As staff, we read a lot of character apps. There are some concepts we see a lot and while we try not to judge, we’re only human. We try to encourage people to explore directions that will diversify the character base already established, so that we can curb things that we know have a wide representation already (ex: a loner, anti-social survivalist that wants to live in the woods). To help with people that might want insight into what we discuss the most on character apps, here’s a wordy rundown. This isn’t meant to be us staff grousing, but instead to give players things to consider if they’re interested in how we make our decisions.

First We Look At Stats

How did you spend your points? I always tell players not to stress the skill system too much because it’s there to facilitate RP and not the other way around, but there *is* a wide variety of things to choose from and some basics are expected. If you’re making someone that was an enthusiast for cooking, we expect to see some points in the cooking skill focuses. If you’re someone that’s been ‘living off the land’ we want a good representation of the survival skill set.

Then We Look At Feats

Did you take nine feats? It’s not against the rules, but if you loaded up on nine feats you can be sure we’re looking them over to see how many of them are nightmares, flashbacks, phobic, hunted, characters with lightning reflexes and batlike hearing. We don’t want to discourage people from taking feats because they’re there for a reason, but consider how much having nine of them enhances your character versus a need you might simply have to *take* nine. Were you just looking for extra points? Do the feats enhance skills you’ve taken or ideas you have for your BG or are you simply filling space?

BG Questions

The Timeline

We look at how old your character is and immediately think about that age against the game timeline. If the outbreak began 19 years ago, we factor in your history with that. If they were only two when the zombies showed up, they don’t really have a memory of society prior to the outbreak. If they were twenty, they’re going to have a lot more experience to draw from for their background, especially with education and worldliness.

Concept

We look at your concept as whole and think about how it will fit in a living, breathing community. Is your character going to be social enough with everyone else? A lot of people like to make shy, reclusive, loner-type characters. These concepts can work fine — to a point. If your character is too anti-social, it’s going to be extremely difficult and frustrating for other characters to interact with yours. If your character is scared of all men to the point of doing anything to avoid them, that’s a concept that could work well in a book, but not in an online multiplayer game where half the characters are male.

There are always exceptions and very skilled players can make any concept work, but usually we can pick up on other compelling details mixed into a character concept that help show the player has put a lot of thought into the character and understands the commonalities or challenges they’re including.

Plausibility

This leads into the counter-point of making a character so unique and off-the-wall that they’re no longer plausible. The outbreak started in normal society, 2014. Period. So ask yourself, “Would this person fit into normal day to day society now? Would this group of renegades that started up a couple of years after society started breaking down actually feasibly have katana swords and training, and secret bunkers set up with an entire language of made-up code signals and markings? Do I know any fourteen year-olds that can completely smith and assemble a working pistol without any sort of internet instructional guides or videos? Do I know an adult that can do that?”

We understand that MUSHes are an escape from reality, but we still want a measure of plausibility, and oftentimes throwing a normal, everyday person into an extraordinary situation can make for fantastic stories. Even in the Walking Dead, the characters are all normal citizens thrust into abnormal situations.

Personality

Think about the people/friends in your day to day life. Do they huddle over in corners all day and engage in one or two-word conversations? Not usually. More often than not you have interests and common topics you like to discuss, so think about giving your character some interests. Maybe they’re into old comic books, or maybe they have lots of wild stories they invent to cover for an otherwise mundane upbringing. What if they learned how to cope with their dad getting eaten by a zombie by seeking out other father figures for guidance, and now are particularly trusting of fatherly people as a result. Maybe they compulsively knit scarves because they struggled through a particularly difficult winter without enough heat, and their younger sibling died from pneumonia and your character has vowed to never let something like that happen again…

I often suggest that if players are having trouble nailing down a solid personality for their character, think of a favorite movie, tv show, or book and use a personality from something like that.

For example: Han Solo. You encounter some bandits that are trying to hold you up for your supplies. What would Han Solo do? Maybe he’d try to fight them or charm his way out. What would Lando do? Probably try to make a deal or give in.

Another example: Some people in the outpost are arguing over whether or not to start confiscating all weapons of newcomers to the community. How might Ned Stark from Game of Thrones respond? How might Joffrey Baratheon? Sansa Stark? Captain Picard?… think about how different the personalities of those characters are.

I tend to use TV show characters myself, especially if I’m portraying a male character. (me being female in real life) Anytime I find myself thinking for more than a minute or two about a pose and how my character might respond, I go back to the TV representation I’ve tied my character to. “What would he do right now?” If I’ve picked a strong, well-developed character, that almost always helps me finish my pose.

As staff, we look for something in the character app to show that the player has considered their character’s personality in a realistic way. A person that shrugs off explosions and can wade through fire without flinching is going to need some heavy explaining. However, a character that’s ‘bubbly and overly-friendly to everyone as a way for her to cover up her insecurities with meeting strangers’ makes a lot more sense.

Is There Unneeded Extra Drama in the Background?

People like to explore mature themes and traumatic situations with their characters. We totally get it. A MUSH is often a way to get into a story that breaks up the mundane of real life. However, is it over the top? Is there so much drama that the character doesn’t seem to have much plausibility left? Is the drama necessary to further the concept you’re looking to do, or just a crutch to make your character the most tortured soul you can think of? A tortured soul can have it’s place, but again, think about if you had a friend real life that has gone through what your character has… would you want to still interact with them regularly? How would they deal with that in the real world? Most people don’t want to be the support structure and armchair psychologist for day after day… it’s draining. It can be draining on a MUSH as well.

Our game is like the real world, just with zombies. Keep that in mind when you’re piecing together dramatic circumstances. Will this person still function without scaring the other characters away?

Logistics

How did your character get to the game area? Does it make sense? Did you travel 250 miles on foot in a month in the winter? Proooobably not.

Did You Read The Theme Files?

We can usually tell pretty quickly if people didn’t look at the theme files. There aren’t that many, we did our best to keep them as minimal as possible for people to quickly get into the game and start having fun, but they are necessary for everything to remain consistent amongst players.

Is This Character Fair to the Other Players?

Are you trying to make your character a genius at everything? Are you looking to be the next Batman? Is there so much prestige and splash in your background that it overshadows the concepts everyone else in the game has going on? We sometimes ask people to tone back certain sections or pick one or two ‘special’ aspects to keep things in check and fair for everyone. We want everyone to feel like their character can shine and has a role to play.

Why the Scrutiny?

Cheyenne and I have both staffed on multiple games over the years. We have read countless character apps (we’ve seen just about everything) and we’re pretty firmly in agreement of what kind of theme and realism level we’re looking for on the MUSH. It’s true, sometimes we roll our eyes or groan when reading an app, but we always try to give the player the benefit of the doubt and consider what they were looking to do with their character before sending back the app for changes. We want the game to be fun for everyone, and we set the same level of expectation for each app we receive. Sometimes we make suggestions and players don’t take them, then end up frustrated later. Well, we tried, but we do try to be lenient as well and let people make their own choices if they’re really attached to a concept.

If all of this seems utterly ridiculous? This might not be the MUSH for you. You probably aren’t going to have fun, and other players are probably going to be frustrated.