Tag Archive: Roleplaying


Mary Sues / Marty Stus

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!

I’m sure everyone has met that one jerk that tries to pull a move that would put Neo from The Matrix to shame, and when confronted he makes the argument “lol, its just fantasy, newb”. Unfortunately, they are half right: it is just fantasy. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules.

Roleplaying is, intrinsically, an exercise in fantasy. Even if it’s not in that genre. We are creating characters in a universe that isn’t ours and pretending to be those people for however long we immerse ourselves in that world. This is true in video games, tabletop games, and freeform RPGs. As such, the rules are innately a little different. Much like writing, everything has to be brighter, faster paced and larger-than-life. Let’s face it: how many people have the experiences that their RP characters do? Ever? If we were to write a fully “realistic” backstory for ourselves it would include a lot of boring Saturday afternoons watching cartoons. Most of us don’t have parents that are incredibly abusive, totally absent, or utterly loaded (We’re not Marvel Comics characters).

Just like with writing a story by yourself, you need to make your character extraordinary somehow. But let’s take a second and realize that this doesn’t mean that you can break rules. Just because you’re playing an elven princess it doesn’t give you an excuse to have unrealistic backstory or abilities. Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why would I want realism in my fantasy!?”

The answer to that is pretty simple, honestly. While we can suspend our disbelief some there are certain things that need to remain constant. Like physics. In every universe, excluding some specific points in the Matrix universe and only then with Neo explicitly, there are physics that apply to everyone. Everyone. Including your character. There are also rules of engagement, and general setting rules (no, you can’t play a Terminator walking around Middle Earth).

As I’m writing this, I hear the chorus in the back of my head yelling “BUT I WANNA!” and to them I reply: then make your own world where those things are possible. Keep in mind that unless you are creating and running your own world (I actually have plans on writing a series of articles for people that are interested in doing so), you need to be prepared to play by the rules in other people’s worlds. Those rules often include such things as: remaining true to the setting; ensuring that your character isn’t a Mary Sue; keeping your character at a reasonable power level; and generally play nice with the kids.

Ultimately, the “But it’s just fantasyyyy!” argument doesn’t tend to work well on administrators, moderators, or game masters. Usually they respond poorly to such things. Particularly when it’s used an excuse for godmodding or metagaming.

What Is Roleplay?

It’s kind of existential when you get down to it. It’s also got a lot of stigma around it. In essence, roleplay is that thing we all did as kids when we pretended we were cops and robbers, or Batman and Robin, or Power Rangers. It’s taking on the persona and identity of another person and writing their story.

Is it escapism? Is it evil? Is it the devil here to steal your soul? Yes to the first, sort of, and no to the rest. However, it’s no more escapist than playing video games or reading. Back in the 80’s and 90’s there was a fad of blaming roleplayers for violent deaths. Particularly people that played tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade. Many roleplayers caught the backlash of that, and while it’s extremely sad that a few people chose to act as they did while playing the game (thus giving the rest of us a bad name), the reality is that the games are no more or less dangerous than any other pursuit.

Naturally, if you’re reading this, I am likely preaching to the choir.

So, other than a way to escape our boring, mundane lives, live out fantasies, or just have some fun… what is roleplay? At its heart, roleplay is writing a story with multiple other people. It’s the ultimate “choose your own adventure” where anything is possible so long as it fits in your world. It’s a story. With that in mind, roleplay can be crafted as any novel can be. It has certain elements, certain rules, and certain ways things do and do not work. Through the course of this blog we hope to address some of these things, answer questions, poke fun at things that are just silly, and maybe you will walk away having gained something.

So, if roleplay is just a story and we’re all authors… what does that imply?

Well, since this is a cooperative story one of the most important parts of it is that the authors cooperate. While creating lives and stories for ourselves and others we need to recognize that none of us is doing this alone. We can’t. Roleplaying by yourself is called writing a novel (which is, by no means, a bad thing). And it is with that spirit that we are all in this together to share these worlds, to share these stories, these characters, that this blog has come into being.

Also in that spirit is the fact that if you have a piece you would like to write for this blog simply comment on this blog or speak with me directly, should you know me. Above all, roleplayers are a community. There are many different facets to it (tabletop, LARP, freeform, and others that I likely do not know) but we are all doing the same thing, ultimately.