[MUD-Dev] Role-Playing Games Are Not Dead

Don Healey dhealey at bigpond.net.au
Wed Dec 5 03:44:17 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

Paul Schwanz wrote:
> Don Healey wrote:
>> Raph Koster wrote:

>>> To quote something I recently wrote on another list:

>>> start quote--->
>>>   I've come to think that the blind effort to replicate the pen
>>>   and paper game in MMOs is seriously misguided. Frankly, they
>>>   are not trying to do the same thing. An MMO is for thousands
>>>   of simultaneous players of widely disparate interests and
>>>   abilities; a pen and paper session is for six of the same
>>>   level and the same goals. An MMO is non-linear, and a pen and
>>>   paper game is (in the best ones anyway) a strongly directed
>>>   narrative experience. A pen and paper game relies on
>>>   improvisation, and an MMO relies on other players.  A pen and
>>>   paper game is cliquish and an MMO is the hoi polloi. How many
>>>   of the problems we identify with MMOs today come about because
>>>   they are trying to be someone's rose-colored memory of an AD&D
>>>   session in junior high?
>>> <---end quote

>> Actually my experiences are the OPPOSITE. Almost everything Raph
>> described as being typical of the pen and paper experience is
>> typical of my MMO experience, and most attributes listed for
>> MMO's match my RPG experience - and with only limited stretching.

>> I obviously accept MMO's are for thousands of simultaneous
>> players. But they do not interact all together at once. In fact
>> MMO's tend to encourage/force players to group together, and in
>> particular EverQuest forces players to form groups of up to six
>> (with reputed experience bonuses for a full group of 6), all of
>> whom must be roughly the same level, as it becomes harder and
>> harder to solo as you progress in experience. And as I mentioned
>> the better RPG campaigns allow individual action

> Are you sure you are not describing here the very same sort of
> "problems we identify with MMOs today" that Raph is claiming are
> the result of "the blind effort to replicate the pen and paper
> game in MMOs?"

That is a good point and no doubt Raph's intention, but to defend
myself I will claim that there are no MMO's yet that match Raph's
description (in my experience), though of course Raph has a better
idea of what is under development than myself. But I guess my main
concern was his very restricted description of pen and paper
games. What I was trying to emphasise was that his ideal for MMO's
closely matches my PnP RPG experience.

> In other words, could not Raph's post be directly applicable to
> the fact that MMO's tend to encourage/force players to group
> together at roughly the same level when there is no logical reason
> to do so.

While that may have been his intent, and I believe Raph does have a
real interest in the social interaction that occurs in MMO's, the
key statement of his post was that pen and paper games are "CRAPPY
MODELS FOR MUDS", and that carries much greater weight than just

> Does Verant take this approach with EQ because it makes sense to
> do so in an MMO, or do they take this approach because they are
> trying to be "someone's rose-colored memory of an AD&D session in
> junior high?"

Well, when I first came across this restriction in EverQuest
encouraging or enforcing players to group, I assumed cynically that
it was a commercial decision designed to reduce the amount of
content required for high level characters - but that may be more of
a reflection on myself :(.

> To me, it seems you are making all of Raph's points for him.

I certainly hope not! It would seem that we have the same general
idea of what would make a good MMO (probably can be said for many or
most people on this list).

But Raph's main point was that pen and paper games are not good
models for MUDs. I tried to show that my experience in PnP RPGs, was
significantly different (and was based on a successful and
sustainable campaign design), while a lot of his assumptions are
based on just one way or one style of playing PnP RPGs. That style
of groups of players is in my opinion is a more basic model of
playing RPGs, and therefore judgement in general should not be based
on that particular style of play.

Certainly for inter-player communication you would not use PnP RPGs
as a model. The various forms of Internet communications (chat, ICQ,
email, etc) would all make for better models of inter-player
communications. Similarly, you should be examining other successful
and well designed computer applications for modelling the user
interface of a MMO (though of course you need to know what functions
will be required in play).

Good PnP campaigns include the following examples of games play
(non-exhaustive list):

  character attributes,
  character progression,
  combat systems,
  magic systems,
  NPC interactions,
  world development,
  character reputation.
Pen and paper games are not be the only models for these aspects of
game play, but they are often good models.

Game play is important for games marketed to the masses as all MMO's
will presumably be. If the game play is poor the players won't be
hooked. And many aspects of the gameplay exist already as working
models in PnP games.  Most game mechanics will already have been
implemented in some PnP game - ranging from level based, skill based
to game systems where players only have "traits" which are
descriptions covering distinctive character attributes, skills,
social standing etc.

For example, NPC interactions are sometimes discussed on this
list. Surely for modelling NPC interactions it would be best to use
an environment where players can interact with NPC's without
restraints? It would be impossible to implement all factors involved
but particular aspects observed may be. A larger range of NPC
interactions is potentially observable in PnP campaigns, where both
parts, player and NPC) are played by people.

> It is indeed a Bad Idea to automatically transplant PnP
> methodologies > into an MMO.

Yes - automatically transplanting anything into an MMO is a bad
idea.  Because of their size and scope (and the income generated by
successful MMO's), I would assume that all aspects of design would
be researched and tested thoroughly. (Maybe I'm wearing
rose-coloured glasses now?)

> This is not to say that MMO developers can learn nothing from
> their PnP RPG roots.  I think that would be a diservice, but I
> haven't really seen anyone making that point in the current
> thread.  Rather, they make the point that for various reasons, PnP
> RPGs are poor models for MMOs.

That is the whole reason of why I am posting. While no one has said
nothing can be learnt, stating PnP RPGs being poor models implies
they have little to offer. And there have been others posting of
similar views. The further implication is that there will be little
lost if PnP Role-Playing Games die.  I personally think there will
be a lot lost if PnP games do die. It is not so much the rule books
which are important, but how the campaigns are run that offers the
value by opening the eyes of developers as to what is possible.

> EQ and its grouping requirements are a smashingly good example of
> this.

It seems they have implemented a limitation from a manual system -
never a good thing to do.


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