Imaginary Realities Imaginary Realities About Search Glossary
What's new? Index :)
Select issue:
Join a discussion Resources
     

Room for Improvement
- Donky + Scatter ///\oo/\\\
Wanted. Area Creator. Dead or Alive
- Selina Kelley
See Timmy Run
- David Bennett
Literary Role Play
- Phil Goetz
A New Paradigm for Levels
- Phinehas
It is not so Simple
- D.A. "Flux" Nissenfeld

Letters to the editor

Enter your email to be informed when this site is updated.


Comment on articles

Letter 1
Contact editors

   

Literary Role Play

by Phil Goetz

Muds are designed to move role playing onto computer networks. Yet they do not merely translocate, but transform role playing: the different environment, in which the players are also authors, and the text medium, which requires expressive language, can lead to a different type of role playing.

Mud, MUCK, and MUSH

Back in Inter*Action #1, I wrote what I thought was a comprehensive article on interactive fiction and computers. I was wrong. The diverse world of muds, MUCKs, MUSHes and MOOs covers a wide range of approaches to role playing. It might even have answers to some of the questions I posed.
Elk Lake, British Columbia, Canada

A nice mossy lake, without moss.

You can tell a lot about a mud by its name. If it ends in "mud", especially Dikumud, it is Rogue-like. If it is a Tinymud, it could be more Zork-like. And if it ends in "MUCK", "MUSH", or "MOO", it has a lot of talking.

I touched on muds in my article, but spoke of them as if they were all multi-user Zorks. So imagine my confusion when I logged into GarouMUSH for the first time. It has really only two verbs: look and pose. No attack, climb, drink, open, swim, or XYZZY. (There are get, drop, and inventory, but these are usually superfluous and I learned how not to use them.) On GarouMUSH, if you want to drink the water in Half Moon Pool, instead of typing "drink pool", you type "pose kneels on the mossy banks of the pool, scoops some of the cold water into his hands, and drinks."

If you are alone at the pool, you would feel pretty stupid posing this to yourself. So you do not. The design discourages solitaire play. GarouMUSH is nothing like Zork.

Nor is it anything like Rogue/Hack/Larn/Moria/Angband. You generally can not kill people without their permission, and once you are dead, you are dead forever.

No, like most MUSHes, GarouMUSH is a social environment where people gather and talk. But unlike many MUSHes, it is much more than a chat line.

What makes the difference

If you log into GarouMUSH, you will find distinct characters, moving about between the city and the forest purposefully, talking over recent events in St. Claire or at the Caern, making friends and enemies, and living their lives. In contrast, on most MUCKs, MUSHes, and MOOs, you find people dropping in and out of character or just staying in some vague schizophrenic in-between place, sometimes making virtual plays at each other but basically just chatting. What makes the difference? I believe there are several reasons for GarouMUSH's success. Some are general and easy to apply to any MUSH. Some result from specifics of the White Wolf RPG _Werewolf_ which it is based on, but with thought can be translated to other worlds.

The simplest and most important thing encouraging roleplay is distinguishing between in character and out of character. If you the player want to speak to another player, you use "page":

page Anpwhotep=Will you be on tomorrow night?

which sends a private message to Anpwhotep:

Blinks-at-Fire pages: Will you be on tomorrow night?

You do not use "pose" or "say", which print a message to everyone present attributing the statement to your character. Even if you want to speak to everyone present, you use page, because players are used to associating messages produced by page with out of character info. (This way you can play a deathly serious scene in character while cracking jokes about it out of character.) The word "pages" in the message implies that the sender is using a computer interface, which reminds the recipients that it is the player talking, not the character. If you want just to chat, you go to the out of character room, which is not connected to the rest of the MUSH. Otherwise, you are in character.

You may not make use of information gained out of character. If your character does not understand English, you may not respond to things said in English (not even "Look out!"). If you check players' locations and see that a friend is alone in the Umbra with two Black Spiral Dancers, you may not rush to help without an in character excuse for wandering through that part of the world. And when it is time to go, you do not just disappear as if Scotty had beamed you up; you make some in character excuse for leaving or going to sleep.

