New Orleans: The Big Easy Just Got Scarier

Character Development


Character Development

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Are

Here we cover some tips and guidelines for online roleplaying. This page is set up to help you get a similar mindset to other players, and to help you understand the prevalent way of thinking (and behaving) on a MUSH.

Most people would agree that the first step to enjoyable roleplaying is characterization. After all, real people speak, think and act based on their personalities, upbringing and experiences, as well as what’s going on at the moment.

There are many different ways of developing a character. Some people start with a few key personality traits like shy, greedy, curious, whatever, and then build a background that would have led to the character developing those traits.

Some people go in the opposite direction – figure out what the family and early environment of the character was, and then decide how that would have affected him/her.

Other people might model themselves after a character from a book or movie, or someone they know in real life. For instance, you might admire Princess Leia’s fiestiness and commitment to a cause. Or you might think it would be fun to play someone like Rick from Casablanca, someone who acts uncaring and uninvolved, but is really fooling himself.

If you want to go that route, it’s probably best not to base your character completely on the model – you should have a different name, appearance, maybe a few other traits, etc.

There are other ways to develop a character, and don’t be alarmed or discouraged if it takes you a while. Role-playing can be a lot like real life in that your character’s experiences would affect his/her personality and attitudes. The most interesting characters are those that grow and change through their roleplayed experiences, both those planned out in detail, and those that might just “happen”.


A Role to Play

There Are No Small Parts, Only Small Actors

Now that you’ve figured out what your character’s like, you probably want to start thinking of who he/she could be in the context of the particular MUSH you’re playing. If the MUSH is set modern-day, you probably have a good idea of what people would be doing.

But what if the MUSH isn’t set modern-day? There are MUSHes set in the past or in a possible future, and others are set in alternate worlds, often based on a book or movie. Reading the book or watching the movie can be a help, but usually isn’t required as the MUSH should have news files or objects set up to provide new players with basic information on the theme.

Whatever the setting of the MUSH, it’s probably a good idea to spend some time on it, talking to people, reading the information files and looking around, before you decide what sort of role you’d like to take on the MUSH. The MUSH may limit certain character types, or may require an application process for certain characters. You may find that there are already a lot of characters playing the role you were interested in, in which case it might be more fun to try something else. And you’ll likely get ideas that you hadn’t thought of by spending time on the MUSH.

If you’re familiar with the setting of a theme MUSH, remember that a lot of people are going to log on hoping to fill the most famous roles of that theme. On the Pern MU*s, the majority of people want to log on and play a rider character. On the vampire MU*s, a lot of people want to play vampires or other supernatural characters. On most theme MUSHes, it is not possible, or even desirable, for everyone to play those roles.

Also, those roles may come with out-of-character responsibilities such as coding, administration, recruiting, or a combination of other responsibilities outside of RPing that you might not be interested in. People are often interested in the “special” character types because they think they will have more RP opportunities, and that simply isn’t true. Everyone has a life, off the MUSH and on, and that means roleplaying opportunities.

Because so few people are interested in the less “glamorous” roles, you can often make more of an impact and stand out in people’s minds if you do take one of those roles on and play it well. Often demonstrated roleplaying on a “regular” character is a requirement to be considered for one of the other roles.

Again, think about your real life and the people you know. You probably aren’t movie stars and business magnates. But you still like your friends, still find them interesting, you’re still interesting yourself. On a MUSH, the people who are the “stars” are those who roleplay well, and are active and involved on the MUSH, regardless of what their titles are.



Say What?

Okay, so you know who your character is and what he/she might like to do. Is that RP? Not exactly, it’s more the base you need for RP. Role-playing is speaking, acting and reacting the way your character would, rather than as you would.

Speech with other characters is an important way you’ll be conveying your character’s attitudes and personality. An older character with a thoughtful personality is going to speak differently than an impulsive child would.

Study the way people speak – some use accents, some have characteristic phrases they employ a lot (“you know”, “right”, whatever), some speak in a brief, clipped manner, others tend to ramble from topic to topic, etc. Most of that can be incorporated into your character’s speech.

You can use CAPS or _underlining_ to show emphasis on a certain word. You can use contractions an’ dropped letters to show an accent. You can use a vocabulary appropriate to your character’s age, station and background. (A child would say “Mummy, can I go outside today?” rather than, “Mother, please realize that it would be most advantageous for me to experience the greater world outside our humble home this afternoon.”)



The Way You Do The Things You Do

Posing is a very useful way of expressing how your character does what he/she does, and helps people to visualize your character and your personality. Look at the people around you, how much of what you know about them have you picked up through non-verbal cues? How often do you meet someone and know they’re having a bad day because they’re bodies are a little stooped, etc?

