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Alter Aeon
BAT Mud

Articles Section
Taking the Lead

Players shouldn't be in-character leaders. Well, that's how some people think I think. Here's how I REALLY think: Every player should have the potential to be an in-character leader. Unfortunately, few do. Those who do, it turns out, have the same qualities we look for in out-of-character leaders, and usually wind up becoming staffers.

So, it should come as small surprise that so many OtherSpace leadership roles are played by people who are at least RP aides - our lowest level of staffer. And those who aren't RP aides or higher yet probably will be, eventually - unless they're sane enough to stay a player (and those people DO exist).

What qualities mark a good IC/OOC leader? Here's my list: - Organization - Devotion to a world or group - Roleplay activity generation - Good sportsmanship - High tolerance for aggravation - Thick OOC skin - Constructive ideas

Many OOC leaders have emerged from the ranks of OtherSpace players, because that's specifically how I designed my staff system to work. You play first, you show you can be trusted, that you can handle group dynamics, make things happen, and don't vanish unexpectedly on those who rely on you.

But it doesn't matter how long you have a character playing in my world - seniority as a player doesn't earn you a spot on staff. And I'm serious about the sanity part: I've got players on OtherSpace that I would make a director tomorrow if they asked, but they won't. In fact, some of them I've offered, and they've said not just "No," but "Hell, no!" These are usually people who have all the good qualities of an OOC and IC leader, but who have been staffers elsewhere and know that - even if you're doing it right - it's a thankless, neverending stream of headaches, complaints and firefighting.

And anyone who WANTS to be a staffer should automatically be suspect. Either they're crazy (like me) or they're little egomaniacs with chips on their shoulders trying to grab for power.

The best staffers are the ones who'd be doing the same thing whether they had the title or not.

Back to the IC leadership topic. I have bounced back and forth on this concept. When players have blown up their homeworlds or attempted to start silly wars out of OOC spite rather than IC justification, I have been THIS close to just absolutely eliminating the idea of players as IC leaders. But then I get players who run their own space station, generate all kinds of RP, earn a following, and show a love for their surroundings that no staffer doing the job part-time could do justice to, and I relent. There ARE gems out there. They're just few and far between. They're hard to find.

Some people think I don't want players in positions of IC authority because I want to "control the story." That's not quite true. Mostly, I just want to keep the story going. I can't count on players to do that all the time on the subordinate level, let alone an IC leadership level.

More often than not, I'll give a player a shot at a leadership position - often after they have begged for the chance - and they will just vanish. Poof! Given the opportunity to lead, they disappear without a trace. As a result, one of the staff has to step in to fill the void. That's not choice; it's necessity. The show must go on, after all.

There have only been a couple of times when player leaders have done really insane things that basically dared me to shove them back on track. Usually, I'm just as happy to let a leader make a decision and then let them deal with the IC repercussions that come from that decision.

This, by the way, HELPS the story along, whether it fits with my original vision or not. The secret to my madness is that I follow a simple rule of physics that deals with action and reaction. I don't mandate how things happen, nor do the players, exactly. They can certainly do whatever they want, but they have no guarantee that it won't blow up in their faces. That's about as realistic as things need to get in a fantasy environment to keep it feeling immersive, reactive and alive.

It's not that hard to qualify as an OOC leader and an IC leader simultaneously. In my book, this is how you do it:

Earn the trust of the game's management. Don't be a whiner. Be there for the people who count on you. Be your organization's loudest and most enthusiastic cheerleader. Deliver on your promises. Help newbies every chance you get. Offer solutions where others just gripe. Lead as if you don't need the title.

Wes Platt is the creator and chief storyteller at OtherSpace: The Interactive SF Saga (www.jointhesaga.com). He's also the developer of Star Wars: Reach of the Empire and Star Trek: The Lost Missions. He reviews computer games for Radio Sci Fi (www.radioscifi.net) once a month. And he's a member of the board of the Game Directors Guild (www.liveinbrooklyn.com/GDC).

Part 20 - Handle With Care