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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More on Character Building, and On Getting Involved in RP

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

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

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

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

Your character lacks helpful skills.

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

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

The Character Acts or Speaks Stupidly

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

You Haven’t Put in the Character Work

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

You Put in the Character Work, But…

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

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

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

You just aren’t paying attention.

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

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On Writing A Good Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are the take-aways?

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

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

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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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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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Character Design: 21 Just Folks Roles

April 27, 2009 at 2:19 am (Roleplaying Posts) (, )

There are loads of Modern Day MU*s out there, especially those with a supernatural element. On nearly all of them the wizards try to encourage people to play some “Just Folks.” Perhaps you have to play Just Folks before you can play the nifty supernatural type, or perhaps they’re just begging for some diversity so that not every single character is a Superhero or a Vampire or a Wizard or a Werewolf. Universally it seems to be assumed that you can’t get into any of the “good” (adventure-oriented for I would say about 75% of most anyone on the MUSH) if you are not any of the above things. But for you, the player who is being forced into a “Normal” before you can play something “cool,” and for you, the Wizard who wishes people would play some active Normals, I present a list of professions that most people don’t think to take. There’s plenty who will take the trifecta of Cop-FBI-Reporter (and sometimes Doctor) thinking that’s the next best thing to where the action lies, but it’s just not that true. It can be true, but like any other role it has to be worked. So here I present the “Adventure” hooks for each character type, as well as the “Get to know you RP hooks.”

I’ve tried to go for characters you don’t see a lot of, and concepts you might not have thought up on your own. But even if you don’t want to use a single one of these 21, perhaps watching the process might help you think creatively about your own character choices.

  • The Vet: I’ve never seen a vet played on any modern day MUSH, but the Vet comes first because the thought of a vet is what sparked this whole article.

Adventure hooks: When Fluffy or Fido get strange damage, who is likely to see it? Who would you bring a weird animal corpse to that makes no sense? If Fluffy starts acting weird (because of supernatural activity) who would you ask? If you are convinced you saw a rabid dog about four times the size of a normal dog, who might you ask to ID the species for you?

Simple RP hooks: MUSH characters love pets. They love love love love them. MU* chars often seem to be swallowed in more animals than the local humane society. So bringing Fluffy to the vet provides an instant RP hook.

Variants: The Zoologist or Zookeeper, Forestry Professional, or any other local animal expert.

  • The Sales Rep: Here’s another concept I’ve never seen. The sales rep, specifically the residential sales rep, who goes around hawking some item (vacuum cleaners, alarm systems, satellite television).

Adventure hooks: Who might end up in the house of the creepy villain who is ordering too many satellite televisions or actually does need a new dishwasher in spite of having evil designs? Who might, in the course of filling out paperwork, here or see something he shouldn’t? Who goes walking through strange, unfamiliar neighborhoods, knocking on the doors of strange, unfamiliar people, in the hopes of setting an appointment or making a sale? What might this person see?

Simple RP hooks: It takes nothing for this type of character to set up RP with new people. See person sitting alone. Page person. Ask person if they want some RP because you’ve got a built in reason to be there. They may not buy your vacuum but you might get an evening’s interaction and a new acquaintance out of the deal all the same.

Variants: In-home repair guy. In-home cleaning woman. Any person who works in other people’s homes for any reason.

  • The Process Server: A process server is the guy who shows up to get lawsuit papers given to people. In civil cases for the most part, unless a person actually receives those papers they cannot get sued. Process Servers therefore spend a lot of time hunting people down and finding crafty ways to surprise them with suit papers.

Adventure Hooks: Obviously this is a person who ends up in a lot of weird places as a rule, talking to some fairly weird individuals, and dealing with some very tense situations. This is a guy who could easily be in the wrong place at the wrong time for any number of reasons.

Simple RP Hooks: The most common reasons why anyone gets sued is for bad debt, but these days anyone can get sued for anything. Doctors can get malpractice suits, there’s car accident suits and slip and fall suits and any kind of suit you can think of. Just make sure you get OOC consent from the target of your RP before getting them involved in a fictional lawsuit. If you’re feeling ambitious, however, the suit itself can become a whole tinyplot.

