AresMUSH
A New Breed of MUSH Server

MUSH 101 - Telling Your Story

In this part of the MUSH 101 tutorial, we will cover how to create a character and start telling stories.

Joining the Cast

Some games allow you to create a character either through the web portal (by clicking ‘Register’) or from the game’s connect screen (by typing create <name> <password>). Others require you to contact a game admin or perform other special steps. Consult your particular game’s website and/or help files for details.

Many games require you to flesh out your character in a process called Character Generation (Chargen for short). You’ll often choose some Skills to quantify what your character is good at, write a Description so other players know what they look like, and possibly even a short Background (like a mini biography). Often these details will be reviewed by the game’s administrators to make sure that the character is a good fit for the game before you can play.

Stories of All Shapes and Sizes

A MUSH will have plots of different shapes and sizes, just like a TV show.

There will be major plots, which stretch out for longer periods of time and involve large numbers of players. On a zombie MUSH, you might have a plotline where the characters try to develop a zombie vaccine.

Minor plots are short (sometimes no more than a scene or two) and involve fewer players. On a zombie MUSH, you might have a plot where a few people go out to hunt for food.

A lot of scenes are just character development. These scenes usually involve one-off social encounters – drinks at the bar, a chat in the park, etc. While they might seem less interesting than the bigger plots, these scenes are actually vital for developing your character and their relationships. If you want to do a plotline where your character has to deal with their long lost father returning to town nobody’s going to care unless you’ve first spent time building up connections with other characters. And fighting the dragon is more fun when you’re with friends (or enemies) and not complete strangers.

Bars are popular hangouts on MUSHes, just like in real life.

Starting a Scene

The primary storytelling element on a MUSH is the scene. It’s just like a scene in a novel or a TV show – a snapshot of the characters’ lives. There are several steps toward making a scene a successful.

Organize

It takes at least two people to play a scene, so you’ll need to coordinate with someone else. The easiest way to do this is simply to ask on the public chat system.

Don’t be offended or discouraged if the answer at any particular moment is ‘no’. It’s like any social activity – sometimes people are busy doing other things or just not in the mood.

Figuring out what to play can be the hardest part. Sometimes it will be obvious, like if your character is injured and the other character is a doctor. Other times it can feel like the lead-in to a bad joke: “So a schoolteacher, an outlaw and a barber walk into a bar…” Be creative! Sometimes the best scenes come from the most random collection of characters.

Image by Maury Aaseng

Pick a Location

A MUSH has an entire virtual world available. Where is your scene going to be set? The hospital? The bar? The woods outside of town?

The easiest scene to do on any MUSH is a ‘meet and greet’ at a public place, like a bar, a park, or the town square. Once you get familiar with a MUSH, you’ll learn where the popular hangouts are. When you’re new, don’t be afraid to ask.

Set the Scene

Once you’ve gotten the characters together, the next step is for someone to set the scene by writing a paragraph to establish a few key things:

  • What time of day is it?
  • What’s the weather like?
  • Who’s here?
  • Where are they?
  • What are they doing?

That can seem like a lot, but it can be distilled into a simple paragraph. Here’s an example (from a Battlestar Galactica game, incidentally):

The sun is just starting to go down, painting the sky all sorts of pretty colors over the spaceport. Cate is sitting on the grass near the edge of the runway, leaning back on her arms. She idly watches the ground crews working on the aircraft in the distance. Wires run from earbuds to a small music player clipped to a belt loop.

Strike a Pose

After the first person sets the scene, everyone takes turns writing a paragraph in round-robin fashion. These are called poses. (The name comes from the idea of ‘striking a pose’ with your character.)

Your pose should include:

  • Your character’s speech and actions.
  • Your character’s thoughts (within reason – see below).
  • A ‘hook’ for the other player(s) to respond to.

Here are a few poses that continued the scene after the set in the previous paragraph:

The rumble of an engine punctuates whatever Cate is listening to from her music player, though it’s far closer than the distant aircraft engines. A black motorcycle is skirting the edge of the runway, it’s matte finish beat to hell and back and looking as if it were pieced together from a chop shop rather than a showroom. The rider is motoring along sans helmet, Ari dropping the throttle to let the machine coast the last few feet until he has to put a foot down to keep his balance. He drops the kickstand and kills the engine, dismounting with a swing of his leg. He comes out here for privacy, and yet here is someone else encroaching on his make believe territory. Angling himself into her sight line, he gives Cate a single twitch of his hand in a wave.

A perplexed expression creases Cate’s brow when she hears the motorcycle, which turns to one of mild surprise when Cole drives up. She raises a hand briefly to return the wave, then pulls the earbuds out. “And he has a motorcycle too,” she comments lightly. “You’re really working the ‘bad boy’ image there. Hi,” she adds, as almost an afterthought.

We imagine Adam Levine "playing" Ari in our dream cast. Did I mention MUSHes were fantasy?

A few tips about posing:

  • MUSHes are traditionally written in third-person, present tense. (“Cate walks down the ramp.”)
  • Always include your character’s name in your pose somewhere, so it’s clear who is doing what.
  • Posing is like a tennis match. You always want to serve the other person something they can hit back.
  • It’s okay to give some insight into your character’s thoughts, but don’t go overboard. Nobody wants to read an entire paragraph of inner monologue.
  • Remember that the other players are waiting for you to pose. Don’t write a novel.

Once you’ve gotten the basics down, I highly recommend reading the article Give Your Roleplay Sparkle, an amazing tutorial that’s all about making your poses engaging and memorable.

Power-Posing

You only ever write actions for your own character. Don’t pose other peoples’ actions or assume anything about their reaction unless you have their permission; always give them a chance to respond. Posing for someone else is called “power-posing”, and it is not polite.

Good: Emma takes a swing, aiming for Kate’s head.

Bad (Power-Posing): Emma punches Kate in the nose, knocking her out.

You can, however, include background Non-Player-Characters (NPCs) in your poses. NPCs are like “extras” in a movie - the other random people who occupy the game world. You won’t see them in the characters list of a room description, but usually it’s safe to assume they’re there. They’re the other patrons in the bar, or people on the street, or the crewmen bustling around the hangar deck. You can incorporate them into the action as appropriate.

Yelling ‘Cut’

Whether a scene has reached its natural conclusion, or it must be cut short due to pesky thing called real life, all good scenes must come to an end. Here’s how that motorcycle scene ended, after a little chat by the runway.

Cate smiles a little, “I’ll see you,” she yells back over the motor. She watches him drive away for a few moments before tucking the earbuds back in her ears and returning to her chilling out.

This article is part of the MUSH 101 tutorial.