[MUD-Dev] Storytelling and Gods (fairly long)

Matthew Mihaly sarapis at achaea.com
Wed Mar 3 16:01:26 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999


At 10:39 AM 3/3/99 -0600, Raph wrote:


>I'm happy to be proven wrong... your examples all seem to be of temporary
>upheavals, however. How do you handle the influx of newbies who find one
>character class impossible to play for the duration of the plot (eg, in your
>Sentinel example, when all their powers were weakened)? Tell them to start
>trying to solve the problem? Or of those who simply do not care, and want to
>just keep playing as they always do?

Newbies just have to deal with it. Generally though I've found that most
(not all) of the newbies in this sort of situation think it's great. Right
away they have a goal they can throw themselves into. 

>I ask because both of these factions are huge factors for us in UO.

I think you're probably in a different situation with UO than we are. We're
small enough that the whole game can become oriented on a single issue for
awhile, for the vast majority of players, whereas I would guess (just a
guess, I've not played UO) that this would be a lot harder in a game the
size of UO. 

>
>> >Thus, it could be argued that the absolute best tactics for mud
>storytelling
>> >are:
>> >- encourage players (through the provision of tools for this purpose) to
>> >form groups with conflicting goals (philosophical, territorial, etc) of
>> >*some* sort that are a) significant in impact b) achievable yet c) not
>> >overly destructive of the environment. This is a large design issue which
>is
>> >in many ways frankly contradictory to basic design principles in many mud
>> >code bases today.
>
>But clearly not contradictory to the principles YOU use, since your Gods are
>precisely ways for players to form groups with conflicting philosophical
>goals that have significant impact and are not overly destructive in a
>permanent way. :)

Erm, I didn't write the above quote. I'm all for that and they are
definitely not contradictory design-wise, at least in Achaea. Can't speak
for DIKUs and such as I've never played them.

>To abstract it a little more, you mean, essentially, leaders of factions
>that players are obliged to join as they enter the game; said leaders played

>by humans; effecting changes in the game that are feasible to reverse via
>player action. This is not only something I am not opposed to, it's
>something I endorse enthusiastically (we're in the middle of implementing
>something similar in UO). To my mind, the fictional dressing doesn't matter
>all that much, as long as it is compelling & can be backed up by real
>consequences in game.

Well, they aren't obliged to join all organizations, but playing without
joining a guild (which is how you gain a class initially...you can quit the
guild later and keep your class) would not be much fun. It's quite possible
to play without becoming involved in a city-state or without joining a
Divine Order though. But basically what you said is correct. I personally
like the fictional dressing as I really enjoy (and have gotten many
compliments on) a coherent and interesting history. We will publish, at
some point, a hardcopy book full of history, stories, epic poems about
Achaea, etc, that we will sell to the players. Won't make a profit off it
it (might even lose money) but this sort of thing lends the world more
weight I feel, which in the end is good for the world (and good for the
pocketbook).

>
>How many gods do you have, how are they recompensed, what sort of powers or
>capabilities do they have?

We have 10 active Gods, and 2 of these (myself and another) also code.
Another has administration powers along with we two coders. They really
don't receive compensation, aside from getting to be a God (hell, I've had
two different players offer to PAY me thousands of dollars to be a God....a
very tempting offer too I have to say). As for their powers or
capabilities, they can pretty much do whatever they want. They have
unlimited OLC powers, and a couple of them really enjoy building areas.
They can slay a player at will, for not showing the proper respect, etc.
They can temporarily (and temporarily could be weeks) take away a large
part of a mortals skills, they can punish or reward players in any number
of ways, etc etc. In order to create goals for them though, most of their
player-related powers cost them 'offering points'. Mortals can offer dead
things or gold to gods at their temples or altars, and the gods get
'offering points' this way. In practice, no god is in danger of running out
of offering points, but having a litlte competition between the gods this
way (each one is afraid another god will get too powerful) keeps them
interested, and, because the mortals know vaguely about offering points,
they are often quite eager to offer things to their Gods. 