Variants: The repo guy, the courier, the private detective, or any other professional that has to find a lot of people and either get things to them or take things away from them.

  • The Nurse: Nearly everyone goes for doctors, but doctors are harried individuals. And unless the player is a really talented researchers doctors are hard to play. Nurses, however, are the ones that spend time talking to patients.

Adventure Hooks: Nurses are the ones who notice things. They’re giving the care, they’re paying attention. Doctors are rushing to put out their next fire, nurses are the ones taking care of you. If drugs are missing from the hospital, nurses will realize it. If someone has funny bite marks, the nurse will be the one to admit they don’t know what the hell it is.

Simple RP Hooks: Same as the good old doctor standby. Anytime someone gets hurt. But often routine check-ups get ignored as a good source of RP as well. You can be the person who suggests it.

Variants: The pharmacist, the candy striper, the x-ray tech, or any other person who a) works in healthcare and actually interacts with people, and b) has the opportunity and IC time to notice weird crap and perhaps act on it.

  • The Professional Activist: Someone who believes in a cause, works to forward the cause, and is generally loud about the cause. Any cause will do, because no matter what, some folks will be naturally sympathetic to the cause, and some will think the cause is moronic, and either way brings good RP.

Adventure Hooks: When supervillains or evil supernatural things start inserting themselves into government and business, they tend to need certain laws passed. A loud, effective Activist who starts getting their own, contradictory agenda passed could be a serious threat that needs to be dealt with somehow. Killing said activist might not always be the best course, because that just draws attention to the cause and fuels the fire. So Evil has to get more creative than that…

Simple RP Hooks: Soapboxing on the city streets. Walking up to people with pamphlets and tracts. Knocking on doors to get petitions signed. Soliciting votes.

Variants: Politicians, especially crusader style politicians with a Mission, who either need to solicit votes from the constituency or his fellow politicians. The Community Organizer.

  • The Non-Catholic Minister: Nothing against Catholics, I just notice that those who want to play religious types often go for priests, even if they’ve never set foot in a Catholic church. The disadvantage to a Catholic priest, however, is they can’t have relationships or families, and at some point a great good deal of RP often revolves around those things (though if you hate relationship RP you might see this as an advantage).

Adventure Hooks: People tell things to their pastors. They tell things to their pastors that they wouldn’t tell to anyone else. Particularly brave pastors who believe in the works of demons might go investigate “demonic activity” (and see no difference between demonic activity, werewolf activity, etc.) They may not be called exorcists but protestants have their own version of “casting out demons,” and you can decide what kind of protestant your character is without having to worry about “official church stance.”

Simple RP Hooks: Hospital visits, visits to the poor with food or assistance, and the good old fire and brimstone sermon with the advantage that every protestant church runs their services a little differently and you won’t have to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes. Recruiting volunteers and leading teams of them to do things like build houses or clear out vacant lots.

Variants: Clerics or gurus of any other religion. Streetside prophets. And, well, Catholic Priests or Nuns. Also note that often the Minister can serve some of the same roles as an activist.

  • The Claims Adjuster: This is the guy that goes and looks at things that people have insurance on to try to determine if the insurance is going to pay up. It’s also the guy who goes looking for fraud, so there’s an investigative role as well.

Adventure Hooks: If there is some fraud going on, or arson, or some other scam, this person is in a prime position to find it. And as insurance payouts can sometimes be massive, there are people who are perfectly willing to go to great lengths to keep them. This is another instance where killing the problem may not be the villain’s smartest move ever. There are other, better measures that might prolong RP.

Simple RP Hooks: Car accidents, fires, slip and fall, disability, workman’s comp—all the things people get insured and need to file claims, whether minor or major for, are good reasons to link up with other characters for a night of RP.

Variants: Private investigators sometimes do this sort of work as well, though usually they do so when the adjuster can’t find anything.

  • The Auditor: This is an individual who looks for discrepancies in financial records. It is not only the IRS that hire them. Law enforcement has them. So do most major corporations. It’s their job to make sure everything is on the up and up with the money.

