18 ways to spot a Mary-Sue in your PBEM
So you’ve got a PBEM game, and you’re recruiting for new members. You accept members based on the character biographies they’ve provided to you, but how do you know that these players are going to be any good in your game? Well, you can’t really tell until you see them post.
There is a stereotype character called a Mary-Sue. This is normally a female character who is so perfect that she’s annoying. She resembles all the many character stereotypes all rolled into one. A Mary-sue character is normally a player’s first character, when they don’t realise that they are creating such a stereotype.
Mary-Sue’s aren’t always female, as male characters can have all of these stereotypes too, as well as some more of their own. A male Mary-Sue is sometimes called a Marty-Stu.
The name Mary-Sue comes from a short Star Trek fanfiction story, written as a parody of fanfiction.
Look at the points below to see if you have any Mary-Sue stereotypes in your own game. Maybe your character is one and you didn’t even realise! Take each of these points with a pinch of salt, some of the points mentioned actually make good character traits on their own. But a typical Mary-Sue will use them all.
1. The character is named after the player, this could include their nickname, first name, last name or all of their names.
2. The character’s name is a noun or word that isn’t normally a name. (Angel, Moon, Chaos etc) This could also be a name of historical/mythical significance that doesn’t relate in any way to the character or the setting of your game.
3. The character’s biography describes her/him as being extremely attractive, without her/him having to work at it. The character might also have a disproportionate amount of description about their appearance compared to other characters.
4. The player describes in their first post that someone (or multiple people) find their character attractive, and try to pursue him/her.
5. The character has something unusual about their appearance, like an unusual eye colour, skin colour or hair colour.
6. The character dresses in such a way that is unusual to their job or setting. E.g. Jeans in 1703, a white flowing dress in caveman times, or a beautiful expensive dress when she’s a peasant.
7. The character has a clone or identical twin.
8. The character has a striking scar, birthmark or tattoo.
9. The character always wears black, leather, or a trenchcoat or other long coat. This especially applies if it’s all of these.
10. The character is a hybrid of two or more species.
11. The character is related to royalty or nobility. Possibly from a far away or lost kingdom. The character might also be incredibly rich, but doesn’t work. They might also discover they are heir to a large fortune.
12. The character is the last surviving member of their family/clan/tribe/species.
13. The character has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything before a certain time in their lives.
14. The character was born into poverty/slavery and had to overcome all odds to break free. They might have ran away from home and left their family behind.
15. The character is unusually accomplished for their age or intelligence. E.g. They are a master swordsman at 17, or have many years of University training at only 19, or are an accomplished pilot at 12. The character might also be well educated despite living in a time or place where education is not widespread.
16. The character has a faithful pet, animal or small robot as a friend.
17. The character has a special ability or superpower that doesn’t fit into the setting of your game.
18. The character has hobbies and interests that are the same as the player’s. But the character is significantly better and more skilled at those than the player is.
(Image by Windfalcon)
Don’t be put off by some of these character traits, as not all of them are negative! There are actually get some good character-building out of stories that have become so over-used that they have become stereotypes.
Also if a player has created a Mary-Sue character, it’s not the end of the world for that character. They might be a genuinely good writer and have some good ideas, they just might be inexperienced and not realise that they have a character with so many stereotypes. As a GM (or a fellow player) you can help them through and give them advice on how to create a more unique character.
More about Mary-Sue characters here:
- Wikipedia’s page about Mary-Sues in fanfiction
- The Urban Dictionary about Mary-Sue’s
- Mary Sue: Defeating the beast
- What does a Mary Sue mean to you?
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