[MUD-Dev] Respecting NPCs

gamaiun at yahoo.com gamaiun at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 26 09:24:48 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

Note: This message was written via the list web archives.  There is
no guarantee that the claimed author is actually the author.
Original message: http://www.kanga.nu/archives/MUD-Dev-L/2001Q4/msg00380.php

On Thu, 25 Oct 2001 15:56:22 -0700 (PDT)
J C Lawrence <claw at 2wire.com> wrote:

> What is the critical difference between a system which silently
> and officiously kills all players who do X offense,
>   "You stepped off the path.  You are dead.
>   "*plop* You have died.  Please create a new character."
> and an NPC which achieves the same effect,
>   "I am a town guard.  You stepped off the path.  I kill you.  You
>   are dead."
>   "*plop* The guard has killed you.  You have died.  Please create
>   a new character."
> ?
> Yes, they can both be heavily flavoured and dressed up in various
> ways.  I'm interested if there's an actual critical difference
> which makes the use of an NPC fundamentally different from not
> using an NPC for mechanical enforcement.
> I don't think there is a fundamental difference.

The difference is in the interactivity, in choices, and in the
illusion of control and free will.

It's the same difference as in the following several scenarios.

  1) You are presented with a puzzle in Myst (or 7th Guest, or what
  have you).  There's a difference between:

    a) the player re-arranging chess pieces, pulling levers,
    solving the labyrinth, etc, as opposed to:

    You see a puzzle.
    > solve puzzle
    You make your Solve Puzzles skill check! 
    Congratulations! You've solved the puzzle. Here's your reward.

  2) An in-game, NPC king is being troubled by bandits. There is a
  difference between:

    This kingdom is being troubled by bandits.
    King sends town guards to kill bandits!
    *plop* Guards kill bandits. No more bandits in the area.
    Please proceed to watch the next quest being played out.

    b) King says "My kingdom is beset by bandits! Bag of gold to
    whoever can get rid of this menace."  and the player actually
    going out, gathering clues and hunting down the bandits, and
    slaying them after a fun and protracted fight.

  3) Similarly, you (a player) steps off the path. There is a world
  of difference between:

    a) You step off the path. *plop* You're dead. New character.

    b) You step off the path. There is a commotion down the street!
    You see a Guard, in chain mail and holding a spear, running your

  because you, as a player, can now do any of the following:

    - Shout, "It will take more than a puny town guard to bring ME
    in!", pull out your glowing sword of munchkinly slayishness, and
    proceed to spill more townie blood on the pavement.

    - Shout the same thing, and then disappear in a puff of a
    teleportation spell.  Or book down the street and jump down into
    the sewers, where a band of your cronies is waiting.

    - Seeing yourself outmatched, you fall on your knees and
    surrender. Sure, they'll throw you in prison for a couple of
    days before your public beheading, but they'll probably not
    notice that File of Prison Bar Slicing +2 that you've spirited
    away on your person.

    - The guard arrives! Guard says, "Oh, it's you, Bubba. Our
    agreement still stands." Guard leaves, patting a sack of gold
    you've previously bribed him with.

And so on, ad infinitum, limited only by the amount of choices your
game presents to players!

Do you see the fundamental difference? Using NPCs, even as an
enforcement of world mechanics, yields player entertainment, since
it provides internally consistent in-game consequences while giving
the _player_ so many more options than a similar mechanical system.

Dmitri Z
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