"Hello, denizens of Gaia! This is your friendly neighborhood Captain Kiva, and her faithful sidekick Tengu, here with a public service announcement.
We've RPed in several different and exotic locales over the years, from tabletop, to chats, to a bevy of message boards. We enjoy Gaia, as it's one of the few message boards devoted first and foremost to role-playing, the mystical and pixie-dust-driven dance of nerds. Indeed, every nerd who receives this fae-vision does gravitate towards the internet for role-playing. And porn. But that has nothing to do with Gaia, despite the copious amounts of manslave, slave, hook-up bar, and innocuous 'sleep over' roleplays. Honestly, you guys. Can't you just go get a prostitute or something? None of us are interested in reading your poorly constructed sexual fantasies, lived out with an super-deformed avatar with cat ears. Colored text isn't helping ANYTHING.
On to the meat of this article.
Tengu and I have done articles like this before. Back at our old collective blog, The RPG Rants, we dissected several problem players in our then-current RPGs. This was later moved to a livejournal account, that was terribly short-lived.
While it seems that we write these hateful, hateful articles because we want to make little sixth graders with no concept of what spell check is cry, this is not entirely the case. Your tears are delicious to us, but so is the growth of your... brain.
Tengu: For later harvest, of course.
We want you to learn, to grow, to become better role players, and to take that other hand out of your pants and type with all ten fingers. We believe in you- well, we don't really. But this is like that last shot. This is our final hope. This article is our Bruce Willis riding the spaceship up to the meteor and blowing it up before it destroys the planet. Come on, people. Who DOESN'T like Bruce Willis?
Now. For real. The article. We promise.
This article will focus on one main problem we have. That is, Sueism. If you don't know what Sueism is, don't worry, that will all be made perfectly clear as this story of woe unfolds.
This article will also be broken up into several main 'chapters', as 'twere.
1. What is Sueism?
-Sex Me Up Sue
2. What is Stuism?
-The Nightcrawler Effect
3. Why are these things bad?
-For other players
4. How can I stop playing Stu/Sues?
-Early Character Design
5. How can I deal with other Mary Sues/Gary Stus?
-Final Resort: The Standard PM
6. Are Sues/Stus always bad?
-Facets of Sueism
-The Exception To Every Rule
What is Sueism?
Every one knows who Mary Sue is, even if they don't know her name. She comes in many forms, but all of these have one thing in common. Mary Sue is the product of a child's fantasy world, an escape tactic used by many who do not wish to RP characters, but rather wish to RP perfect avatars, bizarre amalgamations of what they are and what they wish to be.
We aren't looking down on your fantasies; we only want to make RPing fun for EVERYONE, not just YOU. RPing is a collective effort, and if one person brings in a poorly constructed Sue character, it can destroy an entire RPing group.
But we'll touch more on this in Chapter Three.
For now, let's discuss the main classifications of Sues that Tengu and I have run across here, and in other venues.
Why do bad things happen to beautiful people?
Tragic Sue is the beautiful (I have yet to see an ugly Mary Sue, but there's always next week) woman with the hideously tragic past. You know her, you've met her. There's at least one Tragic Sue in every RPG I've ever seen.
The thing about Tragic Sue's problems is that none of them are her own fault. Tragic Sue is always the victim of her environment, be it family, classmates, an evil cult, whatever. There is always some outside group who, for no reason, are targeting Tragic Sue, and making her life very, very sad.
This is a classic escapist fantasy. For when people want to believe that something is NOT their fault. There are problems in your life which may or may not be out of your control, but exhibiting twisted visions of these problems, putting them on display for us, that's not something we want.
Having a little tragedy with your character ISN'T the problem here. We are not saying that your character shouldn't have a difficult past, or some serious problems. It's when your character is faultless. When your character is only a victim, and not an enabler, or perhaps even one of the very problem causers. None of us are faultless in real life. The sooner we accept this, the sooner I can stop seeing some Tragic Sue weeping about her tragic past in a tragic way at the drop of a TRAGIC FREAKING HAT.
Tragic pasts should be a main revolving point, if you choose to have them. You should NOT reveal them within the first five minutes of meeting someone. How boring is that? No building. It is, as one saying goes, "Without meaning, without climax, without conclusion."
