[MUD-Dev] Role-playing [was Re: several messages]

Adam Wiggins nightfall at inficad.com
Sun May 11 11:43:23 New Zealand Standard Time 1997

> Here's a good place to start an RP thread, with an age-old crisis for
> those running online RPGs (which focus on Roleplaying a character rather
> than anything else).
> How do you spur more RP?
> There are a number of 'tactics' employed by people to do this, some work
> better than others, for various reasons.

This is an interesting question, and I think one that any potential imp
should ask themselves before embarking on creating a role-playing game.
My personal belief is that role-playing is something that should occur
naturally, just a part of playing the game, rather than being a seperate
element that is upheld strictly on the part of a player sitting behind a
keyboard.  That is, I see people discussing 'enforcement' of role-playing
all the time.  Huh?  The very idea is ludicrous.  More commonly I see people
trying to 'encourage' role-playing by creating external rewards, ie wizinvis
immortals giving out RP "points" (gag).  These people are missing the
point.  It's a game, people do it for fun, so they are going to do whatever
is fun and natural in a given game.  If RP is not a fundamental part of the
way the game is played, it's never going to be given its due, regardless of
what the admin or a few zealous players may try.  This is the reason people
RP in pen-and-paper sessions - because that's the point of the game.  If
you didn't RP, it would be nothing more than a bunch of people sitting around
rolling dice for no particular reason.  (The numbers/combat mechanics in
most pen and paper RPGs just aren't interesting enough to make it an end
in itself.)  I think MUSHes fall into this same category - the only people
they attract are those interested in some serious role-playing.  There's
just no other reason to play them.  Dikus have their powerbuilding, LPs
their puzzlesolving and guilds, YaMUD its artifact-creation, and so forth -
these have other reasons to play besides RP, so players may or may not RP
depending on how the game is set up.
In addition, people like to categorize people in hard and fast molds.  The
two most common are the role-player and the power-mudder.  When admin/imp
type people get talking about players on the r.g.mud groups, they like to
talk about ways you can attract the first sort of player and how to get
rid of the second one.  The truth of the matter is that the lines are far more
blurred.  People simply adapt to the environment they are in.  One of
my old roommates was a power-mudder extrodinaire (he introduced me to muds,
in fact) - he'd log onto a mud and 'beat' it without a matter of days by
playing the numbers.  Yet this same person can role-play as well as anyone
I've ever seen when we'd play GURPs or Runequest, and I sat there and watched
him spend two weeks writing up a character history for a MUSH he wanted to
play.  I'm the same way - I role-play when it's fun, and power-play when
that's fun.
Given that, then, you only need to decide a) what's the focus of my game,
and b) how am I going to achieve that?  Chris L., for example, seems
to have decided that he's interested in a strategic game which flexes your
intellect more than your creativety.  For him to expect his players to
role-play is probably pretty silly.  Nathan, on the other hand, is creating
a game which reads like a piece of sci-fi fiction which allows the players to
direct the action as they see fit.  It would probably be nearly impossible
to play his game and *not* role-play.
The project I'm working on is probably somewhere inbetween these; I have my
roots in diku and computer RPGs where the point of the game is character
development (mainly aquiring and practising skills and spells), but we're
also working to make the game have a lot of mood and flavor.
We've strived to put in a lot of things that make the game seem different
depending upon what character you're playing.  I think I've already mentioned
the example of:

[big dumb ogre types 'look':]
You see here a big pile of coins.

[human types 'look':]
You see here several hundred coins.

[Rain Man types 'look':]
You see here 327 coins, one of which has a small scratch on its underside.

More pratical stuff for player involvement involves simple size issues (those
jhaa'rdk are *constantly* hitting their heads when walking through human
cities), intelligence (it's frequently easier for a minotaur to rip a door
of its hinges than try to figure out how to work the knob), racial balance
(your dwarf walks into the dwarven keen and is warmly greeted, his wounds
tended to, and given a hot meal...whereas he walks into the elven city and
everyone gives him the cold shoulder), character creation which gets the
player involved (like the lifepath stuff we dicussed last month), religions
which are actually different instead of just a different set of prayers
for clerics to use, and so on.

Part of the trick, I think, is just making sure that you and anyone else
who is working with you has a clear vision of the driving purpose(s) behind
the game (that is, what makes this game fun?), and then makes sure that
every element somehow contributes to that.  If you're going the mood/role-
playing route, then you should make sure that all the numbers are hidden
enough that the players don't have to worry about it; they can just play
their characters as they should, and things will work as expected; rather
than, "Gee, I'm suddenly hitting a lot harder.  Oh, it must be because that
last point of strength put me over a breakpoint of damroll."  If you're
doing a power-playing/strategic game, then the mechanics should be clear
enough that the players can get clear data about the situation and then
apply strategic knowledge.  (This doesn't necessarily translate to showing
numbers, although frequently numbers are just easier all around.)  I've
seen far too many power-playing muds try to 'go role-play' by hiding a few
numbers.  All this does is frustrate the players, since they can't play
the game effectively anymore.

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