[MUD-Dev] Re: Levelless MUDs

J C Lawrence claw at under.engr.sgi.com
Tue Jun 16 15:48:56 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

On Mon, 8 Jun 1998 18:46:21 -0700 (PDT) 
Adam Wiggins<adam at angel.com> wrote:

> 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.

What is the definition of a "levelless MUD"?  

  Is is it a MUD in which there is no "level" stat reported to the
player?  (Cool!  Just re-write the SCORE code and you're done).  

  Is it a game in which there is no standardised (ie common use for
multiple areas) ccomputation which arrives at a value which is then
weighed against a preset scale in order to arrive at game decisions?
(some formulae in your game which gives you a number which you then
use to make game decisions? (ie hidden or implict as vs explit

  Is it a game in which there are a great many such patterns of
computational comparison against preset scales, all different and
specific to particular activities?  (ie your standard skill-web based
game, or any other game which purports to allow individually tailored

Much more simply: What is the definition and expression of
"advancement" in your game?  Does your game even have a concept of
advancement?  Does your game ___need___ a concept of advancement?  (If
so, why?)

Consider: If the game has a concept of advancement, no matter how
covoluted, fractious, or multiplexed, then it implicitly has a concept
of "levels" even if its not explicitly stated.  If A is more advanced
than B in some regard, then A is at a higher level than B.  If there
are multiple scales and variously contradictory ways to be "more
advanced" (cf skill webs, species, races, etc), then the same pattern
still holds -- it just comes in Apple, Lime, Orange, Berry, Qumquat,
Quince and other flavours too!  Players will observe this even if you
don't tell them -- thus creating their own implicit concept of levels.

Consider: If you game has a single (or other small number) of goals
(accumulate XP, be the biggest bad arse warrior, become King, get the
Egg, save the world, give birth to Tiamat's babies, whatever), and the
ability of characters to accomplish those goal(s) can vary over time,
then you implicitly have a concept of advancement in your game.
Different characters can now manipulate your game world to increase
their ability to achieve the game goal, and having done so, are more
"advanced" than those that have not.

Ultimate translation: There are no levelless games.  There are only
games which hide their "level" characterisitics to a greater or lesser

"Levelless" is a misnomer in a literal sense.  It does however
communicate a useful concept:

  In a levelless game there is no single, explict or implicit,
statement of a character's standing in the scale of advancement for
the game.  In a "levelled" game, there is a single statement which can 
be used to gauge a character's standing in the scale of advancement
for the game.

Notice that the working definition says nothing about the game
providing the statement of level.  It can be implicit or explicit.  It
really doesn't matter.  That's merely a question of transparency, not
function or game play characterisitics (usually).

> 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.

Both of which actually use levels, they just relabel them and hide
them behind multiple reported statistics, and other wise obscure them.
However, because of this they apparency is that they are levelless and
genetalia waving exercises are less common or at least expressed

> 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"?

Rephrase: What metrics of progress are used to obfuscate "levels"?

If you start with that view, viewing the boundaries of the task
becomes simpler.

> 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.

To quote a good friend:

  "A man is as sane as he is dangerous to his environment."

>> 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).  

There is a large minefield lurking under the covers here.  Its
incredibly easy when dealing with a large number of factors to have
the final value effectively be an average of their values.  The result
is that no single factor has a significant effect on the final result.
This spells doom, as it means that for Bubba to increase his
effectiveness with fireballs to any statistically noticable degree he
has to significantly alter the values of several of the factors before 
the balance changes noticably.

The only effective solutiuon I've found to this is expensive: Set up a
whole bunch of nested loops, one each per factor, and permute.  Plot
the results.  See if the results really look the way you want them to.

Yes, you could probably do the same thing with Mathmatica or similar.
It doesn't vary the basic approach, just the expression.

> 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.


Appropriate use of a few moderately good skills can be far more
effective that bumbling use of a mix of extremely good and bad skills.

>> 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.  

I generally view it as a question of flavour and thereby involvement.

> 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) :).

The archives are now back up, and the search supports are fully

J C Lawrence                               Internet: claw at null.net
(Contractor)                               Internet: coder at ibm.net
---------(*)                     Internet: claw at under.engr.sgi.com
...Honourary Member of Clan McFud -- Teamer's Avenging Monolith...

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