I guess it is hard to describe if you aren't used to this sort of thing.
The Gods all have their little plots and machinations, and they oppose each
other in many cases, although I strive not to have too much animosity in
the Garden (we all hang out in the Garden of the Gods). From my perspective
as the head admin, Gods exist, on a broad level, to help keep mortals
interested, and to guide the game into interesting twists and turns. For
instance, just last night, one of our Goddesses was able to, after
literally weeks of working on two groups of mortals, get one city-state and
one powerful, but rogue guild, to seal an alliance that will, in our
opinion, be beneficial to the state of the game as a whole (not worth going
into why it will be beneficial). This was something that had to happen, but
we were really reluctant to force these two groups to ally, as there were a
lot of personal differences involved, etc. Having Gods around to nudge
things in the right direction is very useful.



>> The basic story then was that a black hole and a star collided out in the
>> cosmos somewhere and the release of energy created Apollyon, the
>Malefactor,
>> and Aurora, Goddess of Light. Sadly for the mortals, the release of this
>> energy killed every player (bar one lucky bastard), all mobiles, and 
>> all plant life (plant life is crucial to players generally).
>
>How much playerbase attrition did you suffer during the time period this was
>going on? I noted that the lack of Gaia in the second scenario increase
>usage & am curious if this event which seems to have had mroe far-reaching
>consequences did likewise. What consequences did the players suffer from
>this death (eg, was it a "special death" which cost them nothing?) What
>damage did not having plant life do to the game economy?

None actually, at least that I recall. Players LOVE this sort of thing.They
lost more than usual from this death, and as for the plant life, well, many
healing elixirs and salves, as well as edible plants were not as easily
available for awhile.  Those who were prepared (ie stocked up beforehand,
as all good boy scouts should do) didn't suffer, but some did. It's rough
when someone gives you asthma, for instance, and you don't have valerian on
hand to cure it.

>>  Afterwards, some other Gods
>> intervened to clean up the lingering radiation, but this didn't solve the
>> problem of the plant life and such being dead. Essentially, the Druids and
>> Sentinels (Sentinels are an off-shoot of the Druidic class) had to go
>about
>> regrowing the plants to replace them, etc.
>
>How long a period was this? To what extent were character classes hampered
>or temporarily rendered impotent by the lack of plant life?

Honestly, not ALL that long. Like I said when I posted these, I admit that
these examples do not fall under the class of long-term destructive
effects. I was extrapolating from my experience iwth these shorter-term
destructive effects when I say that I think long-term destructive effects
(provided that generally the players have some hope of either reversing
them or of somehow doing something 'cool' as a result) aren't bad.It's hard
to say how long a period this was, because it's not as if one day there
were no plants and the next everything was back to normal. It's a gradual
process.



>> Example #2: The Nature Wars
>> The Nature wars resulted from one of our Gods, Gaia the Earthmother,
>managing
>> to actually slay Twilight, God of Darkness. This was completely
>unacceptable
>> from an administration standpoint, as Gods must never be seen to be
>vulnerable
>> to a single force, lest mortals lose fear and respect for them. 
>
>Can you go into more detail about the behavior codes and standards required
>of gods?

Sure. I'll include a document at the end of this e-mail that I wrote (and I
wrote it off the top of my head, so don't expect some sort of intellectual
treatise) on godly behavior. 

>> Obviously, this caused a lot of outrage, once again, among 
>> the mortals. They

>> were furious that Twilight would do this to them (it's funny 
>> that almost none
>> or none of them ever thought to say, "Hey, Sarapis (that's 
>> me) wouldn't let an
>> entire skill set be destroyed for the sake of role)
>
>I think it is more interesting that they didn't say, "Hey, Sarapis is
>ruining our game" and instead ascribed it to the actions of Twilight--even
>though they weren't his actions at all, really. In other words, your players
>reacted in an extremely IC fashion. What sort of measures or conditioning
>exists to ensure that this is so? 

