[MUD-Dev] Re: Levelless MUDs

Adam Wiggins adam at angel.com
Tue Jun 9 11:56:12 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

On Mon, 8 Jun 1998, John Bertoglio wrote:
> From: Adam Wiggins <adam at angel.com>
> >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.
> UO has levels. They are described by prose instead on numbers and are (as
> of this week) defined by a sophisticated two dimentional matrix...but they
> are still levels.

There's two conflicting definitions going on right here.  One is the
conventional level notation, a single number, usually with a small range
(ie 1 to 30) which, by itself, describes a given character almost
completely.  This is the form of 'level' that I assume Holly wanted to get
rid of.
The second one, the one you describe, is the definition more commonly used
on this list.  Since many (most?) of us are working on games without the
conventional level notation described above, the term "high level" or "low
level" has come to take on new meaning.  In this case it's just a general
term to describe how experienced a given character is.  Tacking a 'class'
onto it, such as 'warrior', narrows down where they have that experience
invested, which makes conversations about other topics quite a bit easier,
despite the fact that there is no character->GetClass() == CL_WARRIOR or
character->GetLevel() < LOW_LEVEL.  The second definition is broad enough
that you could apply it to almost anything, anywhere.  I might be
considered a high-level programmer but a low-level football player.
I doubt Holly really wants to get rid of *any* method of tracking this
sort of "level", since that would render characters into fairly simple
shells, which are not suitable if you desire (non-social) character
advancement to be possible.

In that spirit...

> >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
> >accident.)
> This is how levels should function.

*shrug*...'should' isn't necessarily the word.  IMO if you're going to
have levels at all (usually an old hang-on from a previous system; Arctic
is nearly six years old, and at the time they started levels were
ubiquious in the mud world), this is the way to do it.

> After elementry school, people stop
> talking about grade *levels*. People who have just received a Phd. do not
> speak of graduating from the 19th (or whatever) grade, they describe their
> specific accomplishment.

True to a certain extent.  People still tend to ignore specifics...for
instance, caring more about what school someone graduated from than what
they majored in, or just saying, "She'll know, she's got a PhD after all"
even when the person in question has a PhD in math and they have a
question about botany.  Of course, there's a reason for this - generally
someone that is more experienced in general will have a higher chance of
knowing the answer to any given problem/question than someone with a lower
When it comes right down to it, people still care about those simplistic
metrics of your accomplishments, as they serve as general indicators of
your much more complex and more difficult to define set of abilities.  Ie,
a company hires an engineer because he graduated from a good school and
has 'worked as chief engineer at Newtech Systems for 3 years' on his
resume.  Are they hiring him for those reasons?  No, they are hiring him
because he's got many skills related to the task at hand.  But those
skills are much harder to define, display, and support.

> All games which allow for improvement have levels.

Again, a simplification I'm ignoring in order to answer Holly's post in
the spirit in which it was asked.

> Those designed by people with limited imagination (or a mechanistic POV)
> use numbers. It is far more satisfiying to look at a character whose war
> necklace has 4 dragon incisors, a glowing orb, 16 human ears with earrings
> of famous warrior clans and gold wedding band. This, along with the proper
> facial and body tatoos would suggest that this bad puppy is a high level
> character with a bad attitude. He doesn't have to claim to be a level 65
> fighter...he either is one or is putting on a good show (which is itself
> interesting from a game POV).


> >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.
> Adam: Why would this be? Unless you are talking about things like players
> can only fight other players within 5 levels or other artifical
> stuff...those kind of meat axe tuning short cuts are clearly easy to tune
> but the results are usually a joke.

Well, in this case I'm speaking from direct experience, but you don't have
to take my word for it - ask Raph.  Anyhow, a simple glance at the problem
will reveal why this is so: in one case you have a single number to
adjust, plus some secondary values that relate directly back to that
number.  In a skill-based system, stuff is much more distributed.  There
is a large number of values, all of which affect each other in ways that
are difficult to predict.  In addition, a more complex representation of
the characters (and, indirectly, the game world) simply implies more
dependancies and more subtleties that can elude the designer.  For
instance, ditching levels means you now need some way to regular skill
learning.  Okay, so you make skills go up with use.  But, players just sit
around and spam skills to get them up, so you make skills only go up when
being used 'against' something of slightly higher skill level as them (ie,
a 45 climbing skill against a cliff rated at a 50 difficulty has a good
chance to go up), and regulated by time (say, only once every fifteen
minutes).  This reasonably small change makes balancing advancement an
order of magnitude more complicated.  Before you'd just give them less
"practices" for each "level".  Now you have to go and push and pull
numbers, and more specifically formulas which can get quite complex if
you're ambitious.

Not trying to argue against this at all, of course - anyone who's been
reading the list any time for the last three or so years will know that
I've always been a strong proponent of the stuff above.  But I can
understand how someone that wants to have simple character advancement in
their mud without spending a lot of time working on it would stick with a
simple metric like levels, giving them time to focus on other areas of the


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