How to Become a Popular Player

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

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

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

“I’d be lost without my day planner.”

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

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

Popularity — Perception vs. Reality

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

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

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

Blanket Asks Don’t Work

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

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

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

What does work:

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

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

Passive Asks Don’t Work

A lot of players get really coy.

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

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

My friends.

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

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

Or:

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

Or:

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

See the difference?

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

Sometimes You Gotta be the Idea Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Ideas? No Excuse!

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

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

Exercise 1: Wiki-Fu

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

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

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

Exercise 2: Random Scene Starters

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

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

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

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

Exercise 3: Guess the Wish List

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

Examples:

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

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

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

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

Everyone is Here for the Same Thing

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

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

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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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The Care and Proper Feeding of NPCs

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

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

You need good NPCs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On the Central Character Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It comes from the natural progression of consequences.

Observe.

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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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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Overlooked Villain Actions

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

Overlooked Villain Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How To Play: A Modern Day Cop

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

How to Play A Cop

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Cop Characters Need Other Specialists To Help Them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a. Case number

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

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

d. What time it was when the cops responded.

e. A description of the local area

f. A general description of the crime scene.

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

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

i. Postmortem changes in the victim.

j. Injuries on the victim.

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

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

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

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

o. Witness statements.

p. Criminal history of the victim, if any.

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

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

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

t. Special requests for forensics.

u. Other notifications.

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

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

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

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

1. What’s there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. There aren’t super young detectives.

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Players: Giving Your RP Sparkle, Part 5

April 27, 2009 at 1:44 am (Roleplaying Posts) (, )

Good MU* Writing Style

Nope, I’m still not going to get into the long vs. short, narrative vs. actor’s style with you, gentle readers. Instead I’m going to examine a few other things that make for good writing style on an online game. Some of these things are not so different from what would make good writing on a solitary exercise such as a short story, or novel. Others are unique to the activity of a collective, shared, experience. We’ll skip decent spelling and grammar; you already knew that one, right?

Purple Prose Still Sucks

Ok, I’m going to start off picking on us habitually medium-to-long posers. Sometimes in our zeal to chew up scenery, we put out poses that sound ridiculous. Sometimes we do it for a really long time, too, creating something that takes up an entire screen width. This is not good RP. This is a healthy ego in action. Part of the trick of good writing is, according to my old English professor who got it from somewhere else, to “murder your darlings.” If it’s too clever by half, you should make judicious use of the backspace key and get rid of it.

Action words, actions, emotions, and dialogue, clearly presented, make a good pose. If the character is making an impassioned speech, a page worth of pose might be appropriate. If you’re just trying to show off, quit it. A nice, well placed metaphor is one thing. Line after line of flowery writing isn’t.

Bad:

The smoke curls up from the ashtray like a cresting wave, before it breaks lightly against the tips of Jane’s fingers, then slips silently out of the window to ride the high silvery winds like an eldritch mist. She tosses curls as golden as ever was offered in Fort Knox, her smile a gentle serpent as it shines upon Joe. Her face is as radiant as the rising sun as she puts her cigarette aside and gets to her feet. She raises an expectant arm pregnant with the possibilities of the moment…

I could go on, but I’m hurting myself too much. I should really go drag out an example from a log somewhere instead of fabricating one, only I don’t tend to RP with people like this long enough to log them. Yes! People actually pose this way! You’re not giving birth to farm animals out there! Three lines on cigarette smoke, Fort Knox hair, a snake mouth and a pregnant arm. Avoid these things.

Better:

Cigarette smoke billows around Jane as she takes a long drag. She puts the cigarette aside, rises. She gives a Joe a radiant smile and offers her arm. She tilts her head so that her golden curls shine in the sun, perhaps a deliberate motion on her part. In this moment, the air hums with possibility.

The trick is to be descriptive and evocative without making your reader either burst out laughing or run screaming. Sometimes you can just say that Jane takes a drag on her cigarette without making a literary event out of it. I promise.