Heh. I was pretty surprised (and very gratified) about that too. I think
part of it derives from the fact that most players have no idea what the
Gods can and cannot do. They are fairly enigmatic to them, and some of us
can be rather imposing figures in-game. I sent a player a message (sort of
like on-line e-mail. I don't know what it's called in most games, if they
have it) while invisible, and he sent me one back saying, "Wow!! How did
you send me a message while you aren't here??" I sent him one back saying,
"God can do anything" and he just replied with something along the lines
of, "Oh wow, that is SO cool." Obviously he is one of our, um,
less-intellectually-gifted-players, but still, we're doing something right
if players are willing to accept, on some level, that we're really Gods in
some way. 

I don't think we really have too many explicit measures that ensure this
sort of thing, aside from a recently-implemented "rolepoint" system,
whereby players are punished (without receiving a message about it) for
doing OOC things on a public level (shouting, posting things on the news
boards, etc). Even so, this doesn't explain why, even privately, most were
convinced that this was entirely Twilight's doing. I'm at a bit of a loss
to figure out why they bought into it so completely to be honest. It could
just be because our Gods are virtually always completely IC in any sort of
public forum (and mostly IC even in private forums). I think, though, that
we pay enough attention to IC stuff, with our histories and such, and with
our Gods, that players just follow that example.


Chuckle, I'm sitting invisible on Achaea right now and watching another
argument start that involves things I did, but that the players seem
willing to blame on a mobile of all things. The Church (a force for
goodness and justice that is often maligned by its clever, and chaotic,
enemies) has erected shrines (they can erect simple shrines, and then build
them into massive structures which can be used to project certain powers to
areas around the shrines) in the underground domain of Zsarachnor, the
Vampire Lord. They did it mainly because this area has lots of animals
which they can lead to sacrifice at the shrine (you can only sacrifice
non-sentients at shrines...sacrificing is how you build up a shrine). This
was ridiculous, I felt, so I had Zsarachnor make a news post demanding the
destruction of these shrines. I then put some aggressive, tracking vampires
to guard the shrines, and all sorts of players are dying to them (they walk
into the room with the vampire, and then they are screwed as the vampire
will track them down all over the place). So what do the players do? Some
have decided that Zsarachnor must be eliminated (he's extremely tough, and
chances are they will not have an easy time of it), while others have
decided that it's all the Churchs fault. Again, no one has blamed me for
the deaths caused by the guardian vampires. I'm really not sure why. 

>> Eventually, through a variety of measures, they 
>> were able to assist
>> in the release of their beloved Goddess, and once again life was good.
>
>What sort of measures did you come up with for something like this? And how
>long did the event last?

Well, Gaia was imprisoned for about 6-8 weeks I believe. The thing with
Twilight claiming the forests as his own and sinking them into darkness
lasted about a week. Basically, what we did was wait for the players to
figure out ways that they THOUGHT might help Gaia, and then make a couple
of those ways able to help her. In this manner, you end up being able to
respond to interesting ideas that the players might have, instead of
forcing them to do a specific thing. In this case, the Sentinels and Druids
decided that a) offering lots of things to Gaia, at the Gaian Tree (as
opposed to other places) would help her, and that b) killing as many of
Twilight's followers as possible would weaken Twilight and thus force him
to conserve his power and release the forests. 


>
>> Ok, now I realize that neither of these events is on par with 
>> a city becoming
>> plagued out or a continent sinking
>
>Quite comparable, I think.
>
>To explain to you why I stated what I did: if we plagued out a city, we'd
>likely lose a couple hundred players a day who found the game too daunting
>(newbies start in these cities). If we broke a character class, the
>development team would get blamed directly, regardless of fictional dressing
>(and this is arguably because the fiction is not compelling enough). If we
>introduced a major out-of-whack factor in the game economy, the many players
>we have who completely ignore the fictional events, who just want to do
>their own thing, run their own cities, etc, would likely complain that we
>were ruining their game. We're very concerned about attrition in these
>cases.

Right, I can understand why this would happen in UO. In Achaea most players
have personal connections with people they view as admins (Gods), and this
really helps to keep them there. They get encouragement when they are
feeling down, etc. This would probably be very hard to do on a game of UO's
size, because you'd need such a massive amount of Gods (and managing the
number of Gods you would need is a task that would make me want to shoot
myself).

