The Art of ICC

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

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

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


In character actions equal in character consequences.

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

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

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

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

ICC is the story.

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

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

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

Sometimes people do stupid stuff in character.

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

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

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

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

What you need to know about assigning ICC:

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

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

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

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

What you need to know about taking ICC:

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

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

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

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

Get a mediator if you have to.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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How to Become a Popular Player

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

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

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

“I’d be lost without my day planner.”

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

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

Popularity — Perception vs. Reality

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

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

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

Blanket Asks Don’t Work

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

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

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

What does work:

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

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

Passive Asks Don’t Work

A lot of players get really coy.

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

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

My friends.

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

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


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


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

See the difference?

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

Sometimes You Gotta be the Idea Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Ideas? No Excuse!

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

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

Exercise 1: Wiki-Fu

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

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

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

Exercise 2: Random Scene Starters

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

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

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

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

Exercise 3: Guess the Wish List

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


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

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

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

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

Everyone is Here for the Same Thing

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

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

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How to Play a Trickster Without Being a Douche

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

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

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

The Refined Trickster

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

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

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

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

Techno Trickster

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

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

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

The Social Engineer

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

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

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

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

The Covert Ops Trickster

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

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

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

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

The Tactician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Plots: Basic Elements of a Plot

April 27, 2009 at 3:01 am (Plots) (, , )

A lot of Tinyplotting articles start on the “definition of a Tinyplot“, which in my opinion is a discussion that tends to get
bogged down fast.  So I’ll instead focus on the ingredients of the Tinyplot, the things you absolutely must have to get started.

A Situation:

Any Tinyplot involves the introduction of a new situation.  The situation can be simple or complicated.  It can be more “action adventure” or more day-to-day.  A party is a situation.  So is a plague.  So is the Great Wonderful Magical Thing That Everybody Wants And Needs.  Construct your situation well, because it is the situation, not whatever “outline of events” that you’re probably going to quickly abandon, that is the meat and bones of your tinyplot. Remember a tinyplot can be long or short.   A day long tinyplot is as valid as a 13 month one, and often more effective.  The situation
doesn’t always have to involve conflict (like the party) but often does (the caterers are late).

A Time and Place:

You’d be amazed how much can be done if you just suck it up and say, on Thursday, March 24 at 2:00 we are doing (fill in the blank). People will show up and situations will occur naturally. You’d be amazed how many tinyplots don’t happen because the person who thought about running one never got around to simply putting a time and a place up
on the boards.


You need to make sure you have hooks and reasons for people to get involved in your tinyplot.  If their only reason is
meddling or showing up at the RP things will get pretty weak pretty quick.  If you’ve never run a plot before it really is okay to just run one for the circle of friends you RP with.  Its not cliqueism, it’s the fact that you’re utterly acquainted with their backgrounds and plothooks, so naturally you know how to run for them.

In time, you will learn how to come up with plots that don’t require you to know anyone’s background at all.

Flexibility: Yes, you’re going to write a basic outline, but a good plot doesn’t try to stick too closely to one.  An outline is a guide to help you get things going, and nothing more.  Below I’m going to give examples of a basic outline and how that outline might change when the players get into contact with it.

Approval: Don’t waste your hard work.  Investigate your MUSH’s approval guidelines for plots.  Some plots will require approval.  Some, like the party examples, will not.

For each of these examples I’m going to assume GenericMUSH that is a lot like RL, only it’s a MUSH.    That way anyone playing in any genre can understand, take, and apply what I’m showing.

Example #1: The Party

The party is probably the simplest tinyplot you can run.  Character throws a party. Character poses a room description involving his party.  Character chooses a timeframe for his party and perhaps a reason why he is throwing it beyond the desire to get people roleplaying.  The entire outline of a plot like this is:  Joe hosts a birthday party at his house and invites all of his friends, and tells all his friends to bring a date if they can (hoping to meet new characters on the game so that he has more people to RP with if all of his current IC friends are gone, without having to make up some lame
reason to meet them in the bar).

