The Care and Keeping of Antagonists
"First things first. This is the absolute core truth of telling a story, and is as important to your writing as the laws of physics are to the real universe:
Stories are about conflict.
One more time, because something this important bears repeating.
STORIES ARE ABOUT CONFLICT!
If I wasn't in ASCII, I'd say it three times, the last time in giant animated 3-D letters that were on fire. That's just how important it is. Alas, I'll just have to settle for saying it twice."
Every story is about conflict; a hero can only be as heroic as the challenges they overcome. And antagonists are the only important, exciting, meaningful challenges: "girl vs. nature" is a strictly second-class citizen, narratively speaking, since while you could put Sailor Moon up against a forest fire, having Sailor Moon confront Zoisite while a forest fire rages around them is a way better scene in every way.
Antagonists are thus incredibly important to every protagonist's story and the game as a whole. They aren't just black-moustached villainesses; an antagonist can be a misunderstood or ruthless hero, a friendly (or unfriendly) rival, or even an authority figure! If a character is directly opposing your goals, for the duration of that scene, they are your antagonist. Without them, there is no conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. Without story, there is no game.
Treat your antagonists well.
Let's say that twice, too, because it's the corollary to the above quote and, in a writing setting that is collaborative between multiple creative people, deserves even more giant, fiery (or sparkly) letters. And, because we aren't stuck in ASCII like Jim:
It's in everyone's best interest, but especially yours. Antagonist players are generally sacrificing their valuable time and energy to help you enjoy your heroic magical girl fantasies; they deserve your respect and appreciation. If treated poorly, they are likely to go oppose another, more pleasant protagonist player, instead; there are always way more protagonists than antagonists, and you need them more than they need you. Even if your opponent is another protagonist on the grand scale, no matter what, the more you give narrative weight to their threat and opposition in your writing, the more impressive your own character becomes. If you lose, you lost to a huge badass. If you win, you overcame a huge challenge. "If everyone works hard to make everyone else feel awesome, then we'll all be awesome together" is generally a good mantra to live by.
This guide exists to discuss and describe good and bad oppositional etiquette; in other words, how to treat your antagonists well. If you read it and find that you have some habits that you never realized might be problematic, think about them. Learn. Improve! We're all here to have fun together, and the best way to make up for some stinker moments is to give your friends and co-authors some shining ones.
- 1 Selling and No-Selling
- 2 Powerposing
- 3 Winning and Losing (or: you've gotta lose, to win)
- 4 The Combat System
- 5 OOC commentary and behavior
- 6 Full-Time Antagonists
- 7 Bonus Round: Antagonizing!
Selling and No-Selling
"I learned if you make your opponent look better, it makes you look better."
Selling is about making your opponent look strong -- and more importantly, look strong in the ways that they want to look strong. This most clearly comes up in combat, but there are tons of non-combat powers and resources someone can have and want to look strong as well.
There's also the idea of selling the emotional, mental, or social impact of an event or thematic concern. Here, what's meant is to avoid undermining the gravitas of a situation by deciding that it's not affecting your character.
When you sell your opponent, you look better, win or lose. It can be a little difficult to process that getting hurt actually makes you look stronger in turn, but consider: if your opponent looks strong, how strong do you look for being able to contend with them? How strong do you look when you eventually defeat them? Making an opponent look good, win or lose, affects your own credibility positively, and affects the credibility of everyone they go on to fight.
Conversely, no-selling isn't necessarily about making your opponent look weak in general; there are tons of ways to sabotage your opponent's credibility as a threat, though this is admittedly one of the most common. Emotional and social concerns can do just as great of a job of ruining an opponent's credibility as simply posing not being damaged. Hurting the emotional resonance of a scene can do just as much to sabotage the overall effect, even if you're still taking your lumps.
This is the most direct type of selling, and the type you're probably most apt to think of when you think about selling -- someone does something tangible to you, directly, and it's up to you to choose how to make it affect you. The goal you should be aiming for is 'verisimilitude' -- you want to make it feel as though a person could really have the reaction you're having, given the conceits of your character and the setting. If you're in a joint lock, you're probably screaming in pain. If you're getting tangled up in ribbons and vines, it's probably really infuriating to hack through and messing with your movements.