Who is Angry Sue? Why, you see her everywhere you turn these days. Staring at you from web sites, fanfiction, and even popular media, Angry Sue is the beautiful, tough, no-nonsense chick who knows ten different martial arts, fires two guns at once, claims she wears the pants in the relationship, but often ends up crumbling and crying to the first bit of Manmeat that pays attention to her. Angry Sue is often just another part of Tragic Sue. She is jaded, tough, and wears her shit-kicking boots knee-high.
This doesn't sound like a problem, many of you are saying. We'll discuss this in more depth in Chapter Three, but I feel the need to point out some of the COPIOUS flaws that plague Angry Sue. Angry Sue is, often times, so obsessed with being a total badass, that it becomes outright Godmoding (discussed more with Gary Stu) and she fails to be realistic. None of us want to see ANYONE entirely capable of taking on an army by themselves. That isn't realistic at all, and usually bores us to tears.
Martha. Freaking. Stewart.
You know that girl you know who gets perfect grades, and is nice to everybody, and can sing beautifully, and has time to throw wicked-cool parties, and never has a hair out of place? You don't? Me neither.
Because she DOESN'T EXIST. Not outside of crazy freaking RPGs where she rules with an iron fist. Perfect Sue often has an angsty Stu boyfriend who she taught how to love. She is everyone's friend, and usually a princess in disguise or some crap. When the time comes, Perfect Sue might die a noble death, and then everyone can sit around weeping for their loss for a couple pages, and her sacrifice will never be forgotten or some crap.
Basically, Perfect Sue is that girl in high school who you wanted to beat the crap out of, but later you found out that she actually was addicted to cocaine and was obsessive compulsive and got knocked up by her boyfriend and dropped out of college. Only Perfect Sue doesn't do any of the bad things.
Once again: LACK OF REALISM.
That frisky Zeus!
1/4 Vampyre (bring me to life oh nooooo), 1/4 angel (might only have one wing), 1/4 elf (related to Legolas!), 1/4 demon (with photoshopped picture of Ryoko as their signature) and ALL ANGST. Her tragic parentage makes her the target of many people who don't understand her. Her tragic parentage also gives her a METRIC ASSLOAD of powers with NONE of the drawbacks of any of those races. Elvish grace, demon sturdiness, angelic beauty and holy powers, badass vampire who can go out into the sunlight?
Wow, you guys. I don't have a lot I can say about this Mary Sue that the full parentage doesn't say for itself. Let's just leave it at this: Don't play this character. In fact, try to stay away from half-breeds entirely until you are past the age of eighteen. While there's still a very high chance you might be an idiot who will play Mary Sues, there is that snowball-in-hell percentage that you will have grown out of it.
At least... I hope so.
Sex Me Up Sue
Just another facet brought to you by your local rampaging hormones.
Sex Me Up Sue is one who you rarely see alone. You usually see an Angry Sue with Sex Me Up tendencies, or a Tragic Sue. Sex Me Up Sue is just another way for me to complain about you people who don't want to RP as much as you want to hook up with someone else and have a happy Gaian wedding and four billion Gaian children after you're pregnant for about four weeks and then all the children are all grown up within another month. Jesus, what is this, ALIENS?!
Sex Me Up Sue also can't seem to resist prancing around with whatever flavor of the month she has hooked up with. (Or... two months, if you want to go with the cycle. Whatever.) She is beautiful, doesn't play by the rules, is usually strangely a virgin (no matter how many times she's been through this cycle) and is trained in the arts of LOOOOOOVE.
Wow, you guys. Just... wow.
Please stop role-playing if you play this Sue. You are beyond our help entirely, since the worst case we saw of this was played by a forty year old woman. In fact, you might want to destroy your computer and never darken the internet with your wicked presence ever again.
What is Stuism?
Gary Stu is Mary Sue's brother. The Yang to her Yin. Or the Yin to her Yang. I can never keep that crap straight.
Okay, basically, anything that we say about Mary Sue can be turned around and applied to Gary Stu, and vice versa. The only reason that we've separated them into two chapters is so we can let you know what genders we USUALLY see these problems applied to. Angry Sue, for instance, can also (and often is) be a Gary Stu problem. Same with the half-breeds.
