in the box and can’t think of the most innovative solutions ever.

He’s afraid of living in his father’s spare room forever (which he calls his basement) without ever proving he’s a man.  He’s afraid the martial arts school that has been a part of his life and his only solid career prospect since he was 10 years old failing and leaving him with no options beyond paper hat jobs.  He’s afraid of what he’s seen himself as already being willing to do to prevent these thigns and afraid that he’ll cross a line some day that he can’t uncross.

He’s willing to work hard, market his school, and teach long hours.  He’s also willing to do illegal prize fights, run errands for the mob boss that don’t involve hurting or killing anybody, and to lie to those nearest and dearest to him to shield them from his problems–including his father and his girlfriend.  He’s not willing to hurt anyone outside of a fair fight or to kill anyone…a fact that might get him into some deep shit one of these days.

Do you see how such problems might drive RP?  The apprentice will befriend anyone she can and take off bigger bites than she can chew.  The martial artist will do nearly anything for money…but only nearly anything.  Wave the scent of a big enough sum of money in his face and he’s listening–but not because he’s a greedy bastard.  Just because he’s in a hell of a lot of trouble and he’s got no idea how to get back out of it again.

Those are things I can bring into every single scene that I play.  It doesn’t require a specific story line.  It allows me to react to the story lines that I find and to locate and participate in scenes that allow me to create more story simply by staring at life through the lenses of these character realities, realities that go way beyond: “I was born the bastard son of a prince on a dark Scottish Moor and the prince hates me and I shoot lightning bolts but I went on to a thriving career in Defense Law.”  My martial artist would still have plenty of issues even if nobody on the game ever wanted to RP out a karate lesson, for example.  My apprentice has plenty to carry her well outside of formal lesson scenes.  Etc.  Because what makes a story is the problems inside of the character, not the implied problems or bad-tv-scrip difficulties slapped into the background at the character generation phase.

So the next time you create a character, don’t start with race, class, description, height, weight, gender, powers, or career.  This stuff might pop into your head, but try to figure out a central problem that you’d enjoy playing first.  There’s just two rules:

1. The central problem must be capable of driving RP without you ever having to have anybody emit anybody, and without you having to emit anybody yourself

2. The central problem may be fed by your characters skills but must not rely upon your character skills.  That is especially true if the skill in question is a power that is not widely available to other players.  So it can revolve around magic if magic is available to a lot of the populace, but may not revolve around magic if you are the only person on the grid that does magic (and if you are why the Hell did the wizards allow THAT?  But that’s another post for another day).

Hopefully this will help you generate richer characters and better RP experiences.  Note that exterior RP hooks are not at ALL verboten–they can help you meet people, find scenes, and locate things to do–just that they can’t be the sole basis upon which your character is built.

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The Motivations of Bad Guys

August 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm (Roleplaying Posts) (, , )

Television and the movies have sort of screwed us MUSHers.  So have books, come to think of it.  They’ve done it, because they’ve taught us that the motivations for the bad guys should always be huge motivations.  The villain should always want to take over something, so the myth goes, and it should always be no smaller than a city and preferably as large as a world. Or possibly a universe.

Unfortunately, this can’t really happen on a MUSH.  Unless wizards are really talented or really flexible, it can’t even get close to happening.  And nothing is more frustrating for any character, bad, good, or in between, then constantly failing, being thwarted, and looking in competent.  It’s one thing to do it when you’re GMing and running NPCs, but if you want to play the character, it gets annoying, fast.  Then the bad guy players start accusing the wizards of being too focused on the good guys.  The wizards, understanding what it takes to keep the game from going downhill fast, can only sigh. And bang their heads a lot.  And make some lame comments about how it happens in stories.

So before we start talking about some alternative motivations for villains we should talk about the necessary tension between Ultimate Goals that makes a MUSH go.

The Ultimate Goal of the good guys can’t ever happen either.  Their UG is a peaceful world where nothing bad ever happens.  True good guys are idealists at heart, which is why they throw themselves in front of horribly dangerous circumstances again and again to try to keep other people safe.  True good guys aren’t even out to just protect their own family or friends,though those people act as strong motivators.  They want people they don’t even know and have never even met to be able to live in peace, without pain, and without fear.  When you take this into account you realize the good guys never really win either.

The really bad supervillain style badguys that happen either as a result of theme or literary convention tend to want everyone under their control.  They want their enemies–99% of the MUSH, usually–rounded up, killed, imprisoned, coerced, controlled, and afraid.

It’s easy to see where EITHER success would completely kill RP on your MUSH.  If the good guys win you rather run out of tinyplot fodder quickly.  If the badguys win you murder your entire playerbase, drive them away, piss them off, and depress them.  So the wizard constantly has to allow victories on both sides, erring on the side of 99% of the MUSH–the good guys.

So if you want to play a bad guy and the idea of failing all the time pisses you off, there’s only one answer.

Quit trying to be THE bad guy. THE take over the world bad guy.  Be a different sort of bad guy with different sorts of motivations.

This post was inspired by one of my new players, who wrote for herself a villain’s motivation that, while not so original that I’d never seen it for, was still original enough for MUSH to be commented on.  It’s also inspired by the character Fidelius, from Jim Butcher’s “Codex Alera” series.   So we’ll start with their motivations first.  Note that all motivations aren’t appropriate for all games or all themes.

To reclaim the glory days: The villain could give two shits about ruling anything, but she wants to be young and beautiful again.  Or she wants to be immortal before she turns old and ugly.  Or he was once a big shot in sports, the business world, or some other highly competitive arena–and he or she will do ANYTHING to reclaim that former glory, including things that other people would find reprehensible.

To do the “right” thing: Politics is a messy business, and if you’re not standing in a very simplistic theme where one side is always evil and the other side is always good, it could be very easy to have a character that does all the things the good guys do–just for the side the good guys hate.  This person, for whatever reason, has decided the unpopular “evil” side of the game is on to something.  Believes that working with them is necessary to save (whatever).  This also means that his goals and the heroic goals sometimes coincide closely enough that he’s forced to work with them, as politics can “make strange bedfellows.”  It also means he may spend more time manipulating and convincing heroes to do things than he will maiming and killing them.

Money: Why money is never a motivator on MU*s will always escape me, because greed is surely a huge motivator anywhere else you go.  Maybe it’s cause most MUSHers are good people at heart and just can’t fathom doing anything bad for anything less than world domination.  That said, for most of us, having $1 million at our disposal or more would be just as good as world domination and without all the silly responsibility to boot.  Even rich people can be greedy and want to get richer, especially since I understand that sometmes those fortune 500 guys can get very fierce and very personal in their competition with one another.

