"Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story."
- --John Barth
The purpose of this file is to provide players with guidance on how antagonists are to be treated within the world of Dream Chasers.
Antagonists drive the conflict that lies at the heart of any good story, which means they are absolutely essential to the story that will be told at Dream Chasers. Antagonists have successes, failures, and agendas. They work against the protagonists. They put forward challenges that must be overcome. The more powerful those challenges, the more rewarding the victory.
Battle Fantasia, a MUSH of our fond acquaintance calls this "The Care and Keeping of Antagonists," and that file provides a lot of good advice for people to follow. Our perspective is similar, but we want to put this in our own words because of our setting and genre conventions. You can find a link here. It's worth a read, in and of itself!
Without antagonists, we would not have a game. To ensure we continue to have a game, we must ensure it is fun and rewarding to continue to play an antagonist. Which means there are several general principles we expect players to adhere to, and that repeated violation of those principles will be treated the same as any other rule violation.
If this is a problem for you, then Dream Chasers is not the MUSH for you. We're sorry you won't be joining us.
Heroes and Villains vs. Protagonists and Antagonists
Without getting into things like monomyth or the distinctions between Germanic and Romantic heroes, there are some simple distinctions we can draw between heroes, villains, protagonists, and antagonists.
Heroes are the good guys, the white hats, the people who beat the bad guy, save the cheerleader, save the world. Sometimes they have capes, which they flutter.
Villains are the bad guys, the black hats, the people who want to kill the good guy, kidnap the princess, rule the world. Sometimes they have moustaches, which they twirl.
Protagonists, by contrast, are the central characters of a story. They are the people whose actions, decisions, and moral choices move the story forward. As they suffer the consequences of those decisions, their character is revealed. In the world of Dream Chasers, they are Drifters.
Antagonists are the people or organizations that oppose the protagonists. Whether they are simply rivals to characters or opposing them outright, they are there to challenge the protagonists, both physically and mentally. They put the protagonists' ideals to the test. In the world of Dream Chasers, they are Gebler, or the Metal Demons, or Althena's Guard.
We expect players to recognize two major principles:
Not all protagonists are heroes. Many are, but others are simply in it for the money, or the thrills, or for their own personal agendas that have nothing to do with what's "good" or "right." An example of this is Maya Schrodinger from Wild ARMs 3, who engages in the same activities as the protagonist, but is interested ultimately in her family's well-being and not the fate of Filgaia as a whole. Moral grey areas exist, and characters like Nicholas D. Wolfwood, Maya Schrodinger, and Kanon deserve to have their complexities recognized.
Not all antagonists are villains. Many are, but don't necessarily see themselves that way. Others are heroic, loyal soldiers of their governments, who see what they are doing as "good" or "right" even though they are advancing a cruel agenda. An example of this is White Knight Leo from Lunar 2: Eternal Blue, who is a loyal servant of the Goddess Althena, but refuses to kill Lucia when he has her in his custody.
Your characters can think whatever they like of antagonists so long as it is in character. But OOCly treating every protagonist like a Silver Age Superman and every antagonist like a baby-killing Ultradevil is wrong. It ignores the potential for morally complex, interesting characters and stories. And it's no fun for antagonists. So don't do it.
Antagonists Rule The World
The antagonists of Filgaia (and to a lesser extent Lunar) have been running the show for a long, long time. Their plans stretch across hundreds, even thousands of years of history. The things they have done to advance their causes are responsible for the broken, dying worlds your characters inhabit. The only reason they haven't won already is because there are multiple groups of antagonists, each with their own competing agendas, and they all hate each other.
Your average protagonist, by contrast, has a six-shooter and a bad attitude.
Antagonists have gravity and consequence. They literally rule the world, and we expect players to both recognize that fact and conduct themselves accordingly.
It is important to note that this principle applies to IC behaviour as well. We're not saying you can't play a tough guy, or a wise-cracking cowboy, or that you can't make fun of comic relief characters. If we didn't want you to play tough, wise-cracking cowboys, we wouldn't have built this MUSH.
