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Old 06-13-2002, 03:13 PM   #1
Khamura
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In all roleplaying games everywhere, one of the biggest questions the staffer need to keep asking themselves is how to craft plots that capture not only the players' interest, but the players themselves, so that they can immerse themselves in the game world and the plot, heightening the experience for all parties involved.

The common conception of plots that is followed in this matter is the one inspired by the books and movies that we love, summarized in the words of the simple phrase "The bigger the better." Without discrediting either, the approach they take simply can't be ported over to MU*s, as both are deviced by a single entity, who has absolute control over the characters in their world. The delusion that one has any control of similar level over the PCs of any given MU* is quickly shattered as soon as one tries to take one's plot ideas from theory to practice.

However, the inherit flaw in this approach -- the one that it simply doesn't work as well as in any book or movie -- becomes obvious only after a certain amount of time, when a certain number of plots of the "Bigger & Better" kind have been run -- whether these were successful or not doesn't affect this long-time effect. At one point, players will inevitably get bored -- not all, but those that have been through similar plots before.

The result is what could be called the Hero Syndrome: it almost looks like day in, day out, they're doing nothing but saving their homeworld / the worlds of their allies / the galaxy as a whole -- been there, down that, overcame the odds. There's not much fascination here any more, little enthusiams to spur, few to no new roleplaying experience. The players develop a dislike of plots, and stay away from them in favour of their "homecrafted" RP -- a dislike that I, as I have to admit, would call healthy.

What this trend yields are two major things:
1.) Unhappy staffers: people will still participate in their plots, but they will be less, and often their hearts won't be in it. In turn, they will either begin to put less effort into their plots, or try to top the last attempt with an event of even bigger scale -- and obviously, they will run into problems down the road.
2.) Disgruntled players: they will begin to see plots as something mandatory and trite, not as something that they can or would enjoy. Thus they will participate in as few plots as they can manage, try to get over with those that they can't avoid as fast as possible, and there goes our vicious circle.

I'll be the first not to credit me with the ability to run the perfect plot; in fact, I don't trust my ability to run plots at all to be beyond a mediocre level -- it would be hubris to claim that I, of all people, have the panacea for this problem. What I have, though, are observations that I've made; mostly from the player side of things, but also from the position of the uninvolved staffer, and I'd like to share those in the hope that it'll help.

The major thing that my experience tells me is that the fewer people the plot plans to involve, the smoother it will go -- and it's rarely a problem to work additional people into your frame if they should get involved. (Impromptu changes to one's initial plans are the plot-running staffer's best friend, after all.) The less players you have to take care of, the closer you can get to them and the more personal the roleplay becomes.

If you plan for "close-encounter" roleplay from the beginning, the scenes you get will be of greater intensity than usual, though they need not necessarily be full of suspense in the classic "action movie" definition.

This kind of plot also has a lot of positive things in stock for the players -- for one thing, they have something to tell other people about ICly, without the others going "Oh yeah, I was there too." It gives them more uniqueness of character, more ground for their character development, more depth and more history than a string of save-the-world plots, no matter how well these might be run.
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Old 06-13-2002, 06:28 PM   #2
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Sidenote:I am a player and am speaking as one on this matter.

First I will say that there are some who like the large plots and such. My personal thoughts on plots as a player, especially the large ones is the idea that if my character finds a way to become involved with it, that is great. Yet if he doesn't, that doesn't really bother me either. The reason: When I RP my focus is on the character and their story. While aware of enough theme to know what I am doing within the MU*, I do not try to know every detail that has ever occurred in the MU* to date for everyplace. I try to get the history I can on the places I do RP my characters being from, but I play from a personal perspective, looking at each character and asking what they would want, not what I want to contribute to the plot as a player (and I do enjoy contributing, when it is ICly appropriate.)

In the end I do think that smaller plots intrigue those like myself a little more. As always, though, it depends what kind of RP one prefers.
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Old 06-13-2002, 06:59 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by (Yev @ June 13 2002,11:28 pm)
My personal thoughts on plots as a player, especially the large ones is the idea that if my character finds a way to become involved with it, that is great. Yet if he doesn't, that doesn't really bother me either.
I agree. I don't disparage arc-like plots at all, but I have seen problems turn up if people attempt to turn a TinyPlot into, let's call it, a LargePlot -- and especially if they do so multiple times.

What my initial and by far biggest problem with the matter at hand is, though, is that a fair amount of people in staffer positions are misled in their belief that you can run a plot like you can tell a story. That is not the case, and will never be.

A common misconception involves stories, it would seem. Many places (such as the one I hail from) sport descriptions featuring a phrase such as "interactive storylines". This is a nice-sounding catchphrase for advertising, I will admit -- and it's a wrong assumption. Stories aren't, at their very core, interactive; thus exists the term "storyline" -- meaning a straight narratory line that connects a beginning with an end. Without a doubt the way from one point to the other can be very exciting -- but it is not in any way interactive.