As with most types of selling, this is about making your opponent look strong for doing the things they are strong at, and making you look strong for handling it. In a typical fight where both sides are playing to their strengths and are reasonably powerful, this means that every action matters. If things aren't hurting, they're exhausting; if they're not exhausting, they're at the very least difficult to deal with. When someone is coming at you with everything they've got, nothing is trivial... for the most part.
There are, indeed, exceptions. "Making things that should look strong look strong" does also mean that sometimes -- especially for antagonists, and doubly especially for high-powered antagonists -- some things are just not going to hurt. A noodle-armed punch aimed at Kunzite or Ilkubo is probably going to be met with standing there and looking unimpressed -- and that's okay in those circumstances! That, too, is part of selling -- you make the things that should look strong look strong, and the things that shouldn't... not. That's not a license for you to no-sell everything if you're a high-powered antagonist, though; no matter who you are, things that should look strong should still look strong, or at the very least, not weak.
On the other hand, "what should look strong" is not exclusively a case of a damage number, especially in a system like Battle Fantasia's where success and failure with maneuvers is on a gradient. This particularly applies to perfect reactions against heavy attacks and Finishers; perfectly dodging or bracing is an opportunity to make yourself look strong or fast, rather than making your opponent look weak or slow. Show the struggle. Let people see how close it came. If you're going to blade-grasp the Sword of Dios, let everyone see you shake and slide back as you grind its momentum to a halt; if you're ducking Starlight Breaker, let everyone see you sweat and sigh in relief as it blows past. Just because you did something cool doesn't mean you weren't threatened.
For Example: Sailor Jupiter glares at the Zakenna as it opens its mouth and shoots that energy beam at her. She cartwheels out of the way, then concentrates her power: "SUPREME THUNDER!" A gigantic lightning bolt rages down from the sky, straight for the monster.
This gives no sell to the threat of the Zakenna's energy beam, other than to acknowledge getting out of the way; often people 'effortlessly' cartwheel out of the way of such attacks, which is even worse! It also gives her attack a lot more threatening adjectives than the monster's.
Try Instead: Sailor Jupiter gapes at the Zakenna as it opens its mouth and shoots that enormous energy beam at her. She can feel all of her muscles burning as she frantically cartwheels out of the way, and feels the heat of the blast singe the tip of her ponytail as it goes by. Wiping sweat off her brow, she concentrates her power, knowing that she has to end it now before it ends her instead: "SUPREME THUNDER!" A gigantic lightning bolt rages down from the sky, straight for the monster, dwarfed by its bulk but not its intensity.
This gives lots of acknowledgement to the Zakenna's energy beam as a threat. It also notes her own attack is so tiny, compared to the monster's huge size -- which both sells the monster, and makes it all the more impressive if she takes it out.
This is a complex and wide-ranging topic. Let's start with the most common issue (because of who we are, as gamers, and where we often come from):
Be really wary of Spider-Man/Joss Whedon-esque "witty banter." While it has become omnipresent in Western pop culture, it is very rare in mahou shoujo, and totally incapable of improving the emotional resonance of a scene. Trash talking the bad guys is, by definition, a no-sell of their threat -- your character is saying whatever they want without fear, and the without fear is the problem here. The more acceptable mahou shoujo substitute is outraged lecturing, which happens a lot. It's okay to be really mad at your opponent; that sells their threat emotionally, because it means they've upset you, which is often an objective of theirs or at least a pleasant side benefit. (Also, anger doesn't preclude or contradict fear the way that banter does.)
"But what if my character is bantering in order to hide the fact that she's afraid, from others and from herself?" If you absolutely cannot be convinced to swap to righteous indignation, then first of all, try to dial it back about five steps from the Avengers, and then remember: if you're going to outwardly no-sell your opponent, the only way to offset this is to inwardly sell the hell out of them. Pose your issues. And definitely, definitely be afraid, be very afraid.
Fear is important for everyone, regardless. As the old adage goes, you can't be brave if you aren't afraid. Some characters are a lot more experienced than others; some are a lot more stoic than others; no matter who you are, if you're a protagonist, you need to give your antagonist some way to be threatening your emotions. If you'd rather play down the fear, you could simply be hiding it outwardly (but still posing it inwardly). You could be afraid of a possible outcome of the scene: afraid that things will go wrong, and that the antagonist will accomplish their objective, which terrifies you, and is probably why you're here in the first place. Afraid of your own failure. One way or another, you need to be struggling with your emotions, and the balance between hope and despair is the iconic emotional pivot for mahou shoujo, so you might as well get down to brass tacks and dive in. Being at the bare minimum very concerned about the actions of your antagonist is part of the foundations of the scene, its struggle, its tension, and ultimately its quality.