Vengeance: Someone wronged you, hurt you, hurt someone you loved, killed someone you love, took away the most important thing or things to you in the whole of the world.  Justice didn’t get served through the proper channels.  You’re mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore–and to hell with the “rules” or anyone YOU might hurt along the way.   Nothing will stop you until you’ve exacted the revenge you’ve planned against those you’ve planned it for, in whatever methods, big or small, you intend to pull this revenge off.

Unrequited: Sometimes there is nothing more painful than being the scorned lover.  Sometimes this drives people to do some pretty insane, hurtful things.  The stalker.  The villain who creates problems for the heroine just so he can ride to her rescue.  The villain who knows its hopeless so turns his attention to hurting the one who spurned him or the one who got the lover he so desperately wanted–or both.  The villain who came to hate an entire class of people because of this unrequited love and works hard at taking advantage of it.

The status quo: For some supernatural organizations it’s important to constantly be able to display your power.  Being able to stretch out your hand and hurt someone is more a matter of displaying that you can still do it and so deserve to be followed than any overarching scheme.

Sadism: Some people are just psychotic bastards that like to hurt and murder other people.   This is very hard to do well and it’s very hard to sustain; in my opinion it is easier to pull off as an NPC.  PCs who play this concept need to be extremely good, well respected, established RPers.  They need to be patient and slow, and have a knack for being that guy nobody would ever suspect, until it’s too late.

In the name of science: Or knowledge.  Or magical power.  These villains are a little bit detached and off their rocker.  They want to KNOW things, and to them people who whine about a little pain, torture, death, or mutation when they are clearly serving the greater cause of Science are petty, lesser individuals.  Of course they’d never volunteer themselves–they have the brains so they have to be safe and unharmed to DO the experiments. Aren’t you listening?

Survival: Some people turn to crime and bad guy actions because they’re not real long on choices.  Perhaps the Family has roped them into it.  Perhaps they don’t have a way to get a legitimate job and so commit crimes because they need to eat.  Perhaps they’ve been blackmailed into it and their own self-interest outweighs what they might have to do to others.  Perhaps they’re forced by politics, social obligation, or even fear of bigger, badder bad guys.  Perhaps when they got turned into a supernatural bad thing the only thing they could do was turn to the other supernatural bad things for help and support, and that means obligations to help and support their community in turn.

All around self-centered: This villain doesn’t have overarching motivations–he just wants whatever he perceives as being best for him at the moment.  He’ll do whatever it takes to get it.  If he can do it by nice, normal, conventional means he will. If not, he’ll take the other routes.  He’s got nothing against other people, he just loves himself more than he loves anyone else.

Attainable ambition: In the real world, Ruling the World just doesn’t happen.  There are too many forces and factions just as powerful ready to smack anyone down who tries it.  That said, there are plenty of more attainable positions that require plotting, scheming, and evil to pull off.  The corporate CEO position can be just as appealing to many villains as World Dominators.  So can Mayor, who doesn’t have absolute power but has enough power that the villain can call his pushy, shallow family and take some pride in his title (motivations should be complex and human too–people’s families, people’s opinions,lovers, and friends factor heavily into most people’s decisions.  Villains shouldn’t be much different–playing the AHAHAHAHAA guy who hates and holds everyone in contempt gets OLD, especially on a social exercise like a MUSH).

Just professional, nothing personal: If your character is an assassin it’s not particularly personal to be trying to kill someone.  It’s just the job.  Assassin isn’t a great MUSH role unless you’re fully happy with killing way more NPCs than PCs and in having less than a 100% success rate.  This is also a good motivation for mercenaries, agents of rival factions, etc.

Feels humiliated: Something someone said or did has left this person feeling humiliated and hateful.  They’re not going to rest until the person or faction who humiliated them has been brought down or humiliated in turn.  This can also work if they feel abandoned by said person or faction–they won’t rest until they’ve returned the hurt.  This is kind of a vengeance motivation–only a lot less extreme.

Addicted: People who are addicted to anything–drugs, sex, that special rush of dark magic–have to feed that addiction until they die of it or that addiction is broken.  Addictions don’t lead themselves to high ambitions usually.  What they lead to is a lot of death and destruction.

Proving myself: If you’re the kid who always got sand kicked in his face you might get a little unhinged, enough to be intent on proving that you’re the bad ass now.

Your motivations are outweighing the greater reality: Sometimes villains are villains cause they’re focused on all the wrong things at all the wrong times.  The unrequited guy bursts in with a gun to yell, “Why won’t you love me, Lenora!” when what really needs to be happening to save everyone from the monster attack is that the heroes need to get Lenora to the site of the magic nest so she can do her Cleric Prodigy Glowy thing.  This kind of villain can be just as deadly as the other kind.

It all just got out of control. This guy did something bad once, made a terrible choice.  He killed his lover in a fit of jealous rage and instantly regretted it.  Or he embezzled a million dollars to save his home and the next thing he knew he was having to perform darker and darker deeds to cover up that embezzlement.  Or politics forced him to betray the person he loved and he’s found himself drawn in deeper and deeper ever since.  He may even desperately want to be a decent guy again–and tries to be whenever he can.  It’s just that the web of his own actions keeps trapping him and drawing tighter and tighter around him until one day he looks in the mirror and even he doesn’t know what he’s seeing anymore.

Now if you’ve sat here thinking, “Oh shit, some of this could easily happen with heroes too,” good.  Because these aren’t just “bad guy things,” they’re human things.  Often what separates one from the other is only a matter of results and degrees.

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Fantastic Flaws

July 17, 2009 at 2:35 am (Roleplaying Posts) (, , )

One of the easiest “hooks” for any character is the existence of flaws within that character. Flaws are there to be overcome, to struggle against, to cause trouble when the character really ought to be doing any other thing. To help people come up with some character flaws, I am offering a list. I’ve tried to avoid things that are stupid for RP or that people do all the time. (Being lecherous and stupidly flirtatious is pretty common on MU*s).

* Poverty: Poverty’s pretty overlooked in MU* land because everyone wants to be upper-middle-class to rich. Consider having next to no money and see what RP you can grow out of that scenario.

* Over 50: Older characters don’t move as fast and they aren’t as hip but they do have wisdom and knowledge. They also stand out in a sea of young faces. * Bad Sight, Bad Hearing: These perception issues can cause your character major problems on adventures as well as set you apart from the norm.

* Fat, Overweight, Plus Sized: The only place the obesity epidemic never hit was MU* land. Concerned you won’t be able to find actors? Don’t be–there are plenty of plus sized actors.

* Sensitive to Pain: Most MU* characters seem to be able to get shot 50 times and hit with a sledge hammer and act like everything is fine so long as they still have 1 last hitpoint. Consider playing a character with a low pain tolerance who curls up in a haze of stunned moaning when shot just once. (Hint: that’s what most normal people do).