Consider Your Audience

Not all pose types are appropriate at all times or with all groups. If you’re in a serious scene it may still be appropriate for your character to crack jokes. But it is not appropriate for the pose to reflect a light mood on your part. Sometimes a cute, quickie pose that’s not even entirely IC isn’t bad. Sometimes you can intersperse your pose with a bunch of dramatic song lyrics…and sometimes that’s going to annoy the piss out of everyone trying to scene with you. Regardless of what your character says, try to write the rest of the pose in a way that reflects the mood. Consider a couple of lines from the movie The Long Kiss Goodnight and how they might have been written as poses. I’ll only be changing up the Old Man’s pose to demonstrate my point. Warning: not vouching for how accurately I remember the exact lines.

Samantha stares out the window of the car as they race away from the hotel. “I just jumped out of a window!” she gasps. “And people just shot at us, and threw a grenade at us!”

The Old Man keeps his eyes on the rear view mirror as he spins the car away from their pursuers. “Yes, it was very exciting,” he snaps. “And tomorrow we’ll go to the zoo.” He spins the wheel again, throwing his passengers to the side as he guns it.

The mood here is tense, action oriented, and suspenseful. Imagine, though, had Old Man chosen to phrase the same actions this way:

“Yes, it was very exciting,” says The Old Man, as he spins the car away from their pursuers. “And tomorrow, we’ll go to the zoo!” Rawr!

Nothing wrong with a well placed Rawr; in a comedic or light-hearted scene it can just make people laugh. If everyone’s having a good time, and the “Rawr” enhances that, then by all means, go for it. But if it’s going to break the mood of the scene…consider carefully and rewrite your pose.

The same, really, goes for short poses over long ones. If you’re in the middle of a huge battle scene, sporting event, or other large scene that the TP people are trying to move along quickly, it is inappropriate to pose at great length. You can still pose quality. You don’t have to restrict yourself to one line. But if one line is all you need, then one line is all you need. It can take a little practice to get the pulse of this accurately, and sometimes it depends on your typing speed. Pace is important. Romantic scenes lend themselves well to long, thought provoking poses, a horse race or a game of Quidditch does not. A sword dual lends itself well to evocative, colorful poses between opponents — but a dungeon crawl style battle where you’re getting swarmed by giant rats and the TP coordinator is trying to deal with 10 people at once does not, and you should stick to simply swinging you sword instead of comparing the swing of your sword to whatever your favorite force of nature is.

Finally, if you know them, you should consider the preferences of the person you’re RPing with. The truly great RPer is style-flexible, so can pose short if the person across from them prefers things short and sweet, can pose long if they like more depth — and, best of all, is a good enough writer not to lose too much either way.

Be Aware of Voice:

Everyone has a different, natural online “voice”. Its very similar to the “voice” you hear about that all authors get. Some people are cursed with online voices that normally sound very flat and emotionless. They tend to sound a little depressed, rude, or just plain boring. Some people sound whiny, some effervescent, some know it all, some impatient. They may not be these things, but when you talk to them OOCly they invoke these things just the same, and they make an impression. The only way to shape and craft voice is to have your characters doing things, showing emotion, invoking their personality. Yes, what they say does a bit of this, but you should go just a step further. At the very least give your characters a few typical mannerisms that you can throw in there every now and then.

Maybe your character is an emotionless guy. If so, play it up, not down. A lot of us find emotionless people a little intimidating because they can’t get a read on them. Would you deny them the opportunity to properly react to your character by not giving them enough information?

Jane says, “No.”

Well, bully for Jane…but how did she say “No?” To me she just sounds flat and depressed and a little bit of a pain in the ass. Unfortunately, because I don’t see enough of Jane’s character in that irritating little pose, I transfer all of this to the player. If Jane is depressed and flat because that’s the way Jane-the-character is, might I suggest…

Jane lets out a heavy sigh and crosses her arms. “No.”