The most complicated and next most important thing encouraging role play is that the game world is well developed. The werewolves, or Garou, have a cosmology that explains the spiritual battle between the three members of the Triat, and what effect it will have on the worlds of the flesh and of the spirit. They have hierarchies at the levels of the tribe, the sept (like a town), and the pack, a system of challenges describing how these hierarchies change, and a law to govern themselves. Each of the fourteen Garou tribes have stereotypical attitudes and methods (Red Talons disdain technology and hate humans, Fianna love a brew and a brawl, Get respect only physical strength). Vampires and mages, their non-garou foils, have similarly extensive backgrounds. GarouMUSH deemphasizes mechanics, but if you need them, the _Werewolf_ manual has guidelines for dealing with everything from being trapped underwater to jumping off a cliff. You would not buy an role playing game manual with only one page of description of the gameworld. How can you expect good role play on a MUSH that gives you no more?

Furthermore, the MUSH's creators planned the fictional city of St. Claire, WA, and wrote a history for it. There is even a special "+myth" command that tells you the Garou lore associated with a location. Players adhere in characterly to St. Claire's Pacific Standard time and season.

Third, characters must be approved. This helps at least three ways. First, it defuses arguments ("A wolf can not be a explosives expert!"). Wiz approval gives characters a stamp of authority; presumably, if a character did not make sense or were too powerful, no wiz would approve it. Second, it keeps the cast of characters balanced (GarouMUSH gets a disproportionate number of applicants for angst-ridden adolescent characters) and prevents new characters from throwing off major plots (my first application was rejected because I asked for a Wendigo character, and the then major plot involved Wendigo coming to the Caern and telling everyone off). Third, it keeps the "wrong element" out. People who are not willing to take the time to write up a good character, or are mainly interested in killing, or do not write well, would clutter up the MUSH.

A central gathering place is crucial to a MUSH. Spontaneous role playing is much more likely when you have a critical mass of characters in one place. On GarouMUSH, the Caern is the center of Garou life. It is a large, circular grassy area consisting of nine locations, from any one of which you can see what people are doing in the others. It is better than a park or bar, because people can meet there any time of day or night, and because there are not as many restrictions on accepted behavior and topics of conversations in a caern. Players of vampires, mages, and humans know how important the Caern is in catalyzing role play: their characters are not allowed there, and they constantly complain that they do not get to play.

Three in character, Werewolf-specific factors strike me as key. First, the characters have a common cause (to defend Gaia and fight the Wyrm) which unites them all in some way. Second, they can barely stand each other. As in any religion, different sects disagree on their purpose and methods. Also, some Garou were originally human, and others originally wolves. These are a neverending source of in character conflict, misunderstanding, and humor.

The third factor is that there is a constant undercurrent of violence and anger running through the Garou community. The strict dominance hierarchy and the Old West-style respect for violence as final arbiter creates constant tension. On one hand, this causes frustration and anger, and tempts the players to create combat monsters. On the positive side, it keeps people in character, and it is a great source of stories.

It is interesting to note that on some MUSHes, characters spend a lot of time flirting and teasing each other, to the point where other role playing suffers. Garou law prohibits Garou from mating with Garou, so you do not see this on GarouMUSH.

The creators of GarouMUSH went further to create the kind of role playing environment they wanted. They recruited a core group of about 30 players, by invitation only, and took a few months of practice roleplay to iron out difficulties before opening it to the public. The theory was that, before letting in J. Random User, the MUSH would already have a role playing standard with momentum behind it. Players who did not like that kind of role playing would leave through social pressure before they could form a stable clique. Newcomers who liked what they saw could take the core players as role models, and eventually become high-calibre players themselves.

The reality was that the consensus behind GarouMUSH role playing accumulated a patriotic aura ("the GarouMUSH way"), and proved as flexible and powerful a political weapon as Mao's little red book, often without reference to the actual content of the consensus. But that is a matter for another article.

