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

Travis Casey efindel at earthlink.net
Thu Nov 29 16:47:56 CET 2001

Wednesday, November 28, 2001, 10:08:22 AM, Paul Schwanz wrote:

[snipping lots, rearranging some]

> ... 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.  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?"

> To me, it seems you are making all of Raph's points for him.  It
> is indeed a Bad Idea to automatically transplant PnP methodologies
> into an MMO.  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.  EQ and its grouping
> requirements are a smashingly good example of this.

I'd agree with the last sentence, but not with the conclusion stated
in the sentence prior to it.  Just because *one* convention used by
*some* paper RPGs doesn't translate well to MMORPGs doesn't prove
that paper RPGs *in general* are bad models.

I think part of what's going on here may be a different
understanding of what "game" means.  Raph seems to be talking about
a paper game in the sense of a single session or a single GM's
campaign; I think of it in terms of the rules and world.  To take
some of Raph's points, and give my point of view on them:

[quoting Raph now]

>>>   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.

A session, yes... but a session is not the game.  Paper RPGs are
played by thousands or millions of people, with very different
goals.  They're not all in the same session, to be sure -- but they
are using the same rules, and often the same world.  From my point
of view, a group of a few players going into a dungeon together in
EQ is also an isolated group within the greater game, just as the
people around a single GM's table are.

(And I'll note that there are paper RPG organizations which have
"shared worlds" where dozens to hundreds of groups are adventuring
in the same world, and in which groups' actions can affect other
groups, players can move from one group to another, groups can meet
and mingle, and so on.  And, for that matter, there's not even a
requirement to be part of a permanent group -- you can be a lone
adventurer within the world, to the extent that you can find GMs
willing to run adventures for you solo, or groups willing to let you
pop in and out.  The RPGA "Living" campaigns are an example of one
form of this.)

>>>   An MMO is non-linear, and a pen and paper game is (in the best
>>>   ones anyway) a strongly directed narrative experience.

I disagree here.  The best paper campaigns that I've experienced
have *not* been strongly directed -- the players were given free
rein to have their characters do as they wished.  Indeed, paper RPG
players have a name for games that are too strongly directed --
railroads (because whatever you might want to do, all you *can* do
is follow the track that's been laid down for you).

>>>   A pen and paper game relies on improvisation, and an MMO
>>>   relies on other players.

This one I'd agree with, but there are paper RPGers who would
strongly disagree, and who dislike improvisation.  Look up the
semi-rants of Joe Teller on rec.games.frp.advocacy or on the
rpg-create list on Yahoo groups to see such a viewpoint.

>>>   A pen and paper game is cliquish and an MMO is the hoi polloi.

Paper games are "cliquish" only because they have to be -- there's a
limit to how many people a single GM can handle.  To see an example
of how non-cliquish they can be, look at the many "pickup games" run
at conventions and online.  Most RPGers will gladly play with just
about anyone when they have the chance, in my experience.  (Some
groups aren't happy about people who pop in and out of a continuing
campaign, but that's generally for other reasons -- like the fact
that such "game hoppers" often tend to be munchkins or grief
players, who don't have a permanent group because no one can stand
them on a regular basis.)

>>>   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?

I'll agree with that -- but AD&D is not the only paper RPG, and the
typical "six players and a GM around a table" style is not the only
way to play paper RPGs.

For example, Paul takes EQ's level-based restrictions on grouping,
and gives them as an example of something coming from paper RPGs.
However, no paper RPG that I know of actually prevents characters of
different levels from grouping in the rules -- thus, this isn't
something coming from the game as I term it, but from the way that
game sessions generally happened in AD&D.  And I'll note that as far
back as twenty years ago, Dave Hargrave's game _Arduin_ was
specifically designed so that it would be practical for characters
of widely varying levels to adventure together, because he didn't
like the fact that it was difficult in D&D for new characters and
experienced ones to adventure together.

Taking things from paper RPGs blindly is bad.  I'll certainly agree
with that -- but only to the extent that doing *anything* blindly is
bad.  To me, jumping from "don't blindly copy" to "paper RPGs are a
poor model" seems to be too big of a jump.

Travis Casey
efindel at earthlink.net

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