Most people write poses in a “narrator” style, rather than “in character”. You’re writing from the point of view of anyone who’s looking at you. It’s also a good idea to be as descriptive and evocative as you can be in poses. It’s much more interesting to read:

Susan’s hands are clenched into fists, and her brow is furrowed. Her tone is clipped as she says, “Are ye done yet, then?”

than it is to read:

Susan looks really angry and she says, “Are ye done yet, then?”

Posing can also be used to get involved in on-going RP when there’s some in-character reason why you wouldn’t, say if your character is really shy or is over-hearing another conversation. If people see you active and posing, they’re more likely to include you in the situation, or start another conversation with you.

John sits in a quiet corner, concentrating on his cup, though his eyes occasionally slip above the rim of the mug to glance around at the other people in the room.

Steve looks distracted for a moment as the couple in the corner raise their voices in argument, then blinks and turns back to his book.


Other People

No Man is an Island

Role-playing is more than just speaking, acting and reacting as your character would – it’s interaction with other people. The best roleplayers aren’t those who strut alone on a stage, but those who react to others’ RP, and create an environment where others feel welcome and encouraged to RP in return.

If you want to have a private session of roleplaying involving only you and a select group of other characters, it’s a good idea to do it in a private or semi-private area. If you’re in a public area, you should not only expect other people to respond to what you do, but you should probably try to encourage them joining in.

Remember how you act in real life. If you have something private to discuss with someone and you don’t want others jumping in, you probably don’t bring it up at a party. On the other hand, “joining in” doesn’t always mean interacting directly with people, but sometimes reacting to them indirectly. For instance, if you’re at a party where people were arguing, you don’t necessarily have to start talking to them, and you probably wouldn’t unless you knew them, but you might turn to your friends and make a comment or something like that.


Non-Player Characters

The Extras

On the majority of RP MU*s, actively played characters make up only a small proportion of the in-character population, something like the major characters in a novel. But what about all those other people, the extras and the background characters, where are they?

Often the extras are assumed to exist. Your character probably has childhood friends, relatives, workmates, etc. There’s no need for you to develop a character concept where everyone in your character’s life has died or disappeared. You can refer to your mother even if she’s not a character. You can talk about what your character did when you weren’t able to log on last week, maybe he/she went to visit an elderly uncle or something.

Sometimes the extras are implied in a room/object description. Or the extras ARE an object, such as a waitress. These extras can be used in RP, by anyone in the room. There’s no reason you couldn’t talk to the waitress in a restaurant, and also no reason you couldn’t pose her talking back. That is a wonderful way to use the @emit command.

Another MUSH device is the puppet. Puppets can be animals or even objects, but they can also be people. Few people use them this way, but this can be a great way to roleplay. Your puppet could be your sibling, or your servant, or your employer, one of the “extras” who have a role in your character’s life.



Use a Little Object-ivity

Players new to MUSH often feel that they need the things in their characters’ lives to exist on the MUSH to use them. After all, how do you sit down in a chair if there isn’t one there? For that reason, players often rush to learn the @create and other commands associated with making objects.

Creating every object in your character’s life, or even the most important ones isn’t necessary, and is often actively discouraged on many MUSHes. This is because each thing that actively exists on the MUSH takes up space in its database, which should be kept as lean as possible for a number of reasons.

So, how should you approach objects, and roleplaying them? When you read a description of a room, anything mentioned in the description exists in the room as far as your character is concerned. If the description mentions tables and chairs, all you need to do to sit down is have your character pose that. If the description mentions a blooming rose bush, you don’t need to @create a rose to give to your lady friend, just RP it.

In a similar way, you can roleplay your character’s possessions. What sort of things would your character likely carry around? If it would enhance your roleplaying, assume you have it on your person. Or you can ask other characters in the room if they have a handkerchief/cigarette/etc. Or ask one of the NPCs that are probably around to bring you one.

The only things you need to remember when roleplaying with these props are the setting, and what’s logical. For example, a character in a medieval setting wouldn’t know what a gun is, let alone be carrying one. And a character in space is unlikely to have a medieval sword unless he’s a collector or something. And even if the setting would allow for a canon or whatever, you couldn’t fit one in your pocket and just suddenly spring it onto the roleplaying.

Another general rule-of-thumb you can follow is to only @create objects when they have a specific purpose, like a deck of cards that will “shuffle” and deal random hands, or a guard dog coded to automatically react to intruders. Beginning MUSH players might wonder how they can learn to code if they’re actively discouraged from creating superfluous objects. One suggestion is to experiment with objects on a non-themed MUSH, they are often more open to such experimentation than roleplaying MUSHes.


Life Events

The Soap Opera Syndrome

By now you probably have some ideas of who your character could be, and how you could RP to express that character. But WHAT do you RP? Put on its simplest level, your RP your character’s life. But there are different approaches to that virtual “life”.