We don't really have many players who completely ignore the fictional
events. Again, it's probably because in a smaller game, like us, it's tough
to ignore them.

>
>> You CAN completely mess with mortals, but as long as they are 
>> given some sort of hope, it acts as a motivator to them.
>
>A key point. I also gather, from your examples, that the trick is to take
>something away, then let players earn it back. We had tried a large-scale
>event which was based around the opposite--the threat to take something
>away, players had to prevent it. The result was that players didn't feel

>involved enough (on the other hand, we got a faction who worked to MAKE the
>disaster happen).

Right, that's pretty key. I think if we did what you did, we'd probably end
up with a lot of players trying to MAKE said disaster happen too,
especially if it would give them even a slight edge over their competitors
(ie they would not get screwed over quite as badly as some others would).


>> Many of the naturists prayed to Aurora during their
>> difficult times, trusting that somehow she wouldn't let them 
>> down.
>
>Does this have an actual game mechanic, or was it purely roleplay?

This was pure roleplay. In the end, after the mortals had suffered long
enough and had worked hard enough to offer things to Gaia and to try and
weaken (fairly unsuccessfully, but we didn't tell them that) Twilight, we
roleplayed that Aurora (goddess of light) and Oneiros (God of peace) took
pity on Gaia and released the chains they held on her prison. She was then
able to break free of the final two chains (held by Eris, Goddess of Chaos,
and Twilight) because of all the work the mortals had done.

>If the latter, how big is Achaea?

If you mean in terms of players, I'm not exactly sure. We generally peak
out at only about 50 players online at once though. We're fairly expensive
on a per player basis (this, of course, fits in with your law about how the
higher the cost, the better quality of roleplaying).

>All in all, an excellent & fascinating setup.

Thanks! That makes me feel quite good.


Anyhow, here is that document on godly behavior. Please excuse any raw
language in it. Only the Gods can read it, and they don't give a damn.

Being a God is not an easy thing. Too many people approach it, initially at
least, as playing a mortal with lots of power. This is utterly the wrong

attitude to have.

The first thing to keep in mind, is that you are a _God_. Think of what this
concept signifies. It means that not only are you more powerful than the
mortals, but you are fundamentally different. The day to day, petty
concerns of
the mortals are not yours. Your concerns and plans should be of a far grander
nature, as befitting your status. For instance, while a mortal may _really_
want to destroy his mortal enemy, such a goal is beneath a God generally. What
is a single mortal to one of your stature, after all? 

Being a God also means maintaining a certain dignity. It means that you do not
need (and shouldn't) quibble with mortals, at least in public. On the other
hand, it also means that on the rare occassion you are wrong, admit it with
aplomb and carry on. Even Gods are entitled to be wrong, and punishing a
mortal
for a mistake that was yours will not earn you respect. Remember that even
though you are a God in the game, players know that you are a real person and
if you remind them of that too often, they will treat you as no more than a
mortal with great power. They will then resent you and the game as a whole.

For example, take a situation that can happen all too easily. Let's say that
you enter a room with other mortals, and all the mortals bow, save for one.
Perhaps you say to yourself, "Insolent mortal! He must be punished for this
slight." Sure, you could punish the mortal, but what purpose does this serve?
It only makes you look petty in the eyes of the mortals. At the end of the
day,
you are the God, and he is the mortal, and him bowing or not bowing does not
change that fact. If you zapped the mortal for this, quite likely what would
happen is he would pray, come back, and start cursing you out. Naturally a
mortal can't be allowed to publically insult you without punishment, so you

would be forced to punish the mortal. But, since the mortal was only cursing
you out because of your earlier, and fairly unjust actions, the mortal just
gets angrier and angrier at you, and insults you more and more, forcing you to
react, etc etc. As you can see then, it's easy for a God to essentially set up
a situation whereby he has no choice but to really fuck up a mortal. This sort
of thing should be avoided at all costs. 

