I've had a change of heart.
I feel like a politician to be saying this, but my position on custom traits has, over the past few days, evolved. After consulting with my fellow staff, weighing the opinions of some storytellers who I greatly respect, and sensing general discontent from the player base - the last kind of feeling I want to exist in what's supposed to be a fun game - regarding my recent approval strictness, I've decided to be more lenient in approving custom powers, masks, species, and elements. If you have a custom power, mask, species, or element that was just denied, please feel free to run it by me again, and I will review it with a more generous eye. The profiles topic and the first post of this topic have been edited to reflect the changes - or, really, the lack of changes - in the rules. Several staff stances on custom approvals have reverted to where they were last year. Custom powers, masks, species and powers are fair game to be approved again.
Let me justify my prior actions - the rampant, probably cruel-seeming, denials - before explaining my current position, and preface what will follow by noting that my past misgivings regarding custom powers are still pertinent to a degree, and still weigh on me as I re-open the field. My worry has always been that superficial customizations distract players from focusing on the actual character of their characters. People will tend to think of their abnormal characters as "my black-fire Toa" or "my Mark Bearer" rather than "my person with the internal scars" or "my guy torn by competing urges." It makes sense that people fixate on unusual power sets in a world already full of superheroes, but this is something I think should be avoided. Because my goal as a Game Master is to enhance the meaningfulness of characters and character interaction, I've always therefore tended to see custom traits as detrimental. My perceived link between custom abilities and inferior character should be explored.
It's never been a secret that I have a general aversion to custom species and most other custom abilities. This prejudice, I believe, can be traced to my earlier days in the BZPRPG, when I suppose I subconsciously associated unique powers with cardboard personae for the first time. To say that characters back then weren't as regulated as they are today would be... a huge understatement; any of you who also played in that era, during the last few arcs of the first BZPRPG, can certainly attest to the great and dangerous liberty that was in the hands of the players. Nothing ever had to be approved; you could do essentially whatever you wanted; and, disregarding the daily chaos of the game and the ill feeling between the players at that time, the characters of that age were bland and typical, more like video game avatars with juiced-up power sets than literary characters. My experiences playing as a part of a world of characters more defined by their strength than by their personalities affected me; the experiences of my past have colored my perceptions of the present.
Back then, the "game" of the BZPRPG was to push the limits of legality as far as was possible; somebody who exploited loopholes to give their character more clout was seen as admirable. When I was a normal player in this era, I was just as much a part of this culture as anyone. It was only really once I'd ascended to staff that I was able to gain some perspective on the culture and decide that, considering the nature of players at the time - sharp and sneaky, resistant to regulation - a drastic tightening of staff power needed to happen for the sake of fairness, if nothing else. I helped convince Friar Tuck of this in time for the pre-Dataclysm BZPRPG reboot, and together we started putting down the first restrictions on character powers and the like. By the time we reached our current iteration, the regulations were even higher. My mindset was always to constrain more, regulate more; I was used to dealing with a player base that was generally uncooperative, and would sniff out any opportunities to circumvent the rules and get ahead.
I don't know when or why it happened, but the timbre of players in the game changed over the course of last arc. People became more responsible, more respectful, more capable. Posts became longer, and characters became known more for their personalities than their power sets. Until now, I haven't really noticed how far we've come in the right direction; I was always too preoccupied with finishing some post or another to step back and see the big picture, but now I'm doing just that. You all are a remarkable group, to be honest - there's been an unexpected, quite welcome renaissance of the BZPRPG, defined by better, more character-focused storytelling. Reprimands are few and far between; you guys have done nothing wrong.
So why, so many of you pointed out, did I feel the need to punish you?
I hadn't thought of my denials as punishments, though of course they must have seemed like it. From my perspective, the start of the new arc was an opportunity to pull the game further towards order, regulation. It was a chance to eliminate most of those custom angles I had always though of as the enemy of character development. Unless a custom species could totally sell me on the otherwise-unachievable character development opportunities it'd give players (a difficult question under any circumstances), I resolved not to approve it; I am, of course, a very hard sale, especially in that department. I plowed on through my stack of approvals, happy to be proactively fighting the problems I'd seen so often in the past. On the other hand, the responsible, experienced players whose custom abilities I was denying - custom masks, powers and species that'd been played perfectly reasonably last arc - felt robbed of their fairly-earned, never-abused toys. That wasn't a fair deal, and it wasn't even justified under the circumstances of the game today. It never occurred to me to think less about what was being asked to be approved than about the player that was asking.
By shutting down so many approvals and stiffening the regulations on custom powers, I hindered creativity and made the game grim, all in the name of vanquishing a non-issue; for that, I'm shameful. A key part of this game, what drew me - and likely, many of you - to the BZPRPG in the first place, is the creativity inherent in its sandbox environment. To have denied so many of your ideas in the approval stage was counter-creative, the opposite of what anyone wants. For the game to run enjoyably, a balance needs to be struck between order and creativity. In this case, I overbalanced the side of order, which hurt the potential for creativity. I hope that looking at custom abilities with greater leniency will help to rectify the imbalance.
Last arc was excellent; the system worked almost perfectly, and custom game elements that were approved were not noticeably abused. I have been blind to the progress this game has made of late, and I hope you will forgive me for having pursued what I, in my closed perspective, thought was right. I'd also like to thank everyone who was willing to confront me about this issue; I appreciate community feedback especially when it's negative, because such commentary lets me know what needs changing.
If it ain't broke, I figure, there's no need to fix it. The game hasn't broken yet - I've never been as proud of it, in fact - so trying to fix it was just a silly thing of me to do.