MU*s /want/ interaction, however. That is what they are all about, after all. Therefore, the staffers need to eradicate the concept of stories from their minds. Never think of yourself as a storyteller, if you do you're already going down the wrong road. You're not a "teller" of anything, not, not, and never. You're much more like a billiard player: you set the balls in motion, and then watch it go until it needs your input again. Even good billiard players can't directly control the balls in the game; what they do is they learn how to handle their cue with such exactness that they can foretell where which ball will go; and even then, a chance event can always interfere.

Staffers should think of their relation to the players as being roughly similar: you give them something to act on, some initial amount of energy, trying to get them to go in a certain direction -- but you can never expect being able to steer their course. If the situation you end up with is not what you planned when you cue the first ball into motion -- work with that instead. It doesn't help anyone if the staffer running a plot suddenly sulks about players "not doing what they are supposed to do" -- it especially doesn't help the plot.
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Old 06-13-2002, 07:25 PM   #4
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So far I've found the only way to create plots in which players truly immerse themselves is to not create them at all. Let the players do it all for themselves. A good robust implementation of feudalism is always good for this purpose. Balance castles so they can be taken by clever attackers, yet have them provide tangible benefits that encourage players to attempt to keep them. Done right, you'll see massive political maneuvering, backstabbing, and all that good stuff. The plot is completely immersive for the players because they are the ones creating it.

Unless the players have full creative control of an ongoing plot, they will never be truly immersed, as they feel that their actions/decisions do not really affect the outcome. Many MUDs use goblin/orc/dragon raids on towns as plot devices from time to time. The problem with this is that the players are never truly immersed for one very important reason. The consequences of action/inaction are the same. If the players decide to just move on to the next town and buy some ale, will the besieged town be destroyed? No. At some point or other someone else will kill the baddies, or, if he/she's had enough fun, the imm responsible dests all the monsters and its back to business as usual.

imm-introduced plots can be fun diversions, but true immersion is only possible if the players are in charge, and their actions have real consequences. Plots should never be written out as a story, as that implies predetermined outcomes.
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Old 06-14-2002, 09:39 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by (thelenian @ June 14 2002,12:25 am)
Let the players do it all for themselves. ...  The plot is completely immersive for the players because they are the ones creating it.

Unless the players have full creative control of an ongoing plot, they will never be truly immersed, as they feel that their actions/decisions do not really affect the outcome.
I have no frame of reference as to how smoothly your suggestion can run, coming from a MUSH rather than a MUD, although I would agree on the general concept of letting players take control. In a MUSH this appears to be harder to a certain extent, however, as they do not tend to be as heavily coded as most MUDs I've seen.
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Old 06-18-2002, 09:21 PM   #6
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I am in total harmony with the logic of thelenian.

It is a common error of admin to get involved in all aspects of a game. In many cases the admin look at their game more as a zoo rather than a living entity that can and usually does outgrow their singularity. In short there comes a point when the world they create obtains its own life and they must have enough foresight to realize this will occur and enough perception to know when that moment does occur.

Now many will say release of the reins will send the chariot racing off the track, however, with a well set up story, and a stable group of players, all things eventually work themselves out. There are always these steps:

- the blood wars (when PK is at its peak)
- the will of the strong (when bullies rule)
- the awakening (when the weak rally)
- the reckoning (when the weak learn to fight)
- the calm (when all resort to a more docile life)
- the rainbow (a time of glorious roleplay)

Then it rinses and repeats usually. However, the process is awesomely accurate and beautiful to watch.

...
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Old 06-18-2002, 11:23 PM   #7
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Chap, you never cease to amaze me when you write.  Well said.  I agree totally with your last statement.


Cheers!
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Old 06-18-2002, 11:48 PM   #8
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I think you can - and should - have a healthy mix of staff-generated and player-generated activity.

As a staffer, I've found the downside of creating all the RP to be quite simple: Either you drive the players nuts or you make them dependent on admin-powered activities.

As a staffer, I've found the downside of leaving all the RP to players to be quite simple as well: Many will complain about being bored, nothing going on.

Now, granted, there are the rare self-starters who will zoom off and do their own thing. I love folks like this. People who run their own space stations and develop their own plots around them, only tugging the sleeve of an admin when they need something special. Of course, eventually, that type of person usually ends up being a staffer before long .

In my own game, I've tried to design it to work like chain lightning, with the players as the conductors. We throw situations and staff-played characters into the mix and watch and see how players handle it. Then we react to their reactions through the story. Then they react to that. And so on.

When it all wraps up, it should be more a collaborative effort than the vision of a single individual.
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Old 06-19-2002, 12:21 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by (Brody @ June 18 2002,10:48 pm)
In my own game, I've tried to design it to work like chain lightning, with the players as the conductors. We throw situations and staff-played characters into the mix and watch and see how players handle it. Then we react to their reactions through the story. Then they react to that. And so on.

When it all wraps up, it should be more a collaborative effort than the vision of a single individual.
Im curious, does this cause confusion, or a feeling of being overwhelmed as you try to contain the game when so to speak, when the chain lightning strikes? Having stable players as conductors is a bonus, of course. But i doubt all muds can boast that.