* One arm, one eye, one hand, one leg: Usually we just scar up our characters, but if your character is a battle veteran it’s very conceivable he is missing something.

* For guys, ridiculously skinny: Yeah girls do it all the time. Guys in MU* land are usually buff. But how about playing a really skinny guy who isn’t quite so tough?

* Absent-minded

* Addictions

* Ill-tempered

* Bully

* Bound by STRICT code of honor or duty, even unto death, even unto betraying friends if it means following the code

* Gulliable/Honest to a Fault

* Meatheaded/Airheaded: (Note some MU* players achieve this even though they think they’re being smart. They come off a arrogant AND dumb then. We mean people who are smart in RL and who play meatheads on purpose). This doesn’t always mean stupid–sometimes an air headed person just isn’t thinking.

* Compulsions

* Cowardly

* Dyslexic

* Fanatic

* Gluttonous

* Greedy

* Impulsive

* Mouthy–but only if you’re willing to take the consequences

* Educational deficiency (didn’t get higher than 5th grade, illiterate, GED)

* Jealousy — both over women/men but also you can’t stand to see someone do better than you

* Lazy

* Miserly

* Self-conscious/low self esteem–to the point of being defensive about it or to the point of refusing to do things the character is perfectly capable of doing

* Overconfident

* Pacifist: Hard to pull off on games with high combat but trust me, you can be a pacifist and still be useful if you know what you’re doing

* Paranoid

* Severe phobias

* Notable strong dislikes

* Casually cruel

* Unlucky

* Hyperactive

* Talks too much–even to the point of letting details slip that shouldn’t slip: rarely happens because people want to avoid the ICC

* Weak willed/easily intimidated/easily frightened/wimpy: rarely happens because people think it is a reflection on THEM

* Dependents or followers who get in the way more than they help

* Secrets that are really and truly capable of destroying your character should they get out

* Horrible reputation

* Terminally ill

* Trouble magnet/weirdness magnet (okay so this one’s common). But if you’re creative enough to emit trouble for OTHERS around it, the flaw works out.

* Generous to a fault

* Overspends/in serious debt

* Carouser

* Curiosity (the type that kills cats)

* Cursed

* Flashbacks

* Glory Hound: as in you can’t stand letting a press opportunity pass you by, you’ll stop to pose for photographs, give autographs, you will ICly insist on the limelight and be pissed when others have it, you will try to take credit for other people’s work

* Neat freak

* Obsessive

* Incompetent: (Now there’s one we NEVER see!!)

* Jinxed–a jinxed character has bad luck and spreads it to EVERYONE ELSE too if they happen to be near her.

* Depression/Bi Polar/Manic: Please don’t play these if you can’t avoid being an idiot about them as you’ll just come across as angsty/boring/in need of therapy OOCly. Ditto for being Certifiable in any other fashion.

* Highly anxious/worrier

* No sense of humor

* On the edge: This character sometimes fails to care if he or she lives or dies and so will attack an entire gang in the back alley with a toothbrush if they are on the wrong side of their edge.

* Cheesy: Some people just say or do cheesy things that render them UnCool.

* Trademarks (the thief who always has to leave a flower)

* Hard headed: Most chars are stubborn. Hard headed characters can have EVERY EVIDENCE they are doing something REALLY STUPID and KEEP DOING IT ANYWAY.

* Vain

* Abrasive or socially unacceptable

* Self-centered/self-focused/stuck on self

* Secretive: This isn’t having secrets so much as refusing to give out information for no other reason than it might be more advantageous not to.

*Poor judgment: Managing to make worse and worse decisions that all “seemed like good ideas at the time.”

Do I use these? Well–I try. I’ll see what I can pull out for my current characters.

My character Del is/has: sensitive to pain, airheaded, gluttonous, impulsive, mouthy, educational deficiency, jealous, a pacifist, paranoid, hyperactive, talks too much, easily frightened, a neat freak, an incompetent combatant, and highly anxious.

My character Amanda is/has: poverty, addictions, ill tempered, bully, strict code of duty, fanatic, low self esteem, casually cruel, horrible reputation, weirdness magnet, has post traumatic stress syndrome, is on the edge, hard headed, abrasive, and secretive.

My character Carter is/has: poverty, meathead, gulliable, overconfident, unlucky, cheesy, and has bad judgment.

But other than that they’re awesome people! ;D

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Thinking About “Book Hook” Characters

May 25, 2009 at 1:15 am (Roleplaying Posts)

As I’m putting together my new MUSH, Soulfire, I’ve done some thinking about “book hook” characters–characters who are characters in their own right–not straight copies–but they still emulate some facet of a book character, book character role, or book character storyline.

In some respects this is impossible to avoid.  If you’re running a Wheel of Time game, someone’s going to want to play ta’veren.  Someone’s going to want to play “the” Nice Red Sister.  Nearly everyone’s going to want to play a wolfbrother, especially if they can get away with playing a female wolfbrother warder (which is like combining 3 different book hooks into one especially unthematic one, but it happens all the time).

On Soulfire, we’re in beta testing, and I’ve created a book hook character–young warlock under the Doom of Damocles.  I’ve even made her crime the same as Molly’s in The Dresden Files (the theme of the game) because the author said the “Jedi Mindtrick” is the most common of the things that young wizards use when they inadvertantly break Laws they don’t know about.  I started to think: have I done something fun or have I commited a MUSHing faux pas?  What’s the right or the wrong way to go about book hook characters? Why do people (including myself) so often flock to and choose them?  Here’s some of what I came up with.

You Can Get Away With A Book Hook–You Almost Can’t Get Away From Them. However…

Your book hook character is okay if:

  • The book hook character has a very distinct, 3D personality that does not mimic the original book character with that hook.  The book hook character looks, acts, and speaks differently, has a different history, and other than the book hook basically different issues.  The book hook character deals with the book hook in a different way, both internally and externally, than the book hook character they are based off of.
  • If you choose a “book hook” from another theme entirely you have to mold the book hook until the hook meshes well with the current theme.  You can’t go off into theme left field trying to weave a “book hook” in.
  • The book hook has a twist or a variation to the “book hook” that is reasonable, not corny, and not “Mary or Gary”ish.
  • The book hook is taken out of a genuine desire to explore the issues and implications of that particular part of the hook, and is used to help others have fun in the presence of the character, rather than to draw attention to the character or mark the character as more “important” than other characters in some way.

Why Do People Take Book Hook Characters?

  • People take “book hook” characters because they want to experience the world, and this is a familiar “jumping off point” for them.
  • The “plots” and conflicts of a “book hook” are already firmly in place.  The players and GMs don’t have to extrapolate new theme to cover it.  There’s a lauch point for plots and conflict that everyone who has read the series instantly understands and responds to.  This is true even if the “book hook” is from another theme, for at that point the player is playing a “trope,” and people still understand what the niche is.
  • They feel uncertain about stretching the limits of the theme and feel better retreating to what’s safe and familiar.
  • They just figure it would be cool, or that’s the character they come up with and they never consciously chose it thinking of the “book hook.”

