OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


Down with the term ‘Mary Sue’!

This article was written for us by Marian Brock Andersen.

dawn with the name mary sue

So it’s a pet peeve of mine, the whole Mary Sue / Gary Stue classifications that people throw around like its some horrible disease.

“Did you see the game.. yeah… totally they got the Mary Sue.”

We see it all the time, no “Mary Sue / Gary Stue” allowed, splashed all over everything, but what does it really mean to the Moderator or the other players?

Someone doesn’t act the way someone else thinks their character should act and they get labeled. “Their character would never act like that it’s so Gary Stue.”

Someone thinks a particular power, ability or item is out of balance and here that term comes again. “I hate it when a character has ‘blah’ its so Mary Sue.”

My personal favorite, “She’s so Mary Sue, she just wants to get in ‘so-n-so’s pants because they are the ‘person of importance’”.

Do I like those type of characters? Am I just venting because I’m “that” player?


So what’s my point?

My point is this, in the years of RP and time of my own development as a person, role player and writer I have come to realize that the term ‘Mary Sue / Gary Stue’ has become muddled. It has become anything that someone else doesn’t like about a character; overpowered, underpowered, implausible and all too often just undeveloped or worse, that others are jealous that a very well developed character gets more leeway to do things with the moderators.

Let’s replace “no Gary Stue / Mary Sue” with something along the lines of “well rounded and balanced characters only.”

When someone is accused of making that type of character they are not given constructive feedback, they don’t know what it is about the character that the other person feels is flawed.  Rather than use a useless label we could work on giving fair and constructive feedback, like;

“Your chair is really cool, but I noticed that they have unlimited resources, that might make them too powerful or unbalance the game, can we add something as an obstacle, they can still have unlimited resources but maybe if they use to much someone will notice and cut them off, or they can only use it at certain times.”

Most of the time when someone asks me ‘Is my character too Mary Sue?” what they are really asking about is if the character is well rounded, balanced, realistic, or over/under powered. The fear of being that player and the disgust towards this broad all encompassing term has muddied the waters and people are not looking at their characters from the right perspective.  What we should be asking our players and you should be asking yourself is more along the lines of this:

Mary Sues in multiple genres

SEE ALSO: The many different types of Mary Sue

Is my character well rounded? Do they have depth to their personality? What makes them a Hero? What can normal people see in them and relate to? What are their flaws? Challenges? What is their Yin and Yang?

Characters become heroes not because of the awesome things that they can do, but the things they overcome in doing them.  They become ‘epic’ at the end of the story, when they go to face the final boss who is still massively superior to what they believe themselves to be and they get there because of all the other people, places and things that they have experienced on the way to the end of the story. This holds true for roleplay as well as novels, movies, and comic books.

When I create my characters to try to make them a well developed and balanced character are the following questions are things i consider, not that I use them all, but I try to pick out a handful that are relevant to the world.

What are they really good at?

Are they the science wiz? Talented with computers?

What are they really bad at?

Are they the biggest klutz in the world? Do they have a stutter?

What advantages do they have?

Resources, social rank, military training, experience etc.

What disadvantages do they have?

Poor, no family, don’t know how to use guns ect.

Why are they part of the story?

What happened in their life that made them leave the comfort of home and set off into the dangerous world? Did they even have a home to leave?

What are their goals long and short term?

Rescue the princess, save the kingdom, find a meal, make a friend, avenge a lost love there are endless possibilities.

What will they have to overcome in themselves, others or the world to achieve those goals?

Slay the dragon, cross treacherous lands, sacrifice their true love or themselves?

How do other people see them, or how do they present themselves to the world?

Life of the party, wall flower, charmer, know it all etc.

How do they see themselves?

Do they really think they are gods gift to world or are they actually horribly insecure and afraid of rejection?

Do they have something special?

Magic powers, flaming sword, ability to heal others?

What is the personal cost of that special ability or item?

Does the magic use their life force, aging or weakening them?  Did they get the item due to the loss of a dear person to them? Did they have to overcome great trails to get it? Are they in a world that will burn them as a witch if they are found out?

Some other things you could ask to give depth to the character.

  • What would they sacrifice everything for? Why?
  • What would make them act outside of their nature? Why?
  • What is the most important thing in the world to them? Why?
  • What do they hate or fear? Why?
  • Do they have an item or memory that has a special significance to them? Why?
  • What is their favorite memory? Why is it their favorite?
  • If they had a nightmare what would it be about?
  • Do they have any secrets? What are they? What would happen if it was found out?
  • Is the life they are leading now the life they wanted? Why/Why not?
  • What was their relationship with their family like? How has it changed?
  • Are they able to form deep personal connections with others? Why / Why not?
  • Do they want to fall in love or just get laid? Why?

I shall now step off my soap box, I hope that this helps to shine some light on an important topic that can improve the quality of our characters and roleplay in general.

Written by Marian Brock Andersen