Mushing along with your faceless friends

Given these factors, some good players, and luck, you can find rewarding role play on a MUSH. But it is not tabletop play via IRC (inter-relay chat). The resulting style of play is quite different than you would get if you made an ordinary roleplaying session diceless, and communicated with each other only by written notes.

The first difference you notice is that, most of the time, no one is in charge. It is up to players to find something to do. What they find usually is not a heroic quest, but character interaction -- visit someone's pups, ask if they think the rumors about the Alpha are true, teach a wolf-born werewolf how to use a telephone. It may take characters longer to show their true colors, but they end up more fully developed. Alex of GarouMUSH says, "This place is fun because you can play your character more in depth. Everyday stuff. RL games are more involved with major highlights of a character's `life'. Not the average days."

Because there is no game master, the purpose of players shifts. Instead of taking what the game master gives them and choosing an optimal response, they are co-authors, with a more global concern for not just their character, but the entire story.

Perhaps the most important difference is the strange social environment. The oddities of MUSH out of character social life would fill an entire article, but here is the central point: You never see their faces. [5] This can be an advantage. Therru says, "I am much more free to become my character. No one can see what I actually look like -- gender, age, appearance, and demeanor are all incredibly flexible. Although in theory this is possible in face-to-face roleplaying as well, it is much more difficult to pull off!" But intonation and body language are lost over the net. It is hard to know when you have offended someone, and harder to know when you have been forgiven. (After an out of character confrontation, I find myself avoiding another player for months, because I can not tell if they are still upset.)

The same problem applies in character. But there, at least, the players go to great lengths to convey their feelings in text. For example:

Face-to-face

[player glares at another player, and speaks in a slow, Clint-Eastwood rasp]: "You ought not have come."

MUSH

[player types]: Takes-the-Pipe walks stiffly towards Micah, tail raised. He narrows his eyes and snarls, ~You should not have come.~

These two factors, co-authorship and the use of text for body language, change the flavor of the game.

Literary roleplay

When you sit down at the keyboard, something happens. Maybe it is the need to convey that extra-textual information, maybe it is vanity, but suddenly, ordinary telegraphic communication just is not good enough. Whatever you type is going to zoom across the world, onto others' screens, and into their permanent logfiles.

So you sit there, watching the cursor blink while you figure out what to say, and how to say it. You type a line, but before you press return, the urge to edit takes over. And before you know it, you are not just playing, you are writing.

The resulting role playing is a lot slower -- Sepdet says to multiply time by five -- but it has a descriptive depth rarely seen in face to face role playing. Here is a commented transcript of a session I had, trimmed but not reworded.

Umbra: Farmyard

This place is a nightmarish rendition of its real world counterpart, hemmed in closely on three sides by the dark, glowering woods. A spirit's corpse -- the spirit of a once-happy farmhouse? -- lies mouldering in the centre of the yard. The barn is a shadowy thing, vague and indistinct, harbouring its own dark thoughts in lightless windows and vast haylofts that are much too big for the building's physical limitations. And just inside the forest's edge the trees stand jealous guard over the neatly stacked corpses of their fallen, a woodpile in the real world. To the west, Weaverspiders tend to the fields, quietly arranging nature's growth into predictable rows even after the harvest is in. Domestic animal spirits seem almost plastered over, quietly accepting their own regimentation in the provision of food for lazy homids.

The woods are deepest and darkest to the northeast.

Contents: Su Therru Blinks Rholeen Sepdet

The place descriptions set the tone for the game. The authors can put more time into place descriptions on a MUSH than you can in face to face role playing, because you will use each place over and over, because no one author has to write all the descriptions, and because you know the players are going to read the whole thing. If you tried such poetic language in face to face role playing, it would probably fall flat.

Su stops to make certain everyone's all right in the dark farmyard. Her voice is hushed by the gloom. "Let us move into the forest. It too is dark, but not as much so." She turns to move into the forest, and her huge light wings reflect the moonlight. She flutters them slightly to fold them out of the way.

Therru stares at Su's wings.

