Originally written in 2008, I’ve updated this essay a little for 2016 to reflect more modern technology. Most of the original theme remains on point, though.
Freeform role-playing has long been a part of furry, from FurryMUCK up through F-Chat. Freeform is not a euphemism for “fetish-laden sex” (although to be sure there’s an awful lot of that), but simply that there are no rules that constrain what your character can and can’t do. You are what you say you are, from a giant cat woman to a tiny mouse who can somehow eat planets. As long as the players you’re with go along with what you say, you are that and you can do that.
There are obvious advantages to this approach for macrophiles. In a conventional RPG, Arilin can literally walk over most of what you can throw at her. Even trying to imagine her in D&D is tough.
Hit Points: oh, hell, say 300
Attacks: stepping on you (damage 10d10), slamming her fist down on you (damage 4d10)
Special Attacks: if she grabs you (on a successful “hit”), she can choose to squeeze you until you pop (as many rounds as you have armor bonus), or take a round to disarm you and eat you. If swallowed whole, take 2d10 damage per round from digestion until dead.
Not perfect, but you get the idea. At 80′ high, D&D giants don’t come up to her knees. Put her in appropriately-scaled leather boots and armor and she can take on an army—and unless they have high-level mages or siege weaponry, she may just win.
But there’s a curious dilemma that comes with this sort of freeform character definition: it’s hard to stand out when everyone else can do the same thing.
Arilin wasn’t the first giant on FurryMUCK, and she certainly wasn’t the last. If you’ve got a bunch of other giants, how do you stand out? Well, you can make yours a bigger giant, of course. Make them strong even for their size. And bigger still. And magical. And bigger still. And an exotic hybrid species. And did I mention bigger?
Yet if you do that, something else disconcerting eventually happens.
Sooner or later, you meet someone who’s playing a vixen. Just a vixen. Oh, maybe she’s a kitsune; she’s wearing a kimono. But generally, she’s just talking politely with people, smiling, being social—not doing anything magical or powerful or dramatic. Yet everybody in the room is flocking around her, not you and your big exotic self.
How can this possibly be? All sorts of possibilities might exist: she’s a “big name,” or she sucks up to big names, or she’s just a slut. She’s stealing attention from you because she’s stooping to some level that you’re not, dammit.
Well. Maybe. But I’ve been on FurryMUCK since 1991 (as frightening as that is), and I can tell you what the most likely possibility is: she’s better at interactive storytelling than you are.
Essentially, when we role-play, we’re trying to tell—or write—our characters’ stories. We have ideas on how they should come across and how others should react to that. We can’t control how other people react to our stories, but if they’re dismissive and uncooperative, we’re not going to react well.
Now, it’s no shock that macrophiles tend to be enamored with power. And as long as everyone involved thinks the power levels in question are fun—whether we’re talking about Arilin, or someone who’s normal-sized but magically powerful enough that he can dominate giants, or someone who can get so big she’s in danger of inhaling planets—then it is fun.
But here’s the rub: that “as long as” is fraught with peril. As power levels ramp up exponentially, the unspoken accord of I’ll respect your concept if you respect mine faces increasing pressure. If I can knock over buildings by swinging my hips, that’s pretty badass, until someone comes along who can put me in a hamster ball. And maybe I’d like to play that! But will that person go along with someone who can shrink them down and use them as a keychain? And the one who can crush that one under his paw? And the one who blithely talks about getting big enough to swallow the world whole? And the one who waves dismissively at that because she’s tying up her pony tail with a ring galaxy?
This is the dark cloud to the silver lining of “if I can type it, I can do it” role-play. Powerful characters can co-exist, even with wild power imbalances between them—but somebody who’s created a powerful character still wants that character to be powerful. If you react to a giantess like it’s just oh-so-boring to only be eighty feet high, you’re going to be creating unnecessary friction between players, not just characters.