Joe asks around and finds out when the peak night and time will be. He @mails invitations to everyone, perhaps, or he +bbposts the fact that he’s having a party and he does have NPC friends, so if someone would like to show up as an NPC’s date even if he doesn’t know them (or brother or friend or whatever) then they are welcome to attend.

Joe tells us that the party is going to be on March 14th at 7:30 p.m. CST and that he himself will be present until 11:30 p.m. CST, but that people who come will be welcome to RP at his house as long as they wish, and just assume he’s in the background talking to NPCs.

His “outline” as it were is a relatively routine birthday party.  If he’s got the element of flexibility however, he has an opportunity to draw people in even further by just listening to their RP.  For example, perhaps Sue shows up at the party.  While Joe is offering Sue a drink, she mentions that her ex-husband (an NPC) had to be put on a restraining order the other day.  It’s a simple thing to page Sue and ask her if she would like the ex-husband to crash the party, and
whether she wants to emit him or whether she’d like him emitted.

Suddenly there’s an element of “adventure” in even a routine party, whether he shows up and is simply drunk and verbally nasty – or whether he shows up with a gun.  Either way a new situation is created that forces people to react – and draws them further into the RP.

This might be useful if the party is winding down.  Or perhaps a couple of the teenagers who show up are already RPing getting rowdy. Alan the Insurance Adjuster couldn’t be online tonight, but you’d like a reason to RP with him next time he’s on…so its simple enough to page the couple and tell them to feel free to emit their entire high school showing up to trash his house utterly.  Look for twists and hints of things in other people’s RP and you’re sure to be rewarded every
time…almost nobody does something that they don’t want to see results, a reaction, or an opportunity for RP grow out of.

Just make sure you communicate with the people you want to use or surprise in this manner, so they can give you necessary information, or decline if they so desire.

Example #2: The Classic Kidnapping Plot
Here comes a plot where flexibility is more important than ever!  It’s also a classic plot that everyone loves to run. Capture and rescue are staples of adventure fiction, and lets face it…it can be as fun to be in trouble as it is to be the hero.  The classic outline is as follows:

  1. Villain A has a problem which he decides to solve by kidnapping Victim A.
  2. Hero A gets wind of the kidnapping and rounds up his posse, which can range from all of his friends to the police.
  3. Hero A and Posse go about finding the Victim and arrange a rescue.
  4. Villian A either gets away or gets arrested.

Lets do the outline for Generic MUSH.

  1. Alan the Insurance Adjuster, example from above, has proof that Marcus the Slum Lord is burning down tenement buildings for the insurance money.  He gets the proof, puts it in a safe deposit box, and is about to go to Charlotte the Police Officer when Marcus the Slum Lord calls his cell phone.  Marcus the Slum Lord has kidnapped Brad, the Son.  This particular scene is unlikely to change simply because it’s the hook, though other players may be there to witness it.  He takes the call and he chickens out, he has a nervous lunch with Charlotte but doesn’t tell her about the proof…or the kidnapping, as he’s been warned off of it by Marcus.  Of course, Charlotte figures out something is up.  They’ve known each other a long time, so she asks some casual questions, and, following a hunch, she makes a show of arresting Alan.  Now he’s not in a position to help the Slum Lord…but the Slum Lord temporarily can’t do anything to the son, or he risks losing his hold over Alan.  Temporary stand off. (Alan of course gets approval from the Area Leader who is in charge of the Police Department, so he knows what’s up and is ready to deal with any IC consequences that may or may not come about from a false arrest – the approval element).  They decide this scene is going to kick off on December 14th at 2 pm CST, the time when the key players in this scene can get involved.
  2. Charlotte goes to the house and verifies Brad isn’t there.  She herself makes the calls to recognize that it’s a missing person.  She grabs Jake the Cop and Murphy the Cop and they go trying to track down Brad, while keeping Alan in ail so he can’t give the slum lord what he wants.  They track him to an apartment building and find Brad inside a nasty apartment.
  3. Marcus is also there; there’s a gunfight, he gets arrested, Brad gets a shoulder wound, and everyone does Aftermath RP.

