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

Talanithus HTML talanithus at mindspring.com
Thu Apr 24 22:18:09 New Zealand Standard Time 2003

From: "Damion Schubert" <damion at zenofdesign.com>

> What makes Pen and Paper Games complex?  So far, the best answer
> I've seen is that the interaction of people make P&P games
> complex.  I don't buy that that makes them _more_ complex,
> however.  In a pen and paper game, you might have 6 people
> interacting.  In Shadowbane, that's not even a good party, and the
> interactions happening on a server of 1200 people as three servers
> begin to go to war are amazingly convoluted series of politics,
> personal choices, revenge, betrayal, heroism, victory and defeat.
> And this is in no way meant to boast about my game- those sorts of
> things are certainly evident in many freeware text MUDs, as well
> as games like Achaea and Dark Age of Camelot.

I agree with your conclusions here, Damion.  Both PnP and MMORPGs
find their true complexity in embracing the erratic foibles of human
nature.  But I think we find the major difference between PnP
vs. MMORPGs complexity in the fact that MMORPGs have only "coded" a
very small percentage of the possible options for that unpredictable
homo sapien nature, and thus a human Game Master is considerably
better suited for dealing with things that, frankly, MMORPGs don't
expect. Now this is not to say that MMORPGs could not expand to
cover more of these issues, but as they do I feel it will be on the
ground you referenced in your email...  with the people who inhabit
the lands as the movers and the shakers, not the code that forms
them.  I think I am going to steer this discussion in a bit of a
different direction, as I feel that the true nature of complexity in
MMORPGs is still unknown territory.  It is not a matter of coding,
programming, or hardware limitations, but rather of vision and
focus.  Lets break down the main aspects of both PnP gaming and
MMOGs, and see where they points us.

All MMOGs stress a number of factors in attempting to develop a rich
dynamic world:

  1. Character Uniqueness - how they look/dress

  2. Player Communities - how they group/behave amongst each other

  3. Profession - how they choose to develop their "skills"

  4. Playstyle - how they use all of the first three to seek

PnP is quite similar, and in fact all 4 of those categories are just
as prevalent...  but there is a 5th category that supercedes them
all.  5. Creation - how they build the world around them (mainly the
GM, but to a limited extent, the players as well)

Frankly, everyone wants to be a hero (or villain), whether they are
playing a CRPG, PnP, or MMORPG.  In the first two, you are dealing
with a limited audience, and it is rather easy to accommodate that
desire.  But in an MMORPG, how does one go about this?  It is the
Mount Everest of MMORPGs, the Sorcerer's Stone, the 5th Element...
how do you let EVERYONE be a hero?

As just about all MMORPGs will attest, running game wide fiction is
a ridiculously strenuous task.  I am sure there are more then a few
list members who can recall recent sleepless nights trying to push
through a scenario/content-publish/whatever.  And for the work they
do, I applaud them....  but they will never be able to get everyone.
A large percentage of players will always somehow just miss the
boat, event, or whatever big fiesta was planned for the eve.  And
for those players, well...  they don't feel quite the Hero.  Their
guild mate might, someone they occasionally hunt with might, but
THEY don't...  and that is why that player plays the game, right?
So how can a Developer satisfy that issue?

To a degree, this is what fuels the passion of the Player vs. Player
community.  In that limited system, you CAN be the Hero/Villain all
by yourself.  You can set your goals to dominate and succeed or fail
by your own merit, and the path of destiny bends to YOUR will. The
dynamic nature of that combat, that you are pitting yourself against
another PERSON, creates the rush of satisfaction from proving your
truly heroic or villainous nature. But not all players PvP, in
fact...  most don't (at least most I know).  So how to capture those
who prefer to PvM, or RP, or just plain Socialize?  What grand
fiction can a handful of developers, writers, and (maybe) volunteers
throw together that will enthrall the masses, and have them eager to
throw their cash every month towards your house payment?

The answer is, you can't.  Not real dynamic quests, not scenarios
where each and every player CAN feel like a Hero/Villain.  It simply
is a statistical impossibility to reach everyone with the limited
staff available in a MMORPG development house. However, I do feel
there is hope.  You simply need to take the lessons of PnP,
incorporate them into your MMORPG, and teach your players to be
fishermen, not give them fish. By this, I mean that the next
generation of MMORPGs has to move beyond items 1 - 4 on my list,
which all boil down to creating individual players and groups, and
embrace the next step of item number 5, allowing players to create
individual worlds.

