Underground Character Development 2020

Welcome to the Underground

The Burlesque Underground (or ‘Underground’) is a performance based live-action role-playing game and theatrical experience involving burlesque, cabaret, theatre and pantomime, circus and improvisation arts. The key storylines centre around fetish, BDSM, kink and erotica and it contains adult themes, concepts and subject matter that often triggers or offends.

The Underground is a Black Comedy, using parody and satire to explore the darker side of human nature and the idea of the butterfly effect – how one small action can change the fate of many. At its core, the Underground story is about victims of abuse in all forms and the varying ways in which they deal with (or spectacularly fail to deal with) their pasts. It explores the abuse cycle and the ways in which victims can become predators in spite of themselves, and how this can be overcome. Or not.

For performers, the Underground is a means to express the more artistic parts of their performance, removing the limitations of the mainstream and the expectations of the masses to allow for full expression of self.

For audience members, it is a chance to escape their everyday lives and let their alter ego out to play – or to let their true selves shine through in an environment free of the judgement and restrictions imposed upon them by society. It is also a forum for the exploration of BDSM and kink, often containing a light introduction into facets of this world for newcomers.

The Underground is not:

– A swingers or sex club – An exclusive fetish or kink party for members only – A therapy or support group – An excuse to get completely munted, forget yourself and annoy everyone (unless you are employed as a performer to pretend to do so). – A polyamory dating forum or a hook up club – A playground for sociopaths or narcissists to mess with or manipulate other’s REAL LIVES.

The Underground Family consists of six types of people:

The General Audience – who are there for a good night out, to let their hair down, to see a show, to celebrate an occasion, to explore etc. May be other performers or friends and family of groupies and dwellers.

Undergroupies (Non-Playing Characters) – Regular attendees of the shows who may or may not follow the character arcs and RPG storylines and be part of the Official Undergroupies Page. They retain their real identities and names and have low-impact interactions with various performers and players. They may also be fans or friends of individual performers.

Undergroupies (Playing Characters) – Regular attendees of the shows who follow the character arcs and RPG storylines on the Official Undergroupies Page and have created their own persona/character with which to interact within the Underground world. They may have their own character pages/storylines but these do not impact the core Underground story or goings on and are not considered ‘canon’ unless deemed necessary to be so by the GM.

Underdwellers – Character performers within the Underground world with specific personas that contribute to and further along the main storyline. They may or may not perform onstage. They are also the official crew of the Black Family who may work behind the scenes for each event and may be involved in marketing, storyline development, planning and implementing of shows. They attend most shows and have been doing so for at least one year prior to their elevation to this role.

Underground Performers – May or may not have a character involved in the storyline. They may be ‘bit players’ or special guest stars brought in to fill various roles at different times, or they may simply perform onstage.

Games Master – Responsible for planning and advertising of all events and shows, has final say on all official character developments and storylines and owns the copyright to everything that falls under the Burlesque Underground banner. This includes any writings on the Undergroupies page and character pages, unless otherwise agreed to and specified in writing by the Games Master.

Developing a Character for the Underground

First, it is important to decide if playing within the Underground is right for you.

Due to the subject matter and themes that are presented, and the nature of the characters that frequent the space, it is NOT FOR EVERYONE. Playing within the Underground requires a level of emotional maturity and an ability to self-examine to the nth degree. There is nothing wrong with being a passive observer, nor is there anything wrong with taking an ‘Underground Holiday’ every once in a while to defrag. We all do it.

Things to consider:

  • Will your past experiences taint the way you view certain characters/individuals within the space to a level that will affect your interactions with them? Do you have deep-seated emotional issues with arrogant men/women or narcissists due to abuse by a former partner? Do strong and/or dominant women set your teeth on edge or provoke your inner misogynist? Will you be able to see these traits in characters without having a reaction that at worst puts you and/or the performers in danger, or at best makes you really unpleasant to be around? The performers and their characters are not emotional punching bags for you to get your issues out on. Please remember this.

  • Are you able to ‘leave your baggage’ at home and not let it affect your play? Will the breakup with your partner that you had or the boss who called your useless be superimposed on the faces of everyone you talk to? Are you going to sadsack around sucking the energy from the room demanding everyone give you attention, then having an almighty tantrum when you don’t get it? Don’t come. Stay at home. Seriously.