It’s still a short pose, but it won’t evoke the same sense of froth-at-the-mouth annoyance that the first one will. The first will lead people to complain that you’re not giving them anything to work with, or perhaps that you’re a total newbie who does not know what she’s doing. Who wants that? The second does give the other person something to work with. An emotion! And, still keeping things short, you can give just a little more.

Jane lets out a heavy sigh and crosses her arms. Her tone is flat, dead, as she says, simply, “No.”

Rule of thumb: short is ok. Boring, without enough information, is not.

A Word on Adverbs, Said-Isms, and Elipses:

Writing books advise you to kill all of these. They say you should never breathe when you mean to ask, speak, or reply. You should never use an adverb when an action will suffice. In general, I agree with them. Sometimes it’s okay to have your character growl or grunt their response instead of saying it, but only once or twice, to give people the idea that your character is a taciturn sort who isn’t so sure they enjoy speaking. Adverbs aren’t bad, if your character perhaps speaks “slowly” or “rapidly”, and you’re trying to get that idea across without chewing too much scenery. Still, both of these things are like salt. Use them, er, lightly.

Jane’s hands flutter around as she punctuates each statement. “And then we went to the store! And then I saw the mugger! And then, oh Mary, he pulled out his gun and he aimed it right at me and he fired and then Joe dove into me and we both hit the ground!” Jane takes a deep gulp of air.

Did you figure out that Jane was speaking rapidly in that pose? I didn’t need to say “rapidly” anywhere in there, though. Nor did I even use the “said” tag, or any “said-ism”.

Joe cries, “Sue, watch out!”

There’s a said-ism, cries, but in this case it may be appropriate. If Joe is crying watch out, it may be because he’s in a rapid paced action scene anyway, and anything else would be over-descriptive and chew the scenery. Yet it still evokes the emotions of alarm and urgency that Joe’s player likely would like us to be aware of when he’s taking the time to yell “watch out!” When you write or pose, you’ve got this bucket of tools at your disposal, different ways to convey different things. You want the right tool for the job as often as possible.

And one word…on…elipses. Elipses…are these little…triple dots that I keep…throwing in here in a most annoying…fashion. Folks like to use them as an attempt to show that their character is pausing or speaking slowly. Sometimes they’ll string a whole bunch together like this ……………. in an attempt to show a very long pause.

A proper elipse is exactly three dots and should never be used to create a pause in dialogue unless you’re trailing off the end of a sentence. In anime based games, it might be acceptable to use an elipse as the only dialogue. (Jane-san superdeforms. “…”) to indicate surprise, shock, a lack of anything to say, disgust…well, it all depends on the context, but anime people in an anime game will know how to interpret it. The other appropriate use is to create a suspense break between actions, see below.

Time stops. He’s frozen in midair. Then…

Joe comes crashing down, unconscious.

Rule of thumb: if you’re not sure whether an elipse is appropriate, just avoid them.

%r, %t, and Tense:

Most MU*s want you to stick to the present tense when describing what’s going on. This is because things are meant to seem like they’re happening in real time. It also grows out of old tabletop RP, where a Player would announce his actions: “I swing my sword at the orc.” It is disconcerting when people try to use another tense, such as past tense. This is one area where text based RP differs from fiction writing. A fiction writer can use first person past tense, or third person past tense, but never present tense. A MU* writer should never, ever use first person and should only use past tense in the unlikely event that he’s demonstrating a flashback.

On the other hand, if you ever do run across a game where everyone is using past tense, do as the Romans do. Don’t be the only person doing something utterly different from the other five or six people in the room. You’re not teaching them anything (such as the style of RP you consider superior), you’re just annoying them and making them wonder why you persist in being different when you can clearly see how things are done in their sandbox.