There are also considerations of overall scene tone. The game incorporates a really wide variety of source material, which ranges from goofy and lighthearted to extremely depressing. You should do your best to respect the tone of the theme whose scene you're in, as defined by the antagonist and any of the antagonist's protagonist cast. Try to take your cues from them a little -- that isn't to say you should play your character as a weird mirror of everyone around you, but undermining a scene's tone is dirty pool, and nobody likes it. If the game is trying to have a silly event and you're a serious character, try to play the straight man without narratively dismissing the humor as stupid. Others will appreciate having someone to play off of. If the game is trying to have a dark event and you're a light-hearted character, it's pretty likely there's something going on in the scene that your character would react to very strongly in a negative way, so it's time to play with being horrified, shocked, and out of your depth. Others will appreciate having someone to reach out to and support.
Finally and most importantly, let's talk about positive emotions! Mahou shoujo is all about the powers of hope and love emerging victorious over that of despair and hatred. In general storycrafting terms, though, the best way to handle them is using the concept of catharsis.
Thanks, Wikipedia: Catharsis (from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning "purification" or "cleansing") is the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration.
Often the ones who experience catharsis in the grand finale of a mahou shoujo story are the antagonists. Some of the most powerful moments in the entire genre come when a magical girl extends her hand in friendship and compassion, when all hope has already been lost, and the world is already over, and convinces the antagonist that maybe it's okay to be exactly who they are, and restore the entire population of Earth from having been turned into stone statues. That hope is never truly lost; that anyone can find connection, happiness, and cake.
This is the good stuff. However, it is also big payoff -- on a MUSH, it probably took at least a year to get to this point, a year of relationship development, emotional nuance, and character growth on both sides. And one of the worst crimes to commit against an antagonist, that can undermine a scene completely, as well as their threat, is to try to force them into it too quickly.
For example: Cardcaptor Sakura looks sadly at Cobraja. "I think what you need is a really big hug! Don't worry, everything is going to be okay." She runs in to hold the Desert Apostle in her tender embrace, trying to pat his back.
This pose is a disaster. It's simultaneously no-selling:
- The antagonist's physical threat. Reasonably, such an attempt would leave a magical girl open to immediate and in many cases fatal retaliation; she shouldn't be taking his ability to hurt her so lightly.
- The antagonist's emotional threat. Cobraja is scary! His actions may make a magical girl feel bad, or sad, but fearlessly running up to hug him completely undermines any sense of tension or struggle in the scene. It's also using a sledgehammer to destroy any emotional arc the antagonist might be trying to do for themselves. He'll come around on his own player's terms and no one else's, and that's exactly as it should be.
- The other protagonists' moral sell. So, what, everyone else who is fighting Cobraja is just a big meanie who doesn't truly hold the light of hope in their hearts? While there's absolutely a gradient of protagonist ruthlessness on the game (which can create all manner of fantastic roleplay in its simple juxtaposition), this has cranked the dial to an impossible 11 that nobody else can match.
- The overall tone of the scene. Any emotional resonance in the scene has just been destroyed, unless this is specifically a scene where the antagonist invited hugs.
- Hugs. Would that this were a joke. Spam-hugging, and other over the top ridiculous parodies of the love and hope that mahou shoujo invoke, makes the real thing less potent when it actually comes out.
Try instead: Cardcaptor Sakura looks sadly at Cobraja. "You seem so angry, and so sad... you shouldn't give up on us, or on yourself!" She punctuates these words with an invocation of THE BUBBLES, trying to limit his ability to hurt those near him with interposition of fluffy suds. Those energy cards of his terrify her.
This pose is communicating the same positive emotions of the protagonist to the antagonist without no-selling anything:
- It is taking the antagonist's physical threat seriously, and the emotional, as well, since she's acknowledging her fears of his hurting someone by trying to prevent it.
- It is respecting the sell of the other protagonists by including a combat action: standing down completely while yelling at your antagonists still runs the risk of undermining them, and should be reserved for big moments -- the impact of the pacifistic choice to not engage physically is ruined with overuse.
