Play by Chat made easy!
I am very deep in the MUSH scene. MUSHes use Telnet connections to transmit pure text, and text formatting basically is not existing on that level. On many a MUSH you can only use ASCII only. So, what techniques do help one when having nothing but text and wanting to write elaborate posts?
Let's take a very quick look at Exalted 3. Or rather, the Stunt mechanic from it:
For an action to qualify as a stunt, it must fulfill two criteria,
as approved by the Storyteller:
• The action must be cooler than a basic declaration of
intent (see below for examples).
• The action cannot be boring. 1
in a good Play by Chat - be it a MUSH or not - we want to make every one of our poses qualify as a Stunt (even if that isn't a mechanic)!
Now, we have a goal, and we want to reach it with a varied start. So we need to first get out of the very simple A does X pattern first, and then we can start to vary it.
More than A does X
If you don't know what to do, start by reading the post you react to! Let's assume the last text you can react to is about this:
Goldmoon put her right hand on the hilt of her sword, the left one picking up the holy symbol of Paladine to present it to the skeleton archer. "Turn, you unholy!"
What can we do to make our own pose more elaborate? We can use some of Michael's pose to inform about the timing of our own character's actions. We could use it as triggers to show our own character's emotions - and we can react to verbal queues, even if those are not aimed to us!
Flint, worried about his companion, stepped up next to Goldmoon, readying his shield. "Are you sure this will work?"
Now, we have our basic idea. We can always expand our text, get a little more elaborate. How does Flint look worried? How do his steps fall? How is his voice? Is there any significance or noticeable thing about things you do? A certain swing to some motion? Is there a reason your character says something?
The basic action is the same in this example, but I added details, even some that are utterly useless. But they do add to the look and feel of the pose:
Flint, visibly worried about his companion from the deep furrow between his old eyes, sighed a short moment before he hurried his heavy dwarven boots. Coming to a halt next to Goldmoon, he braced the shield he had smithed all those years ago when leaving his family. Glancing with his weary eyes over its battered rim at the archer, he muttered under his beard: "Are you sure this will work? Your last attempt at this didn't work so well."
So far, all we did were actions and how we tell about them. But we can do more! We can indicate what our character will do in certain events! In HEMA that's called telegraphing. In MUSH-ing, often a little telegraphing helps to make other players react better, as one gets a little better hint on how the stance is. See how I can add a tiny bit of intent into the extended version?
Flint, visibly worried about his companion from the deep furrow between his old eyes, sighed a short moment before he hurried his heavy dwarven boots. Coming to a halt next to Goldmoon, he braced the shield he had smithed all those years ago when leaving his family. Ready to dart in front of the cleric, he glanced over the battered rim of it with his weary eyes at the archer. Only when he had found the footing, he muttered under his beard: "Are you sure this will work? Your last attempt at this didn't work so well."
Now, we have a solid pose on itself, but we can do more! We might (with GM approval) add seasoning. That's everything that isn't our own character or what they are doing. Things that the character notices, things that describe the surroundings more, maybe even expound on relationships. Things that might seem superfluous, but give other players more to react to.
Flint, visibly worried about his companion from the deep furrow between his old eyes, sighed a short moment before he hurried his heavy dwarven boots over the rough cobblestones cracked by the wear of decades. Coming to a halt next to Goldmoon, he braced the shield he had smithed all those years ago when leaving his family. Ready to dart in front of the cleric that wasn't even a third of his age, he glanced over the battered rim of it with his weary eyes at the splintered bones of the reanimated archer and then past it to the dark hallway it had emerged from. Only when he had found the footing, he muttered under his beard: "Are you sure this will work? Your last attempt at this didn't work so well. And there are more of them coming."
But Seasoning needs to be done a little more carefully: Never impose details on others that alter their characters without their agreement. You always should ask the player if introducing something about their character is OK beforehand. If you want to alter or add to the scene, like adding that more of the archers are coming, clear it with the Narrator or player in charge.
Variation to victory
In MUSH parlance, there are three ways to make text appear:
") will format it as Character says: "..."
:) which starts with the character's (chatter's) name
@emit starts without any preface
Now, how do we turn our pose into an @emit? There are various ways, and they are what makes the text often more enjoyable, but might come at the cost of clarity, unless one makes sure to include who's making the @emit somewhere in it.
So make sure to have the name or a unique identifier somewhere in the paragraph if you do this!
Start with Speech
The easiest is to start with something you say, for example as a direct reaction to someone's action or speech. Technically this only pushes the name down the line some, but hey, it varies the paragraph style and gets us an immediate thing to react to for others.
"Wait for me!" Flint growled as he started to hurry to Goldmoon's side, his heavy boots...
Refer to the character with a descriptor
You don't always need to refer to the character with their name. Flint is a dwarf, the only one in the group even! Why not use that? Oh, and he's old
The old dwarf sighed, visibly worried about his companion...
Sometimes, you can alter the order of the first sentence to put the name or description much later. This is especially true if you have an explanatory part in the beginning. look back to how we Expanded on the sentence? Just push Flint back to the main sentence and start with the subordinate sentence about how he looks!
Visibly worried about his companion from the deep furrow between his old eyes, Flint sighed a short moment before he hurried his heavy dwarven boots.
Reacting 201: Start with it!
Let's look back to reacting. We could directly start there, pointing to what we react to in the first place, then do our reaction and work from there. And we can easily combine it with the descriptor instead of name.
As the light gleams on the icon of Paladine getting pulled from Goldmoon's pocket, the old dwarf's face deeply furrowed between his old eyes. With a grunt, he spat out a short "Wait for me" ...
Telegraphing 201: Start with it!
Wait, we can start with the reaction, so we can start with telegraphing too! Just pull the telegraphed action to the front, indicating what Flint would and would not do in the time between his current and the next pose!
Ready to dart in front of the cleric, Flint sighed a short moment before he hurried his heavy dwarven boots to get next to Goldmoon. "Wait for me!" he grunted, ...
Now, here you could go off the rails and extremely moodify the text. That means we go all out and start with describing stray thoughts and other internal workings of the character. This can become really confusing though, so... make sure who is the actor. Also, this is going in the deep end of writing.
The darkness of the tunnels and the whining of the wind in the cave entry felt almost like home to Flint, the shadows cast by the sole torch held by Tanis behind him distorting their silhouettes at the wall. Inhaling deeply when the woman, much too young to even consider adventuring in the dwarf's opinion, stepped forward with that carved symbol of a God he didn't even believe in, he let out a sighed comment to wait for him as the muscles that felt sluggish after the long day's trek began to shuffle his body over the broken cobblestones. ...
1 - Exalted 3rd Edition, p.187