The End of the World and You
Most of us in the MU*ing world have some familiarity with the archtypical fantasy plot. The group of heroes becomes aware that the peaceful world they inhabit teeters perilously near the collapse into chaos, death and war due to the actions of some guy who most likely wears all black (or maybe just really spiky armor). Resolute, they set off to return the world to its proper course, perhaps by finding or destroying an all-powerful magical item.
While the particular version outlined above is cliched beyond belief within the realm of fantasy novels, the "save the world from certain destruction" theme continues to fill both hackwork and groundbreaking new speculative fiction. It provides a clear outline for the action while allowing plenty of fill in space for the details of character and setting and being ever open to plot twists. The problem comes when the MU* Immortal attempts to implement it as a plot within their game.
At first glance, the average pseudo-Medieval fantasy MU* seems the perfect setting. Brave bands of wizards, warriors, and comic-relief-thieves abound, as do magical artifacts of varying levels of power. There is always someone in a black cloak and spiky armor cackling evilly just around the corner. The Immortal carefully concocts a storyline of impending world destruction by a mad mage and subtly drops hints amongst the players, then sits back to see what their reaction will be.
It is entirely possible that the characters will pick up on things immediately. They will realize that the magic wand must be found in the Great Northern Wastes and brought to the kindly Good mage so that the evil menace may be pacified once and for all. The difficulty comes in when they don't.
Halfway to the Wastes, the characters make the error of asking their ranger to lead, and become hopelessly lost in the tropics. Irritable and resigned, they decide to make their last days in the world happy ones, and settle back to enjoy the sand and sea. The hapless Immortal must scrabble with the question of "now what?"
The MU* world cannot, most likely, be allowed to vanish in a burst of oily smoke and mad laughter, nor can the evil armies swoop down the world and thrust every PC into chains. For the sake of all the players, present and future, it needs to be preserved in a playable fashion. The Immortal can either continue to nudge and hint to the characters, trying to renew their interest in saving the world and postponing indefinitely and illogically its gory end, or she can arrange for an NPC to save the world without them and continue on with her next plot.
The players, however, have no impetus to continue. They know, even if their characters do not, that the world will not end regardless of their level of inaction. If they find that the plot has dragged on for too long or was uninteresting from the start, they may simply have their characters rationalize that there are others in the world more suited for the task than they and ignore it. When the NPC comes in to save the world, it renews their sense that their actions and decisions do not matter in the MU* world.
I believe that in any storyline-based MU*, players must be able to preserve the sense that their own actions are, to a greater or lesser extent, what drive the outcome. This sense can only be preserved if all logical outcomes, even the most unlikely and unpalatable, are allowed to occur. Fantasy novels most frequently record only heroic successes; MU*s must permit an opportunity for utter failure as well.
If the Immortal is not, in the end, willing to let the world to die, she should not put it up as a stake. Smaller, closer to home plots that have a variety of possible endings are more likely to catch the player's interest, because they show than his actions indisputably matter.
About the author:
Quietude is an oppinionated player who has been playing MUDs for about five years and currently makes her home on Inferno.