Adventure Hooks: Which means if someone is cheating on their taxes, or embezzling money, or has a smuggling ring set up out of the distribution center down south, or is “cooking the books”, the auditor is going to be the one to find out about it. Ditto if some supernatural group is shifting corporate profits into say, weapons, or buying up crazy pieces of real estate for no apparent reason.

Simple RP Hooks: Gathering expense reports. If with the IRS…conducting a surprise audit. Pulling receipts right in front of that store employee and stating flatly that you’re looking for employee theft.

Variants: Computer forensics guys or people who watch corporate computer security to make sure employees aren’t watching porn on the clock. Quality control inspectors, fire inspectors, health inspectors.

  • The Career Temp. Organizations hire temp workers for all sorts of reasons, either because a project is only going to last so long or because they need to fill in for someone who is sick or on vacation. Projects can be practically anything, and a professional temp might end up with a weird range of skills. There are industrial temps, clerical temps—all sorts of temps.

Adventure Hooks: This character may see paperwork that they shouldn’t see. They may get hired for a weird project that the company wants to hide from its normal employees, and may be perceptive enough to get that All Is Not Well. They’re also in the perfect position to steal data or files if they’re sneaky, though it’s rare for a temp to get any kind of important access right off the bat.

Simple RP Hooks: You can RP with anyone working in any business. The other player has a shop? Ask if you can be a temp shelf stocker for the day. The other player is a lawyer? Ask if you can be a temp secretary or file clerk for the day. The other player is a…you get the idea.

Variants: Professional corporate espionage people (often private detectives as well, though not always). Secretaries and clerks, who often know more than anyone in an entire organization about what is really going on, though this lacks the mobility advantage discussed above. Self-employed people or contractors who might go from office to office performing one sort of work or another. Unpaid interns.

  • The Social Worker. The typical image of the social worker is the child services worker, and that’s a perfectly great character concept. There are also social workers who work with Medicaid (health insurance for the disadvantaged), HUD and other low income housing programs, FIA and any other program designed to help give poor people some kind of a leg up.

Adventure Hooks: Low income people see sides of life that most of us never get to see, and one of them might tell a social worker and prompt them to investigate. Claims of abuse of children or elders could draw a social worker to look into things. If the homeless disappear, a social worker is more likely to look into it than the cops, who have much more politically advantageous cases to give a damn about. The social worker might also relieve the wrong villain of his child (or be under the thrall of a bad guy to relieve a hapless hero of theirs), and either make enemies or serve enemy agendas.

Simple RP Hooks: Meeting with characters who are portraying low income people to get them set up with services. Checking up on claims of child/elder abuse or neglect, which has to be done if someone reports on it whether it’s happening or not. Meeting with a character suspected of food stamp fraud.

Variants: Volunteers, who could have any sort of day job. The activist might do some of this stuff as well. The street lawyer, who helps these people get the services they’re entitled to (often from the clutches of overstressed social workers).

  • The Agent: A popular character concept for a lot of people is the musician, actor, model, or writer. Fantasy careers. Thing is, they’re not always easy to portray. The musician can spark a great RP event but he’s up there doing the music, not talking to people. The model can float around by virtue of being a model for only so long and if they’ve nothing else to sustain them the character collapses. The agent, though, gets all these people their gigs. They get them favorable contracts. They nurture the careers of these individuals.

Adventure Hooks: This is a guy who knows a lot of people. A mover and a shaker. So who could the heroes go to if they need access to the villain’s gala? If some magical group needs to achieve something through music, who can make sure that the band gets booked—and who might end up in the crossfire if another magical group doesn’t want that band there?

Simple RP Hooks: RPing with all of those models and actresses and whatnot out there. RPing with the people who have “venues” where these folks could work. Hashing out contract details with another lawyer or agent. Scouting out new talent.

Variants: The school guidance counselor. Seriously. Graduating students need introductions to those bright shiny jobs and internships.

