How to Play a Trickster Without Being a Douche

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

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

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

The Refined Trickster

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

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

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

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

Techno Trickster

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

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

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

The Social Engineer

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

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

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

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

The Covert Ops Trickster

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

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

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

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

The Tactician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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How To Play: A 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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