Su looks down at the stares, having forgotten as usual that her ghostly, weightless wings are there until she needs them.

Therru blinks and drops her gaze hastily.

Paradoxically, when you must substitute text for real body language, it has wider scope (how would you communicate the exchange above in face to face role playing sans wings?) and is more precise (would Su know what Therru was staring at? Would we misinterpret Therru's looking away as distraction or distaste?) than the original. Most importantly, the players use it more.

You tread carefully into the Umbral forest.

Umbra: Forest

Despite the Realm's limitations on this forest -- in the "real world" it is perhaps a square mile in total area -- it extends for dozens of miles in all directions. It's deep and dark, befitting such a spiritual enigma. A single gigantic oak tree dominates the center of this area, as its physical counterpart does in the Realm.
Gnarled and weatherbeaten, this tree has seen countless dozens of human generations come and go.

Sepdet walks over to the great oak tree and kneels and presses her cheek against it. "Hey there."

Rholeen rubs at her arms, and looks around, seeming to reassure herself that all this is real.

Su glances up at Sepdet. "Would you continue here? There is yet more patrolling to be done, and this night is good for it."

Sepdet nods serenely. "I will, sister. Walk well."

Su flickers instantly into Crinos.

You paged Sepdet with 'Does the tree respond?'.

The tree rustles softly on the umbral breezes, a sound that is not speech but is not random. Amusement, perhaps, or patience, at the little fast-living creatures that scuttle among its roots.

Su, looking quite regal now despite her ragged fur, lays a companionable hand on one shoulder of each cub. Then she backs away a step, turns and in one fluid motion springs upward.

Therru watches Su fly away.

Blinks flinches on seeing the huge tree respond to Sepdet's touch, and wraps his arms about himself as if he is suddenly cold.

Su soars silently to the south, banking once to start her surveillance of Gauntlet's territory.

Sepdet smiles delightedly. She steals a wide-eyed glance at Rholeen. "Do you hear? It's all right, Blinks, it's just a Tree."

Therru tears her eyes from Su's vanishing form and limps over to investigate the tree.

Blinks says, "I know. But spirits... dangerous. Friendly spirits especially."

Rholeen nods slightly, "Maybe. It almost sounds like something trying to say something. It's not my imagination, is it?"

Therru sits down abruptly, looking at Blinks with a decidedly bewildered expression.

Sepdet nods slowly, watching Rholeen's reaction. "It's saying something. In different words." She sighs and shakes her head at Blinks.

Blinks stamps his feet and glances around the dark woods uneasily.

I wanted to express my character (Blinks)'s fear of spirits, so I privately nudged Sepdet (via page) to give me a line to work off of. This type of co-authoring happens on a MUSH, while in face to face role playing it's considered bad form to prompt other players out of character. It might be because of the privacy of paging, and it might be just that I am breaking convention without knowing it, but I believe that it shows that the players are thinking like writers, planning ahead instead of reacting.

Rholeen cocks her head to the side, and tries to make sense of it. Oddly enough the harder she tries to concentrate on meaning, the less she seems to understand it.

This might seem like cheating - could you really tell all that from watching Rholeen? But authors do the same thing. They may use the omniscient viewpoint, in which they tell you what everyone feels and thinks. But this can flood and confuse the reader, and removing the mystery of motivations. More commonly, authors have one viewpoint character. Only rarely will they take the objective viewpoint and report only observable events.

On a MUSH, you can not choose one viewpoint character. You end up with the next best thing: a kind of restricted omniscient. You hear some of what every character is thinking, scratching the surfaces of their thoughts a little more deeply than mere body language.

It can be jarring if players do not agree on just how restricted that omniscient could be. Most GarouMUSH players would probably say Rholeen had a toe over the line here.

Sepdet gestures gently. "Come. Follow. There are places where you can breathe easy, and I want you to show you those first." She touches the tree and keeps her hand there for a moment, then steps away and begins to thread an easy slow path in the shadowed forest.

Blinks hurries to catch up with Sepdet, clearly not wanting to be left behind.

Therru follows Sepdet, loping happily though the spirit world.