- It allows the antagonist to do whatever they want with it; some antagonists might be good enough people that they'd hesitate to throw a hugger around, but anyone can blow off Sakura's attempts to sway them -- or internalize them as one of many catalysts towards slow and dramatic change that will be paid off down the road.
- It allows other emotional beats to coexist in the scene. Sakura is still experiencing, and expressing, powerful positive emotion, acting as an embodiment of hope and love, but in a much less absurd way that doesn't blow everything else out of the water.
Protagonists have catharsis too. Overcoming your own fears (and other emotional issues) is a great opportunity to sell your allies, without whom, you presumably would not have been able to make such a breakthrough. Just make sure that those breakthroughs don't come at the expense of your antagonist's threat -- saying "You have no power over me" to Prince Jareth is all well and good (at the end of the movie!), but in most scenes that means that now the balance has shifted to the dramatic climax of the confrontation, and if you're about to win, make sure to sell your antagonist straight to the end, with physical struggle backing up your emotional triumph.
Any resource that an opponent feels is important to them and the threat of their character is worth selling. If you're butting heads with Kanako Watanabe, multi-bazillionaire, it's likely that she's throwing her obscene wealth in your face -- being wholly unaffected by it is neutralizing her threat, whereas if you must seem unaffected, posing seeming outwardly unaffected by it, but inwardly having to suppress a little voice being like "OMFG GOLD," is much better for everyone.
One incredibly iconic and important resource in our setting is academic threat; there are a few characters out there whose whole identity, or at least central identity, is dominated by being not just good at school but absurdly good at school, invested in it to an extreme of time and passion. Unless you're one of these characters, you really shouldn't even be rivaling them in any of their important subjects -- they're a force of nature and earn their lofty positions with considerable social drawbacks, being too busy to participate in a lot of the fun of daily life. This also applies to iconic musicians, athletes, and so on. Their players care about their characters being nigh-unmatched within their iconic specialties; work to sell them, and they will in turn work to sell you in yours.
Selling and No-Selling Events
This one's easy: don't be the IC asshole in the back of the crowd cracking wise, being totally stoic, or otherwise unaffected, while everyone else is, correctly, freaking out because the world is coming to an end. (That example is not always hyperbolic, but obviously, lesser plot-important events deserve your respect and consideration as well.) Doing so no-sells the impact of the event and the emotional credibility of everyone around you. If your character has snarky or stoic traits, now isn't the time to play them to the hilt, and to the extent that you do, make very sure that your poses include a window into their soul, beyond the front they're putting up, to show how they truly feel (which should be deeply, everyone should have strong feelings about conflicts, especially in mahou shoujo).
Selling and No-Selling Casts
All of our advice about selling your opponents applies triply to enemies from another cast. In the end, if you routinely no-sell your own cast's antagonist, the main person you're hurting is yourself, since this is your destined opponent whose credibility you're destroying, and thus your own payoff for dramatically overcoming their threat. If you do it to another cast's villain, you're not only hurting yourself and the villain, but you're also damaging the credibility of every protagonist in that cast.
Selling and No-Selling Your Allies
While it should never be done at the expense of selling your opponents, it's always nice to sell your allies. Care about what they're doing, and make sure that your character has a reason to show it (or, if they have a reason to hide it, explore the necessity of them having to because of other peoples' actions affecting their true feelings in some way). Be impressed, embarrassed, amazed, awed or even afraid. Don't pose yourself as the big gun of the protagonists in the room -- instead, make all of your allies feel like the big gun with your poses. If they do the same, imagine how epic things will become.
It's incredibly easy to accidentally powerpose other people in your scene -- which is to say, to dictate an objective fact about their character in your own pose. The most common way is simply to casually state something as true in the middle of your prose (eg, outside of the dialogue), without making it absolutely clear that it's your character's opinion rather than, necessarily, reality.
For example: "I hate you!" screams Sailor Mars, as she sees Sailor Venus crash to the ground, dazed. She feels the fury pour through her -- she loathes every inch of Zoisite's smug, presumptuous, creepy, obnoxious body.
Obviously this is untrue, or even if it is true, it is not your place to pose -- it's up to your antagonist how they want to describe themselves in the greater context of the universe. Fortunately, it's also incredibly easy to fix!
