[MUD-Dev] Re: Levelless MUDs

Adam Wiggins adam at angel.com
Mon Jun 8 18:46:21 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

On Mon, 8 Jun 1998, Holly Sommer wrote:
> The notion of converting to levelless MUDding is floating around
> the MUD I admin, and I am curious as to how this is done elsewhere
> (since I personally have never set foot in a levelless MUD).

Levelless muds are hard to come by in the GoP field.  Skill-based muds
which have levels that do almost nothing (except for providing players
with easy-to-understand feedback) are much more common.

Right off the top of my head, the two completely level-less muds I'd check
out would be YaMUD (if it's still around, it goes up and down) and, of
course, Ultima Online.

Muds very skill/spell/gold/eq-oriented to the point of rendering levels
almost moot include Legend and Arctic.  On Legend, levels are really only
practice points (one point per level).  On Arctic, levels only affect how
high your skills max out - if it wasn't for that, I'd never bother to gain
levels there.  (As it is, you don't "work" on gaining levels, you "work"
on getting up your skills and learning new skills, and gain levels by

As both a player and an admin I despise levels.  I find it far easier to
design, code, and play a game without such kludges.  Be forewarned,
however, that it makes game *balance* far more difficult to tune.

> What metrics of progress are used to replace "levels"?

I suspect you already have such metrics.  Stats, equipment, skills, and
spells are the most common metrics.  In the muds I've worked on, I've
found that as we've improved these other metrics, the levels become almost
incedental.  Ie: on stock diku, you can learn any spell or skill you want
at your guild once you reach the proper level.  Now, make a change that
many muds have gone to in recent years: skills and spells are aquired
someplace other than the guild.  This is, of course, quite a bit more
interesting from a game standpoint - you have to actually go questing for
the abilities you desire instead of killing the same creature over and
over until you get enough experience to go learn the abililty at your
guild.  Now, you could continue to restrict learning by level - but why
bother?  Any mage can study any spellbook on Arctic and potentially learn
the spell inside.  However, newbie mages still rarely ever get their hands
on any powerful spells, since good spellbooks are so hard to come by.
(Ie, a good spellbook might be gained by killing a creature which requires
8 to 10 really powerful characters, although the creature only 'loads' the
book 2% of the time and even then the mage has a low chance of actually
learning the spell.)

> Do players
> find this an acceptable substitute?

I tend to think of it the other way around.  They accept something as dull
as a 'level' as a substitute for a more accurate representation of their
character's abilities.  Anyhow, if your mud is similar to most others, the
real metric isn't levels anyhow - it's how many hitpoints you have, how
many fireballs you can cast in a row, and how much +dam you are wearing.

> What types of players does this attract?

"Smarter ones", I'd like to think, but honestly I don't think that there
is any such distinction.  The gameplay can (will?) be the same either way,
and players will accept whatever metrics you give them, as long as they
are both accurate and fulfulling.

> How do you handle things like spells, where caster vs.
> target level is what determines effectiveness?

Lots and lots of skills.  Ie: Biffy's fireball at Bubba is a roll of
Biffy's spellcasting skill, Biffy's fire-realm skill, Bubba's spellcraft
knowledge skill, Bubba's dodge skill, Bubba's agility, Biffy's
intelligence, Biffy's agility, and Bubba's resistance to fire.  You can
see already how this is more difficult to balance, due to so many more
parameters.  But IMO this makes the game more fun to work on (from an
admin's point of view), and more fun to play (from a player's point of
view).  And, one might still refer to Bubba as being a "high-level player"
if he's got a good fire resistance, a good dodge skill, a great spellcraft
skill, etc.  But it's much more than a single number now - Bubba might be
terrible a dodging fireballs, but an excellent thief.  He's still "high
level", he's just not good at avoiding nasty fire spells.

> I'd like to hear legitimate pros and cons, not "oh, it's cool" or
> "I hated it, it sucked."

IMO systems based on more complex metrics (generally meaning skill-based)
are about 1000% more fulfulling for both the creator and the player.  But
perhaps my view is a bit biased these days; having worked almost
exclusively with level-less games for the few years, the whole concept of
a single 'level' (which implies a 'class' which limits what my character
can do) is rather abhorent.


BTW - if it's back up, check the archives.  This is has been a major topic
for most of the list's existence.  Search for "skill web" (probably from
Nathan), "skill tree" (from Orion or myself), "mana" (JCL), "deity/god
favor" (Vadim or myself), or "for a pen and paper game I designed"
(Travis) :).

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