What Are the Dangers of Book Hook Characters?

By their very natures, book hook characters are a little bit limited.  You can’t have 7 people all taking the same book hook–it ceases to be a hook and starts being common place.  This is especially true if people don’t really want to play the disadvantages of the book hook, or are playing the book hook for more ulterior motives, like wanting to be the star of the game and so choosing an in-world type they feel guarantees will put them in the center of the action.

Another danger is you clearly don’t want to play the same story in your MUSH that you already read in the books–that’s just lame and boring.  You’ve already read that book.  So people who pull in a book hook have to be very adept at making those hooks their very own, playing their own riffs into them, and integrating them into the story in a way that is not repetitive, annoying, or a transparent attempt to play the original character under some different name.

At the end of the day though, the basis for how this is used is the same as any other: are the players having fun or are they bored, put out, angry, and irritated?  Is the story lively and interesting?  Does it draw in characters who have their own hooks, not just the “book hooks?”  If it does, the very nature of characters interacting will evolve and change the book hook characters over time until their hooks are very different and the character is unrecognizeable from the base that it was built on.  That’s all to the good–and it is a sign that the “book hook chars” aren’t so very out of hand after all.

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Overlooked Villain Actions

April 27, 2009 at 3:09 am (Roleplaying Posts) (, , )

Overlooked Villain Activities

There’s a common lament on MUSHes that tends to be true—playing a villain is hard work. It can be fun, because you’re the guy or gal instigating all this great RP simply by virtue of being yourself. On the other hand, sooner or later every self-proclaimed hero on the game is ganging up on you. You run headlong into consent. And you find yourself falling into the trap of Kidnap-Torture-Kill. Kidnap-Torture-Kill. Kidn…you get the idea. You can only play Kidnapper Whose Victims Always Get Rescued so many times before you’re utterly frustrated by the whole process—villain or hero, nobody likes to look incompetent.

So I have prepared a list of Other Things Villains Do. This is a list which could potentially spark a huge amount of RP, without you ever having to touch the Trifecta. It’s also a list which players are more likely to consent to, and a list of more subtle actions that may keep you from being targeted every time your villain tries to pick up a cup of coffee. They are presented in the order in which I thought them up.

Blackmail: Heroes make mistakes. They skirt or break the law. They fall to temptation (sometimes helped along by your villain). They’re gay and don’t want anyone to know it. They went too far and killed someone in the past, by accident or design, and would go to prison for it whether their intentions were good or not. Your villain may be after money—greed is the most commonly overlooked motivation on MU*s for some reason—or something else, from securing the victim’s aid, to information, to a hot date. Of course, this will require you to do some digging. Possibly to earn someone’s trust so you can pull up all those secrets. Maybe to masquerade yourself as a good guy for awhile. Maybe…RP.

Theft: While potentially difficult to coordinate, the truth is villains steal things. They often do it without killing anyone, because murder has a tendency to bring a different level of attention. The villain might be after diamonds, documents, or the latest magic item, but in the consent dance this is much more likely to happen than you getting to kill the hero. The hero might, upon agreeing, even agree to GM or emit the challenges of getting the item for you…which again means more RP for you.

Surveillance: It’s another way to gather blackmail material. It’s a way to find out secrets that the villain needs to know, such as heroic plans or the location of that thing they want to steal. If done openly, it’s a good way to spook your target without ever resorting to much of anything that the police are going to have time to worry about. You may need to do some breaking and entering RP to plant some devices, or you may simply be following the other person. Think about it though—if you suddenly realized someone was following you and you didn’t have any notion why, would you start to get nervous? This can expand out into its close cousin, stalking. Simply add nasty notes and pictures of the hero at vulnerable moments, stir well.

Destroy Credibility: What you really need is more people on your side, whether they share your alignment or not. People can be talked into things, duped, convinced. Especially if you find a way to really trash the opposing team, making them look crazy, greedy, controlling, hypocritical, socialist, Communist, or any kind of –ist that you can think of. If you can publically expose even just one major lie then you’ll have everyone around that person wondering what else they’ve lied about. The other heroes may turn on your victim, chasing him instead of you. Sure, in MUSH land these things are eventually cleared up, but you can have a lot of fun in the meantime…and some allies will remain no matter what.

Destroy Assets: Does the hero have a massive account they’re using to bankroll efforts against you? Find a way to make that account disappear. What about their car or house, which aren’t easily replaced? What about getting them fired from their job? It’s hard to face down a villain when the bills are mounting and the problems are growing, because realistically you have to split your attention. Even if the hero quickly finds friends who will let him move in or couch surf, you’ve still caused him some grief.

Hire Other People: You need a lawyer, preferably one who doesn’t mind defending scum or sees it as his constitutional duty—either works as long as he’s good. You could use an accountant, especially one who is adept at hiding assets and cooking books if you do that sort of thing. You might need people with other superpowers if you have them, to fill gaps in your own capabilities. If you’re no good at breaking and entering or hacking or the like yourself, then you’ll need people who can do these things. It’s ok, even preferable, if they think they’re fighting a good fight for a heroic cause. It’s okay if they’re in it for the money too, or if they just haven’t examined it that hard, or if they’re just as much of a scumbag as you—just hire them. You have to RP with them to do that, and it gives your villain a circle to RP with.

Make Friends: Even the Godfather had people he hugged and was happy to see. Too often villain RP consists of gathering at the local villain hideout and snarling at the other villains about who is on top of the pecking order. Meanwhile, the one who treats these people like friends and does things like friends do: defending them, working with them, bringing them presents, talking to them—tend to end up in charge by default, because everyone likes them. Imagine how much more you’d play your villain character if you could log on and get a social scene, light scene, or character development scene with a friend, just like everyone else?

Lie: Lie by degrees. Lie a lot. Lie with a smile. Lie with a straight face. Misdirect. Lie by omission, lie with just enough kernels of truth to poison it. Send the heroes in the wrong direction. Deflect attention from yourself. Conceal your activities from your SO, who might otherwise be heroic if she weren’t dating you. Come off as a charming nice guy who believes in a reasonable cause. Talk a good talk, write a good speech, conceal your true activities, but lie. Lying can provide lots and lots of great RP, because it adds a whole new undercurrent to a social activity. Just lie well—getting caught in your own web of lies sucks. Keep your stories straight. Lie about your motivations. Help the heroes take down some rival villain or threat sometime so they think of you like a hero too. Learn to act, walk, and talk like a hero—avoid the faux mysterious or smugness thing that a lot of the villains do.