Try instead: "I hate you!" screams Sailor Mars, as she sees Sailor Venus crash to the ground, dazed. She feels the fury pour through her -- she loathes every inch of Zoisite; to her he is smug, presumptuous, creepy, and obnoxious, and what's worse, his legs are nicer than hers.
This is much improved by simply clarifying the statement as the opinion, rather than the fact, that it is -- and it's always nice to throw in a compliment, too, while your character is internally insulting their antagonist. Whether they admire an antagonist's looks, strength, or choice of ice cream, it never hurts to show a little respect.
Winning and Losing (or: you've gotta lose, to win)
Losing is good for you: winning all the time isn't merely boring -- it undermines the threat of your opponents and thus your own credibility as a hero. Without overcoming loss, victory has no narrative weight. Losing also creates great follow-up roleplay; merely going to Kaoru-chan's stand for afterparty donuts is way less compelling a scene hook when compared to now having a burning desire to revenge yourself in the next conflict, or having to deal with the fallout of failing to protect whatever was at stake, or even simply having to recover from your physical and, more importantly, emotional wounds. Winning eventually after losing a lot has much more payoff to it and will ultimately be a lot more satisfying to everyone involved.
Thus protagonist players should want their characters to lose every so often, and lose definitively. It never hurts to mention to your antagonist that you particularly want to lose a fight (as they will often be assuming that you don't, and aiming for their own credible loss). Conversely, once in a while an antagonist player may decide that it's better for the arc of the story for them to win this one -- you may want to respect that, as well!
The Combat System
Note that in the combat system especially, antagonists often aren't fighting to win; rather they are trying to arrange to lose as awesomely for everyone as possible. It is thus incumbent on you to make sure that 'everyone' includes them.
Also note that how combat system outcomes play out in the dice reflects nothing about you as a person; gloating and whining about it, however, does. Neither is classy -- gloating is simply rude, and whining makes the antagonist players feel bad, when they've been working hard to entertain you. If you must celebrate or bemoan your dice, we suggest you do it via page with someone else who you know enjoys that shared experience.
Additionally, there's a number of csys-related good practices you can partake in, in order to help everyone tell a better story and have more fun doing it:
- Posing your character's reactions is the single best place to sell your opponent, so no matter the reaction and the outcome, don't waste the opportunity. In a system with non-binary reactions, it's especially important to be mindful of selling your opponent's threat (as well as your own tension within the scene) when you successfully react to an attack, whether narrowly or perfectly. Make it close; make it desperate. Remember that our 'hit points' are Fatigue for a reason -- even continuously successfully defending yourself over the course of the fight, you are expending Fatigue and becoming exhausted. If your character manages to perfectly react, negating all damage, don't make them dismissive: make them relieved. Show that they feel like they probably couldn't do it twice.
- Since Morale is a component of the csys, be sure to sell both sides of it. If you get Quipped or Taunted, sell it! There are lots of ways to do this without totally freaking out (if that isn't something your character would do) -- hesitate a little in your resolve, start questioning yourself or what your character thought was true. And if you get Cheered, whoever Cheered you probably really wants to see you sell their character's ability to make you feel good, too, so make sure to show how your character was affected.
- Being at high Morale is not an invitation for your character to be unafraid, unaffected, perfectly confident or effortlessly competent. A scene's tone varies from character and character and theme to theme, but there should always be tension in a combat scene, always struggle. There are lots of ways to express a character's heart filling with love and hope rather than despair, but none of them should ever come at the expense of the threat of your opponent.
- If you get nailed with a status effect, that's a great opportunity for some sell. Got Trapped? Pose your character having to fight while being relatively restricted in their movement, and their frustration with that limitation. It's not just that they've been screwed, it's that they care about having been screwed. That's where the real sell lies.
- This mostly applies to big scenes: whether a Survival Finisher or no, don't ever use a Finisher (or other really big attack) on someone who you haven't been interacting with in a fight up until that point. Don't even ask someone you haven't been fighting for permission, if for example you have some Area targets to burn but haven't been fighting enough people to justify it; people being nice, they'll probably say yes to please you, but there is no lamer story in the world than a Finisher coming out of literally nowhere to take a character out of a fight.
- If you're going to use your Survival Finisher on anyone but the person whose Finisher you survived, first reconsider, and then if you're really still convinced that it's a good, fun idea, ask for volunteers rather than specific targets. That way there's no pressure on any specific person to say yes, and if nobody volunteers, you can just go with the flow.
