[MUD-Dev] Storytelling in a PSW from a Player's Persepctive

Talanithus HTML talanithus at mindspring.com
Thu May 15 05:41:56 CEST 2003

Recently, this list has had two threads that caught my attention.
One was on the effect of customization in a gaming psyche, and the
other was on the difference in complexity between D&D and MMORPGs
(or at least, it started that way... now its on economic forces and
other areas that aren't quite as interesting to me).  These are
matters of the heart for me, for I am a storyteller.  I play MMORPGs
so that I can tell my stories, and give them a life beyond my
imagination.  To wrap up other players in quests and hunts, and to
watch as they in turn add their own creative energies, and together
we make something new and wondrous.

And you know what?  It's DAMN hard.  Not the storytelling, or plot
crafting, or people interactions, but the setup and preparation that
such events require.  And do you know why it is so hard?  Because
there has never been a MMORPG that has embraced a tool set giving
the player's the ability to actually be storytellers.

Sure, Ultima Online had its Seer Program, Everquest its own
Volunteers, Project Eve has a volunteer team dedicated to adding
fiction, and various other games have supported similar
staff/non-staff groups with the express purpose of adding "content"
to the game world. Yet for all the obvious interest players show in
desiring new content, there has yet to be a MMORPG (to my knowledge,
not including lesser volume MUDs), that really lets the players tell
the stories themselves.

In my "Utopian Gaming Dreams", I picture a world where every
community has developed their own storytellers.  These Dungeon
Masters, to borrow from Pen and Paper days, develop quests and plots
that capture the essence of their guilds and fellowships.  They take
their players and let them rise up to be heroes, and fall down as
villains, in ways that no Developer Fiction could ever hope to come
close to... because the fiction is about THEM! I see a time where a
guild hunt is something more then running to a camped out spawn for
the "next" piece of uber loot...  where those events have meaning,
signi ficance, and impact as the players chase down the vile demon
Kabrux and his hordes of minions, or whatever.

This CAN be done in most MMORPGs now, but usually its through
tactics that are less then desirable, horribly time consuming, and
even downright illegal (in some cases).  I will give you an example.
In the MMORPG of Ultima Online, I frequently portray a "talking"
White Wyrm.  This is technically impossible by current game
mechanics, as Dragons and Wyrms do not speak.  Yet through clever
manipulation of ancient coding, and the use of multiple
clients/accounts to both simultaneously control the Wyrm, speak
through the Wyrm, and interact with the players, I can make it
happen.  In reality, I could be banned just for logging in on
multiple clients, yet my desire to give stories to the players is
great enough that I risk it every single time I bring that Wyrm out.

Then there is monster spawns.  For better or worse, MMORPGs still
have a ridiculously weighted proportion of their gameplay oriented
on combat.  So of course, every good story has to have some monsters
to kill.  But players cannot control monsters, or at least we can't
force them to spawn where we need them, so once again player
manipulation must come to the fore.  In that same quest line, I
would contract the services of dozens of tamers to bring Dragons and
other creatures to secluded areas, and right before the players
arrived allow them all to go wild... and thus attackable.  Guess
what, this too could not only get me banned, but the Tamers as well.

Now don't get me wrong.  I am not saying that it should be OK for
players to lure Monsters onto other players, or that players should
be able to log into as many accounts as they want to at once.  Those
rules exist for a purpose, to prevent exploitation.  But there is
another side to this...  why am I, as a player story teller, not
given the option to create my stories WITHOUT having to take these
ridiculous risks and "exploiting" mechanisms.  With games like
Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege, Dungeon Keeper, and god knows how
many more opening the door for storytellers in the multi-player and
module single player market, why hasn't the MMORPG industry read the
writing on the wall and providing the same toolsets?  And that is an
answer I really do not know...  but perhaps you all do?

I have my suspicions.  I think they are afraid of allowing players
too much control over the world around them, and afraid of losing
influence over the fictional consistency of their worlds.  Well if
that is really the truth, I have a bit of a wake up call.  I am
about as deep into PSW role playing as you can get, and there is
absolutely no such thing as fictional consistency in a PSW.  Even if
you have a strong core of players who embrace the heritage, ethos,
and lineage of your fictional background, they will still be
weighted down with players who are there simply to have fun. And
that's OK, they are paying their subscription fees as well. Frankly,
enforcing Role Playing in a PSW is a lost cause unless you are
willing to be picky about who you accept into that world, which I
have yet to see in a subscription based massive gaming model.  In
fact, I have yet to see a MMORPG where the "dewds" did not out weigh
the RPers on an exponential scale.

As for player control, frankly I feel that is a cop out. Using
Ultima Online as an example once more, if OSI were to deem that
guilds had the ability to "create" monsters for guild specific
events, they could do so without ever impacting world outside of
those guilds.  They could limit them so that they could not be
created in regular dungeons, and only in overland or specifically
dedicated areas, and they could flag all these "created" monsters so
as to be unable to even interact with players not in that guild.
Heck, make them invisible to everyone else!  Who really cares, they
exist only for the express purpose that community.  Sure, a guild
could create monsters just to kill off their members...  but if the
monster creation costs are a prohibitive enough of a gold sink, then
this would be wasted effort.  They would gain nothing out of it, and
would likely loose their guild members in the process.

But what is the pay off for building such a tool, some might ask? 
Why to enable the players to truly craft stories without limitation,
and in so doing, entertain your subscriptions for you.  When players
are busy with plots of their own, they are far less likely to notice
that YOU haven't added any new content in the past few months.  You
create, in each storyteller, a Press Relations mogul dedicated on
keeping a small but important part of your subscription community
happy.  That seems, to me, a reward beyond measure.

But perhaps I am way off in my suspicions.  Perhaps there are other
reasons I cannot see.  If so, please illuminate me, because this is
one story I really want to have a happy ending...  some day.

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

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