As a God in Achaea, your primary purpose is to make the land a more enjoyable
place for the mortals. It is not to run wild on an ego trip. It is not to make
some mortals lives so miserable they don't want to play. Indeed, it is rather
to enhance and enrich the lives of the mortals that you exist. There are a
number of ways to do this, of course. You might spend some time just chatting
with them. The mortals are always eager to make friends with those in power,
and establishing close relationships with a God can be a very rewarding
experience for both the God and the mortal. Other ways include
participating in
your Divine Order (more on this below) and running events.

When to accept a player into your Divine Order can be a difficult decision.
Accepting very small players is generally a bad idea, as it makes you look
desperate for followers, and there is certainly no glory in having newbies in
your Order. On the other hand, some players truly long to be part of the
family
that a Divine Order can be, and will yearn to join earlier than others. It's
mostly up to your discretion who to accept, and when, as well as what

conditions you put on membership. 

What you do with your Divine Order is almost entirely up to you. What is
important though is that your Order members feel that membership in your Order
means something. Thus it is generally good to have some sort of agenda for
them
to follow. 

One difficult aspect of being a God can be how to deal with your fellow
divinities, especially if you don't get along, which happens. How you do this
is really up to you, provided that disputes between Gods do not lead to
wholesale zapping of mortals. While it is ok for a mortal to occassionally
suffer for his God, doing so repeatedly will just cause the mortal to quit.
Remember that unlike if you were a God in real life, where most likely a
mortal would wet his pants if you got angry at him, mortals here can just say
"Fuck it, I'm not coming back."  It is a sad fact of life that people are
not required to play Achaea.

Oftentimes, you might see behavior in a mortal that you feel is deserving of a
reward. This is fine, but just like with punishments, keep the reward in line
with the behavior. You shouldn't ever give mortals things just because the
mortal asks for them,
unless the mortal is, perhaps, highly-ranked in your Order.
You should also try and be creative in your rewards. Use your imagination.

Now, a lot of these rules do not apply when dealing with newbies. You must
always help newbies who need help, though this doesn't mean equipping them. It
does, however, mean answering general questions they have, and pointing
them in
the right direction. The best thing to do with a newbie is to find a mortal
who
can get that newbie started.

One final thing to remember about being a God is how important roleplaying is.
Unlike mortals, who have many semi-predefined goals, you do not. You have no
experience levels to gain, you have no abilities to gain. Being a God is
almost
entirely about roleplaying, and you should try to stay in-role as much as
possible, save for perhaps when talking to your favourite followers
privately. 


To summarize things then:
1) You are a God. Think of the Olympian Gods, but without their pettiness.
2) Interaction with mortals should generally be of a positive nature.
3) Gear your behavior towards keeping the mortals online.
4) Maintain your dignity as a God. Acting childish hurts all the Gods.
5) ROLEPLAY.
6) Remember: The mortals often follow the lead of the Gods. If you behave
   in a mature manner that contributes to the atmosphere of the game, you
   will find that the mortals will start doing the same. We set the tone.


<end of document> 

Incidentally, one thing I should mention regarding Gods is that generally,
even if the God is a little out of line, a mortal can never be allowed to
win a direct confrontation with a God. For instance, we have a situation
currently where Twilight is essentially ruining a particular mortal's
skills for being too uppity and mouthy during the time that he took over
the forests. This mortal even posted a news posts directly defying
Twilight. Completely out of line, of course. So, now this poor mortal's
skills are all messed up, and Twilight has told him that to get them
removed, he must offer the body of the guildmaster of the Sentinels (said
player is guildmaster of the Druids) thrice. There's no way the poor Druid
GM can pull this off, aside from paying someone else to kill the Sentinel
GM. The Druid GM refuses to do this, and it's quite likely that we will end
up losing him as a player because he is so drastically weakened. We'll see
how things go, but one principle I'm fond of is that there are such things
as acceptable player attrition. If the game-as-a-whole requires it, then
some player attrition is acceptable. In fact, in the case of Gods, having
other players know that we are very serious that Gods are, in fact, Gods
(whom it would not be realistic, IC, to _openly_ defy), makes them take the
whole institution of Godhood more seriously, which is a very good thing for
the game.

--matt




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