But even the most grizzled and experienced Drifter keeps his excavated machine gun wrapped up in town, because Solaris kill teams tend to pay a visit to those who don't. Even the most nova-hot pilot only uses her Gear when it's absolutely necessary, because she will run out of fuel long before Aveh or Kislev runs out of soldiers to throw at her. There is a time and a place for wisecracks and levity, so please respect that when participating in scenes.
This principle is important for thematic reasons. It's also a promise to our players. Admin will be running plots, but we don't expect to be carrying the full load. If you play an antagonist, your plans and actions will have consequences for the story and the world. And if you have an idea for something you want to run, we'll absolutely hear you out. Staffers do not hold the monopoly on good ideas.
Keep Calm and Sell, Sell, Sell
Every MUSHer knows the feeling that comes from dropping a massive pose at the end of an hours-long combat scene, a carefully-crafted masterpiece of awesomeness that rips the blinds away from your character's soul... only to have the attack that was stapled to the pose whiff horribly.
It's awful. It makes you feel like you've wasted your time, that you've lost the payoff to your character's badass moment. You've been waiting for weeks, maybe even months to unload your ultimate attack, only to have it hit nothing but air. Damn it, why the hell do you even stay up late for this crap? Oh wait, your opponent's pose is coming in. Let's see how he dodged it.
Drifter Dave flicks his gun hand down, opening his trusty single-action revolver in a motion made smooth by thousands of repetitions. Cartridges rattle against steel as he fiddles with the speed loader, botching the first attempt before finally slamming the rounds home. Careless, Dave thinks to himself. He can't afford mistakes like this -- Rock Sizzlebeef has enough power to crush him like a bug, and the giant cyborg only has to get lucky once. Dave's got to be lucky every time.
The revolver snaps closed, and Dave is bringing it up to fire when he suddenly freezes, seeing Rock twist his massive body around, as if preparing to throw a punch. Ridiculous, Dave thinks. I'm a dozen feet away, he can't hit me from--
Instinct screams a warning, and Dave dives to his right, moving at a healthy fraction of the speed of sheer terror as Rock's enormous fist detaches from his forearm and speeds across the distance between them, blotting out the horizon as it approaches. Dave hits the ground; half a second later, he feels a tug at the left sleeve of his duster that sends him sprawling backward, rolling twice before measuring his length along the dust of the prairie. He shakes his head, trying to clear the roaring in his ears, until he realizes he can feel it along the ground too, a thousand little impacts like heavy rain.
Dave turns his head to his left, to where the entire saloon is collapsing in on itself, probably because of the fifteen-foot hole where its southwest corner used to be. Dave can't help but stare for a second before a zipping sound echoes out, steel cable retracting the cyborg's fist back into his arm, ready to be fired again. The drifter swallows against a throat that is suddenly dry, his hands shaking faintly as he rises to a kneeling position. If that had hit him...
"You'll pay for that, Sizzlebeef!" Dave roars as he begins firing, trying to conceal his fear behind his anger. There were people in there. "Dead or alive, I'm bringing you in!"
Suddenly that miss doesn't seem so bad. How did that happen?
What Drifter Dave's player has done is structured his pose in a way that reflects the outcome of the combat system (a missed attack) but has done so in a manner that does not make his opponent seem pointless, or non-threatening, or disrespected. He has done this in several ways -- by including several physical cues as to how nervous Dave is, by making the miss a close shave rather than an effortless dodge, and by including details on his character's mental state.
This is called selling. It can be done in response to physical threats, or emotional ones, or situations. Selling is what makes scenes involving conflict, particularly combat scenes, work. It is the sort of thing that players should be doing to everyone out of common courtesy, although it should be noted that people are generally very willing to sell for your character if you have been selling for theirs.
It is especially important to sell for antagonists. For one, it's polite. For two, it's rewarding. And for three, it helps maintains antagonists as a credible threat, which is essential to any MUSH, particularly one structured like Dream Chasers. Even if antagonists end up losing a particular fight (or even most fights), victory should never feel guaranteed. People don't value things that are easy. And the more dangerous the threat, the more awesome characters are for overcoming it.
Selling is a win-win scenario. It's also expected behaviour on Dream Chasers. Consistent no-selling of antagonists, or other opponents, will be treated like any other rule violation.