Gary Stu is just Mary Sue without any boobs and some extra hardware. He usually comes with a traditional outfit too, sunglasses at night and a black trench coat. I don't know where you guys think this is fashionable, but I can assure you, this isn't The Matrix and nobody cares.
MY POWER LEVEL IS 4089704387395873495723948793487349863612301 and a half
Okay. So Gary Stu can't lose in a fight. Ever. Not unless it means showing up on Perfect Sue's doorstep all bloody with his shirt ripped off (which often leads to a Perfect Sue transformation in which she digivolves into Sex Me Up Sue) where he can make reference to some shadowy government agency/gang/cult/army/demon/insert overdone b.s. here who managed to defeat him in a fight. Never fear, his wounds are miraculously healed within five minutes (usually by Perfect Sue's amazing healing abilities) and then the next time he runs into this group, he's stronger than ever, and he defeats them while LAUGHING CALLOUSLY.
But that's against NPCs. How does Gary Stu fair against... other characters?
Now I abhor fighting between PCs in any RPG, as it's just one more way for controversy to invade an interesting thread. There are, as always, exceptions to this rule, but usually I say that if the players are going to fight anyone, it should be a group of NPCs controlled by the GM. That way, they have to work together.
But let's say that a battle breaks out between Gary Stu and John Doe, our average, run of the mill male character.
Gary Stu can dodge any attack that John Doe throws at him, and automatically lands any hit that he throws at John Doe. Seen from Gary Stu's eyes, it's a bit like watching a possum take on a sixteen wheeler. It's just not pretty.
But the thing is, Gary Stu shouldn't be a big truck. All characters in an RPG should be similar in their 'power levels' let's call it. Damn you, Akira Toriyama. If Gary Stu is a martial arts specialist, and John Doe is, say, a librarian with occult powers, then yes. It's possible that Stu might get the drop on him. But never count John Doe out. Have you even seen the kind of damage lesser demons who are hastily summoned can do to a guy who's idea of armor is a Neo-style trench coat? Holy God.
That's why I try to stay away from open RPGs. This way, if a Gary Stu-ist (often even more emotional and touchy than the most PMS-y of Sue-ists) gets out of hand, a GM can step in, call three strikes, and boot them the hell out. The problem usually resolves itself within five pages, when the Stu-ist finds yet ANOTHER RPG to contaminate, leaving your fair land safe once more.
WATCH OUT FOR THE PUNISHER OH NOOOOOO
Okay, you know how the Punisher movie is coming out this Friday? I predict that a hojillion Gary Stu's who have lost their families to shadowy gang enemies are going to show up, angry, tragic, sad, and SEEKING VENGEANCE. They won't mind if they get a little tail along the way. (Sex Me Up Perfect Sue? Is that you again?)
Angsting is a trait of both Gary Stus and Mary Sues, and it can get really. Freaking. Annoying. I don't know why you guys think I want to read through forty freaking posts, all laden with Linkin Park lyrics, about your character's tragic past and how totally sad and not their fault it was, but let me tell you something. Unless you can make your posts really interesting to read, don't bother. I don't care if your parents were killed by vampires, I don't care if you have no memory, and I don't care if MOM DOESN'T UNDERSTAND ME I'M GONNA GO TO MY ROOM AND LISTEN TO EVANESCENCE AND PAINT THE WALLS BLACK LIKE MY SOOOOUUUUUUUL!!!!!
Guys. Seriously. Grow up.
While you're up there painting and rocking out to Crawling In My Skin, could you please toss your computer out the window and never come back? Pretty please? That'll give you a real reason to angst, and give the rest of us a break.
The Nightcrawler Effect
Alrighty guys. This is going to be pretty obscure, so I'll explain right away. I hate characters who can somehow magically pop up whenever someone mentions their name, even if they were on the other side of the city. Things take time, and you guys can just bamf your way across the RPG setting, popping up for random conversations between any of the characters.
This isn't a Stu problem or a Sue problem. This is a bad RPer problem. But to be fair, we've noticed a lot of Stus and Sues exhibiting this bizarre ability. Unless your character really can teleport (GMs, be careful with that, too. You might find yourself with a big Sue Headache.) try not to do this too much.