Simple, right?  Should take about a week, and perhaps generate some gossip. At the very least you’ve gotten RP for Alan, Marcus, Charlotte, Brad, Jake, and Murphy, assuming they’re all PCs.  Six PCs, not bad, not bad at all really, and all you had to do in this case was some coordination with these six PCs to set a date and time for the first major scene, the second major scene, and the third major scene. There will of course be RP in the middle. Alan with the inmates, Alan with Charlotte, Charlotte with her best friend Nadia the Prosecution Lawyer who listens when Charlotte is scared about the potential outcome of her actions, etc.

Now lets look at the outline from a flexibility perspective.

Nadia the prosecution lawyer makes vague reference to the case in a bar, and Zoe the Reporter gets wind of it.  Zoe pages Alan, who is the plot coordinator, grinning and saying, “Dude, you’re in jail?” Alan explains the situation, and Zoe explains that she might well misinterpret what she just heard. When nobody will comment, she writes the story herself…and the story makes the denizens of Generic MUSH think that Alan is being wrongfully imprisoned.  Suddenly the prison is being picketed by well meaning players.  The DA gets involved (there’s players seven, eight, nine, and probably ten or eleven) and Alan finds himself released.  Now Alan’s out and Marcus is on the old cell phone again, aware he may be running out of time, demanding that Alan get to his safe deposit box and get that proof and bring it to him.  But Alan can’t even get a moment alone.  There’s Zoe, and Paul (player 12) the journalist, harassing him with questions he doesn’t want to answer all the way to his car.  But eventually he does get to the bank…

Only to find that Maria, his wife, cleaned out the safe deposit box this morning, disk and all, and filed for divorce so she could run off with Raul, the pool boy (players thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen counting the Loan Officer, Trevor).  Trevor is dreadfully sorry but at the time she had a legal right to that box.  Alan frantically calls Marcus and says he needs more time, and Marcus decides to give it to him…but pages Alan to say that it tihs point he’d feel the need to move Brad because he knows something was phony about the arrest.

Alan calls Maria to try to get the box from her, but instead she figures out what’s going on and tells him she’s suing him for custody (which can be next month’s tinyplot).

So at step 3, instead of the cops arriving to a rescue, they arrive to an empty apartment.  With a bomb Marcus has rigged as he decides he’d do that too.  Charlotte and Posse are caught in the blast.  So are Yvette and Quinn the Poor Tenants (players sixteen and seventeen). Eric the EMT shows up with his NPC partner (player eighteen) and
whisks the five of them to the hospital to get fixed up by Hailey the Doctor (player nineteen).  Zoe and Paul show up to cover this story too, not even aware they sort of caused the thing.  William the Mayor (player twenty) stands up and gives a statement about the bombing that may or may not be so much crap.  Now they’re short a posse and Alan is
running out of time so he turns to Dillion the Private Investigator.

Dillion and his partner Freeda (players twenty and twenty one) then track Marcus to the abandoned horse farm he’s now using while Alan pleads with Maria to turn over the contents of the box.  They have a fight when she finds out what’s up (he was trying to keep it from her) and Maria informs him that she’s going to sue for custody (next

Yes, you could have stuck to the outline…but had you not been alert to the possibilities inherent in the scene and been open to them, you would have missed out on the inclusion of 16 other players!  And yes the plot might take longer, and yes you might have to coordinate a few more dates, but you’ll have provided a memorable TP for everyone.  RP
also begets more RP…when those plot scenes aren’t happening everyone who got involved will be talking to all their IC friends and family who weren’t directly involved, giving them more RP – and perhaps sparking off other TP ideas down the pike.

Hopefully those examples and elements have given you an idea of what a tinyplot is, and an inkling of how to manage one.  If you’re new to them…start small.  Don’t try to orchestrate a Tom Clancy novel all at once…but a plane hijacking might work out just fine.  Use your imagination, stay flexible and organized, and have fun!

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