  • Are you prone to jealousy, excessive insecurity and/or emotional manipulation? Do you need to be the centre of someone’s attention at all times? Are you a gossip? Are you one of those annoying people who thrives off drama and likes to create imaginary conflict so that you can put yourself in the middle of it and ‘help’ everyone? Do you get snarky when someone is perceived to be more popular than you, more attractive and/or just more likeable? Are you likely to be a dick about it?

  • Do you enjoy messing with other people’s emotions and/or sensibilities in ways that affect them personally for your own amusement? Do you get satisfaction from hurting people in real life situations? If the answer is yes, then stay away. We don’t want you around us.

  • Are you able to separate fantasy and what characters do and say from reality? Are you likely to agonise over an insult or slight from a character on a personal level and spend hour crying or wallowing about it? Are you likely to take a compliment or a smile from a character as evidence that their host body (player) has a crush on or personal connection with you?

  • Are you able to monitor and control your behaviour in regards to the excessive consumption of alcohol? Are you likely to get so drunk that you become physically destructive or abusive towards others? Are you able to regulate your own intake of intoxicants with any prescription medication so that you don’t become a danger to yourself and others?

  • Are you in control of your own mental or chronic illnesses? Are you taking prescribed medication responsibly to ensure that you are physically, mentally and emotionally able to take care of yourself, stay safe and keep others safe within the Underground walls. Are you able to understand and heed trigger warnings to actively work towards preventing re-traumatising yourself?

It is vital for the safety and security of everyone that you are honest with yourself about what you can and cannot handle. The Underground is supposed to be a safe and supportive environment for all and it is a hell of a lot of fun, but only you are responsible for your own behaviour and how it affects you and those around you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that it’s not for you. 70% of people who come through our doors (including performers) have done the same.

Character Development: The Foundations

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

The Underground is generally populated by ‘shades of grey’ characters, operating under the belief that no one is truly good or evil and all humans are capable of good and bad behaviour depending on motivations, influences and needs/goals.

That said, a simple decision needs to be made from the get-go about the TYPE of character you want to begin with. These will evolve over time and develop themselves organically with each Underground event, but it helps to have some idea of where you want to start. Please remember of course that there are consequences to every action, and whatever you decide will affect not only the way you play your characters, but the way that others interact with you and how much work you have to do behind the scenes.

Getting to Know You

One of the key elements of character development is the ability to see through your character’s eyes. Get a good look at how they see the world, what they perceive as good or bad and why.

You need to think about where that person came from. What was their childhood like? Who were their parents, peers, love interests…if your character is a ‘bad guy’, why did they choose to become one? Did they choose it? What were they like as a child and what was their life like growing up? What kind of environment are they used to?

Asking yourself questions like these is imperative to the development of your character, even if no one ever sees that part of it. The important thing is that you know.

Motive is a vital part of ALL storytelling. There must be a motive, and it needs to make sense. Realism, no matter what genre you’re playing in, helps bring that person to life. We need to make clear WHY your characters do what they do and feel the way they feel. Just saying, “Well, he’s just nuts, that’s why,” is a cop out. They might be insane, but how so? How long have they been insane? Were they born that way? What happened to make them that way? If your character has a mental illness, do research and define it. Be specific. ALSO remember that depicting mental illness within a character when you yourself do not have experience with that illness or condition yourself is a form of appropriation. Tread carefully and respectfully.

Even if you don’t reveal to viewers exactly what’s wrong with them, the fact that you know will make it that much more believable. Fellow roleplayers and audience members can sense when there’s something going on they aren’t privy to and it keeps them interested.

There are many devices you can use to help you create a character, including…character questionnaires, checklists, name and personality generators, astrology, astronomy and occult books and websites (Eastern, Western etc).

Knowing your character is key, and doesn’t just mean facts that directly affect the story line. Role-players should think about the little details that give their creations life and make it easier to react to any given situation without missing a beat. What are your character’s quirks? Everyone has odd little habits, pet peeves, favourite foods, colours, music, phobias, things that embarrass them, things they are proud of, clothing styles…there are so many little details to consider.