As for tabs, created by using %t, or breaks, created by using %r, they can be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the situation. Tabs I’m actually pretty neutral on, if you like them, but some people get irritated when you start indenting. %r is fine as long as its clear who is still posing, or is especially useful in emitting NPCs. Again, the trick is to see what those around you prefer and to make use of that. The occasional dramatic use of any technique, where it is clear the technique is meant to call attention to what is going on in a noteworthy, dramatic, and fresh way, usually does not go amiss if only done on occasion.

The Emit Command: Not Just For NPCs

If you stick to ‘pose’, or, heaven help us, ‘say’, every pose you let out is going to start with your name. If everyone does this, the screen starts to look like some sort of extended roll call. It can make players weary without them ever realizing why. Spice things up a little. Use the emit command, either @emit or \, to start your poses off with action or dialogue. Things don’t constantly start off with character names in a book and they should not when you pose either.

Even one word makes all the difference. Any action verb: sitting, standing, jumping, leaping, growling…makes a fine start to a pose, even if the name comes right after. I actually like the emit command so much that I try not to start with my character’s name except where absolutely necessary.

That said, do include the character’s name somewhere, even in a two person scene where you might believe it should be obvious who is speaking. Why? Because the emit command is often used to introduce NPCs. In books, the convention is that the author will not introduce a new character without specifically letting us know first, but sometimes in MU* things get confusing, rolling up and down the screen. If you’re speaking, let us know somewhere, so we don’t wonder if you decided to emit your sister dropping in.

Giving Your RP Sparkle: Conclusion

And this concludes my little series on giving your RP sparkle. Even following one or two of the simple tips found in these articles will improve your RP dramatically. In future articles I want to address things like handling consent, good plot principles, and other fundamentals that will enhance your gaming experience. Until then, I leave you with a quick summary of ways to give your RP sparkle.

1. Creativity counts. Ask yourself what your character has been doing. Make up reasons to be involved. Don’t wait for others to take you by the hand. Don’t play the same sorts of scenes over and over.

2. Originality counts. Don’t make a character that’s just like every other character on the grid. Go out of your way to make the type of character that nobody else has made but is desperately needed.

3. Being “real” counts. Know your character’s flaws and struggles intimately. Bring them into the game.

4. Being interesting counts. Make them ask why you are doing something. Make them ask what you are doing. Give people a reason to talk to you.

5. Clarity counts. Don’t worry about pose length — worry about how clear, interesting, and evocative your pose is. The rest will take care of itself.

6. Consideration counts. Be the guy who knows the preferences of those around him and goes out of his way to provide a good experience for others. Then they will seek you out and try to make sure that you, also, are having fun. Take the time to seek out new players from time to time.

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Players: Giving Your RP “Sparkle”, Part 4

April 27, 2009 at 1:36 am (Roleplaying Posts) (, )

Finding RP, Think Outside The Box

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more annoying to a MU* admin than a player who parks his character in their own private room and then starts complaining that there is no RP to be found. To them I say, “Get real.”

If there are ten people logged on to the game then chances are at least 8 of them are there looking for RP. 2 of them might be there checking mail or chit chatting, but all ten of them at least like to RP and are not going to take it amiss if you page them looking for some. They might turn you down, but they’re not going to bite your head off unless you are a jerk about your request.

Further, you can go park yourself in a public area with a scene set ready to go if anyone should walk into it wanting to play. Why should everyone else do all the work for you?

I’ve heard a variety of silly reasons for why people don’t RP. In this section, I’ll address a few of them — and teach you how to overcome each situation with Sparkle!

Everyone Is At The Zoo. My Character Would Not Be At The Zoo.

My character wouldn’t be at the zoo. (Or the park, the bar, the church, the library, the police station…). I have heard this so often, and it’s so old and so tired. My answer to it is: “Are you sure?”

Use your imagination. Think outside the box. Unless your character is laid up at the hospital or in jail, he can probably physically get to the location, unless it’s in an entirely different city and he has no quick way such as an airplane or magical transport to make it there.

