"Hello, and welcome to "Don't Roll a One: Making roleplaying, theme, and game mechanics work together." I am Odin, the presenter for this discussion. I have some opening statements and then we can open the floor to questions. For those who do not know me, I am a builder/coder working on OtherSpace: Millennium which will open in June. Many of my duties revolve around designing our skill system, skill raising mechanisms, attribute raising mechanisms, and character generating mechanisms. Outside of the JTS community I am often known as Sergeytov, in case none of you have heard of me before. Without further delay, let us begin.
"It is important to consider the game worlds we represent have a number of themes, roleplaying styles, and mechanics. We are not here to say one setup of mechanics and theme is superior, but I will say: Your game mechanics and game theme aligning is critical.
"First, let us define a game mechanic. A game mechanic is any system, coded, cultural, or otherwise, that is used to create a result within the game. This means that your character generation system is a game mechanic, whether you use an email based system, or a long series of rooms. Both of these are mechanics. If you use automated coded combat or refereed combat, these are also game mechanics.
"A simple example is a PKMU*, where the sole purpose is to kill other characters. In this case the primary concern are the game mechanics. Balance, variety, classes, mix of level, skill, equipment... whatever it is you want your game's community to value. Theme only need to exist to a point that gives some 'motivation' to go hunting. Quake, for example, puts everyone in a death match in the position of space marines, says, "You're space marines with a bunch of toys that go boom, whoever gets 50 kills first wins." This works quite well because the 'theme' exists only as a way to put players in the mood to get at each other's throats.
"Our next example is World of Warcraft, where the game is mostly about levelling and at later stages: Raiding and killing other characters. WoW does and amazing job of putting one in a mood to do quests, and makes a story for those who want to try some light roleplaying. Once again, however, mechanics are a big deal. Examine boards on matters like talent reviews. Almost no one argues mechanics on the basis of 'look at the game world, this doesn't ICly make sense!' but rather on the relative power of races and clases.
"I could name other games, MU* and Graphical MU* that work in this manner. However, I will suggest that the following rule holds true: The less roleplaying a designer expects the game to have, the more the mechanics of a game matter, since mechanics are the primary, and perhaps only, method of entertainment the game provides.
"Games with roleplaying as a primary source of entertainment, however, have different priorities. The first of these priorities is that game mechanics need to worry less about the question, "Is everything perfectly balanced?" and more about the idea that every mechanic in the game needs to have potential to promote the kind of roleplay you want on your MU*.
"In a game with harsh realism and life is a struggle to survive, mechanics that create hunger and thirst may be deemed critical, since this will create an environment where characters interact with code, and other players, based on the premise that they need to live to the next meal. In a game set in a world where food is more or less plentiful to the PCs (let's say all of your PCs are nobles on a fantasy themed MU* who you want to engage in political intrigue), a hunger meter may detract from the style of roleplaying you desire. - Thus the decision to include or exclude hunger is heavily based on the kind of roleplay you desired.
"The difficulty is that there are so many decisions to be made, and they all need to be in concert. Do you want hunger and thirst? Do you want hunger and thirst to be able to kill a PC that doesn't eat coded food? Do you want clothing? Do you want coded weapons and armor? Do you even want a skill system? What kind of dice do you want to use? - This hardly begins a list of questions one could ask.
"When a game's theme and mechanics operate together, the game can proceed quite happily. Most code/theme arguments I have heard over the past six+ years are often derived from the fact that something mechanically has occurred that should not have been able to occur in respect to the theme.
"Let us take an example from a sci-fi canon. Let us imagine a big bad empire with a ton of guns and cool toys and elite troops and whatever else they've been able to dredge up. Now let us say our canon establishes things like 'These soldiers are really good shots' and 'Their armor is some of the best stuff out there.' Let us say we put a space system in, because we want space RP. All is good. Now, let us say we do nothing to differentiate this big bad empire's military ships from any other ships. We just set out on a road where our mechanics diverge from our theme. If our theme says 'the empire's military's ships are incredibly powerful, have big guns, and so on' and our mechanic says 'any civilian ship can be good as a military ship' then we are on a course to disaster. What happens when a few civilians get a hold of a ship that is as powerful (or even moreso) than the military ships out there? Your canon says a civilian ship can't possibly destroy a military ship like this (let us assume a 'fair fight' for this, with no special plans or tricks up sleeves involved), but your mechanics just made it very possible. For everyone who plays, your error in a mechanics decision just hurt any aura of disbelief. Imagine you used 'big weapons and ships' as a reason to join said military or a reason thematic and event battles (with tons of NPCs) went the way they did. Well, what now? Civilians can do just as well, if not better than that military. A simple mechanical oversight has caused a severe canonical rift that needs fixed.