  • The Teacher Who Cares: Part activist, part cheerleader, part agent, part psychologist. We’ve all seen Dangerous Minds. Everyone wants to play students, but hardly anyone plays teachers. But there’s so much to work with here…

Adventure Hooks: Again, students talk to teachers they trust. Teachers Who Care will tend to get involved in their problems for good and for ill. Teachers Who Care will also push for things somebody might not care to see pushed: better lessons, books, alternate teachings of history, whatever the pet project is. If a Teacher Who Cares sees a threat to his students he or she will charge into any number of insanities to protect them, and if something is markedly, weirdly wrong with a student the Teacher Who Cares will be the first to know.

Simple RP Hooks: The student advice session. Teaching a class or a lesson (obviously). Leading a field trip. Going out to the house of the student who hasn’t shown up to school for 2 weeks.

Variants: The Guidance Counselor, The Principal Who Cares, The Tutor (which can have elements of The Sales Rep advantages as well), the Coach.

  • The Retiree: The Retiree is great because old people stick out on a MUSH full of sixteen to thirty somethings. The Retiree will likely have a bunch of skills and abilities, more than younger characters, though they may be “a bit rusty.” What Retirees have going for them is twofold: wisdom/knowledge of the past, and time.

Adventure Hooks: With so much time on their hands, retirees have plenty of time to go have a look-see when they think something may be wrong. They may be passionate in defense of their neighbors, their families, their communities. They may not be afraid to stand up. And because players will seek out old people (for wisdom, knowledge, and novelty factor) they’ll be in a good position to find the adventures. And if they start saying things they shouldn’t, oftentimes they’re not taken seriously (ditto for learning things they shouldn’t), which can only work in their favor.

Simple RP Hooks: You’re old. You can damn well go anywhere you feel like it within reason, and talk to anyone you want to.

Variants: The Nosy Neighbor, the Neighborhood Gossip, The Bored Soccer Mom up in everyone’s business.

  • The Untouchable: So often when players decide they’re going to play criminals they go for crimes perceived as glamorous, or they go for straight up sociopaths. But here we take you to the lower strata of society. Homeless guys. Street buskers. The street artist or tarot reader. The itinerant worker. The illegal immigrant. The prostitute or stripper. The drug dealer or gangster.

Adventure Hooks: Every facet of these people’s lives can be very dangerous indeed. They lack the social supports of most of society, and they sometimes lack defensible shelter. Some types are considered to be “asking for it” when they’re victims. They’re not taken seriously, are ignored, targeted, and are often privy to street knowledge, rumors, or sights that nobody else would ever see.

Simple RP Hooks: Busking, begging for money, doing the tarot reading, asking for an odd job and performing one, selling drugs, buying drugs, robbing stores, muggings, picking pockets, dancing and, er, solicitation, as policy and theme allow.

Variants: The class itself is so varied that there’s nothing that really stands out as a variant.

  • The Field Scientist: Guys who sit in their labs all day and tinker with things most of us have no clue about don’t make the best characters, though when people create scientists this is the stereotype they gravitate straight to. But scientists who get their hands dirty, like geologists, environmental testers, storm chasing meteorologists who are out and about can make great characters even if your science is sketchy, because taking a test tube or picking up a rock requires very little explanation 90% of the time, and the other 10% can be covered with Wikipedia.

Adventure Hooks: These guys are going to see traces and evidences that the villains don’t even know they’re leaving behind nine times out of ten. They may not be looking for trouble, but trouble may find them if their test results show an awful lot of toxic something getting dumped into the nearby lake. They can be called on to testify in some sorts of cases, and that can open up all sorts of interesting troubles. The scientist will notice when something just isn’t right.

Simple RP Hooks: Excuse me ma’am, can I get in your ditch? I need to test the water. Chasing a tornado with a camera crew or group of thrill seeking kids. Setting up a bunch of crazy devices in inconvenient places with vague explanations.

Variants: The ghost hunter, the parapsychologist, the MacGuyver clone.

  • The Camera Man. Or woman. This can be the obnoxious film student making documentaries or the photographer who is just trying to capture good moments on film. This could even be the television camera man for one of those endless reporter characters—making you the character that makes the reporter work out because that reporter will have someone to talk to other than interviewees.

