[MUD-Dev] Re: Levelless MUDs

Adam Wiggins adam at angel.com
Mon Jun 15 15:07:32 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

On Mon, 15 Jun 1998, Holly Sommer wrote:
> On Fri, 12 Jun 1998, Matt Chatterley wrote:
> > I suppose the key things to look at are *exactly* what is influenced by
> > levels, and how else you might handle it. Swap in other things which make
> > more 'sense' (for instance, apply a strength stat to damage instead of
> > level, and so forth).
> After going over it with some who have played in this environment, and 
> others who have written code for it, the following things have been 
> highlighted:
>    o We'll have to move from a %based skill proficiency system, to one
>      which has no artificial ceiling (100% is max... hey, is anyone 
>      perfect at ANYTHING?) where you have skill bonuses and penalties
>      (+8 on pick lock) and that each skill has a counterskill (working
>      on a -5 difficulty lock, for a net effectiveness of +3) while
>      throwing in some luck (so roll a 3d6 and get <= net effectiveness,
>      where 18 is always a fail, and 3 is always a win)

Yup, it's all relative.  I generally like to set up everything on a rough
scale of 0 to 99, where 0 means you've never heard of it, and 99 is
practically inattainable.  (Your skill max is actually dependant on a lot
of stuff; big dumb brutes will have trouble getting most of their skills
over 40.)  This makes it easy to do comparissons, since it's just your
skill vs. your opponent's skill.  (Ie, sword skill vs parry skill)  An
inanimate object can still be considered your "opponent" - if it's a lock
on a door, you compare your lockpicking skill (0 to 99) against the
difficulty of the lock (0 to 99).

>    o Remove the level restrictions on eq. This is what the builders
>      objected to the most (see below). I am of the mindset that levels
>      could still be left in place for deciding relative "power" of the
>      eq (and the goodies/bonuses/penalties/etc. which go along with
>      the more desirable eq), but that if player characters no longer have
>      player levels, then there is no level check for using eq: you 
>      found it, you can use it.

There are lots of fun things you can do to achieve a similar effect.  The
first diku I played on had no level limits, but it did have a few
interesting things:

- Ego items.  Based on some strange formula (I think it was something like
(5 * char_level) + char_hitpoints) the item would decide that you weren't
'good enough' for it and would attempt to wretch itself out of your hands.
This was no big deal if you were high level + high hitpoints, but if you
were right on the line it meant you frequently ran into problems of your
sword throwing itself out of your hand in the middle of a fight...
- 'Cursed' items.  The One Ring of Power was found in the stanard place
(Keeper of the Ring in the Shire).  Anyone above about 20th level (on a 50
level scale) could kill him by themselves without much difficulty.
However...having the One Ring in your posession meant that the nine
ringwraiths that inhabitted the mud would constantly be chasing you down.
These were nasty creatures that hit hard, had a good amount of hit points,
and "touched you with ghostly hands" or something once a round to drain
you a character level.  Thus keeping the Ring around was a full-time job
in and of itself.  Most folks that tried it elected to give it up, despite
being the best ring for spellcasters in the game.  Usually they got it,
said 'Al-RIGHT!', and fifteen minutes later they were down five or six
levels and had junked the ring.
- PK.  This is the best one, IMO.  Newbies wearing good gear on Arctic get
killed very quickly.  This means that oldbies, when creating a new
character, either carefully hide their equipment, or just don't give
anything good to their new char.  Of course, it also means that giving a
good item to a true newbie is about the same as signing their

>    o Other means of identifying the experienced bravados from the
>      well-equipped newbie. Obviously, this is in the skill bonuses/penalties
>      realm. You can outfit Bubba the Well-Travelled Adventurer and 
>      Boffo the Brand New Player the same, but Bubba knows the game better,
>      and has spent time LEARNING things, which will be to his advantage,
>      should he and Boffo ever be in the arena together against one another.

And as always, I'm a strong proponent of the swordmaster with a steel
rapier being able to best the newbie wielding Deathwreaker, Mighty Mace of
Power practically every time.

> Essentially, levels are being used for two things:
>    1. Determining when you can learn a skill
>    2. Determining when you can use eq
> We have considered using skilltrees - sets of prerequisites - for skills. 
> This removes the artificialness of "sorry, you can't learn dodge, it's a 
> level 20 skill in THIS game, and you're only level 3), and of using 
> rune-based magic, so that you don't have situations where "fireball is 
> just a level 30 version of magic missile).

You can (once again) get mechanics in the game which are much less
discrete but still achieve the same effect as limiting skills based on
levels.  For instance, the only person who can teach you the deadly
Adder's Touch attack is the guru on top of Mt. Tall.  He'll only agree to
teach you if you can engage him in combat, naked and unarmed, and remain
standing for more than thirty seconds.

> It would also be easy and popular with players to promote our eq as 
> "having no level restrictions! You find it, you use it!"

Plenty of muds do this.  I don't see it as a problem, as long as you limit
your equipment properly.  The place it causes problems is when there is a
surplus of good stuff, such that high-levelers kill a nasty critter and
get a full set of nice gear, but have no use for it and so give it to a
newbie.  If you balance things right, there should always be a slight
under-suply of good gear for all the high-level players on the mud, such
that very little trickles down to newbies.  AnotherMUD achieved this quite
well; despite having NO object limits (you could get an infinite number of
any given object, potentially), the best objects managed to keep their
value for the entire several-year span of the mud's existence.

Another option that seems to work well is item decay.  I'm not so fond of
this, but I've seen it work quite effectively.  Any given 'good' item
decays after so many game ticks.  Thus if a newbie happens onto a good
item somehow, they only have it for a while and then it goes away.  If a
high level person has it, it decays and then they just say, "Whoops, my
Glowing Headband of Doom just decayed, let's go grab me another"

And of course, the ubiquios rent.  This doesn't stop high-levelers from
giving good items to their newbies (since they just give them a pile of
money, too) but it does keep a newbie who happened onto a high-lever's
corpse (or whatever) from keeping everything they find - they just can't
afford it.

> For some reason, however, if you use precise language and say "levels are 
> being removed," those who are accustomed to them absolutely flip out. 
> It's very very strange. I guess people assume that eq which would have 
> been known as "level 50 eq" will just be lying around the newbie area, 
> and will seriously unbalance the game. If that IS the case, it's not so 
> much a problem of system design, as it is of poor AREA (builder) design.

That's it.  Levels just make things so much easier on builders, although
someone like me only finds them restricting.

> If it's anything at all like the staff members I've merely MENTIONED this 
> to, as a possible *consideration* - with great bouts of gnashing of 
> teeth, and with feelings of betrayal. And that's without even speculating 
> aloud, what a change like removing levels would entail. Bleah.

People do this about any major change.  I've seen it a million times: a
popular mud makes a big change which is for the better in the long run but
which player's don't take to at the moment.  The mud population drops
sharply for a few weeks, but then picks up again and actually increases
since the mud is better now.  And new folks come on, unaware that things
were ever any other way...

> We decided it best to just go ahead and start work on an experimental 
> server, and leave everyone else out of it while we work on it. Too much 
> strife, and too many cooks with their fingers in the pot, if we involve 
> player and builder feedback during the construction phase. It'll be a 
> coder's endeavor, initially.

This is always a good idea.  Most muds I've been involved with at an admin
level have two versions running at any given time, the regular game port,
and the builder's port, which is limited to members of the admin only.


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