But my character doesn’t like the zoo! He hates animals! He’s said so in RP a dozen times!!

Fine. Here are three possibilities for introducing your zoo-hater into the zoo scene without compromising your character. (We’re back to the entry pose again. That’s because the entry pose really is vital). I’ll use both narrative and actor’s style, long and short, just to demonstrate yet again how truly unimportant the debate is to enjoyable RP.

Caveat: In some situations “everyone” might be at a place it is illegal, dangerous, or impossible for your character to get to. If you are playing a high school student and everyone is RPing over at the Pentagon, then you are right, you can’t get to where everyone is RPing and should not try. The only solution here is to wait for someone to log on who is not at the Pentagon, or perhaps to apply for a character who could be over there next time.

In these examples, where Sue and Steve are used, assume Sue to be another RP’er in the scene. Julie is an NPC.

Example 1: The man in the black hat takes the envelope from Joe. Joe heaves a big sigh, a little color returning to his cheeks. The man in the black hat walks away, trench coat flapping in the wind. A monkey howls nearby and Joe jumps. He crosses his arms and begins to walk away, fast, right toward Sue and Steve.

Example 2: Julie knows damn well that Joe hates the zoo. He hates the smell of the zoo, he hates the sounds of the zoo. He hates animals. He doesn’t even own a fish. Julie was always big on animals, but Joe thinks that she probably chose this spot just to annoy him. Fresh from their breakup, he storms down the walk. Which way was the exit again? He’s approaching Sue and Steve, though he doesn’t even really register who they are.

Example 3: Joe comes racing through the crowds at breakneck speed. “That man stole my wallet!” he howls. Ahead, a punk kid, also running, ducks into the building with the snakes.

Be polite, of course. The nature of the scene you’re about to join should determine what you do to enter, and of course its usually nice to check in with the Zoo people to see if its okay if you join. And you don’t have to indicate why you’re there in the pose! If you are well known to hate the zoo, you can let the others ask what the heck you’re doing there, and can be ready with the answer (or lie). “Julie decided this was a great place to break up with me,” said in a sour tone, can be just as effective. Think about the NPCs in your character’s life, make up a reason, and go to the dang zoo.

I Don’t Know Anyone.

Ok, so none of your regular RP group is on right now. So? You didn’t know any of them when you started playing either. RPing with new people keeps you fresh. It provides you with a steady supply of people to RP with if your current group dries up. It happens. Sometimes everyone in a group quits playing, often within months of one another, leaving only a single RP’er stranded.

Take a moment to play with a newbie. It will probably be annoying, but newbies turn into real live players sooner or later. Will it kill you to spend 20 minutes on them? You can always beg off when you’ve had your fill of bad poses. If you can’t find good RPer’s, raise one.

Nothing’s Going On.

These people like to hang around until staff hands them a plot or event on a platter. I must admit I sometimes do this when I’m new to a game, because it gives me a chance to get to know my character and ease them in without feeling pressured to put on a good performance, one on one, with a perfect stranger. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as being pro-active. Coming up with a one-session RP event is pretty easy if you think a few things through. Try a few of these on for size, and see if you can come up with your own. I’m going to act as if you don’t know a single soul on the game, and as if anything more bloodthirsty than a snowball fight has to be run by staff, two common MU* complaints.

1. Page three players who aren’t in scenes and say, “My character’s roof is all messed up. Would you care to say our characters knew one another? Then we can RP a roof repair scene.” Exchange a few background notes and you’re ready to go.

2. “My character’s new to the neighborhood and hosting a block party. Wanna come?”

3. Arrange a traffic accident with another player. This will in turn get other RP’ers involved (hospital people, cop people, reporter people).

A MU* is a collective imagination exercise. If you aren’t using yours, but are waiting for others to entertain you, you might as well go watch a movie, play video games, or read a book for your entertainment instead.

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