The MMORPG community is slowly making their way towards this goal
already.  In UO, players can create houses suited to their own whim,
literally changing pieces of the landscaping to match their vision
of what SHOULD be.  Recent newcomers in the MMOG circuit, like
Shadowbane (though some might say it's been coming for so long it's
always been here), allow you to not only create whole towns but to
wage massive political and social battles for dominance over the
landscape.  But both of these models, while moving closer to that
next step, swerve before truly taking it.  They funnel the
creativity of their player base into actions the Development House
has ordained, into paths that suit the fiction that has been crafted
around the world and its people, and inevitably, hamper the limit of
exactly how far that creativity can go.

The next step, in my opinion, lies in Dev Houses letting go of those
chains, and instead of spending their time and energy in creating
fiction or content to appease a relative minority of their
playerbase, to instead create the tools for those players to create
their OWN content.  By embracing the lessons that PnP has taught us,
MMORPGs can move beyond the limitations of manpower by harnessing
the players themselves to produce and build the world about them.
In reality, this is what happens anyways.  As was mentioned by a
previous poster, the big guilds/communities and dominate
personalities place a stamp of WHAT IS on the server/shard they
reside on, and all reality warps around them, regardless of whether
it fits into the Dev Teams plans or not.

So I say forget the plans, and instead give players the tools to
build for them.  Instead of having a dozen or so people slaving a
way creating a plot that will affect, maybe, 10 - 20% of the
playerbase, let the players who literally ARE PnP GameMasters
waiting for a chance to shine go buck wild.  Yes, you are going to
get Trekkies in a Medieval world, as well as Mechanoids, GI Joes,
Thundercats, and God knows what else.  But hell, those are there
anyways!  You cannot imprison the creativity of the player, and
regardless of what world wide fiction exists players will bend it to
their own will, and take advantage of it as THEY desire.

I could go into a HUGE list of things I would bring about these
effects, but for the sake brevity I'll condense it to something more

  1. Players should be able to leave their stamp on the world,
  whether as a player town, house, statue, whatever.  It is
  impossible for a Dev house to do such, so let the player
  communities themselves do it. (most next gen MMORPGs already
  embrace this one, but not all)

  2. Players must be made to feel important, even if only within
  their communities.  They NEED to be a Hero/Villain, and if you
  give those players with the desire to provide their own scenarios
  to accomplish that, they WILL.  They already do it now, but are
  limited by that fact that do NOT have those tools.

  3. Players must be able to build quests and events that are not
  only unique, but a lure to OTHER players, so that their fame might
  grow! A GameMaster slaves for hours preparing his scenarios and
  conflicts because that is what they LOVE to do...  so let them.
  It can only help your world (and subscriptions).

  4. Players must be encouraged, either by tangible in game reward
  or notoriety, for their artistic endeavors. Most of this will come
  from the grateful players themselves, but it should always remain
  a priority in the Dev Houses mind to continue to encourage the
  behavior which breathe a constant stream of life into their game.

  5. The upper limits of what a player who wishes to build something
  in the world should be as far as can be possibly pushed.  They
  should be able to, with enough time/cost/people/resources,
  literally do absolutely anything possible within the parameters of
  the game.

In effect, MMORPGs need to have the versatility of the NWN Dm
Toolkit, with the ability to create massive encounters and
scenarios, even if just for the members of their guild.  By
providing such tools, the fame and lure of that community grows
stronger, attracting more players and more creators, and it
perpetuates itself ad infinitum.  This is where MMORPGs can rise and
grow beyond PnP, as they are not limited to the 6 or so players that
can comfortably fit around a dinner table.  Their creativity can
reach hundreds, even thousands, if the Dev Houses behind the games
let them.  And that is where the complexity in MMORPGs really lies,
in embracing the creative Builders of the world, and setting them
loose to woo and frighten the masses.  It's done in pieces now, but
nowhere has it been completely embraced.  Well, perhaps in some
MUDs, but not MMORPGs.

Yes I know there are game balance issues, but no step into the
future does not have these, and I can't see how careful forethought
and planning would not minimize the damaging potential.  And yes,
some people will create horrible crud for stories and quests.  But
it is THEIR story.  It is important to THEM.  And the reason why is
simple.  Because they (and their friends), finally get to be the

So basically, my answer to this question is... "wait and see."
While PnP (and by PnP I do not mean just D&D, which is not exactly
the deepest of RPGs) probably holds the chair for deepest depth of
complexity, MMORPGs most certainly hold it for quantity.  And as the
vision of developers expands to embrace the full creativity and
complexity of the players as an active agent towards growth, that
pendulum will swing in depth as well.  As another poster said,
MMORPGs are still young, give it some time.

Talanithus Tarant
  UO Lake Superior - http://uols.net
  Tel'Mithrim - http://www.grey-company.org
  UO Powergamers - http://www.uopowergamers.com
  UnknownPlayer - http://www.unknownplayer.com

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