Posted by: Sean | March 11, 2009

Mary Sues: Now they’re for breakfast!

Have you guys been reading Ask a Lore Nerd? If not, you really should be. Alex Ziebart is arguably the best role-play columnist WoW Insider has, and that’s a big call given that the role-play columnist there is David Bowers, who at last count had written… and this is an estimate… forty-thousand columns on how to play various combinations of race, faction, and profession. “So you wanna be a tauren warrior mooncloth tailor?” Damn, yo.

But we’re discussing Ask a Lore Nerd today. Apart from an REM reference, (and I’m always up for some REM) it had a question about the worship of the Holy Light, observing that most of the Argent Crusade appeared to be paladins and priests, but that they were involving the Horde, too. He therefore asked, “Could we see Light worshipping orcs and trolls? Orc priests? Troll paladins?”

The official answer was basically: “Sure, but you won’t get to play them in World of Warcraft. But why not play the d20 RPG? You could play a troll paladin there.”

Well, I can think of a perfectly acceptable reason why not: It’s crap. But other’s had other reasons, too. Mainly, they stated that they wouldn’t allow the troll paladin in their games without a damn good reason – The whole idea came off like a Mary Sue to them. “Oh, look at me,” They mockingly cried, imitating the object of their derision, “I’m so unique and special, the world’s only troll paladin!”

Wait, that’s a troll. Throw in the use of the word “mon” a little.

OK, OK. I’m constructing a straw man of my opponents constructing a straw man, so I’d better just cut to my basic point. They were actually quite well spoken about the whole thing but emphatic none the less, that they would not allow the troll paladin in all likelihood.

And my thought is: Really? Do you know what you’re giving up by doing that? Dude, you could seriously have some fun with a troll paladin! Can you imagine the training sequences? The theology discussions? The hard-fought battle for acceptance among your new peers? (Presumably blood elves, one would imagine.)

How about the rejection from your tribe? How about being called a traitor to the loa and the spirits? Of being run out from Sen’Jin Village and being told never to return? Hell, you could wind up with a lynching if they played it badly.

A troll paladin is drama with a side of fries. It’s got serious levels of potential. Are you really going to turn that down because you’re worried they might Mary Sue it? I’m not denying that a Mary Sue can be a destructive force in a game, but there’s ways to tone that down. Discuss with the player first. Make sure they understand that you’re going to insist on good characterisation and play. Tell them the story will not be all about them. Make them understand that they’re unusual, but need to play them as a person first. Create an XP bonus for the best role-player of each session, to encourage everyone to play in good manners. There are ways to treat Mary Sueism in a tabletop environment.

OK, OK. But we’re a World of Warcraft role-play weblog. What does this mean for those of you who don’t tabletop role-play? Well, don’t panic, I suppose. It’s saying that you should look for the opportunities before you worry about the dangers; that Mary Sues are not hiding under your bed and around every street corner looking to devour your babies. If you’re running a role-play guild and a player comes to you with an unusual character background or history, don’t reject it out of hand. Seek to mitigate problems while enjoying the benefits rather than banning outright.

A little bit of weird is good. Never forget that.



  1. Agreed. Speaking as a player who has never DMed, I’ve been burned a few too many times with concepts dreamed up in a vacuum and then brought to the table with no concern how they’ll play in a group.

    Of course I’m responsible for a young yet white haired rogue who only fights using boot knives and is on the run from a cult he narrowly escaped being sacrificed by. So I can’t say anything about oddball character concepts.

    I’d think a person who wanted to play a Troll Paladin in order to spotlight hog would be problem. This isn’t a problem with the Troll Paladin though, this is an issue with the person who needs all the attention. As with nearly any DM/RP issue though, a DM with a spine and a player who can take criticism is the solution.

    Now I would love to play in a group of interesting character concepts that are still mechanically sound. So no cookie cutter mages that specialize in Solid Fog + Cloudkill for no reason other than it is far more successful than Fireball yet also no Dragon Disciples please! 7/10 spellcasting progression makes Baby Jesus cry. I need to find a group that actually weds the amateur theater to the war gaming and achieves D&D Critical Mass.

    Wait… We are talking Warcraft. Ahem. Man, I forgot about those tattoos that marked you as a demon worshiper. I’d think in a place where evil thoughts can be literally detected bad guys would avoid physically marking themselves.

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