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

Koster Koster
Sun Dec 9 17:15:41 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Don Healey
> Paul Schwanz wrote:

>> 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.

Well, I admit that I am not up on the PnP scene anymore. In other
posts you described the way in which your campaign has evolved, and
describe it as a "mature" campaign. I guess my questions would all
center around that:

  - how many campaigns are "mature" in your terminology?

  - is the type of campaign you describe the norm these days?

  - is the type of campaign you describe what PnP games are designed
  to be?

My *impression* is that the answers are "few," "not really," and
"no."

Back when I actuvely played PnP games and GMed them, our campaign
evolved into something that was more akin to live collaborative
storytelling.  We eventually abandoned the rulebooks--and there were
three of us who GMed in this setting at various times--and we did
lots of sprawling political storylines among our various characters
who had all become prominent, etc. A lot of sessions where we never
rolled dice at all, looked at stats, or in fact paid the slightest
attention to numbers. Etc.

But I don't think this is the norm, nor did I find it so when I
ventured outside our small group of players. And my impression that
it is not the norm has held to this day.

I am not saying that there are not individual campaigns out there,
or individual games out there, that are not good role models for
muds. I am saying that in general, the game designs that exist are
not.

> 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?

Heh. I see PnP games as being particularly unrealistic as models for
how NPCs should work in MMOs, simply because it's unreasonable to
assume we can mimic everything a live game master does. :P And in
fact, the expectation that every NPC can be that interesting is one
of the more pernicious assumptions players carry into an MMO. We
can't even make them as interesting as the ones in Diablo II without
ridiculous investments of time and effort simply because we have to
make orders of magnitude more of them.

Perhaps it's more appropriate to see the potential of PnP NPCs as a
*goal*.  But all too often, what is appropriated is the *design* and
then we get suggestions like "why not have live GMs running all the
NPCs in your game?"

> 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?)

Because of the size and scope of an MMO, or frankly even a
reasonably-sized mud, you CAN'T research and test and design all
aspects thoroughly. :)

> 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.

I am approaching things as a designer here. And what I am saying is
that *systemically* PnP games are poor models for muds of many
stripes (not just MMOs, either. For example, the level issue is
arguably more pernicious in a small environment than a large
one). The reason is that I believe that the goals of PnP games are
fundamentally different in several key ways from the goals of a
mud. And I'd point at the same issues I brought up in the beginning
as examples.

  - I stand by the assertion that PnP games are fundamentally
  narrative, and muds are fundamentally not. This is not to say that
  you cannot have narrative in a mud, or that campaigns cannot be
  non-linear.

  - I stand by the assertion that PnP games are fundamentally
  designed for small groups of simultaneous players, and muds are
  not.

  - I stand by the assertion that PnP games are fundamentally
  designed for players of comparable character standing, and muds
  are not.

Can I conceive of a PnP design which is not like the above? Sure,
but it'd be a lot like a LARP instead. :P

> 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 think a lot would be lost. Mr. Dancey's numbers are
encouraging. But I still see PnP games as fundamentally marginal in
the culture at this point.  Muds are too; I have hopes they won't be
forever, but it's a risk we run, and a risk exacerbated by tying our
fortunes too tightly to mistaken design priorities.

> 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.

Well, based on the debate on this list, I'd argue that the campaigns
you describe are not offering said value since few people here seem
to have gotten to see or participate in one. :)

-Raph
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