Why is this bad?
There are a couple different reasons why Sues and Stus suck so much. But all of these reasons are either bad for YOU, or bad for the other players. So, we're going to break this up. If you're a selfish little snot who only thinks of themselves, you can skip over the part about the other players. If you want to make your RPG a happy experience for everyone, go ahead and read both.
Why is Sueism and Stuism bad for you? Well, it'll get you locked out of a percentage of RPGs, usually the percentage of them that's good. For instance, if you applied for our RPG, the Mahou Boarding School, Tengu and I would laugh at you. Cruelly. Because we hate Sues and Stus, and we won't let them near our precious, darling baby. Your like some dirty homeless bum trying to get with our daughter. And we're all, No, you a scrub. Your all "Come on, man, I've got food stamps and this trenchcoat."
So. Back to the article.
Anyway, Mary Sues and Gary Stus are never going to win you any awards, they're never going to let you learn to RP with large groups of people, and they're never going to make your character a part of a team, not really. The nature of Stus and Sues is to be the center of attention, which is completely counter-productive to the nature of RPGs, which is a collective effort. There are no main characters, there are no main heroes. There is a group of people playing diverse and interesting characters (if you're lucky) and they all deserve equal time in the spotlight. While the characters may not get along, the players do, and they all work together in this cooperative production to weave the story together in such a way that people who AREN'T in the RPG could read over it and remain interested. And people who ARE in the RPG will cherish it.
Sues and Stus are no help to this. People who play them often don't play well with others, having trouble letting go of the spotlight and letting other characters step in. The very nature of their backstories makes it impossible for someone playing a GOOD character to relate to them.
If you guys want interaction, if you guys want interesting roles in the plot, then you guys have to make interesting characters. Not hard, right? We'll get into that.
Sueism and Stuism sucks for everyone. The other players will either laugh at you, want nothing to do with you, or have their plots disrupted by you. And that blows.
Often times, Sues and Stus break the mood. If, for instance, one character is relaying an especially important speech, a Sue or Stu might be thinking about their love interest or their tragic past which has nothing to do with the speech. Also, if the characters are enjoying a lighthearted moment, the Sue or Stu might bring them down with the tragic past bit. Constantly wrapped in their own angst and drama, Sues and Stus can ruin an RPG for the other players, and have those players turn on the GM for allowing such an atrocity into the RPG in the first place.
Then the entire RPG crumbles.
The Sue-ist or Stu-ist, of course, doesn't realize that this is partly their fault (and partly the GMs fault for letting them in at all). If told this, they become, once again, the smelly bum, only this time they've been on a date with our daughter, they've gotten her pregnant, killed her, and left her in a ditch. To our angry cries of protest, their only response is: "Man, why you gotta be such a hater?"
Wait. What were we talking about?
How can I stop playing Sues?
We've had a couple people, when we've confronted them about their Sue-tendencies, ask us to help them stop playing Mary Sues. Our main problem with Mary Sues and Gary Stus is that they are so extreme. Your character CAN have a tragic past. Your character CAN be seductive. Your character CAN be beautiful. But let's not let it get out of hand. That shouldn't be the only facet to your character.
Early Character Design
Nip it in the bud!
One thing I cannot stress enough is to design your character BEFORE you put it up in the application thread. Fill out a character sheet, and read it over carefully. Don't be afraid to take some time with it. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the best characters in books and movies were not thought up in ten minutes. Take a whole day just thinking about your character. What will their strengths be? What will their weaknesses be? Are these weaknesses that you would put on a job application when asked: "What are your flaws?" If yes, throw them out and come up with better ones. Characters who blame themselves for things that aren't their fault are annoying.
Ask yourself where your character learned to do the things that they can do. They shouldn't just be some kind of prodigy, usually learning something takes time and effort. This also adds to a character's background.
How old is your character? If they're fifteen, there's no way they could be proficient in five different kinds of martial arts. In fact, if they're fifteen, it's unlikely that they're proficient in even ONE martial arts, unless they've been studying since they were very young. And if they HAVE been spending all this time training in martial arts, they're probably hideously socially inept and completely unable to connect with their own age group. That isn't bad, it can be kind of interesting!