Fraud: Closely related to lying is fraud. Your villain may get his house burned down just to collect the insurance money. He may forge checks. He may be running some sort of fly by night get rich quick thing. He may be a scammer who plays on people’s greed and then leaves them with nowhere to go because they were trying to do something illegal too. Steal other player’s identities with their consent and use them to take out massive loans. You get the cash, they get the bills and the headache and you both get RP. This also covers things like insider trading, cheating on your taxes, and embezzlement.

Sharklike Lending: Sooner or later someone will need a lot of money, fast. You may have even caused the problem through another scheme, or they just ran up a gambling debt somewhere. Maybe their mother’s medical bills need paying. Lend them all the money they want, at 50% interest, and then send Guido to break their legs when they don’t pay, so they can go scrambling for money AGAIN.

Arson: Arson’s great for insurance money, destroying evidence, destroying assets, and threatening your players. Even if nobody’s in the building at all, if you can obtain consent to burn something down, you’ll provide RP all over the grid and will have done something massively effective from the shadows. Bonus mastermind points if you can get someone you hired, or one of your friends, to do it for you.

Intimidation: Perhaps that pesky kid really is getting too close to blowing your operations wide open. Maybe that detective needs to understand just how good your lawyers are and just what you’ll be doing to his family when he’s done annoying you. You can do this through smooth, calm confrontations with the heroic factor, or through notes, through arson, through slamming them into a wall and getting into their face, through showing up at their kid’s bus stop and simply standing there talking amiably to the trusting young soul—then smiling real big at Dad or Mom when they come to pick him up and making some pointed statement. Really, the more subtle this is the more RP is in it for you. Open threats can get you arrested. Subtle threats can’t, because they can be reasonably explained away and nobody can prove them in court.

Crapkicking: Sometimes all you need to get your point across is a well deserved beating. You can either do it on the spot or somewhere really scary, followed up by kicking the unfortunate out of the car on the side of the road sometime later and driving away. This can drive home a point to the hero, either by doing this to one of the heroes’ friends or relatives or by doing it to the hero himself. You’re saying, essentially, that you’re tougher than him, smarter than him, can get away with this and consider him to be so little of a threat that you can’t be bothered with killing him or torturing him. It’s also useful for getting people who owe you money to pay you. It can further be useful for letting people who have left your organization know that you are watching them and watching close—kind of like a warning shot to keep their mouths shut before you have to resort to the ICC of killing them. (And since they want their family and friends safe, they probably lie about it—joy!)

Bribery: You need the judge to look the other way. You need evidence to mysteriously disappear. You need to look at something you shouldn’t be seeing. Never underestimate the power of a well placed bribe. Always put the money on the counter and say something innocuous, like, “This should cover the costs of copying that for me,” as if copies really did cost $150. They’ll either take it and keep their mouth shut or get offended. If it’s the latter apologize, wide-eyed, for the misunderstanding, take your money, and leave immediately. If they take it, you now know who you can pay to do stuff for you.

Research: The heroes need to know about the Book of Wonder and where to find it. So do you! You might have plans for that thing. You don’t even have to be the main opposition. The main opposition might be the Demon of Rhuul, but you can see just how great it would be to own the Book of Wonder so you set your mind to outsmarting both sides. Maybe you even go ahead and take out the Demon of Rhuul yourself. He counts as a rival, and that will help you look surprisingly like a hero, which makes it harder for the real heroes to prove you’re a massive scumball later.

Public Relations: You’re not trying to stomp on the little guy, you’re trying to control costs so you can maintain jobs. You’re not trying to starve the little children in Africa with your sweat shop, you are providing jobs to hungry families. You’re not running a brothel, you’re simply running a club (that provides jobs). You’re not after the Book of Wonder for your own selfish purposes, you simply have the resources to keep it very safe. You’re not hurting anyone by destroying this thing, it’s a big threat they should be scared of and you are protecting them. The better you are at this the harder it is for the heroes to leap all over you. Make some big public charitable donations too. . Open a few children’s hospitals or something with your largesse and stand proudly at the ribbon cutting with a great big smile on your face. Be invaluable to the good guys from time to time. It confuses them. Someone will always be on to you, but in that case, this will piss them off a great deal, and that’s always fun.

Seduction: Good hearted people want to believe the best about everyone, especially about people they love. Mr. or Miss Hero is getting in your face? Try to get them to fall in love with you. Maybe they’re trying to “save” you, or maybe they’ll convince themselves, and everyone around them, that you’re not that bad. Or maybe they’ll commit an indiscretion that can be used to blackmail or keep them under control later. Seduction does not have to be about sex. If you’ve got Mr. Hero convinced that you’re his best buddy with only the public interest at heart, then he’s less likely to attack you. Bonus points if you can get Mr. or Miss Hero to get pissed every time someone speaks ill of you and goes about alienating all of their family and friends on your behalf. This is also known as recruitment.

Destroy Evidence: So someone finally got your activities on video tape. Better hunt that sucker down and get rid of it. Whether you have to break and enter, stalk, intimidate, commit arson or crapkick, evidence control and cover-ups should be a number one priority for you as a villain. After all, if the good right hand discovers what your shadowy left hand is doing your life might get a lot less cushy fast, and all of your efforts will be for nothing.

Take All The Credit: Yes, you pilots did a good job. But truly, you wouldn’t have been able to do it if Mr. Villain here hadn’t provided us with his experimental doom helicopters, which is why we’re giving him a grant and helping him keep his warmongering weapons plant open. (Bonus points if you can get all the heroes to admit it was the experimental doom helicopter, too). If you’re the person that made something good happen then it’s harder to target you.

Double Cross At A Crucial Moment: A favorite scene I was in involved anther player’s villain. He’d spent months befriending my cop character and her husband, also a cop. These were not easy people to befriend. Paranoid and with a dim view of humanity in general, they tended to stick to cop friends only. But he kept asking for help, and giving them good tips, and inviting them over to dinner with gracious invitations they could hardly refuse. They started to like him. A lot. Which is why it hurt twice as much when he lured them to the top of a snowy mountain with another request for help. They didn’t even realize the attackers were his as they got pinned down by enemy fire. He revealed it at the final moment, as the male half of team Cop was holding on to the cliff face for dear life and yelling for the villain to help him while my cop remained pinned down by the fire. Villain smiled at him, punched him in the throat, said, “I’ll take good care of your wife,” and tossed him off the cliff. Then, as she was running up in a panic, he knocked her out and took off with her. Beautiful (even if it does involve a kidnapping). (And potential killing, but it was only an attempted murder. Male cop lived because of a timely magical rescue). The sting of that betrayal haunts them even now that that villain is six feet under. It can be done so many ways too. There’s something really cool about the expression on heroic faces when, after you’ve spent months hunting down the Book of Wonder with them you suddenly pull out your gun and tell them to hand it over.