Rholeen nods, and follows, her bare feet making slight rustling sounds on the forest floor.

Sepdet bears southward, taking a quick deerpath that traces past ancient evergreens and small circles of shadow, a wide open space ringed with massive redwoods, and then suddenly the forest to the left falls away...

Umbra: Lake Arthur

In the center of a vast rippling lake stands an island, an outcropping of pure, untainted stone. Groves of ancient trees, their foliage an incredibly deep green, stand sentinel over the raw granite. A single tower of weathered grey rock juts from the island's southeastern end, its sides creased and scarred by the elements. A delicate waterfall sparkles in Luna's light as it cascades from the tower's peak into the calm lake below, veiling the rough granite in shimmering silver.

The lake waters surround the island, but Luna has provided a path that leads east across the crystal liquid.

Note the frequent use of unnecessary, non-goal-oriented, and delightful descriptive language. It would be impossible in face to face role playing to say, "I lope happily through the spirit world," or, "My bare feet make slight rustling sounds on the forest floor."

Therru wanders down the lakeside to see if she can taste the umbral water.

Sepdet gestures out towards the lake. "The leader of the crescent moons, Thorn-rhya, he has a cave out there. But he doesn't mind company."

Blinks asks, "He lives in *umbra*?"

Sepdet shakes her head. "oh. Oh, no. I think he stays in the other world, most of th' time." She sounds wistful. "Not safe anymore to stay this side alla time."

Rholeen says "Why?"

Sepdet walks down to the water's edge, finding the place where the moon's path of light touches the shore, and dabbles her hands in the water. "Because...because the True World takes what's in the other world, and makes it more so. Bad city streets...they're cold and cobwebbed and flow with blood in the cracks, and your feet crunch on broken glass of old needles, and ashes of burned money. The Enemy walks there. The forests out here are better--but you saw what the farmhouse is like. Wherever there's ill, the Enemy's spirits breed, and they roam free through the Umbra. It's a wilder place, and a more powerful one."

Look at Sepdet's speech. On-line editing makes it possible. Almost no one can speak impromptu so poetically.

It is also noteworthy that Sepdet got the whole thing off. On a MUSH, no one can interrupt you before you press ENTER. Monologues are allowed.

Therru looks over at Sepdet, water dripping from her muzzle, then places an experimental foot on the moonlight in the water. It goes through, but slowly and with effort. Fascinated, she continues to dabble.

Sepdet says "It's safer with the moon's light-She's our sun, here, and the Enemy shuns her. But by day, its creatures walk freer, dare to come closer. And there's things that aren't our enemies that are still too powerful to be properly safe. Wyld storms, and spirits that tread on leaves and make you want to hang in the branches forever, and dirt that pulls you down to your knees to press close against the earth."

Rholeen frowns. "I know this is an obvious question but...isn't there anything we can do?"

Therru trots a few steps out onto the moonbridge, seemingly standing on the water. She tries to put her foot through the surface again.

Sepdet draws something that hums and sparks with a faint blue shimmer from under the cloth of her jacket at her hip, and holds the grey ceramic blade up to the moon. "We fight," she says softly, almost serenely, but the shadows behind her eyes are pained and painful to see on her young face.

Sepdet dropped Klaive.

Blinks stares at the klaive hungrily. A faraway look comes over his eyes.

Rholeen looks disturbed, and looks around almost like she is trying to drink it all in in case it fades away like a forgotten dream.

Sepdet strokes the blade's edge with a finger, then puts the finger in her mouth and the fetish-creature away. She sighs. "You will too, soon enough."

Therru manages to put a paw through the water that she is standing on. She dabbles it around for a moment, then, as if in revenge, the moonbridge gives way and dunks her in the lake.

Therru yipes and paddles to shore, the moonlight breaking around her in bright amused sparkles.

Sepdet's head comes up and she runs a few easy paces out onto the water, watching Therru's progress with hands on her hips. "What did you /say/ to it, Flame?"

Blinks jumps in after Therru. He splashes about happily and looks up to see if anyone else is coming in.