The idea is to develop a complete, rounded, complex and believable person so that when you are faced with a certain scenario you know without a doubt how to react to it instinctively (Note – sometimes characters will override intellectual self-knowledge and do whatever the hell they want. You get used to this).

Dressing for the Underground 

Think about what your character wears. Are they wealthy or poor? What are they most comfortable in? What do they ‘dress up’ in? What is the Underground dress code (hint – it’s high class formal, fetish gear or very smart casual…no denim, hoodies, caps, sneakers or thongs).

Consider body types and what actually looks good on you. Also consider how to make your character look impressive without breaking the bank. Op-shops and online stores like eBay or Facebook Marketplace are a great way to kit out your creation without resorting to 2 minute noodles for dinner all week. Set yourself a limit for each purchase and don’t go above it.

Think about the kind of jewellery or trinkets your character may wear and whether or not they have sentimental meaning. Small pieces are also a good way to help separate real life from the Underground, as many players often allocate an item that is solely their characters…and when it comes off, the game is over.

What’s in a name?

When coming up with a character name, there are a few things to think about.

For example:

What nationality/heritage does your character have? (Remember to avoid appropriating minority cultures when making this decision) Do they retain their birth name or go by a pseudonym? Does anyone else know their real name? Do they have a nickname?

Other factors that may contribute to your selection include:

– Meanings of names (are they true to what you are trying to portray or is it a satire?) – Does it suit your characters heritage and the era/country they were born in? – How are the names pronounced? – Do they have a middle name or two? Is their name double-barrelled? – Are they obvious and do they make you sound like you’ve stepped out of Dungeons and Dragons? Try to steer away from ‘homage’ names (i.e. Lestat De Dracula)

For all this, sometimes characters basically just name themselves.

Character Movements and Mannerisms

Find an empty space where you can walk around (preferably in front of a full length mirror). Think about:

– How your character stands. Are their feet apart or together? Are toes pointed, are legs bent or rigid? How do they hold their hips? Are they upright or leaning?

– Where are their hands? What are they doing with them? How do they hold their arms? What about their shoulders, are they back or hunched? Is their chest out or withdrawn?

– Think about their head…is it raised or do they keep it down? Tilted to the side? Is their hair brushed back or does it hang in their eyes?

– How do they hold their lips? Pursed, frowning, smirking, a sardonic smile? Do they show their teeth? Why or why not?

– Are their eyes slitted or wide? Do their lashes flutter? Do they stare or look away from others quickly? What about their eyebrows…are they raised or narrowed, neutral?

– How does your persona move? Do they walk fast or slowly? Do they keep to the shadows and walls or stride dead centre past the crowds? Do they want to be seen or want to hide? Do their eyes dart about or do they remain focused on where they are heading? Are their steps large or small? Do they saunter or swagger? Try something different…add a limp, make them skip…

– What do their hands do when they walk? Are they swinging freely, are they crossed or clasped?

Think about how this character sees other people. When they pass strangers, do they smile and nod, do they glare, do they ignore them completely? 

– How does your persona sit? Legs crossed or parted? Are they proper or do they slouch? Do they prefer their backs to the wall or do they throw themselves in the centre of the room? Do they recline? Are they comfortable or stiff?

– Does your persona have any nervous twitches or habits/mannerisms? Do they drum their fingers, click their tongues, bite their nails or lip, wrinkle their nose?

Take a moment, then allow your character to speak. Get them to say hello out loud and introduce themselves.

– Do they have an accent? What is it? Try a few different ones (French, German, English, Bogan, American, Southern American, Russian, Chinese, Indian etc). AGAIN, keep cultural appropriation in mind and DO NOT play characters from minority cultures that are not your own. You can find more information about this here.

– What volume is their speaking voice? Are they loud or softly spoken? Do they mumble or murmur?

– What pitch is their voice? Is it high, low, moderate?

Incorporating your creation into the Underground world

Once you have a handle on the basics of your creation, the time will inevitably come to bring them into the light, so to speak. When first venturing out into the Adult Playground with your new baby, it’s beneficial to keep a few things in mind…

1. Calm the fuck down. No one gets it perfect the first time and characters will evolve and change as you do. If you try something and it doesn’t work (accents, movement, backstory) you CAN alter it. Just do everyone the courtesy of letting them know via the Groupies page.