Adventure Hooks: Making the wrong documentary. Taping the wrong video or taking the wrong picture. Accidentally picking up the wrong reel or case of film that leads to zillions of problems. Getting targeted for that thing you put on YouTube last week. This type of character often ends up with evidence—of supernatural activity, of murders, of all kinds of things—and there are so many people who just don’t want that evidence out. Seeing a detail in a photograph that is the key to the whole case.

Simple RP Hooks: Shoving your camera up into someone’s face and asking a bunch of questions. Snapping pictures, either because you were asked…or not. Visiting the newspaper to sell photographs. Attempting to convince shopowners, bars, restaurants, and art galleries to display your work with a for-sale price tag.

Variants: The obsessive vacation slide guy. The sketch artist. The picture developer guy at Eckards.

  • The Athlete: Whether you’re playing a high school football player, an extreme sports enthusiast, or a professional, there’s plenty of room for roleplay with an Athlete. If your character is in a city with a known sports team your best bet is to play one of those if you take this concept, because people in those cities tend to be fans of that sports team. They love the players that do well and hate those that do poorly, and either is a great hook for RP.

Adventure Hooks: There’s a whole shady world surrounding athletes. Gambling and those who make money off of gambling. Drug use and abuse. For male athletes, often, women. There’s injuries and the desperation to get back in the game that might cause that athlete to make some really dumb decisions—the types of decisions that turn them into vampiric thralls or He Who Endorses The Evil Corporation. If you want to play the fine, upstanding athlete you can learn about these things, or you can get caught up in the hole and try to dig your way back out again.

Simple RP Hooks: If there’s other athletes, playing the game or practices. Going to the doctor or nurse for a sports injury. Meeting with a local business owner about an endorsement. Providing an interview. Posting something up about your lousy play and taking the abuse (the players will hate your character short term and love you long term if you do this, but if you do the opposite without it happening in RP they will hate you forever).

Variants: I’m not sure there is a variant to this concept, to be honest…

  • The Archivist: Of course, it’s not terribly unusual for someone to pick a historian. They’re envisioning loads of characters coming to their player alone for the knowledge they need to solve the plot. Sadly this almost never happens. They can get it quicker from the GM and they know it, and unless you are an RL historian then you probably don’t have info any better than they could get on Wikipedia. Instead, consider a historian of IC events. This works really, really, really well if there’s some sort of human society that watches supers and keeps tabs on them. Instead of playing the experienced archivist, play the current events guy, who runs around keeping track of all the things that go on. If you keep really good notes, and the game lasts awhile, you really will know what happened 4 years ago now that it’s relevant to the next plot. You’ll start saving the storytellers some work and they’ll love you for it, and because you’ve RP’d your way to expert status the players will respect your knowledge and come to you without prompting.

Adventure Hooks: Now if you choose this concept, you’re not really seeking adventure to solve it or get involved in it (though maybe your archivist is a little bit of a maverick and does anyway). You’re trying to learn what’s going on and keep ahold of the knowledge for later use. So you’ll go out of your way to watch what’s happening and record it as your character understands it, but you might not go out of your way to stand right in front of the rampaging werewolf. That said, even watching can be really dangerous, as can asking the wrong questions.

Simple RP Hooks: Your simple RP hook will be two-fold. You’ll either be going all over the grid getting people’s versions of events whenever you learn through any source that something might be up, or you’ll be going all over the grid trying to meet new people in the less-than-altruistic hope that they’ll cough up the info you want later.

Variants: The journalist is actually this type of character, when done right, without the secret society angle. So is a documentarian (when he’s not being an annoying camera man). So is the gossip, who just wants to know so they can be in-the-know to all their friends later.

  • The Techie: Mostly when people go for this role they go for the hacker. The hacker the hacker the hacker. They do so for the same reason they go for the cop—because the hacker is perceived as a person who will easily get involved in plots. There’s nothing wrong with playing the hacker, but a good mechanic, or inventor, electrician, specialist in normal legal communications, or photo imaging expert will achieve some of the very same effects—without making you Yet Another Hacker. Let’s examine them.