“But what about all those giants who are more powerful than someone like Arilin?” Well, that’s not as tough a question as it might seem at first glance. This is about respecting other people’s stories.
In a lot of ways, this is a version of the Golden Rule. If you want to have fun interactions with other people, create fun interactions with them. If you want people to give your characters a fair shake, give their characters a fair shake. There’s a few basic bullet points that aren’t rules as much as guidelines, but understand these are observations based on having watched this stuff for a very long time:
None of these things are macrophile, though, you might protest. And you’d be right: these are general rules. There’s one big rule—no pun intended—I think everyone should keep in mind for macrophile play, and that is:
Yes, that’s right. Look up at the ceiling in the room you’re in. It’s probably eight or nine feet high, right? Now stand up, and think about standing right next to someone whose head brushes that ceiling. Think about how wide they’d be. Think about how strong they’d be.
The coyote hostess at the Giants’ Club, Chipotle, stands twelve feet tall. You thought that was short, didn’t you? That isn’t short. She has to duck to get into the room you’re in now. If you’re in a one story building, her ears are higher than the lower part of its roofline. You’re maybe, maybe, eye to hip with her. She can wrap a hand around your torso with fingers on one side of you and thumb on the other. Her digitigrade feet are wider than you are. Contemplate being pinned by one of those paws, and just how huge a “mere” twelve feet high would look from that vantage point, and how really incredibly glad you would be that Chipotle is, by and large, a pretty nice person who will let you get up once she’s satisfied that you’ve gotten the point.
And the point, to be crystal clear, is that “just” twelve feet tall is fucking huge.
Now: if you can, go up about seven or eight stories and look around from that vantage point. A taller building is fine; an observation tower might be even better. Look out, and look down, and just let it sink in: this is, more or less, the view you’d have on Arilin or Rogue’s shoulder—and the view they have all the time. Go back down to ground level and look up at where you were, and realize you’d be looking up that far to see a giant’s face. If you really understand that, if you really get a firm grasp of the scales we’re talking about here, it will leave you a little breathless. (And if it doesn’t, you are trying too hard to project jaded world-weariness. If you are under thirty and trying to project jaded world-weariness, I mean this in the nicest possible way: you aren’t doing it right. Please stop.)
The bottom line here is this: giants are awesome. I don’t mean that in the “awesome, dude” sense. I mean it in the classic sense: “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” You know, creating awe.
I hope this won’t offend too many people, but I think macrophiles have been losing sight of this. “Just” being eighty feet tall, or even a hundred-eighty feet tall, doesn’t seem like it’s enough. The powers and the size keep being piled on, so somebody is as powerful compared to Arilin as she is to Chipotle, and then someone else is that much more powerful again, and again, and…
Let me be clear: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the planet-eating mouse girls. (In fact, I think they’re kind of hot.) But what I’m saying is, don’t try to push the envelope solely to make your character stand out. In a world where anyone can be as powerful as they claim to be, you can’t make your character stand out by piling on powers. Unfortunately, you can piss people off if you insist on having Planet-Eating Mouse Girl stride into the room like a bully at Cosmic Character Junior High, arriving to make all the mere demigods eat dirt.
As with so many other things in life—even virtual life—it’s how you swing it that matters. By avoiding those “More Overwhelming Than Thou” games, by not trying to slam your Amazing Abilities into people’s faces, you may even make your character considerably stronger. As the old saying goes, it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about.
And, more importantly from a role-playing standpoint, you’re not pissing in other people’s coffee. You can be as awesome as you want, but don’t deny other people the ability to be awesome if they want. The “normal” giants like Rogue and Arilin—and Chipotle—are powerful. Let them be powerful. Let the archmages and the cybernetic foxes and the toons and the killer mice be powerful, too. This whole thing, the whole role-playing schtick, only works if we respect one another’s wishes, characters and concepts.
The “winning move” isn’t being the Most Badass Thing In The Room. It’s telling stories together. And when you do that well, it really is pretty awesome.