Use Manners: I’ve touched on this before, of course, but the villain who doesn’t walk around acting like a prick to everyone he meets is going to last long. The more you can masquerade as a genuinely nice guy the less time you’re going to be spending on the receiving end of a keystone cops scene. It also gets less frustrating for you—how fun can it really be to be in a pissing match constantly?

Variations: Sometimes your normal guy or hero will be drawn to do some of that too, just as your villain might someday take an actually heroic action. The motives may be all that differ—and that leads to some richer RP as well!

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How To Play: A Modern Day Cop

April 27, 2009 at 2:22 am (Roleplaying Posts) (, , )

How to Play A Cop

  1. The primary reason Urban MU* players take cop characters is usually this: for whatever reason they can’t take a supernatural character, and they figure a cop character will still be able to get in on the adventure-based RP (what I like to think of as the “good” stuff). Yes, character interaction and development and relationships are all massively important, but let’s face it, 75% of us MUSH to have people cooler than us do cooler things that we do in a world that is cooler than our world.
  2. The player then proceeds to sink all of their skill points or their character abilities into doing nothing but fighting. They tend to then tilt all of their character’s personality towards fighting, as if Cop were the modern day D&D equivalent of “fighter” or even “barbarian.” They wait for the wizards to run something where they might get to fight, or they wait until they might get into a rumble with the local critter, and then the rest of the time they don’t log their character on. Then they eventually drop away from boredom because both of these things, on a typical game, happen way less than they’d hoped it would happen when they took the cop in the first place. This is the path of madness. A cop character can be successful if you understand what else a cop does besides whip out that gun. If you understand these things, you can turn them into RP, and if you can turn them into RP you’ll have fun, and if you have fun you’ll stick around, and if you stick around you’ll eventually find all the adventure you were hoping for. Here’s how.

1. Cops are about investigation, not about fighting, and investigation means talking to other people. Interviewing. Witnesses.

So finally something has happened on your MUSH. A dead body has turned up and the local Storyteller or Judge or TP Coordinator or whatever is actually willing to emit for you while you poke around the crime scene. Or the PCs got into a massive rumble, the cops got called, and you’re left staring at the aftermath of a werewolf slaughter festival. You have two choices at this point. Competently RP standing around the blood soaked scene looking Columbo-like and never touch it again. Or be sure you get a name of every PC who can be identified as a witness and begin systematically RPing with those PCs, interviewing them on their version of events. Depending on what happened, you’ve given yourself 2-15 scenes instead of one.

People will lie to your character. People will give your character leads to follow. People will give you the impression that you’ll need to haul them in for questioning and they’ll consent to let you do it (sometimes if they get their lawyer first, mind). Meanwhile your character is gathering facts, a list of things to ask the wizard about, and, if you’re playing the rare duck on these sorts of MUSHes who never, ever, intends to believe in the supernatural no matter what, who will always rationalize it away or fall to the Veil or whatever mechanism on the game exists to keep humans largely ignorant of the truth, you get to decide how it’s going to get written into the report. You might want to meet with the reporters so they get the “right” story out. And if your character comes to the conclusion that there’s a serial killer on the loose, there’s plenty for him or her to do even if that character never, ever utters the word “vampire,” (the actual identity of the killer).

As you RP with all these people, you’ll find some of them will create reasons to RP again with you later. That is, they’ll try to become your character’s friend. And as most of the people you interview with will be innocent, this is all to the good. Some people, you’ll get extra scenes with when you uncover a lie, or something your character can’t explain. Then you get to be adversarial with that person, for good or for ill. This is all to the good.

In none of these massive amounts of RP scenes has your character once pulled his gun or used karate.

2. Cop Characters Need Other Specialists To Help Them.

Cops will spend more time at crime scenes than in shoot outs. They will order copious lab tests. Sometimes, of course, there won’t be any PCs available playing CSI techs and coroners and those people who create whole cases around the types of bugs and bug eggs found in corpses (they do exist and might make a cool character concept). In that case you don’t get much RP from them—unless you want to fudge a little. If you have another PC who is a medical expert and a friend you might create some reason why you don’t trust the coroner’s opinion and ask your friend just to have a look as a favor to you (RP). You might make up some reason why this case may be tainted and corrupted and you might need to go some college student studying forensics because you can trust that source more than you can trust your lab boys. (RP). Yes, it’s a little unrealistic and it’s not how things would go down IRL, but in the MUSH world we often ignore details like that so that we can RP with PCs instead of NPCs. Think of every opportunity you can to RP with people who can help you solve the case. As a caveat, you might want to chat with the plot coordinator or wizard about your desire to get other people involved in this way, because otherwise they might go “WTF” and hit you with all the ICC that might occur because of these actions. But once you discuss it with them it should usually be fine—nothing is more helpful to a TP Coordinator than finding more and more ways to show how they don’t play favorites.

Without stretching so much, this applies to other specialists too. Historian character? Go ahead and take them the rubbing of the weird markers. Found a deer head at the scene and there’s a PC who is for some ungodly reason playing a taxidermist? Go talk to them about the deer head and let them raise questions. I once had a great scene because my cop alt had to go get a tattoo analyzed, and for reasons I don’t quite recall all she had was the skin the tattoo had come off of. She took it to the local tattoo parlor and good RP was had by all.

Another plus side of this is that you won’t be the only one bombarding the TP coordinator with @mailed things like, “Joe has been studying Native Americans for 19 years and John the Cop just came and asked him about this tribal doll. What would my character know about this situation?”

That means the TP coordinator doesn’t feel like only one person is giving them seven kajillion things to do and preventing them from giving attention to anyone else. You’re making sure the Coordinator gives attention to someone else.

3. In some plots, the loose ends will get tied up and the case will be cleared. In others…not so much. And that’s ok.

Sometimes this is a source of frustration for cop characters. They want to

to make the bust, the arrest. They want to clear the case. They want for the plot

coordinator not to drop the ball two weeks in. Sadly, the villains often want to

keep their chars. The supernatural thingies often enlist help in getting your character off the scent. The TP Coordinators—well. Things happen. Plots get dropped. It’s really freaking frustrating but it happens.

The best thing to do is embrace this. IRL, cases can sometimes go cold, take months to get breaks, never get solved. You can have your cop angsting and agonizing about this at the bar (RP). You can always say “Trail went cold,” without any more detail when the Coordinator drop the ball. You can always work out with the villain char an arrest that culminates in the defense attorney finding some technicality to make that villain walk, even if your cop did everything right. This is part of the frustration of being a cop. This is part of the life they lead. You’re better served working that into your character and your RP than you are in getting frustrated when the RP you do doesn’t settle into a neat storyline case-wise.

