[MUD-Dev] D&D vs. MMORPG "complexity"

Paul Schwanz pschwanz at comcast.net
Thu Apr 17 13:06:34 New Zealand Standard Time 2003


lynx at lynx.purrsia.com wrote:
> On Tue, 15 Apr 2003, Matt Mihaly wrote:

>> Yeah, those are political interactions and I can definitely see
>> where those games have them. They're pretty basic though and don't
>> seem as if that gameplay is very integrated with the rest of the
>> game or as if that gameplay is even supported by the game rules.

> Consider this scenario: you develop a game with a complicated
> political system.  Player A comes in and goes 'Wow, this is great,
> I want to be top of the heap!'  Players B, C, and D come in and
> say 'I don't want to be involved with this, this game has
> complicated crafting/combat system that I do want to be involved
> in, but I don't want politics to get in my way.'

> Do you force players B, C, and D to participate in the political
> system so that player A can have players to rule?

> If they don't participate in the political system, over whom does
> player A rule, and how can player A be competed against?

> My take on it: use an NPC citizenry.  Any vote that a player fails
> to assign is accounted for by the NPCs, which cast votes according
> to their situation (is the city economy doing well or poorly) and
> their perception of the candidates (are they especially
> charismatic or influential).  If all players participate in the
> political system, the political system is completely
> player-driven, but if a majority of players do not participate,
> then 'political skills' can sway or dominate the system.  

I wrote an article for Imaginary Realities a few years ago entitled
"A New Paradigm for Levels."  I can't seem to access their website
anymore, but the basic idea was that you'd separate your skill tree
from a political hierarchy tree.  If you want to opt out of the
whole political hierarchy, you can ignore the politicians.  However,
since the politicians will have a say in "promoting" you up the
hierarchy, if you are interested in participating in helping build a
town, an empire, etc.  you'd do well to try to please them.

I also tried to work in some concepts very similar to your NPC
citizenry idea.  What follows is not the article, but a different
write-up which eventually led to the article.

A game world has some number of kingdoms.  Each kingdom is ruled by
a king.  For the sake of this example, assume empire building is
supported by the game engine and is a chief goal of the elder
players.  Now, what if heirarchies or levels were set up in each
kingdom.  The military of the kingdom will be the easiest to
describe, since militaries are heirarchical by nature.  The lowest
level would be a footman.  A squad of footmen would be led by a
sergeant.  Four squads and their sergeants would form a platoon,
headed by a lieutenant. Three to four platoons would have a captain
as their regimental commander.  Regiments would answer to a Colonel,
who would in turn report to the General of the Army, who answers to
the king.

To make this more interesting, you could have special units with a
higher entry point.  For instance, the cavalry horseman could be at
the 3rd (lieutenant) level, answering to a captain, while the entry
level archer might be at the 2nd

(sergeant) level.  This would mean that a sergeant could choose a
path as a platoon leader, or move into the cavalry (although getting
an appointment to the cavalry might require a good bit of money, in
addition to a stellar career as a sergeant), and a footman might
choose to be either a sergeant or an archer.

Although not as straightforward, areas other than the military could
be mapped out for levels as well.  An apprentice smith may answer to
a journeyman smith who answers to a master smith who answers to a
grand master who reports to his profession's guildmaster who answers
to the Chancellor who reports to the king.

Basically, there are seven levels, with the king at level seven and
the peon at level one.  Now, typically with such heirarchies, we
tend to think that this game will be great if you're a king and it
will suck if you're a peon...but does this HAVE to be so?  What if
the king really wasn't all that different from the peon?  What if
"levels" were totally decoupled from hit-points, skill, and the
various other powers typically associated with them.  What if
"level" only indicated responsibility and authority, but not
personal power?  What if the peon could take the king in a fair
fight?  What if the peon had ALL the power and abilities (and
perhaps is more skilled at many of them) of the king, except one:
THE ABILITY TO PROMOTE.

Specifically, the king would be the only person with the power to
promote someone to level six.  The Chancellor, the General of the
Army, and others at level six would all be there by appointment of
the king.  Likewise, those at level six would have the power to
promote others to level five, and so on.  Because of this power to
promote, the overriding principle for levels is that each person
will be responsible to satisfy the needs of his position as outlined
by his superior in order to be promoted to the next level.

Promotion to the next level will not depend on skills, but on
accomplishments.  However, greater skills will naturally lead to
greater accomplishments.  Promotion requires only two things: 1) a
position must be open (either new, or currently filled by an NPC)
and 2) your superior (the promoter) must recommend you for the
promotion.  The promoter will be motivated to promote the most
qualified

individual by his own desire for personal gain (since higher
qualifications on the part of the promotee will likely lead to the
promoter being able to more easily accomplish his own missions and
objectives as assigned by his superior), however, to keep him
honest, the game engine should have some form of "public opinion" on
promotions. It would not be a good idea to give the public the
impression that your promotions are colored by prejudice or that you
are promoting friends over those who are qualified.