2. Be realistic. You can be any character you want to be…but if you suck at an English accent then no amount of wishing in the world is going to make it stick. Role-playing is as much about performance as it is play. Try and make yourself look as much as possible as your character…but make allowances for the fact that you are only human too.

3. The safety word is GRAPES. Use it. It is not a cop out, but a great way to hit the pause button and clarify something with the other players or call a time out for yourself. We do it all the time. It’s how we stay safe.

4. Know your ‘safe zones.’ The Underground has one exclusive ‘out of character’ (OOC) space where no roleplay is allowed and you can retreat if required. Please always respect those who need to take a break. It is a good idea to call ‘grapes’ and let someone know that you are taking a time-out, just in case we need to find you or someone else is looking for you.

5. Respect others right to play. If you are tired of being in character, want to discuss real world matters or want to catch up with someone behind the veil…GO HOME. There are 29-31 other days in the month that you can socialise. If it is an emergency, then call GRAPES, inform the GM or production team and head to the no-play zone.

6. Know your legal and intellectual property rights. Any character created in and for the Underground remains the property of the Burlesque Underground and the Games Master, which means you cannot use this character (in name or otherwise) anywhere outside of the Underground unless you get written permission from the copyright owner. If you bring a character that you have already created into the Underground you need to be sure to get permission from the GM in writing first, and make sure that you have a clear understanding of the repercussions of doing so and the potential for any conflicts of interest or copyright issues that may arise as a result. Generally, we recommend keeping the Underground and all your other creative projects separate for everyone’s peace of mind.

You can read more helpful hints about beginning your role-playing journey in the Underground here.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Having a wonderful artistic character creation is good, but make sure that it fits into the RULES OF THE WORLD you are playing in. It’s no use being Gandalf on the Death Star, and other players won’t appreciate your flights of fancy.

Things to note:

– The Underground is set in real time with a twist. If it doesn’t materially exist in the year 2019, then it does not exist in the Underground. While we may take some artistic license in the realms of mental health, this isn’t a science fiction game.

– The Underground world explores the notion of human monsters. There are no vampires, werewolves, aliens, superheroes, sonic screwdrivers or supernatural beings (unless these are figments of the imagination and/or part of a character’s delusion). There is no magic outside of religious factions (i.e. paganism, voodoo etc).

– As far as Jasper is concerned, you’re all either on drugs or insane or both. There will be occasion to bend reality slightly (e.g. wars, murders etc) and take artistic licence in order to further the storyline, but these instances should be avoided and should only occur with GM approval.

When in Rome

Coming a close second to knowing your characters is getting to know everyone else’s. This will not only help you decide what your character thinks of each person they meet, but will also help you avoid idiotic faux pas like telling Baelian you like to eat children or asking Grigori about the best way to get a divorce.

The Underground is much like the Tudor court and operates accordingly.

– Get to know the chain of command and where you sit in the pecking order – Pay attention to character reactions to certain events and situations – READ AS MUCH AS YOU CAN about the history of the storyline and characters. Know who you are dealing with. You can find all you need on our Official Blog. – Remember not to confuse what YOU know with what your CHARACTER knows – When in doubt…ASK!

Fantasy vs. Reality

A lot of conflict within the Underground occurs because of the blurring of lines between the real world and the RPG. In order to alleviate this and keep everyone safe, remember:

– Never EVER use your own name or nicknames for your characters. Also avoid tying the past too closely to yours. ESPECIALLY if it’s triggering for you.

– Remember that this is a GAME. It’s NOT real. Nothing in it is real: including sexual/physical encounters, conversations, arguments, friendships and/or alliances, etc.

– Any connection you may have to performers/people outside of the Underground does not translate to their RPG characters. Do not expect the same treatment or assume that a friendship in the real world allows you to get away with certain behaviours in character. Even if it’s your significant other.

– The Underground should NEVER be used as a means to spice up your relationships, troll for poly partners, play mind games or go on personal vendettas. It is a safe place for all and if you disturb the creative peace you will be asked to leave.

