If I toss you out an airlock, yes, you will die. Alternate Ideas for Dealing with Mary Sues and Godmodders
This post was written by Andrew Facemire who runs the USS Excalibur RP.
Recently, like earlier this week, while reading some of the great work David has been doing with role playing here at OngoingWorlds, I was reminded of my own dealings with various godmoders and Mary Sues over the years.
Crazy character requests
In sci-fi universe games, I think the potential for really crazy stuff is pretty high; I’ve had, for example, a guy who wanted to play a floating, sentient Dolphin. As a host you often have to think about how to help people channel their creativity without doing stuff that breaks the game. In the case of the Dolphin, for example, I convinced him that he’d need to be fairly constrained because if the limitations that being cetacean would pose. He ultimately chose a more human character.
Some games require characters must be canon only, while others allow players to go all over the place. There are, obviously, some benefits to both. For me, I’ve always aired a little more towards letting people create their own species — the Federation is, after all, really really big — but I’ve always tried to make them understand the perils of being too far off the map in terms of being “humanoid.” And that they’d need to have fairly defined weaknesses as well as any strengths, because — well being a god isn’t that fun. Why roleplay with others if you’re going to solve every problem on your own and are superhuman?
Most people have responded pretty well to those suggestions. I’ve also learned over the years to have fairly clear statements about acceptable roleplay and character creation in my simulation guidelines (http://pastebin.com/JzDqJD3t) that I believe are not only helpful resources for new players, but provide you, as a GM with a clear ability to rule what is and isn’t allowable on your game. (I think of it as a course syllabus — the clearer the better.)
The worst and best example of a godmodding Mary Sue
But what about when you inherit a character? I had a very interesting experience with that as one of my first major challenges as a GM when I joined the command team for the Excalibur, almost a decade ago. The player was a senior member of the crew who’d been with them longer than I had been at that point and was fairly well integrated into the crew’s network, whereas I was fairly new to the game (I had been playing as a special guest during another GM’s absence which turned into him leaving simming, which led me to take over XO) and only knew a few members of the crew, none of which were part of the “experienced” player group. And his bio is still the gold standard I offer to anyone on what is the clearest, worst and best example of a godmodding Mary Sue. (Here’s a link: http://pastebin.com/wWCLMaiX to the additional “Section 31 Bio” that he posted. And here’s his main character bio: http://pastebin.com/W2TcneJd).
Giant red flags that should tip you off
If you have some time, I suggest reading both because they’re both pretty hilarious in their own right and contain GIANT RED FLAGS that should tip you off that a player is going to be a problem, but for those of you who don’t have time — here’s the thumbnail version: he plays a literal highlander (from the TV show!) who’s several thousand years old and, among his many accomplishments: lead the 300 at the Battle of Thermopylae; killed historical Jesus and has the spear of destiny hanging out in his quarters; founded the Templars; was a member of Arthur’s court and has (in addition to the spear of destiny) actual Excalibur, the Holy Grail AND the Ark of the Covenant; lead both the Inquisition AND the Reformation as Martin Luther; led a double life as Comte de Saint Germain and Donatien Alphonse Francois Sade (busy boy, this one); planned the Final Solution with his pal Adolph; invented Windows; started the Eugenics War; created warp drive with his buddy Zephram; fought Duncan McLoud to a draw — you just knew he was going to get a reference to the show in right?; became a God to the Breen; and MORE ™.
Of course he didn’t just have a weird, stupid, way-over-the-top backstory…
No no. He extended his Literal Highlander crap into his play. For example: one of my first real experiences in dealing with him involved being on an away mission where the players were in a rockslide on an asteroid and there was a chance that they could both be crushed or exposed to space and, in the middle of another character having a cool moment he went all “…the worst part is, I am going to live through this. You won’t, but I will…”
Where do you even begin to deal with that? My first step was to talk to him in a private message and let him know that, no, you can die. (That *might* be a topic for another day.) He wasn’t very pleased with the idea — hadn’t I read his bio? If I killed him off, he’d just come back again! (Unless I Took His Head.) Which lead me to an even more uncomfortable discussion. There was no way I could continue to let a player pretend to be an immortal, but on the otherhand, his bio had been approved by the previous command staff (I, to this day, have no idea why.) So what was I to do?
I offered him a compromise
He could continue to believe in character whatever he wanted, but officially, there was no way in hell I was letting him be immortal or have done anything else his bio said he did. Other players then, would be free to make up their own minds about things when he said “check out the spear that killed Jesus!” but, in no way, was it going to be the real spear of destiny.
Working with players rather than against them
In retrospect, maybe I should have just killed the whole thing off then and there and been done with it, but I’ve always been willing to work with players on creating cool and interesting back stories that let them roleplay interestingly. I also learned, very quickly, to suggest to them that they try a more “blank slate” approach to a new character in role play. It’s fine to have some general ideas for a character, but do you really need to have their entire backstory plotted out when you launch? Not really.
But again, that doesn’t really help you deal with players you inherit. I had another player on a game I ended up running for a time period who claimed to have designed every inch of the warp drive system for the Prometheus-class starship, and was thusly, an expert and knew how to fix it and obviously another player couldn’t possibly give him a suggestion on fixing something! By then I was a little more seasoned and had learned an even better tip for dealing with godmodder/Mary Sues — ask them why something makes sense. So in his case, I asked him why a lowly lieutenant would have that much of a role in designing, ostensibly, the most advanced starship in Starfleet history to date, and even if he did, why then would he be on fleet duty?
Typically you’ll get some mental acrobatic responses, but if you keep pressing the point, in my experience, you can get them to understand why its a silly notion without having to bring down the hammer, since that can sometimes cost more capital than you might want to spend.
And honestly, I think that general exercise is good for any role player, not just bad ones. Does this action make logical sense for my character given their rank/role/status? I have a good friend and writing partner over the years whose motto is: the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction should make sense.
Helping make people better roleplayers
I think having that dialog with a player can really help them understand how to be better roleplayers, because, ultimately, that’s what our goal is, right? Help them understand that they’re not just writing crappy fanfiction — they’re playing collaborative role playing games and it’s not fun for anyone when you close off other players ability to participate. I try to not shut them down entirely, but work with them to come up with a way to incorporate their cool ideas within the bounds of the game.
Andy Facemire is a hobbyist writer, part-time blogger, (bad) gamer, and self-confessed nerd. He has run the USS Excalibur simulation at STSF.net since 2005 and previously served as Director of Communications for the Federation Sim Fleet. You can read his ramblings about sports, games and see some pictures of (mostly) food at: statsboyandi.tumblr.com