OOC commentary and behavior
We've touched on examples of good OOC commentary and behavior throughout the guide -- indeed, ultimately all of these writing techniques and storycrafting strategies are the choices of the player, not the character. Really, all of it applies to everyone: be honest, be kind, help everyone else be awesome, and be awesome yourself. Don't be a dick. Make sure to keep open lines of communication between yourself and your opponent, so that everyone's expectations and desires can be known and satisfied. However, if you have a finite amount of energy to expend on being excellent to each other, put your antagonist players at the top of the list. Antagonism can be a really unrewarding job; don't let it be for them.
And don't forget to be patient with them; with far more protagonists than antagonists in most scenes, antagonist players have their hands more than full taking care of everyone's experience. If they fail to acknowledge you sufficiently in their pose, they may have missed the important beat in yours, or they may be choosing to prioritize someone else in the action for a while. If a problem becomes a repeated issue, the time to discuss it with them is not while they're running a scene, or immediately after (when they're probably exhausted). Try to find time to talk to them separately from such stressful conditions.
Finally, always thank your scene partners, and especially your antagonists, when the scene has come to an end. It seems like a little gesture so common as to be meaningless; it is not. A little gratitude goes a long way towards convincing an antagonist that their time was well-spent.
The advice in this guide is triply important to apply to the treatment of full-time antagonists and their players. Someone who apps Jadeite is signing up to lose often, but to lose as awesomely as possible -- for you and for them. It can be incredibly unrewarding to be no-sold by the playerbase in scene after scene, and equally unrewarding when the playerbase refuses to occasionally lose in the interest of making the eventual win a bigger deal.
It is a very common and very unfortunate practice, however, to constantly tease, insult and annoy antagonist players OOCly about how their characters are evil, incompetent, not long for this world, and so forth. It is not their job to OOCly field "witty" banter via page, in the lounge, or at any other time, and many of them get burnt out by constantly having it slung at them.
Conversely, whether or not they intend to have their characters eventually find redemption, villain players often really enjoy discussing their characters as the well-rounded, nuanced, complex beings that they are. In apping such a character, they have quite possibly thought more deeply about them than the writers of their source material have. They are working very hard to bring this character to life, through a well-developed sense of their motivations and interests. They tend to respond positively to respectful interest in their portrayals.
And finally, of course, antagonist players have as much right as anyone to just be themselves out of character without worrying about or discussing who they are when they hit the grid at all. Many of them have been so burnt over the years that they don't enjoy discussion; respect their need for space and desire to just hang around and shoot the breeze.
Bonus Round: Antagonizing!
If this guide extolling the virtues of the antagonist player has excited you so much that you want to try your hand at it yourself, we have some brief advice for you. This is far from an exhaustive list; antagonists should really have their own guide (and may soon).
A major part of antagonism is running scenes - which often are very mentally taxing. Included are some practical tips from some old hands on how to make these things easier, so you can take it easy and focus on making a fun experience for everyone - including you, the scene runner!
- Keep open lines of communication with your castmates. Playing their villain is not carte blanche to dictate how the arc of the protagonists' story will proceed. You aren't their puppet, but you aren't the puppetmaster, either -- MUSH storytelling is a collaboration on all sides. Particularly in smaller casts, it's nice to at least try to see if peoples' schedules can line up, too; protagonists are always sad when they don't get to go to their own cast's events.
- Concerns of sell and powerposing go both ways. It is just as much your job to help everyone in the scene feel awesome as it is theirs for you. Don't ever dismiss your opponents as boring or weak, at least in the greater narrative; if you should ICly be sneering down your nose, make sure it's clear in the larger pose that either the antagonist knows deep down that this is untrue, or else acknowledge reality more objectively (taking care not to powerpose).
- However, the occasional no-sell is a very powerful narrative beat in the antagonist's arsenal, especially early on (in a scene, in a plot, in the arc of their existence) when their threat needs to be powerfully established. Do it tastefully; you're trying to evoke your character being overwhelming and terrifying, not an asshole.
- Work to sell others' iconic character traits in ways that don't reduce your own threat; if you're a lieutenant of the Dark Kingdom, your role isn't to out-study Ami or out-lacrosse Nagisa, and indeed finding ways to let individual specialties shine in the context of a greater plot is a great way to create really, really happy protagonist players.