Of course, it is the "public opinion" which will probably be the
most difficult to implement and most important concept, but I see it
working this way.

Talking to NPCs who have a good opinion of you (depending on your
conversation skills) might give you insight into whom they like and
whom they dislike.  This would reflect the game engine's "public
opinion."  The promoter would not HAVE to sway to public opinion,
but his decisions will affect the public's opinion of him, which in
turn could impact whether or not he gets promoted to the next
available position above him.

Public opinion will also be affected greatly by how you treat
subordinates.  For instance, in the military, whether or not you
bring your troops home alive will have tremendous impact on how you
are viewed by the public.  They tend to dislike those who sacrifice
their sons and daughters to war.  Each person will have to balance
the public's opinion against meeting the objectives of their
superiors.  This will motivate each officer to spend time training
and equipping his troops so that he can lead them up the hill that
he is assigned to take by his superiors, while not sacrificing
lives.  In special cases, depending upon the success and danger of
your mission, your unit's actions may be considered heroic even
though many lives are lost.  If your squad holds off an assault by
50 orcs, but you lose half of your squad, it may be a good idea to
submit the names of the dead for medals or even a memorial.  If the
public agrees with the recognition, the dead will be remembered as
heroes and instead of being thought incompetent, you will likely be
seen in a more favorable light.  In any case, if you can satisfy
your superior's objectives while keeping public opinion high, your
superior will likely promote you at his first opportunity.  Not only
will you have proven yourself competent, but his decision to promote
you will win him further favor with the people.

How you dress, your charisma, and other factors may also play a role
in how you are perceived by others.  Reactions may vary from one
individual to the next, but all would have the potential to react to
some degree, and adjust their approval accordingly.  This should add
interest to the manufacture and sale of clothing, jewelry, and other
items of charm, both magical and ordinary.

NPC's will not be the only ones who register opinions.  Other player
characters who interact with you should have an opportunity to
register their approval or disapproval.  This will provide some
flexibility in those situations where the engine isn't really
capable of discernment.  It will also provide an opportunity for
slander and other political shenanigans, but it would be important
to have this balanced with adequate input on actual accomplishments.
(I've posted at length on ideas for a reputation system which
incorporates this, but for the sake of brevity, I will merely allude
to it here.)

There may well be many accomplishments that are not understood or
recognized by the game engine.  These accomplishments, however, will
be noted by player characters who may adjust their approval
accordingly.  The most important person to impress with your
accomplishments will always be your direct superior, since he will
have the final say in whether or not you get promoted.  You should
also do your best to make sure that his superior is pleased with the
job he is doing.  If he is promoted to the next level as a result of
your actions, then his position will be open and he will be likely
to fill it with the person who was responsible for his success.

If you are the king, your life will likely revolve around public
opinion issues.  Prosperity, employment, success in battle, low
taxes, and an expanding empire must all be balanced to ensure that
you are loved by your people.  If your approval rating falls too
low, you may become vulnerable to having your position usurped by an
ambitious major lord.  Of course, there could be options available
to you, both political and surreptitious, to ensure that ambitious
lords never get the chance to overthrow you, but these same options
will be available to them as well.

The pursuit of a favorable public opinion will cause the king to set
up goals that then flow down from above.  The king will wish to
increase his power, his realm, and his approval rating.  He may
believe that it is critical to have access to wood from special
trees known only to exist far to the east in the elven realm.  He
may believe that the wood would increase the range of his archers
and allow his shipwrights to build stronger, faster ships.  He may
ask the Chancellor to ensure that the elves allow him access to the
forest at a fair price.  (He could just order the army to march in
and take it, but that would obviously have a negative effect on his
relationship with the elves.)  The Chancellor may task an ambassador
to travel as an emissary to the elves.  He may set a price that he
believes is fair, an amount that he believes is needed, and even a
time frame for completing the negotiation as dictated to him by the
king.  The ambassador may need to request an escort from the army,
or hire mercenaries to ensure that he arrives safely.  And so on.

Anyway, I hope this is all making sense.  I copied and pasted much
of it from another document in wich I was brainstorming on ideas for
the kind of MMRPG I'd like to play and perhaps create some day.  In
general, achievment is important to MMRPGs, but often, the power
disparity between players is detrimental.  Heirarchies are also
typically not a good thing, but IF participation in the heirarchy is
completely voluntary, and IF the power weilded by those at a higher
level is more subtle, then I think the issue of inferiority or shame
can be mitigated if not avoided altogether.  Since the king doesn't
really have any powers not available to the peon, he can't really
FORCE the peon to do something.  The peon must volunteer to do what
the king wants him to.  He is motivated to do so if he wishes to be
promoted, but if promotion is not required to become skilled or
proficient, and if the game has other pursuits which interest him,
perhaps he will decide otherwise.  He can always tell himself that
the king is a pansy whom he could take in a sword fight on any given
day.

--Phin


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