4. Cop players should keep their notes straight. That way they can avoid asking the Wizards for stuff they can get from PCs, and ask only what is absolutely necessary.

I like to keep little case notebooks, either on paper, in a word processor, or in my character’s LJ. It just helps me keep everything straight, give me a list of who else I need to try to catch up with for RP (even if I don’t get with everyone), gives me a list of leads I want to pursue, and helps me keep everything straight in my head. It also tells me that I requested all that information on the Ming Vase three weeks ago and don’t need to request it again, though a reminder might be in order.

This just makes it easier on you, and makes your cop look a lot more competent.

If there is more than one active cop PC find a place for everyone to put their notes and break up some of the work. That way if the other cop looks at your case report and notes that Mr. Johnson hasn’t been spoken to yet, and he spots Mr. Johnson online, and is actually proactive enough to care to interview Mr. Johnson instead of sitting like a lump at the police station, then he can put his interview in the file (wiki, LJ, whatever you use) and you’ll know that’s been done and what was said so you can move forward. You can also store details of who to contact for OOC info on the plot is there.

5. Though you won’t want to write it all down every time, here’s what goes into a real police report, and here’s why you don’t start with the body.

There’s a 21 point report that nearly all cops use at a murder scene. The 21 items are:

a. Case number

b. Name, DOB, sex, age, race, address, marital status, next of kin, place of employment and brief description of the victim.

c. Info on who reported or discovered the body. Hint: Its nearly never the police who find it first.

d. What time it was when the cops responded.

e. A description of the local area

f. A general description of the crime scene.

g. A more specific description of the crime scene, with precise measurements of things like distance between body and weapon or other distances that might be important.

h. A description of the clothes (if any) the victim is wearing.

i. Postmortem changes in the victim.

j. Injuries on the victim.

k. The disposition of jewelry and valuables (present, missing, what’s there, what should be there if they know)

l. Method of ID. There should be two forms of ID that verify who the victim is.

m. Notification of Next of Kin—who, what, when, any details noted at the time of notification.

n. Items possibly related to the cause, manner, or determination of death present on the scene.

o. Witness statements.

p. Criminal history of the victim, if any.

q. Medical history of the victim. All medications are immediately seized. Medicines that are out of place or missing are noted.

r. Details on transportation of the subject to the morgue.

s. Pronouncement of death—who did it, when it was done, anything noted.

t. Special requests for forensics.

u. Other notifications.

Granted you might not want to write up a 21 point LJ post, but you might want to go down that list as you’re RPing working the crime scene. And you might want to jot down anything the GM goes ahead and points out in your report, leaving out anything that didn’t apply or wasn’t important. It certainly gives you an idea of how extensive a real investigation is before the body ever leaves the scene of the crime.

Time of death is sometimes estimated by things like mail in the mailbox, newspapers, appliances on or off, food that is out or rotting or not out, dishes in the dishwasher.

Cops also really do “canvass” the neighborhood, so if you can’t locate the names of specific PCs who might know about the thing, you can still get RP out by announcing you’d like to RP with anyone who lives in that area. Or seeing who is in their house or room in that area and asking for RP, whereby you knock on the door and…canvass. Sure, the character might not know jack spit, but the cops spend a lot of time talking to people who are not witnesses in the hopes of finding someone who is. And this is, again, still RP for you.

The primary things cops are looking for at the scene of a crime are these:

1. What’s there?

2. What’s there that shouldn’t be there?

3. What’s not there that ought to be there?

Just another facet to keep in mind for your RP. Also, cops do not start with the body. They always do on television but they don’t really. Bodies don’t go anywhere, but trace evidence does, and every second spent at the crime scene is a second where it is degrading and getting corrupted. They take pictures, they look for physical evidence. Physical evidence is way more important than witness testimony or circumstantial evidence: a broken window is always a broken window, it does not lie, hide anything about what it is, or change its mind. They start at the outermost edges of the scene and work their way in towards the body in a spiral.

Finally, outdoor scenes suck. Scenes where the body has clearly been moved—suck. Feel free to have your cop even more tense when they locate one of these scenes.

6. Cops observe the Blue Wall of Silence. They don’t tend to talk about problems with other cops to outsiders.

So if Joe Cop is having an issue with Sue Cop, or suggests Sue Cop might be dirty, or whatever, he’s only going to talk about that with other cops. It would be very difficult to get him to talk about that with Random Other MUSH Character. This actually enhances your RP. Anyone who is not a cop can ask about the situation and get tight lipped silence. Anyone who is—they might get to hear about it. Cops are a brotherhood that watch one another’s backs, and if the brotherhood has a problem the brotherhood will handle it.

7. There are other sorts of crimes besides murder. There are also a host of other people attached to cops than just the police officers. There are also all sorts of cops.

Again, people think murder is where all the fun lies. But let’s face it, most MUSHes run on consent and negotiation. Most people don’t consent to have their chars killed. That means most murders are of NPCs. That means a lot of the times less enlightened PCs act like they don’t even care. That also means you’re going to rely on a Coordinator or Storyteller for instigating the bulk of your RP, unless you’re using your cop char to introduce crime scenes for lower ranking cop chars and running for them.

But there’s vice, and there’s plenty of vice to go around on more adult oriented MU*s. There’s drugs. There’s special victims—that is, sex crimes—depending on your MU*’s stance on that thing. There’s theft, which can be a biggie. There’s fraud, which can be huge. There’s computer fraud, which can be great for finding a rival who will pop in and out of jail like a pop tart, because someone always wants to play the hacker. Homicide is very fun, but you might not have your most fun there. You should consider what other players are doing and consider what sort of RP your MUSH is going for when you think about your cop. There’s also just straight up uniformed patrol, which doesn’t investigate stuff but which does get to roam all over the grid talking to people—useful for getting RP when there’s no crimes happening. Patrolmen are also the ones who are going to break up brawls, which is the most common sort of crime on a MU*.

Of course, we talked about a “Fudge” factor above—that is, maybe on your MUSH your cop will handle all of those things, because you’ll be one of 3 created cops and one of 1 active ones. But that’s the kind of thing you’ll need to talk to the admin in charge of your area about. Some will want you handling only what your cop would reasonably handle, and point out that the cops can’t be everywhere in a city so inadequate coverage is all part of the theme. Some will actually want a cop ready to look into these things and will trust to MUSH time constraints to keep the “coverage” factor handy. Some actually just won’t care.

Also, what sort of cop is your character? City PD? County Sheriff? State police? Federal Bureau of Investigation? DEA? ATF? Homeland Security? Secret Service (those do counterfeit investigations as well as protecting the president). Federal Marshals, who concentrate on hunting down fugitives and pretending to be taking flights on planes so they can pop a cap in terrorists? Some of the functions of each agency overlap, to the point where there’s a lot of infighting and mistakes, and sometimes the duties of each are inviolate. If there are already a lot of cops, maybe your character is Internal Affairs, whose job it is to make sure the cops themselves don’t go bad. Or maybe there will be more RP for you by playing an undercover cop, which means your cop spends a lot of time with the criminal characters pretending to be one of them. Before making your cop, spend some time and energy asking around to get a feel for where your maximum RP potential is, because RP is what’s going to make you happy.