Safety and Security

– Before each show or social encounter, all players (Underdwellers and Groupies) will post their emotional, physical and psychological boundaries on an assigned thread. Please make sure that you are realistic about what you can and can’t handle…let everyone know about any physical illnesses or viruses you may have (no making people sick and spreading the plague), and don’t waste time with wanky statement like ‘if you do this I will punch you because I am a ninja blah blah.’ No one cares how big your dick is, we just want to keep you all safe. Remember to set your boundaries when you are SOBER and BEFORE you start to play.

Simulated violence of any kind between characters is not permissibleUNLESS you have direct verbal and written consent from the Games Master. All violence between cast members has been planned and pre-rehearsed safely in order to ensure that none one is injured. We also have to let the venue and staff know about any upcoming incidents so they can advise security. Please be aware that regular patrons can’t tell the difference between Groupies and Dwellers…we do not want them emulating or reacting to something you have done and thinking that it represents either the Underground. This is a legal matter as well as a safety one.

Please respect the personal space and feelings of the other players. Avoid touching anyone’s bodies or clothing unless they have made it clear both in and out of character that this is acceptable. No stalking and/or being creeps and trying to pick up. NO exposing oneself to people without their consent. Remember this is not real.

– Communicate any potential issues/dramas to the Games Master and/or upper management prior to the Underground events. Let others know via the groupies page if there is something (physical or emotional) that we need to be aware of for the night or PM management if you don’t feel comfortable sharing. On the night if there are any issues you can approach any one of the Dwellers listed below at any time to report a problem…just remember to call safety word first.

The chain of command for problems during an event is as follows: Cassandra (Asinoe/Alina) FIRST. If she cannot be found, then Enya (Scarlett)or Roslyn (Claudia/Lyra). They will bring the issue to the attention of the GM, who will liase with venue management to sort it out. Don’t go to Jasper. He will be no help.

Drugs of any kind are not permitted within the Underground world(unless they are prescription medication). What you do at home should in no way affect your ability to function within the game safely. Do not come to the Underground under the influence of any mind-altering substances that could endanger your fellow players. Do not imbibe in any illicit drugs on the premises of any Underground event. If you are caught doing so, you will be asked to leave and not invited back.

Know your limits. You know how much alcohol you can consume before you become a cunt, how tired you need to get before you fall apart and how much your body can take. You know what your triggers are and how much you can deal with emotionally. It is no one else’s responsibility to look after you or babysit you, nor should your inability to deal impede on other’s enjoyment. You may of course word-up a ‘buddy’ to keep an eye on you in the case of physical or emotional incident, but make sure that they are happy and able to do so and that they don’t just end up nannying you all night.

Dealing with conflict and resolving issues

All personal baggage, conflicts, feuds and gripes have no place within the Underground and should not pass the threshold. No exceptions. Keep that shit at home.

If something occurs within the space that offends or upsets you, please contact the GM after the event so that it can be sorted out. You will always be encouraged to work out your issues with each other like adults. Please avoid airing grievances on the Undergroupies page or through passive/aggressive Facebook posts. We’re watching and we’re judging.

The Underground operates on a 3 strikes and you’re out basis. Those behaving inappropriately and endangering others or the reputation of the world will be given two warnings (one verbal and one written). On the third instance they will be asked to leave the Underground.

Please understand that the Games Master has the exclusive right to kill off your characters if you make a nuisance of yourselves. This will not prevent you from attending events, but you will no longer be allowed to play the game (or, best case scenario, you’ll have to start again from scratch with a new persona after a 3 month cooling off period). All character assassinations have to be approved by the GM.

Relationships between Undergroupies and Underdwellers that form as a result of involvement in the game are discouraged. We are, of course, not able or willing to stop such connections from occurring and we are all only human, but please understand that should such a thing occur, BOTH the Groupie and Underdweller will have to cease playing a character within the Underground and will only be able to attend as an audience member or guest until such a time as it is deemed appropriate and safe for them to resume play. Any significant others who upset gameplay or hinder a Dweller or Groupie’s ability to fully interact with the world will be asked to leave and stop attending. It is up to you all to set the boundaries for your own relationships and ensure that the Underground does not affect these, or vice versa.