"In short, mechanics matter, and they must serve the canon. Failure to do so is detrimental and not only dilutes your game theme, but hurts the roleplay that occurs on it when suddenly your players can't trust the game mechanics to match canon. I now open the floor to questions. Please raise your hand and wait to be acknowledged.
A new character says, "How absolute should theme be? What about exceptions to the rule and that sort of stuff?"
You say, "It depends on what you want to do. If you want a static sandbox, a very rigid, absolute theme works quite well. Look at World of Warcraft, again. A very rigid theme that only moves at certain intervals. - If you have the evolving storyline thing going on, as we call it around JTS, however, you certainly need some growing room, I think. - This growing room, on my end, is allowed by the idea of trying to avoid 'immunity' gifts for characters. Instead I have replaced them with gifts that give a very heavy positive modifier. This resembles immunity in almost all cases, but it also allows the 'growing room' of making someone who isn't immune, or creating that exception to the rule."
Odin points at Kensei.
Kensei says, "I'd asked in the earlier discussion, since I'm mostly familiar with MUD's, what the general differences in mechanics and gameflow between most MUD's and the OtherVerse games were. Could you answer my question?"
You say, "I'm no expert on codebases, I will say this, first of all. - However, the OtherVerse games tend towards writing mechanics for things that need to be written, and for favoring PCs surviving. A big example is in PC vs PC combat situations (and most PC vs NPC), there's a human referee saying what shall be rolled and how it shall be rolled. Where a MUD might involve the ref/GM simply spawning some mobs as deemed appropriate to the situation and letting real time combat code determine who wins. - So in short, I'd say the OV games have less coded regulations, and more guidelines as mechanics."
Brody says, "In a MUD, for example, I might walk up to Odin and +attack without any preamble. But on our games, I'd have to roleplay with him, determine a fight's coming, call a ref to monitor the fight and assign modifiers as needed based on the circumstances, and make sure everyone plays fair."
Brody says, "Or, if we want to go without a ref, we can talk between ourselves and agree what the outcome will be, then just play it out."
A new character says, "If you play RPIs, on the OS games (with the exception of Necro) there are no coded mobs to bash in your spare time. Also, instead of throwing some emotes out based on what's scrolling on the screen in combat, you actually emote/pose what you're doing and roll based on that."
Odin nods. "I'd say one big difference between MUSHes and MUDs is that player level culture has a lot more influence on a MUSH."
Brody says, "OS:M and Chia will have coded mobs ;)"
Brody says, "But they'll be in special areas. Not roaming the streets."
MeiMei says, "The biggest difference is really skills. They don't just apply whenever the code determines- you can roll any skill any time yourself when it's relevant. Hence opening the field for skills like Law or History."
Brody thinks Chia will have them only in very limited amounts, mostly for use to get crafting stuff.
MeiMei says, "Very much like playing DnD and being told "Roll a Listen check", you might roll Perception when someone rolls Stealth to sneak by you, as opposed to on a MUD where they type 'hide' and you automatically see them or not depending on coded factors."
You say, "Actually, Mei, the code can make any skill relevent at any time. We just don't make much use of the capability on New Journies."
Kensei raises an arm to shield himself.
A new character nods, "And some of the RPIs are making it so you can do skill checks on your own."
Brody says, "You can do your own skill checks here."
Brody says, "However, we tend to have refs out of fairness."
You say, "If memory serves, even, I think Tomin Kora on New Journies used to have that deathtrap that would capture one and toss them in the arena cell on the way to buy bug guns, which is an example of code doing things automatically in our environment."
Kensei says, "A lot of input, cool. So, starting at the start, most muds are automated for hits/misses, I'm assuming the OV games (and maybe MUSH's in general?) have a command like 'roll', to get a dice value and check for hit/miss?"
MeiMei nods Kensei's way. +taskroll Skill Name at Modifier, is the syntax.
A new character nods. "Yeah. It's a lot more like tabletop combat."
Leviathan nudges Mei. "we have an ongoing argument that sort of gelled itself into a notion: on a MUD, the emphasis really is on /simulation/. On trying to cover every nuance and jot and tittle of a world, down to what you grub out of the ground or how you interact with people. There are stories to be told in simulation - much as you can roleplay on Everquest or WoW. But a MUSH emphasizes story instead - like a tabletop game, dice are relevant only when the story requires randomness, or when there is a dramatic moment that /requires/ the tension of not knowing what comes next, forcing adaption of the storyline. The rules exist to ensure everyone has a fair hand in the story, and that characters make sense in the world - rather than to define the world, if that makes sense."
Kensei says, "Is there something of a 'trust' policy, or do the games support something to make sure a person isn't fabricating any part of their input/results?"
Brody says, "That puts it pretty well, Levi."
A new character agrees with Leviathan.
You say, "There's security measures for that sort of thing, yes."
A new character says, "You can nospoof."
Brody says, "We can tell when a roll is genuine ;)"
Kallyn2 notes that nospoof is supremely annoying in RP.