Look at the other characters. Are any of them playing five hundred y ear old elves? No? Then why the hell are you? Are they all playing humans? Stick with that then!
And also look at the other characters so that you don't rip off someone's idea. That's really rude and annoying.
Also, look at the movies you've watched recently, the books you've read. Are you just making a perfected avatar of a popular character? That's not interesting at all! Be original!
Which brings us to...
Neon orange in a sea of black!
Your character is going to get really boring if they're like the hundred other Sues around. I know you all have working brains, and I know that you all have imagination, so use it. From your character's physical looks to your characters emotional makeup, they should be interesting, original, and fun to read. They don't have to be goofy (and if you ever say "looks like my avatar" in a description, you should be shot) but they shouldn't all be wearing Goth clothes, with black hair. And they shouldn't all be dark, broody, angsty brats.
Look at the characters already in an RPG or in the application thread. Read over some of the posts if the RPG has already started. Think to yourself: What kind of character can I bring to this RPG that would make the story more interesting for everybody? I think you'll find that if you think this way, you'll make a lot more friends, add a lot more to an RPG, and soon become a GM favorite. Our favorite players are the ones who go out of their way to involve other players, and make the whole RPG fun for everyone!
Remember reality? That little place where you should PROBABLY try living?
A lot of you say to me "But reality is boring!" I disagree. I think there is nothing more varied, fascinating, or original as the world around us. You can get inspiration anywhere, and there's nothing wrong with that. Reality is not someone in an advertisement- those people are paintbrushed, digitally enhanced, and yadda-yadda. Remember, your character is going to have the occasional bad hair day.
Also, some of the most interesting people you know in real life are going to make the best models for the most interesting character you've ever played! A single father, someone living with blindness, someone who owns a shop and has to deal with the day-to-day stress of work. All of these are interesting characters.
If your RPG is in a strange, fantasy setting, you can still use these real life archetypes. They just probably won't be driving a car around.
Think about ways that you can incorporate reality, YOUR life, into an RPG. Because the only thing that you can write about with any kind of confidence is the real world, the one around you. That's the only one you've experienced, and bringing pieces of it into your RPG isn't boring- it can be quite the opposite!
How can I deal with other Mary Sues/Gary Stus?
So you've read over this entire article (good for you!) and you think you aren't playing a Mary Sue. Let's do a quick last minute check. Can you take criticism about your character? Yes? Does your character have realistic and interesting flaws? Yes? Is your character half-God? No? ROCK ON!
Now let's say that you join an RPG with your awesome new skills as an Anti Sue-ist but... what's this? This RPG you've joined just got a Mary Sue applicant! What are you going to do?
Don't worry! There are steps to take!
Notify your GM
Right, so, you're in an application thread, you're gearing up for this RPG you've just joined, when someone puts up an application.
Let's say it looks a little bit like this:
Name: Angel Starfire Moonsong Honeykiss OMG
Age: 100000000 but looks like she's 16
Sex: LOL GRRL
Race: Half Angel half vampyre
Description: Like my avatar. Long, golden blonde hair, beautiful, flawless skin, clear, blue orbs, curves in all the right places, full lips, a rose among a bed of tulips. Beautiful singing voice. Really beautiful. Blah blah blah. Some other words for beautiful. More talk about how beautiful she is. Some crap about being misunderstood. Blah.
History: Angst follows. Can't write it out. Too much... sickness oh god...
Immediately, alarms start going off in your head. Actually, they're going off in the room. In horror, you've set yourself on fire. Stop. Drop. Roll. Okay, so, now that the window is open, the smoke alarm is off, and you only have a couple third degree burns all over every inch of exposed flesh on your body (which is all your flesh, since your clothes burned off- this is why we have safety things on lighters) and a stylish new Phantom of the Opera mask, we can get to fighting this Sue.
The first step is to notify the GM. Fire off a private message or find them on AIM or MSN, and tell them "Hey, I noticed the new character trying to join. Looks kind of Mary Sueish. What's your opinion?"