Becoming an Undergroupie or Underdweller Character

Undergroupies wishing to create a character for play in the Underground must do the following:

-Become a member of the Official Undergroupies Page. -Familiarise themselves with the Terms of Use and House Rules. -Complete the 50 character questions and submit them to the GM for consideration and tweaking. The GM will let you know when your character development is complete. -Be listed as an ‘official player’ on the Undergroupies online database. -Attend an Underground event and begin interactions. -Post a brief summary of their characters experiences and thoughts after each live event -Create an in-character Facebook page for online gameplay.

Underdwellers differ from Undergroupies in that they:

– Work closely with the GM to facilitate the main storyline and use their characters as a means to do this. – May be involved onstage (or throughout the events) in order to support the Underground experience and receive training/direction from the GM - Please note, there is no guarantee of this and being an Underdweller does not automatically entitle you to stage time. – Are directly involved in the planning and implementing of the Underground RPG – May have characters that are directly related to or closely affiliated with the 7 main families. – Have ongoing storylines that are considered canon and are included in the RPG online summaries and blogs – Are WORKING together to create the Underground world for audiences and fans as much as they are PLAYING for themselves.

In order to be considered to become an Underdweller, an Undergroupie must:

– Have been attending the Underground experience for no less than 12 months in consistent character. Coming as a fan does not count, nor does attending twice a year. – Been invited to apply for an Underdweller position by the Games Master – Completed their 50 character questions and had them approved by the Games Master – Been approved for application by all other current Underdwellers

Please note that a probation period of 3 months will follow during which a Groupie is free to change their mind. After this period, full Underdweller status will be granted (along with its perks). Underdweller status can be revoked at any time with reasonable cause, and in such an instance all and any intellectual property will remain the copyright of the Games Master and the Burlesque Underground. Please also note that simply attending the Underground for 12 months or more does not automatically entitle you to an Underdweller position. Dwellers are selected VERY CAREFULLY by the Games Master based on:

  • How safe an individual you are to work with and alongside (i.e. physically, emotionally and mentally). Are you taking your meds? Are you monitoring your physical and mental health? Are you endangering others or making everything someone else’s problem or fault?

  • Your behaviour and attitude during the course of your Underground tenure.

  • Your dedication to and understanding of the main storyline and shows over your own ego and status needs.

  • The way that you get along with other players and groupies.

  • The way you behave in person, but also online and in online chat – are you divisive, rude, underhanded, manipulative? Do you spend your time working with others to enrich the Underground world or waste time complaining about how no one will play with you and creating dissent?

  • Your level of respect for people’s personal space and emotional and sexual boundaries. Do you get handsy when you’re drunk, do you make people uncomfortable? Do you drop out of character and use the world as your own private ‘pick up’ party.

  • Are you likely to abuse your power and ego-trip over others with some perceived sense of entitled superiority?

  • Are you able to develop your own storyline and play with others or on your own as required, or do you expect everyone else to do the work for you and hold your hand? Do you get destructive or divisive if you feel that things aren’t going your way, and will your insecurity affect the other players, groupies, and/or the game and world?

It’s important that you are aware that only 5% of Groupies are suitable Underdweller candidates, and there may be long periods of time before new individuals are added to that list. Do not take it personally, selection of core cast is completely at the discretion of the Games Master – this role is difficult and demanding. There are rehearsals and meetings/gatherings to attend, far more rules to follow, a lot of hard work to ensure that the shows and events run smoothly and safely. Not everyone will end up onstage, or the main focus of a storyline…decisions are made based on what is best for the world and our audience’s experience. As such, most people are better suited to playing Groupies characters and just enjoying the fun.

Character ideas

The more unique and interesting your character, the more likely it will be that others will want to engage with you. Consider the following:

A washed up film star/theatre performer or an up and coming pop star or rap artist A do-gooder cop on a case or an undercover cop gathering information on one of the Seven Families A private detective A lawyer working in conjunction with or wanting to be employed by one of the families A high court judge, mayor or politician A crazed fan/groupie of one of the Family A limo driver

Try to avoid things that have already been done to death or already exist in the Underground world. We have enough assassins, billionaire orphans, black widows and heiresses. Let your imaginations run wild and see if you can make something special to you!

The Burlesque Underground is a labour of love that requires the support and dedication of its players, fans and Family to continue. We thank you all for your contributions to our world and look forward to creating some truly spectacular art in the future.

Let the games begin!

All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2019. Natalie Ristovski.

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