Adventure Hooks: The good guys have to bring the bad guy’s schematic to SOMEONE. The heroes are going to break a lot of crap and come to your mechanic to fix it. So will the villains—opportunity to notice weird stuff abounds.

Simple RP Hooks: Getting into wherever and fixing it. Isolating pixels in photographs. Rigging up something cool where other characters can interact with you.

Variants: Techies are techies, basically—the field is diverse.

  • The Recruiter: Armies use them. Corporations use them. Clubs use them. Evil organizations certainly use them. The recruiter is any character whose primary purpose is to meet other worthy characters and try to convince them to sign on the dotted line, whatever that dotted line may be.

Adventure Hooks: The hooks for this character depend largely on who the character is recruiting for. Are they so good at recruiting for the heroic group that they’ve become a threat to the bad guys? Are they a primary recruiter for the bad guys and so part of the adventure by virtue of being villainous fuel? And of course, recruiters meet all sorts of people in the course of their work, people who might get them into trouble.

Simple RP Hooks: Hold a job fair or recruitment fair. Scout out every other PC and decide who you want to target to recruit. Use means fair and foul to achieve your recruitment. Conduct PR spin damage control for your organization—you may have to make up why it needs some if it’s not yet a PC organization. Hmmm. TP Time?

Variants: The PR guy, the Boss (of a large organization), the Poster Boy.

  • The Rescuer: People always flock to the police, and I’m always amazed by this. Because people who flock to the police often want to do it so that they’ll be called upon to heroically rescue victims from bad things. Thing is—police usually don’t get the chance to stop crimes in progress. Usually, what police are doing is investigating when the situation’s already gone all to shit and someone’s life has already been ruined or at least greatly distressed. But firefighters, search and rescue helicopter teams, civil air patrol, first responder paramedics and coast guard people open up a whole new vista of RP.

Adventure Hooks: You’re kind of a walking adventure hook at this point, though your role in the adventures may be short and sporadic. Car accidents, fires, floods and search details for missing kids are all in your purview. Then again if there’s a pattern to all the weird fires lately your character might notice it right away, or if there are strange patterns around the missing child just before you land your helicopter—the possibilities for what your character could spot are endless.

Simple RP Hooks: And conversely, the simple hooks are harder. But rescue workers are a tight knit group. Beer and pool with the buddies would work out well. So would going and talking to a group of kids about safety. So would running a CPR class. Rescue workers often do these sorts of civic things when they’re not busting out with the Jaws of Life.

Variant: The Good Samaritan.

All this is great, you may be thinking, but I’ve already made my character. I made a shopkeeper. I made a waitress, which for some reason is pretty popular but never quite works out. I made one of those singers. I, uh, have a cop. (Actually if you have a cop you’ll have plenty to do. We’re not talking to you. I’ll talk to you when I talk about how to play a cop well). But for the rest of us, what are we going to do? Make whole new alts?

Never fear. You can add elements of most of these concepts right to your existing characters. Here’s how:

Passions: Most of us have something we really believe in, something that gets us fired up. For some of us it’s giving money to those damn welfare people. For others it’s a strong desire to feed the hungry. For still others it’s a passion to see the local school do well. For some, it’s all about the arts. Adding causes to your character that have nothing to do with werewolves, vampires, mages and supers will give you new vistas of RP almost immediately. They’ll also allow your character, in their spare time, to take on elements of: The Activist. The Recruiter.

Hobbies: Most of us have them and sometimes we MUSHers overlook them, maybe cause our hobby is MUSHing. Elements of The Camera Man, The Techie, or The Athlete can be added to any existing character who takes on the right hobbies, or perhaps just reveals them as a facet of their character they’d never addressed before.

Volunteerism: If your character is of a mind to volunteer, he can get involved with all sorts of things on his IC off time, allowing him to link up with the chars who do it full time. Volunteers might end up filling roles of The Rescuer, The Career Temp, The Teacher Who Cares, The Minister, The Social Worker, or even, if he’s out soliciting donations, The Sales Rep.