Therru swims to the shore and emerges, shaking herself ruefully.

Rholeen walks to the shore, and watches carefully. "Sepdet? Is this really another world? Or are we just seeing it differently?"

Blinks wades toward shore. He stops a few feet short, and picks at his nasty wet clothing in surprise.

Sepdet drops to a crouch, balancing carefully on the soles of her feet as the moonlight-dappled water ripples up and down gently beneath her. "It's... it's the world behind the mirror. I don't know. It's almost another world now, for the humans have pulled theirs very far from spirits, magic, life."

Therru looks at Sepdet. I did not say anything! I just wanted to see if I could put my foot through.

Sepdet nods solemnly at Therru. "You succeeded."

Therru trots down the beach a short distance, politely, before shaking herself off.

Blinks steps to shore and shakes off just where he is.

Note here that Therru did not say, "I walk on the moonbridge and try to push my paw through. What happens?" As co-author, she decided herself what would happen. Every player is part game master. If your action involves someone else, you page them to work out what happens, but if it does not, and you are not in a game mastered scene, you get to make it up yourself.

Rholeen says "Is it -really- a mirror world? Right is left?"

Sepdet lifts one leg under her and spins around on one foot very carefully.
"No...no. Things are /more/ what they really mean, here. The forest trees are alive, and growing. The city is a maze of glass, and squares, and things that move back and forth unceasingly like they don't know why. Birds don't fly...they dance across the sky. Right is /very/ right, and left is just as left as it can be."

Rholeen nods, her eyes a little glazed. "Have you ever read the Narnia books?"

Sepdet shakes her head negative. "I don't...can't...read very much."

Therru wanders over to Sepdet, distracted, and pokes her with her nose. I have read them.

Sepdet lays her hands on both sides of Therru's muzzle, just for a second so as not to confine. "Tell me, then." She tilts her chin back up to Rholeen. "It's like this?"

Rholeen thinks back, "Well, in the final book all the people travel to a world which is the true world. All the trees are more real, everything is -bigger-. Not in size, but in being. The brights were brighter, the darks deeper. When I read that, it seemed so true, even if it was just a story."

Sepdet looks taken aback. "A human book?"

Therru nods.

Sepdet traces a sinuous line in the water. "I wonder." She grins.

"I'm glad, though. Gives you hope?"

The face to face role player may be surprised to find we have come to the end of the log without any fighting, sleuthing, or confrontation (Though I confess there was some later in the session.) Character development and interaction replace the adrenalized rush from one plot point to the next.

After reading that log, you should see why I called this article "literary role play". Well-turned phrases are a joy in and of themselves. [7] If you are considering joining GarouMUSH, you might find the quality of the writing intimidating. I know I do. When I am with a group that is on a roll, spinning out a well-written story, and I blurt out some bare, mechanical action, I feel like a bug that just crawled across their fresh canvas. Other new players have told me they feel the same way. I have noticed that players' descriptive writing skills are generally proportional to how long they have played on GarouMUSH. I am not sure whether this is cause or effect, but all of the players I have asked think GarouMUSH has improved their writing skills.

Remember when Therru said she can immerse herself in her character more when no one can see her face? This applies to moods as well as characters. Look at the following log from a Gathering for the Departed (a Garou funeral). It is just half of the original log, and the players maintained the same solemn tone throughout. Could your face to face role playing group do as well, before someone became too self-conscious and broke the mood? Note that, though only Desert speaks for most of the log, he does not take over; everyone can describe their reactions and posture without interrupting him. Their silent reflections set the somber mood; less than a sixth of the original log is dialogue.

Desert leads along a faint trail down from the hilltop, and up onto another hill, and another. Before long, the mourning party is ascending into the mountains, where the stillness of the Umbral day is undisturbed by your passing. Few Garou have been here since the world was young. Every tree and every rock seems to watch as you pass, though you continue to move in near silence. Soon, the way leads to a small plateau overlooking the world.