Or perhaps you just want to be attached to the police in some way. Maybe your character is a rape or grief counselor. Or a hostage negotiator. Maybe your character is the dispatcher. Maybe your character works for the DA, which means he or she is always working very closely with the police. Perhaps your character is one of the lab people, or a computer specialist. The police even have I.T. There’s a whole host of roles you can play to get involved in local law enforcement RP that span far beyond “homicide detective”, so again, create your character with an eye to where your maximum RP potential is going to be. In real life, whole teams of cops solve crimes, not just one guy like the movies, so if you can work that in you can maximize RP for everyone. There are even whole teams who go after “cold cases” who work under slightly different parameters than teams who go after fresh ones

8. Cops deal with a lot of politics, bureaucratic b.s., paperwork, and other nonsense.

Different agencies fight for jurisdiction so their department gets more credit and therefore more funding. The mayor and other city officials might get involved in more high profile cases. The media can be a nightmare and any mishandling of the media can be cause for a big fight with the Chief or Commissioner or whoever else is in charge. Heaven help your cop if this case spans other counties, other cities, other states. You’d think the co-operation would be full and instant, but it’s just not so. Information is sometimes delayed or withheld or not there at all.

If your TP Coordinator isn’t focusing on this, then there’s no real onus to RP it until you need it for a random scene opener. Then again, if your TP Coordinator drops the ball or every PC connected to your investigation disappears, you can keep things IC and keep your cop from looking stupid by simply having him grumble that some asshole from the Feds showed up and took your case away, and while you’re trying to get reassigned you’re not sure if it’s going to happen and meanwhile you have fifty thousand other things to worry about.

This is also, realistically, where certain dark realities of our justice system start peeking out. Cops don’t always show up to certain scenes in anything like a reasonable fashion—five, six hours later sometimes. Cops have limited resources and do not actually spread them out evenly. The shooting of a drug lord or prostitute is going to receive a minimum of time and resources, while the shooting of the mayor is going to receive every moment of time and energy the department can squeeze out of events. Maybe your character really does care about the dead black girl in the heart of the inner city, but if you get stalled on the RP around it you can always become furious that you were ripped off the case to look into the knifing of a rich white boy which turned out to be little more than his rich white girl lover who you found in two days. But in that two days, the “first 48 hours” that are so vital to solving most cases passed, and you’re out of leads. Not only will this keep you RPing without making your character’s story stall off in WTF land, but it will add an element of gritty realism to your character and MUSH that might have otherwise been missing.

9. Cops have educations and have to have skills other than karate/brawl and firefighting.

We’ve touched on this in the article before, but it bears expansion. The most important skills for a cop to have are not fighting skills. People skills are extremely important—so persuasion, charisma, leadership, intimidation, and any other skills which touch on those sorts of items. A cop may need to diffuse a dangerous or tense situation and words, not guns, are the first thing they’ll go to, as well as a subtle use of their authority. Attention to detail and patience are important—so spot, search, alertness, awareness, perception, or any other skill which touches on these items. The cop has to be able to gather information. The cop must be street smart. Coherent writing skills and speaking skills might mean the difference between your arrest getting convicted and between him going free—which means expression or other skills which deal with those sorts of things. Etiquette and courtesy can mean the difference between getting the information you need and walking away empty handed. Math skills are important for making measurements, calculating distances, figuring out timing in your head. Cops receive special driving training for tailing people or doing chases. The ability to shadow someone and conduct surveillance. In the modern USA, there’s a huge portion of our population that does not (or won’t admit to) speak English. They instead speak Spanish, so the ability to speak that language would be helpful.

After all of that the ability to be in shape (athletics), engage in a brawl, or fire a gun comes into play. And some extremely good cops have those items as a distant second. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a crack shot, mind, just note it’s not going to be the difference between playing an awesome cop and playing a bad one. I mean let’s get real. If you find your cop hunting down a werewolf is your little old non-silver bullet gun going to do jack crap? Rather, your ability to either run away or talk down the raging beast may be what saves your life.

Not to mention all those other skills give you a whole hell of a lot more to work with in RP.

10. The primary job of a cop is to build a case that can get successfully prosecuted. Without that, an arrest is useless.

This actually helps you RP. Number one, if you can’t waltz in without warrant or invitation you can go by your suspect’s house, get a whole RP scene out of trying to get enough to obtain a warrant or trick him into an invitation. Then you might get a second RP scene out of going to the judge. Though this also means your character will focus way more on physical evidence then witnesses, it still means he needs to work every possible angle and track down every available witness, which again means more RP for you.

It is also yet another way to handle it if you get in a TP and the player running it decides to go out for cigarettes and never comes back. You simply never got enough evidence to make a case, so it never went anywhere. It happens in real life, so it can happen on the MUSH and you get to move forward instead of breaking your stride.

11. There aren’t super young detectives.

We MUSHers are addicted to really young characters, mostly in our teens or early twenties. But let’s assume your cop is not college educated and got into the academy right out of high school, which happens less than you think. But assume he does. What he’s doing is spending a minimum of 3-5 years in uniform. He’s a patrol officer, he’s writing tickets, etc. In some areas you have to wait till you’re 20 to even step into the academy. So we’re talking 23-25 before your cop even has a shot of taking those tests.

If your character is a homicide detective your character is even older. Because first they’re going to work a few years doing other sorts of cases. They’ll be on vice, burglaries, or the narcotics squad. It’s three to five years proving themselves here, as well. And this is the fast track.

So by a minimum of thirty years of age, your cop might be a homicide detective. And if you want him to be seasoned, he has to be even older than that.

12. Firing a gun, killing people, etc. is not a scott free walk away.

Your cop should be thinking really hard before discharging his weapon. Yeah, you see a vampire. Your ranking officers, though, see something that walks, talks, and looks like a human, and you just shot him. Guess what? Shooting someone comes with investigations and review boards. It can mean suspensions, lost careers, and a closer eye. It doesn’t always, and if there’s clear cut justification of self-defense your character will be fine. But if you’re loading up on silver bullets and popping Timmy the Werewolf in the back of the head, expect to be answering some unpleasant and unsympathetic questions really soon. Modern day games aren’t D&D. MUSHes, in general, aren’t D&D, even those set in D&D worlds. Indiscriminate death and destruction has a habit of coming with consequences, so it’s a good idea to be very, very aware of what they are and to cover your tracks accordingly.

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