- Sell your allies. Far more important for antagonists than protagonists, especially since antagonists are often a fractious bunch; by all means undermine and sabotage each other's plots and plans, but constantly be shoring up each other's threat.
- On that note: bring a buddy, or find one! Having a second antagonist to interact with can add some flair to your own pose situation, and it also means you can subdivide your attention. It may not suit every scene concept, but give it a shot. With the youma system, you don't even need an antagonist character to do it -- just grab one and go! (Naturally, don't feel obligated -- you apped your character to PLAY your character -- but if everyone does it once in a while, everyone's life is easier. Don't forget to ask for your Cream Puffs!)
- Prior preparation can be a huge help. Writing your set pose, or the 'set pose' and the 'and now the bad guy shows up' pose beforehand can save you a lot of hassle when you're running your scene.
- Pre-write! As you're reacting to attacks or other actions over the course of the pose round, start composing your pose in Notepad or the word processor of your choice. This is also useful from the protagonist side too: you can put in those short but vital notes of acknowledgement and recognition that come from social contacts and buffing magic ahead of time. Then when it's your turn again, you'll already have your pose partially written - you'll just have to edit it and write out your own new actions.
- You'll often be OOCly trying to lose, but make it look good. Using +heal to silently reduce your hit points (which can take a bit of careful guessing, or timing, to avoid blowing your cover in +pot; if you don't think you can pull it off credibly, it's always better to simply pose having been forced to retreat, selling all the way home) is a good way to speed along a scene that is dragging, but the key component to that strategy is silent. The csys is designed for you to properly defend yourself from Finishers, rather than +accepting them, and still lose. That GM screen is there for a reason: sometimes you'll want to make concessions in the system to ensure the protagonists' big victory, but it's incredibly unsatisfying for the gamer in them to hear that you cheated in their favor, so keep it under your hat.
- Use your Finishers as the narrative tools they can be. Antagonists will usually be using Survival Finishers, which means you can pull out the big guns -- however, there are a variety of things to consider when doing so. Obviously, you've got to return fire on whoever triggered you in the first place (if they're still up -- it's possible someone else KOed them in the interim, or they knocked themselves out with mana overexpenditure); if you can't, or if you have an Area Finisher, then consider your other targets carefully. If you want to lose, try to induce Survival Finishers in people who otherwise might not be able to get one at all for whatever unfortunate Morale reason; also avoid using them on someone at super low heath, unless they've already used their Finisher (in which case their early KO is a swell way to sell your own threat without depriving them of their big moment). If you want to win, try to let everyone get their Finisher off anyway (though if it's close, go for the throat of someone who's about to, if necessary).
- +noko is an option, but use it sparingly. Don't ever, ever, ever tell anyone you're using it. Don't ever preferentially use it to spare your friends, either; that's terribly abusive and unfair. Use it only if you absolutely do not want to KO someone, and have no other way to guarantee their survival that would still look good for everyone.
- Make losing look good ICly as well, but not at the expense of your own ongoing threat. "TEAM ROCKET'S BLASTING OFF AGAIIIIIIN!" is not a good beat to be using at the end of every scene if you want to have any credibility; when an antagonist gets "KOed," that doesn't mean they should be literally knocked out or rendered helpless (and as we remarked a couple points up, they also don't have to wait around for the system to KO them). Sell the individual final attacks as incredible as they come in, but at the last second, escape with your dignity relatively intact, cursing your opponents for preventing today's objective from being completed.
- If you're winning, intentionally or not, tread carefully. Losing scares a lot of people who haven't read this guide and learned that it's what's best for them a lot of the time; sometimes people just don't want to eat their narrative vegetables. The solution, on your end, is to very judiciously keep it all in-character; you aren't their enemy out of character, and that's what they need to remember, or else someone is going to say something they regret in a moment of overinvestment in their character's flawless victory.
- You have the right to refuse service to anyone. If someone is repeatedly rude to you, a regular no-seller, or in any other way making your scenes less enjoyable with their presence, and they do not seem willing to read this guide and mend their ways, you have the absolute authority to not have them in your scenes. Ideally, you can talk it out in the end, and get better roleplay from them in future, but you aren't personally responsible for their quality, either. If you want to avoid the drama of kicking them out, it's your right to focus your energy on those who are making the scene fun for you.
For more information, please see: Tutorials