[MUD-Dev] Re: Mules (was something different)

J C Lawrence claw at under.engr.sgi.com
Fri Jan 15 17:37:15 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999

On Fri, 15 Jan 1999 20:51:22 +0000 (GMT) 
Marian Griffith<gryphon at iaehv.nl> wrote:

> On Fri 15 Jan, J C Lawrence wrote:

>> The real problem of course is that mule exploit game design
>> weaknesses where certain functionalities are desirable but not
>> worth playing with as a regular basis.  Hurm.  More interesting
>> question:

> This is already an interesting question I think :) 

True.  My point is that the automatic assumption that mules as "bad"
per se is not necessarily true.  Certainly, as Rpah has already
pointed out, there are cases where mules are really active, useful,
full-fledged player characters with their singular defining
characteristic being that their primary excuse for existance is to
help another character.

So, if mules are not always bad, what precisely makes them bad when
they are bad, and what precisely makes them good when they're good?
Once we really understand that we can look properly at more specific

> I am wondering why those additional skills are added if they are
> not made worthwhile to play?  

Bad or incompleat design?  Skill based or classless systems are a
bitch to balance and design so that the web is evenly weigthed and
rewarding, especially once hobby horses (I like thieves!  I like
rangers!  Of course assassins can XXX!) enter the fray.
Unfortunately we're dealing with a black art here.

> I think the most striking example of that is the cleric in the
> standard mud.  Most of the time their only role in a group is to
> cast sanctuary and healing on the other players.  They are
> supposed to be healers but in reality there is not that much to
> heal.  In some other message it was mentioned 'why bother dragging
> a cleric along if you can get all the experience alone and yell
> for help?'  

I see the base problem as the fact that a singular function (or at
least a singular group of functions) are needed and that such a
character has few to no general use.  Most fighter-type characters
are more or less competant at all the base requirements for the
game.  They may not do magic (or whatever) well, but they are
generically able to survive and even prosper with little to no
non-fighter help.  Other character types, such as clerics, are
usually incompleat in comparison, dependent on others for the
practice of their primary skills and generally unable to survive
well on their own merits.

If you are going to have interdependence (such as the standard
need-clerics-to-heal), you have to make sure that the level of
interdependence is equivalent among all nodes.  If you have one node
which depends on the other nodes less than they depend on it (or
each other) you have created an unstable arbitrage situation such as
you describe.

> Underneath that problem is, I think, the fact that in the typical
> mud there is only one thing to do, and generally there is an
> optimal way to do it. 

Quite.  Fighters are good at that thing and only barely depends on
healers/clerics.  Conversely healers/clerics are not terribly good
at that thing, and are heavily dependent on fighters for their skill
at it.

  Translation: Clerics help fighters but fighters aren't dependent
on them.  Clerics depend on fighters.  Ergo, fighters are at an
automatic advantage in any relation between the two.

> Any other approach is going to be perceived as an extra. On most
> muds that means the only goal is to kill creatures.  Things that
> have nothing to do with that are considered tedious (everybody
> agrees here, or so it seems, that having to eat on mud is
> pointless). Adding skills that have nothing to do with killing are
> also considered use- less and when forced to do them players will
> find ways to circumvent the restrictions.  If you want to have
> healers in a game then healing must really mean something in the
> game.  If you want carpenters then that too must be applicable in
> and of itself.  If healing is nothing more than a quick spell to
> increase some hitpoints then basically the presence of wounds is
> just a solution to keep people from levelling too quickly and
> being a healer is no profession.  To make other professions
> interesting and worhtwhile you have to re- think the game goals to
> a certain extent.


>> Is the existence and use of mules *really* a problem?  Why?

>> Mules add complexity, interdependence, and some amount of flavour
>> to a game.  They are also tantamount to robots (just player based
>> robots).  While not "fun" per se, do they actually *damage* the
>> game, or do they really add a value in an area a game is already
>> lacking in?

> I think the presence of those skills adds complexity and that
> other things, but the presence of special characters that do not
> actually play undermines that value again. 

There's a sliding scale here from the character that is logged in
only briefly to fulfill a simple function and then logged out again
once its done, to the mule-types Raph has mentioned which are
indistinguishable from "real" characters except for the fact that
their owner's intention for them is purely as an assist to another

The first I agree is more damaging than the latter.  The latter I
have a tough time thinking of as a problem.

Many parents carry significant debts for long periods in order to
pay for their children's education.  

  eg A very good friend's parent's finally finished paying for his
education when he was 41.  They are still working on the bill for
his brother's education.

Many expatriate jews send significant percentages of their incomes
back to Israel in oder to reconstruct the Holy Land/jewish state.  I
know many Chinese and Indians here in the Valley similarly send
money back home to their familes.

The use of mules draws an interesting parallel.  Consider the rural
family who works hard and saves in order to put their kid thru
school in the big city, or the pirate adventurer who helps fund and
sustain his poverty stricken home town.  Historically many noble
families placed younger children clergy and then actively
financially supported them (and their institutions) from there out.
Of course the favour was returned, but the principle holds of
"boring" things being done to fund more interesting or potentially
rewarding things elsewhere.  The only difference in the case of
mules is that the party receiving the aid and the aiding party are
now usually the same.

> If the idea is to have healers as a profession for players who do
> not care that much about fighting, then it will not do if players
> simply create a secondary character to heal themselves, leaving
> those who would like to play that role without a meaningfull
> profession.  

<nod> Mostly a sign of game imbalance.

J C Lawrence                              Internet: claw at kanga.nu
(Contractor)                             Internet: coder at kanga.nu
---------(*)                    Internet: claw at under.engr.sgi.com
...Honorary Member of Clan McFud -- Teamer's Avenging Monolith...

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