There are a lot of different events that can occur in any life, regardless of the setting. Romantic unions, children, death, injuries, social events, occupational successes or failures, travel, etc. Those type of major events are an important part of life, and can affect who we are, but they aren’t all that happens. Alot of life is day-to-day living – doing your job, talking with friends, eating, etc.

One common complaint of long-time RP MUSH players is that too many players focus on the major events – their characters move from one crisis to another. Or that people over-play those major events. You probably wouldn’t tell everyone you meet right away that you lost your job or your brother just died, you’d talk about your feelings with good friends or family. And eventually the traumatic effects of those events would abate.

The other common complaint about people who play their characters this way is that it seems designed to focus attention solely on that character, hogging the spotlight, if you will.

That doesn’t mean you need to be afraid to have something major or negative happen to your character, those events ARE part of life. But it’s generally a good idea to balance out those events with positive ones, or day-to-day roleplaying.


Avoiding the Overdone

Is There An Echo In Here?

One thing to remember when you join a roleplaying MUSH is that it’s likely been in existence for a while before you join. Even if it’s relatively new, the theme might have been used on other games that its players have been on.

This is something worth bearing in mind as you create your character and develop him/her through roleplaying, because what might seem like dynamic and creative RP and characterization to you might be repetitive and unrealistic to others on the MUSH, which may influence how they react to you.

There seem to be certain character concepts or RP’d activities that people gravitate to in a certain theme, and this can get a little tired to the more experienced players, and even work against you. Because these overdone ideas vary from theme to theme, you might want to check your character/RP idea with an experienced player, or ask if there are areas you might want to steer away from.

For instance, the Pern MUSHes have seen a great many characters developed as wanderers, when with Thread falling, very few Pernese would venture out alone. New players often develop these types of characters to have a reason for traveling the MUSH exploring while they’re new. It’s possible to have a character who traveled with Traders or another group which had a reason to move around a lot. Or you could spend your first few sessions on the MUSH exploring and then decide who your character is once you find a place you want to settle down at.

Another common concept Pern MUSHes see is the character who always dreamed of being a dragon rider. Often this person gravitates to the nearest Weyr and tells everyone he/she meets of this “secret” desire. New players likely do this because the _player_ truly does wish the character to be a rider, and think this is a way to start. But again, it goes against the theme in many ways, and something that experienced players begin to find tiresome. Dragons are assigned to players partially through an out-of-character application process, so the new player is advised to read the news or talk to staff rather than play a character that way. In fact, the character could even be afraid of or dislike dragons, and that won’t affect the possibility of getting one.

Some vampire themed MUSHes find themselves inundated with characters who are ex police/FBI/Marines/etc, characters who have a background with weapons and violence. This may be because the new player knows that a certain amount of conflict is part of the MUSH’s theme, but it is unrealistic to have a great number of characters of this type, and such a character shouldn’t be necessary to survive.

New players should take advantage of the news, and any other material that the MUSH has provided on the theme and developing a character if they wish to avoid those sorts of problems. Most MUSHes have a system of staff or administration set up precisely to help new players, including helping them with character development. And most experienced roleplayers will not think you are “boring” to play a “normal” character who would really exist in that world, they’re more likely to be impressed with your character and your RP.


Easing In

Where Is Everybody?

One of the most intimidating things for a new player is finding other people for your character to RP with, and then getting to know them. Take a few moments to look at the +help for utilities to help you find people. Most MUSHes will have something like +who/+where, a command that will list where other characters currently are. Such commands are out-of-character, but facilitate roleplaying.

Most MUSHes provide in-character methods of travel like a wagon, boat or subway, but when you’re new, it’s okay to use @tel a bit. Before you set off to join a group, check that they’re in a public location. A place named Restaurant, Park or Common Room is likely a public place, whereas Joe’s Room, Bedroom or Hideaway is likely a private place. If you’re in doubt, page one of the people in the location and ask if it’s okay for you to join them.

Once you arrive somewhere, spend a few moments watching everyone else to ease into the roleplaying atmosphere. Then you can gradually ease into conversation. Often people will welcome you or include you in some other way, but if they don’t, don’t be afraid to join in a conversation. And don’t let one negative experience scare you away. Sometimes a group of people will be too intent on their own roleplaying to respond. Sometimes most of them may have stepped away from the keyboard. Whatever it is, sometimes the fault lies with the other group, and not with you, so just try again with a different group in a different area.

Please remember that the main purpose of a roleplaying MUSH is roleplaying. The other players won’t be understanding of major intrusions into that atmosphere. Most people are understanding of honest new player mistakes, but people who log on with obnoxiously out-of-character names, descriptions and actions are not appreciated. When in a public area, you should be speaking and behaving in-character. The odd out-of-character question or comment is quite common, but the majority of what goes on should be in-character. There are social and non-themed MUSHes for those more interested in chatting with others as themselves, rather than as a character.

This text was originally written by Rhonda Peters