Thunder Biter flattens his ears along his head as he follows Thunder-of-Gaia, still a little dazed and confused.
A swift shadow darts over the plateau, and then vanishes back into the moonlight.

Moon Otter tags along towards the rear of the group, eyes and ears flitting about nervously.

Desert seems to find this place satisfactory. ~Place his body in the center.~

Thunder Biter walks beside Thunder-of-Gaia with his tail lowered and his ears flat across his head. He starts to look around him for the first time, though, exploring with his eyes and nose this new place.

Drifting down from above comes the shrill icicle of a bird cry. It shivers down your spine and vanishes into the silence of the Umbra. Looking up you see a vague form flitting across the moon.

Song Weaver nods once and does as bidden. After placing the body in the center she stands and walks to a place across from where Desert is. She turns to face him and returns to her own shape.

Thunder-of-Gaia stays to the front of the group, seemingly accepting both Harald and Chaser as belonging towards the front with the tribe of the fallen. He watches Song closely, though his posture shows more rage than mourning.

Desert gestures for the lot of you to settle in a circle around him.

Another shadow floats over the plateau, and then another. The shapes slowly start to take form as small specks drifting through the umbral sky.

Thunder Biter stands beside Thunder-of-Gaia silently, watching with wide, curious eyes everything around him.

Desert takes up a slender knife and slices the fur and the fat from Earth-Child's left side as he speaks, his words forestalling any objection. ~In my time at Wheel, I have fought beside Bloodfang, and he is dead. I have fought beside Broken Claw, and he is dead. I have fought beside Earth-Child, and now he is dead. So, too, have I fought beside Song Weaver. I have ever been friend to the Talons, and I am honored to sing the Gathering on this night.~

Chaser remains silent, eyes narrowed, but her stance tenses at the movement of the knife, and the delicate nostrils flare.

A diving swoop and a hoarse cry is all the warning you are given as a large eagle jaggling dives down towards you, and then past you, hurtling down past the plateau.

Desert makes deeper incisions now, revealing bloody sinew and jagged ribs. ~There is a story my people tell, that the First Garou were of the Red Wolves, and that the Red Wolves will be the last Garou to fall, survived only by traitors who turn to Zhongcairen the Wyrm and to Shejishi the Weaver.~

Desert continues his grisly work, laying open Earth-Child's entrails.

More cries fill the air, and you catch a glimpse of a peregrine falcon hurtling past you.

After a short lapse, he speaks again. ~Earth-Child was born of the Great Beasts; tonight we return him to the Great Beasts, that Gaia's perfect cycle be continued, that he shall give rise to another Garou. His flesh will feed the Spirit-Birds, and his life shall pass into History.~

Desert cuts a slender piece of muscle free, and tosses it high in the air to the circling spirits.

A rush of wing feathers, and the muscle is snatched up by an eagle.

Desert says, ~Come and sing what words you will, and with your claw, cut a strip from his hide and give it to the sky. When each of you has done so, the Alpha Female will lead you in a Howl.~

Song Weaver's eyes follow the arc of the muscle, and her jaw opens in a slight grin.

Thunder-of-Gaia pads over to the body of the fallen, and sniffs at it briefly, then paws at it, tearing off a ragged piece of the elder. He lowers his massive muzzle and grabs the meat in his jaws, making a quick snapping motion up. The motion is awkward, but effective as the meat flies high. He pads back to his spot without mention.

Harald takes two wide steps forward, dropping to one knee, claws burying in the Talon's flesh and flinging a gobbet high. ~You were what Wolf was meant to be, as I knew you. Fenris's gaze must have rested upon you and been proud. May your spirit yet strike against our enemy.~

Thunder-of-Gaia waits until all the Garou of rank have passed in front of the elder before nosing the Talon Cub towards the body.

Desert smiles a little at the savagery.

Thunder Biter pads forward until he stands beside the body of the fallen Earth Child. Ducking his head, he closes his teeth around a flank and tears off a portion with his powerful jaws, sending it soaring high into the air with a toss of his head. You were Garou, like me. I mourn you.

