Like any type of writing, RP has many cliches that you will encounter the longer you do it. The most common is the “Mary Sue” (female) or “Marty Stu” (male). These are characters who are idealized versions of themselves. They are the best at everything and all around super special snowflakes who often represent person the author wishes they could be. We all want to be super beautiful, super intelligent, and super powerful in all ways. It’d be great if we were because then we wouldn’t have to face all our mundane problems, right?

Wrong.

While RP is a form of escapism, we should not be looking at it as a way to accomplish straightforward wish-fulfillment at all times. That makes it boring for your partner(s) and leaves your character no room to grow. The reason a Mary Sue is so reviled, other than the fact that they are cliché and frustrating to deal with, is that they must be the center of the story. This presents a problem because, from every player’s viewpoint, their character will always be the main character in their story. If everyone in the room is “the best” then there is going to be argument about who is the better best and the bestest better best and… You can see where this is going.

Another problem with Mary Sues is that they have nowhere to grow. If they are all perfect and poised at all times without flaws of any kind other than “too nice” or “too sexy” then what possible story could they have to develop them? They have no flaws. Think of it this way: if you watched a movie about a man having a perfect day with no conflict and no negativity and no difficulty whatsoever would you enjoy the movie? I’m going to guess the answer to that question is no. The heart and soul of a good story is conflict. Without conflict – internal and external – you are not going to be able to build your character, and the goal of any good storyteller is to develop and build the characters in the story.

Character flaws should also be real. If I were to be honest about myself and really listed my flaws there would be a pretty significant list. I challenge you to do the same. Everyone has flaws and shortcomings. And those flaws aren’t that we are “too nice” and “too sexy” and “too pretty”. Those flaws are things like being cowards, being jealous, being depressed, being broken. We all have problems. And that is okay. We aren’t perfect, and if we are going to create characters who will be compelling for others we need to create characters just as broken as we are.

The reason for this isn’t just because realism is important and having disadvantages is often more important than having advantages. The point of playing a character, or writing about that character, is to have them grow. If you look at most fantasy epics (or sci-fi, even), you will note that the main character often comes from humble beginnings.

  • The farm boy who gets swept into a great adventure (Luke Skywalker; Star Wars)
  • The man living quietly who is forced to leave his comfort zone (Bilbo Baggins; The Hobbit)
  • An abused boy whose life is turned around when his true nature is revealed to him (Harry Potter; Harry Potter Series)
  • A young native boy whose destiny calls him on a great quest (Atreyu; The Neverending Story)
  • The school boy who was bitten by an insect in a chance encounter and developed powers (Peter Parker; Spider-Man)
  • A young woman whose father is called to war, and she takes his place and becomes a general (Fa Mulan; Mulan)
  • Two young girls and their brothers who stumble into a magical world and end up as kings and queens. (Lucy, Susan, Edmund, and Peter Pevensey; The Chronicles of Narnia)

Are you seeing a trend? Now, your character can start out a prince/princess or whatever you want, but these characters develop over these stories. They don’t start out perfect and become more than they were when they left home. Developing is the key. If your character starts out at the top with nowhere to go then you will get bored of playing them, and others will be bored playing with you.

Another important fact of having imperfections in your character is it allows other characters opportunities to shine. Roleplay is a cooperative story. You cannot be the hero all the time, and your weaknesses give other people the chance to show their strengths.

For example, I have a character who is an extremely powerful combat character almost to the point of being over-powered for general play. In balance, I have her ignorant about everything but combat. She cannot cook, she cannot hunt, she cannot read or write, and she cannot fend for herself well. While in combat she shines and is capable of doing extreme amounts of damage, but in daily life she needs someone else to help her guide her way. She is awkward in social situations and unskilled in handling interpersonal conflict and struggle. In short – anywhere but the battlefield she is crippled and must depend upon other characters’ help. Her character development has been centered around learning to be a person.

Part of the fun of roleplay is developing your character and helping them grow over the course of their story. If you make a character with no room you are not only going to frustrate those around you, you are going to lose out on one of the best parts of writing. Don’t write yourself into a perfect little box – come out and play!

Advertisements