[MUD-Dev] Re: Levelless MUDs

Travis S. Casey efindel at io.com
Wed Jun 17 15:41:50 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

On Tue, 16 Jun 1998, J C Lawrence wrote:
> 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"?  

As an old-time paper RPGer, I'd use a definition similar to the one which
you gave futher down... but first, a quick disagreement...

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

There most certainly are levelless games; for example, a game in which
all characters are exactly the same, and the only differences are between
players.  Some strong-RP muds fall into this class.  (Of course, since 
you're being literal about "level", I could be literal about "game" and
point out that there are many non-RP games in which the concept of "level"
is utterly meaningless.  But I won't go there.)

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

Many, many terms are misnomers in a literal sense... which is why the
only people who usually take things literally are those who want to argue
for the sake of arguing.

>   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.

The above is a definition similar to one that I would use... here's an
attempt to convey the way I think about "levelled" games vs. "levelless"

A "level" is a general indicator of a character's ability in a broad area.
Most typically, each "level" in an area makes a considerable difference to
a character's ability in that area.  

A "levelled" system uses levels as a major tool in how things work.  Thus,
many things may be calculated from the levels (e.g., hit points, chance to
hit, success chances, etc.).  Each of the levels that a character has will
typically affect many different things.  Further, and most important,
simply listing the areas that a character has levels in and what those
levels are will provide a great deal of information about what that
character can do.  In order to truly qualify as a "levelled" system, a
system should not allow characters to have more than a few levels at once;
I would say no more than six or so.

A "levelless" system, in contrast, does not provide such large-scale 
subdivisions of abilities.  In order to get a good overall picture of a
character's abilities in a levelless system, a large amount of data is

I think that these definitions fit the terms "level", "levelled", and
"levelless" the way that they are typically used (at least by paper RPG

> 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).

Under the definitions I've given, levels would have to be stored or
calculated explicitly at some point, since they are used in calculating
other things (at least, in a a levelled system, since that's part of the
definition of a levelled system).

Note that some systems have things that they call "levels", but are not
"levelled systems" by the definition I'm using, since those levels are not
actually *used* to do anything.

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

The original phrasing makes sense with the definitions I'm using.

> > 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.

Hmm?  I think it's quite easy to solve.  Do one or both of the following:

 - Often use the best factor instead of averaging or adding them.
 - Allow individual factors to have large influences on the results.
   (E.g., Bubba can raise his effectiveness with fireballs significantly
   by significantly raising his "fire magic" skill).
Pencil-and-paper RPGs have been using these sorts of systems since the
late seventies without a lot of balance problems, and without cranking all
the possibilities through spreadsheets or math programs.  It's more
difficult than a level-based system, but I don't think it's as difficult
as people are implying here.

> > 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.

Of course, at this point, you're using "high-level" to mean "powerful" or
"effective in combat" or "highly capable".  Personally, I prefer to do the
gaming jargon and simply use those descriptions.

> > 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) :).

More likely "pencil-and-paper".  I avoid using pens whenever possible.

       |\      _,,,---,,_        Travis S. Casey  <efindel at io.com>
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   No one agrees with me.  Not even me.
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