Moon Otter stalks forward towards the corpse and crouches beside it. He meticulously carves off a hunk of flesh and fur, standing full, he flings the meat high into the air. No utterance is made, but his green eyes burn with the promise of vengeance yet to come as he steps back to his place.

Bounder steps up slowly, nervously, reaches down to pull a small slice away, and flips it into the air.

Thunder Biter walks back to stand beside Thunder-of-Gaia, seeming much more solemn and sad. As he settles onto his haunches beside Thunder-of-Gaia, he grows smaller, shifting back into his Lupus form.

The spirits rise and circle.

Song Weaver steps forward once again, her heavy muzzle tilting upward toward the umbral sky. She begins to howl a song, not of mourning, for that is past now, but of days yet to come. Of the joys of the hunts gone by, and those she has yet to run. And also of the call of vengeance to her soul.

Thunder-of-Gaia raises his muzzle to the spirits that gather. He howls, at first matching the pitch of the Female Alpha, then dropping to clash with her song. His howl is pure rage.

Desert's howl is loud and pure, echoing in the crisp air. And if there is a note of laughter there, who is to say the reason?

Chaser's high, ringing howl joins the cacophony, a yipping descant of fury above the wolfsong.

Harald's voice rises, rumbling up from subaudible bass, quaking into a hearable range, grim determination given voice.

Thunder Biter lifts his muzzle to the Umbral Sky and lets his voice rise in a long, mournful howl.

Moon Otter tilts back his muzzle and utters a howl that hints of death.

Slowly, the assembled Garou cease their mourning howls, and for a time, all is quiet here.

Desert takes the bloody remains in his arms, and steps to the edge of the plateau. With a heave, Earth-Child's body is cast to the wind, the spirits, and the rocks below. As he returns, it becomes clear that much of Desert's fur is stained deep crimson.

Chaser lifts her muzzle to the sky, and takes in the clear scent of the air.

The spirit-birds dive down after the body, cawing softly to themselves.

Harald is still, monolithically so.

Desert resumes his wolf-shape. We are done here. Stay if you wish, but the way to the Wheel may change in time.

Thunder-of-Gaia lingers, watching the body of the Elder as the spirits claim him, then pads back following towards the Wheel.

Conclusion

Much of my article on computers and interactive fiction was a search for the way out of the puzzle-solving, goal-directed, genre-based rut that interactive fiction seems to have fallen into. On MUSHes, I have found the way out. People stop acting like puzzle-solvers when they start acting like authors, and they start acting like authors when they have a good medium and an audience. The problem of freedom versus drama (that player freedom is at odds with authorial direction), and the worries I expressed under the heading "Multi-reader interactive fiction" (that people would not be able to view all parts of the plot, or get key items for puzzles), were stated under the assumption that some author-on-high was handing one plot down to the readers. They disappear when the readers are also the writers.

In that same article, I drooled over the near-future introduction of VR (virtual reality) to interactive fiction. But the flashy graphic interface will kill the world of carefully-crafted prose. Instead of writing, players will have a graphical emotion interface -- click here for a grin, there for a glower. They will be that much less authors, creating one out of an infinite number of possible actions, and more merely players, choosing from a menu.

It may be that these are the glory days of the literate MUSH, which will soon join Infocom in that great bit-bucket in the sky. Virtual reality MUSH players will not slide back into self-centered puzzle-solving. They will still be responsible for their own stories. It may be that, farther down the line, VR will allow fine muscular control over virtual puppets, opening up the world of acting and a new kind of creativity. But for now, you might want to log in to a good text mush before they disappear.

[5] Sometimes I feel like all that is happening is that my character, who does not exist, is making friends with other characters who do not exist, while I and the other players remain strangers. In tabletop role playing game, I enjoy the company of the other players while my character does his thing; my character and I have a cooperative relationship. But on the MUSH, I get the eerie feeling that this other entity, my character, is living off me parasitically; he lives, while I merely sit and type.

[7] Perhaps MUSHers redirect energy that would have gone into problem-solving into writing. I find my writing skill deteriorates as the plot heats up.