Temporarily: You don’t have to wait for staff to run a plot for you, you can run your own (I promise). Characters with a need might temporarily take on any of these roles. A dedicated grandson, for example, sure that his aunts and uncles are abusing his grandmother’s money, for example, might take on the roles of The Claims Adjuster, The Process Server (more the private detective angle), or the Auditor in his quest to uncover the truth. This is the kind of low key plot that you can involve others in that won’t require much staff intervention, so if you are willing to emit and set others on it you can step in as the Agent or as the Recruiter.

Or maybe you don’t like any of these ideas, and prefer to make up some of your own. As a guideline for designing these types of characters you need to be looking for the following:

  • A person with a reasonable degree of mobility. For some reason “Small Business Owner” is a popular concept on MU*s, and I have seen it work in limited instances, but not many. So is waiter, waitress, innkeep/barkeep, and night club owner. The problem with these concepts is that they restrict your character’s mobility. You’re relying on MUSHers, 90% of whom do not have a whole lot of initiative—not like you, who is learning all about initiative on my site—to decide to wander into your fictional place of employment. It’s relying on you staying there to encourage them to do so instead of going out to find your own RP if you want to do anything with that shop other than take up DB space.
  • A person who is not bound by the normal societal silence. A really common problem, an awkward problem, on modern day Urban MU*s is this: almost nobody in modern society feels comfortable talking to strangers. In some cities we’re lucky if we manage to nod to each other on the sidewalk. Magic is less of a stretch of our disbelief then the idea that we’d walk up to some perfect stranger in a bookstore or coffee shop or just out on the street and just strike up a conversation, and then proceed to become close enough to that person either as friend or foe that there’s potential for more RP. Supers and such have less of those problems as they’re often bound by what they are into their own sorts of societies, but us working stiffs are different. Sometimes you can build this into your character’s personality, of course, but it helps to have a job related reason to do such things too (or hobby or volunteer or whatever).
  • ·A person with IC initiative. You not only want to be proactive yourself, you want to find a reason for your character to be proactive too. Again, this can be built into the personality type but it sure helps if you have some sort of authority or mandate or need from your character’s life activities to back that up.
  • A person in a position either to see things, talk to people, or make things happen. If your character sits behind a closed office door all day you may be in trouble—unless that person is making decisions and calling other characters in. A person whose job requires him to sit in silence for hours at a time may be in trouble. A person with no authority or ability to get anywhere outside the norm may be in trouble. You only need 1 of the 3 elements to make it work, 2 is better, but you need at least one.
  • A person who you can think of ways to entertain OTHERS with.Here’s a secret to MUSHing few people know. The more you entertain others the more entertained you get. The perfect character might just be the guy who can thrust one of those low level, low powered TPs on to other people in the playerbase to get them active and moving. Let the wizards worry about how the vampires pulling the strings react to such behavior. If they’re any good at all they’ll make sure it’s done, and even if they’re not some player may decide to take the initiative with their vampire, and even if they don’t you still get to have fun. Closely linked to this is that characters who work better with or need groups are way better than the solo, rugged, bootstrap hero who wants to go it alone.
  • A person with some flaws. Real flaws, not just oh she can’t sing and she has a mole on her butt that nobody ever sees. A character who is sometimes careless will generate more RP than one who is always reasonably careful, unless they’re careful to the point of cowardice. A character with a temper who will miss details in his hot headedness that someone else can pick up on will generate more RP than one who is always alert and in control of himself. A character who is an asshole in his pursuit of justice generates more RP than the nice guy. We like flaws, mostly because we all have them, but most of us don’t want to give them to our own chars.
  • A person you can think of at least 2-3 possible adventure “ins” for, even if they don’t get used right away. It’s okay to help others understand what those “ins” might be. But not to the point of spammy @mails at your admin, ok? If you’re RPing really actively, sooner or later…they’ll figure it out.
  • A person you can think of at least 2-3 Simple RP Hooks—that are reusable—for. Scene openers, scene openers, scene openers. Reasons to RP, Reasons to RP, Reasons to RP.

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