Remember to always respect the GM. This player might be a friend of theirs, and you want to tread carefully. If they GM acknowledges to Sueish-ness, then you're in luck! Make sure they're going to ask the player to change their character, and go on your way. Mission accomplished! Good for you!
But sometimes, things aren't that simple.
Living With Sues
So, like some limp-limbed, spineless jellyfish, your GM has allowed a Mary Sue to join. Damn him, or her. Damn them to the fires of hell for this.
However, there's still hope. You can go the hostile route, or you can go the friendly route. We suggest the host- I mean. We suggest the friendly route, despite having used the hostile route before, with much success. She left us no choice, we had to protect our families, you'll take my gun from my cold dea- wait.
Alrighty, my suggestion? Get in touch with some of the other players. Tell them your worries. Maybe you guys can appeal to the GM again as a group. This usually works, the lot of you sending the GM a private message TOGETHER (write one as a group and only send one, otherwise the poor GM is flooded with messages) and then sitting back and waiting for them to do something.
So the GM realizes that all the other players hate Mary Sue as well? Then asks her to change her character immediately or leave? Good for you! Mission accomplished! You win the internet!
The GM is a bastard.
So twice now, the GM has completely freaking ignored your complaints. That's okay, it's still all good. You can start leading by example. Take the Mary Sue player aside on AIM or MSN and ask them about their character. Make friendly suggestions. Be subversive. Lie. I don't care. This is critical, because if this doesn't work, you're going to have to...
The Private Message
Okay. So. This isn't working.
You've spoken to the GM, all the players have spoken to the GM, and you've all tried to be friendly and subtly help Mary Sue without hurting her feelings.
Well, I'm sorry, but some feelings are going to get hurt.
This is the final resort. If this doesn't work, bail out of the RPG and go find greener pastures, man. Because that shit is toxic.
This is the Final Resort PM, or at least an outline for one that is not too mean and still doesn't sugarcoat the issue.
I'm writing with a rather serious concern I have about your character, __________________, in _______________. The other players and I have been having a lot of discussions, and we're worried that (choose one: you don't have a solid plan for your character/your character is showing soem Mary Sue tendencies/you are an brain-sucking alien draining the life out of the RPG.) We want to (choose one: help you choose a direction for your character/help you become a better role player/kill you and burn the remains.) Please (choose one: find me on AIM or MSN/look at Captain Kiva and Tengu's thread about Mary Sueism/go back to your own planet.)
Thank you for your time,
Not difficult, right? Well, it might spark a fight. A big fight. So it should only be a LAST RESORT, and one that you don't take unless you are REALLY trying to save an RPG and have the backing of the RPG community. This should not be something you do for any old RPG. If you get to Step Three, it doesn't work, and you aren't particularly attached to the RPG, leave. Go somewhere else. Cut your losses. Trust me, Mary Sue authors have special powers, where they spit poison and bleed acid and lay eggs in your chest. You don't want that, do you?
Are Sues and Stus always bad?
Nope! Some of them are extremely well written, and still involve the rest of the players and characters in their plots. Every RPG character has a little bit of Sueism or Stuism in them- as stated earlier, it's escapism, which is what every RPG is. As long as a Sue or Stu player isn't hideously annoying and still involving everyone else and letting everyone take their turn in the spotlight, it isn't that bad.
Avada what now?
Some famous Mary Sues and Gary Stus who AREN'T annoying are:
Harry Potter of the book series by the same name.
Lina Inverse from Slayers.
Wolverine from X-Men
There are more, but here are some examples that EVERYONE should recognize (at least one) and they'll give you a good idea of Sueism and Stuism that actually is acceptable.
Facets of Sueism
We mentioned this earlier
We'd like to repeat that having PARTS of Sueism and Stuism in your character, such as a tragic past are completely acceptable as long as they don't get out of hand. This is just a friendly reminder.
The Exception to Every Rule
Or: other people.
If you're in an RPG with a Mary Sue, you should only try to get them to change if you don't like the character. There is the exception to every rule, the Mary Sue or Gary Stu who is actually interesting and fun to play with. So Sues and Stus should be evaluated on a case by case basis. These aren't rules, they're guidelines." End quote
Return to Chapter 3. Building my character.
Go to Role Playing for Dummies
On to Chapter 4. Building a free form RPG
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