Character applications are full of tells as to who is going to be the Sue-iest of Sues but no section of the application is more fun to read than the role play sample. On the surface, this is merely a test to see if a player can string a sentence together, if they care about spelling or grammar and how imaginative they can be within the game. Beyond that, samples show off a character. That character must be represented in a short, one-sided narrative where they get to make all the choices. It's like crack for Sues!
A Treatment Worse than the Sue
When I read a sample, there are a few key things I look for and one is how the author treats their own character. Of course an author cares very much about their own character but what tone do they use when talking about his or her actions? Are they sympathetic to her problems? Are they matter-of-fact about his stoic nature. Are they trying to get you to sob because she's an anorexic? Do they want you to see how manly he is? Perhaps she's nerdy and no one gets her. What if he's goth and sometimes cuts himself but he has a sweet nature to others?
A tone regarding the character, in and of itself, doesn't say if a character is a Sue or a Stu but I worry a great deal when the author cares too much a character to the extreme that the character is over pitied or uber admired. I have to wonder if the author will expect me to do the same when I encounter this character in the game. Am I supposed to want to hold this Sue tight to my bosom until she stops crying or revere his gifts with a sword? Any sign of unapologetic boasting or relentless flaunting, as well as dreadful pathos or hopeless sorrow and I want to steer clear away from this character in the rpg.
Look What I'm Doing!
Once the facts have been established about a character, it's time to see them in action. What sort of scene does the author choose to exhibit their character to the world? The scene they plunk their character into shows what they find important about their character. I've found that the most frequent scenarios involve showing off a talent, a trait, or showing how the character got to be where they are now.
Some samples show a character being challenged so a certain talent they have can shine. In some cases, that's a great thing to show off but how it's displayed can send up an instant red flag that this person will be a nightmare to interact with. I'm not sure how many times I've read samples where Mary Sue is outnumbered yet still defeats some nasty foes but we've seen it twice in this blog with Kryssa and Rose Hermione of Gisbourne. Kryssa used her infinite powers to subdue the baddies while Rose was just too smart for anyone to best.
*Are You Always Like This?
This scenario is like taking a snapshot of this character's life, accentuating a trait. Tabby Sue did this when she captured a mouse, killed it quickly to keep it from suffering and then fed it to her warrior clan. Tabby Sue is very humane for a cat. She is the best at what she does and she provides for everyone and this is something she does all the time. This activity is something that defines her personality. An Emo Stu may show the same defining action by showing a scene where he's misunderstood by an authority figure.
*When Do You Sue?
All samples take place in the past or present because the future would be silly. I actually like the scenes that show how a character became the way they are and how they ended up within the world of the rpg. Taking a moment in time to show a character's past is interesting and shows their worth as a player. Of course, the glorifying and the depression can bring it all down and so can a past like that of Lysol where nothing actually happens. If a character is boring in their own sample, they will be boring in active role play too.
NPCs: Non-Player Chumps
Non-player characters are the faceless, nameless saps that authors place in their samples to interact with their character. In some cases NPCs are treated as background or a means to tell a story but in the hands of a Mary Sue they are sniveling, stupid sycophants. They can't hold her down, they can't do anything without her and they can't find their own ass with a flashlight. In some cases you can ask yourself, if they treat an NPC like this, how will they treat your character? Will you be shoved out of the way so Mary Sue can shine?
If the character acts differently in the sample than they are in the bio, watch out. If she says she's shy but in her sample she's dancing on a table at the local pub, she won't be consistent in the rpg either. If his history was that he spent all his life in a dojo learning samurai skills and he's hacking into computers in his sample, ask yourself why he wasn't following through with what he said. There may be something he's not telling everyone in the world of the rpg that he ought to be saying.
A Sue of Two Worlds
It's preferable for me to see the author using the character they intend to play in the rpg for the sample, not a character from different rpg, but I think the same tells can apply. The character they are using can still be a princess who saves the world and treats NPCs like crap. The reason for choosing another rpg scene could be as simple as the players feels that the scene that character is in represents the best of their abilities. I often wonder if that scene is the best they can do, what does that bring to this rpg with different characters and circumstances? How much reign will they have over the character they just created if they feel another one expresses them better? Some owners ask for examples from the authors that are from other rpgs and I'm not sure why. I don't see the benefit of it.
Skipping the Sample
When I see a player skipping the sample entirely I have two ideas about that person already. 1.) They are actually a member of the staff or, 2.) The player doesn't really care what anyone says, even the owner, so they don't have to follow any instructions at all. I feel that everything an owner asks you to do must be done without question. If you want to be in the rpg, you must subject yourself to all the whims of the staff. And if the author doesn't care about what the staff wants, how much will they care about you as a fellow player?
Perhaps the third possibility is that the author just can't think of a scene. It's possible that when joining a online, free-form role playing game, some authors find themselves with nothing to say. That bodes well, doesn't it?
What it All Means
Read those samples carefully. Maybe as an owner, you can give your players a topic for the sample such as, "How would your character act at a party? What would their dream vacation be like? If they could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?" It will make players think a bit more about their character. You don't have to but it can help those who are stuck, curb the Sues and separate the authors who won't respect you.
As a player, samples reveal who the author is that I'm dealing with and if I should keep my distance as to avoid any fucking with my character so badly that I want to walk away from the game in an angry huff. Look out for those attention whores, the arrogant authors, the weepy creeps and the blathering bores that only see you as another NPC.
Stay tuned for samples that make me shake in my boots!