A new character says, "Nospoof shows you the thing is coming from the code and not a cleverly colored player fabrication. But, yeah, it makes editting logs a headache."
You say, "But you'll notice how your question, Kensei, isn't an easy one. I suspect it also has a lot to do why MUDders and MUSHers can be viewed as enemies, rather than, say, cousins."
Brody shrugs. "That's just shortsightedness on both sides.'
Brody sees 'em as cousins.
Kensei says, "Am I right to assume that the players have physical bodies, and physical weapons/armor that modify their hit/misses and such?"
A new character nods, "Yeah."
Meldor hmms. "Odin, do you want to demo on me a quick fight?"
Meldor says, "Just one roll vs roll""
A new character says, "+consider tower shield"
Kallyn2 rolls her Spoof with a 0 modifier. The result of the roll is Terrible (-3).
Leviathan eyes Kallyn. I"m a coder. You can't fool me, chicky. :)
Kallyn2 just wanted to provide an example.
Odin thinks that can wait, Mel, to see if we have any other questions on the main topic.
Brody says, "Mel just wants to hit somebody."
Meldor says, "I want to be hit. I love pain."
Brody says, "I know the address of a MUSH you'd like..."
MeiMei says, "We know, Meldor, we know."
Kallyn2 eyes Bro and back away.
You say, "There's a quote, something like, 'You can talk to a fish for a thousand years about what it's like to walk on land, but a day's experience would mean far more than all that.' which applies here." Kensei says, "I'll probably have to take a look at a MUSH sometime to appreciate the difference."
Leviathan says, "Kensei: To add to your question, there - yes, you have a physical object that equips items, and that modifies that object... but, again, in the world of MUSHes, you'll find conflict both less common and more intense than you might expect. The addition of the referee (or the players who can act in that stead) means that you can commit to, and roll for, actions you might have never concienved. Throwing chairs, kicking down doors, telekenetically hurling boulders - if it's in the environment, it becomes an item that is useful - even just candy in a description.""
Leviathan says, "The trade off, of course, is speed - MUD combat, as the computer crunches numbers, tends to be fast. MUSH combat, which emphasizes the action rather that mechanics, doesn't tend to be quite so quick. At all."
MeiMei recently participated in a fight where pirates were knocked out by barstools, vases and wooden spoons, for example...
Kallyn2 loves MUSH combat.
Meldor says, "I missed with that spoon :("
Kallyn2 says, "Wooden spoons?"
MeiMei says, "Yeah, but I had to mention it, c'mon, it was the best part."
You say, "The flexibility is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you get to do cool things. On the other, you have to design a system that can handle that."
Leviathan nods to Odin. "an advantage of FUDGE is that - on the ref side of the fence - it's easy to work with, on the fly, to work those effects and creativity in. But, different systems do it in different ways. (FUDGE being the core mechanics used in JTS games.)"
You say, "In the OtherSpace universe, we have psionics, which can canonically do a lot of strange/cool things. Problem is, we have to design systems so we know how to determine what can actually be done. Just having telekinesis, for example, does not mean you can throw small vehicles around with ease, so we have to ask, "When /is/ it possible, and how rare do we want that ability to be?""
Brody says, "http://fudgerpg.com/"
You say, "This is critical when other PCs could live and die by what that skill descriptions say. - You should read some of my FUDGE math, then, newbie."
A new character dislikes math.
A new character is hard to please.
Leviathan nods to new. "the tradeoff usually comes in ease of visualization - there's a million different systems, each with a strengh - probably beyond the scope of what Odin meant to cover. FUDGE I rather like, personally, if only because it is the simplest mechanic you can imagine, coupled with a very visual character sheet... and enough complexity to model really interesting and deep systems. :)"
Kallyn2 says, "Like throwring a really big black flaming brick? XD"
Leviathan grins evilly at Kallyn.
Kallyn2 can now prodive the flames for that, by the way. In cobalt blue. ;D
Kallyn2 curses her mistypes.
Odin nods to Levi, "It's not outside my scope, it's just I don't know all the systems out there. - It's why I say there's no one true system, but whatever you do, you need your mechanics and canon to line up.
You say, "Different game systems also allow different levels of power. - For example, I think FUDGE does good representing 'mortals', where a game like Shadowrun or the Storyteller systems can handle supernatural beings with far greater ease."
Leviathan grins, and - "Ken? I encourage you to hop on OV and try out either Necro or CHia - depending on what you're in the mood for. I think you might be very surprised at not only how smoothly things really run, but just at the difference in flavor. Servers a different need."
Kallyn2 recommends Chia... <333 Chia.
You say, "As noted, however, you'll notice a lot of time we spent talking about combat, mostly since combat involves life, death, and all those other things where mechanics are utterly critical. It's also the easiest to discuss. - With that, however, I'll let Levi start his discussion when ready."