Where im mudding currently, this not an issue, but i have been on muds where chaos reigns and plots and storylines get lost, muddled or forgotten in the process. Wash and rinse too much and your colors fade, heh. But really, can that loss be prevented? Do you pull reigns if they go nuts as a staff member or just let them run with it all? How involved do you get?

Sorry you sparked a ton of questions in me
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Old 06-19-2002, 01:55 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by
KYRIE POSTS: Im curious, does this cause confusion, or a feeling of being overwhelmed as you try to contain the game when so to speak, when the chain lightning strikes? Having stable players as conductors is a bonus, of course. But i doubt all muds can boast that.

Where im mudding currently, this not an issue, but i have been on muds where chaos reigns and plots and storylines get lost, muddled or forgotten in the process. Wash and rinse too much and your colors fade, heh. But really, can that loss be prevented? Do you pull reigns if they go nuts as a staff member or just let them run with it all? How involved do you get?
As an RP-oriented MUD grows, there's always the danger of spreading people (and storylines) too thin.

When I first started OtherSpace, because it was an original theme coming out of my head, I kept a pretty tight hold on the reins. No one else knew the races, worlds and histories as well as I did, and I felt fairly protective of the storylines.

But as the experienced playerbase grew, and the veteran players became staffers and storycrafters in their own right, I could gradually ease up on the reins and let staffers run with their own stories.

There have been times I let players take things too far and should have stepped in, but didn't: The destruction of La Terre comes immediately to mind.

More recently, I have done things like step in and offered polite-the-scenes urging to staffers who, as an example, happened to be running similar invading-alien-of-the-month style plots. These plots were good, taken individually, but because they started running parallel, they generated quite a bit of OOC gnashing of teeth among players who were tired of dealing with The Latest Alien Conflict plots. When it ceases to be special and becomes a chore, it's time to step back and re-evaluate the benefits of a plot. Luckily, I've got a pretty cool staff, and when I make that kind of request, they find ways to throttle back and make it work ICly.

Beyond that, if you don't set out to tell a hugely complicated story, it shouldn't overwhelm the participants - although it can feel as though it might spin out of control at any time. And the players caught up in those stories, I think, should feel that edge-of-the-cliff sensation. Even if you have the most fundamental, world-changing storyline in mind for an arc, it needs to have a fairly easy-to-grasp handle for people to grab - and for you, as the crafter of the plot, to grab down the road and keep ushering the story down its proper path.

Now, this doesn't mean to dominate the course of the story, but it does mean helping to keep the story moving and to set the appropriate tone. I do this a lot with IC news posts that get broadcast throughout the galaxy, as various worlds, leaders, political scientists, etcetera, expound on the latests events. This often gives players more fodder to spin RP off of, lets them decide where they stand about any given issue involved in the storyline, and it gives me a chance to revisit the central threads of my plot fairly easily.

With OtherSpace, I've found the problem isn't so much in overwhelming people as keeping them conscious of the central issues. If you've got a means for providing news - and making that news matter to the people who inhabit your world - then you've got an essential ingredient for maintaining story continuity and a sense of life in your RP MUD without necessarily seizing control of every aspect of the story.
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Old 06-19-2002, 05:35 AM   #11
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Now many will say release of the reins will send the chariot racing off the track, however, with a well set up story, and a stable group of players, all things eventually work themselves out. There are always these steps:

- the blood wars (when PK is at its peak)
- the will of the strong (when bullies rule)
- the awakening (when the weak rally)
- the reckoning (when the weak learn to fight)
- the calm (when all resort to a more docile life)
- the rainbow (a time of glorious roleplay)

Then it rinses and repeats usually. However, the process is awesomely accurate and beautiful to watch.

--Chapel
That is actually some very perceptive analysis. I've been playing on DartMUD for just a tad under a decade, and I've witnessed something very similar to that cycle repeat several times, though (using your colorful terminology ), it usually follows this pattern:

- The blood wars
- The will of the strong
- The calm (The ruling party completely dominates the land, making resistance impossible)
- The rainbow (great RP results from the calm, politics begin to brew, the next generation begins to train...)
- The reckoning (politics boil over, the younger generation has grown strong, those in power have grown complacent)

Things will repeat through that cycle over and over, while dynasties rise and fall in a sort of metacycle.

So far we've had:
1) The House of War (circa 1996)
2) The House of Fergus (circa 1998)
3) The Alliance (for lack of a better name... people got smart, and nobody wants to take "credit", as the leaders get assassinated first) (present)

All of these things have been 100% player-run, and have dominated the RP of the MUD for 6 years now. Having played many of the better RP MUDs, I can honestly say that nothing gives you the same feeling as when you know that you and the other players involved are in complete undisputed control of the ongoing plot. The course of the MUD literally hinges on whether or not you make a clean assassination, whether your trusted informer, who told you where and when to make the kill, is really a double-agent... Maybe you're the overlord in power, and suspect a rebellion is at hand... should you send your house knight, one of the deadliest assassins in the land, to "take care" of the suspected leader? Do you want to risk turning him into a matyr? Killing him really is for the best, isn't it?... or have you turned into the power-hungry dictator he accuses you of being? These are the things that drive truly immersive RP - Things that the players can grok because they are the ones that have caused it to come about.
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