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Articles Section
Them's Fighting Words

Does this sound like a "namby-pamby" game to you?

One character got folded to death inside a shuttle seat. Three died as victims of phantom killers only they could say. Another had his face and tongue eaten by a nanosculpting mask.

Characters have been shredded by flechette pistols. Irradiated. Dosed with corrosive fishy reproductive fluid. Executed by soldiers. Murdered by gangsters. Decapitated in the arena. Disemboweled by a reptiloid Nall. Blown up. Run over. Shot. Stabbed. Electrocuted by datapads.

So, this guest logs on at OtherSpace and asks if we've got skills that let you force another player to "run around like a chicken with its head cut off." We explain that, yes, we've got a mind control skill. If you roll a higher mind control skill against the target and the target can't beat that with a willpower or mind shield roll, then you win, and the victim has to do what you want. But, it's not automated. You need a referee to observe the rolls, determine any necessary modifiers and make sure the situation is handled fairly.

"Not enough player interaction," the newbie complains before going off to find another game - hopefully with an automated system, adding the parting shot: "None of this namby-pamby stuff."

Well, first of all, how much player interaction is involved in an automated system that lets Ted type "mindcontrol Bob" and forces Bob to do your bidding? *Inter*action implies action between two people. Taking over Bob's mind is likely to be fun for Ted, but not Bob. In the MUSHing world, we call it powergaming, and it's not considered a good thing.

Second, how is it "namby-pamby" just because we don't have combat set up to yield victory to the player with the fastest macro?

In my opinion, refereed combat maximizes player interaction and generally ensures fairness. It is more work-intensive for the staff, but in a roleplaying-focused environment, it's probably the best approach.

Automated combat certainly has its place, and I've seen some excellent systems on more player-killing oriented games.

But in a shared story, where participants are asked to invest effort and thought into their character before hitting the grid, they don't deserve to have their work cheapened by a coded system.

From a storytelling perspective, refereed and posed combat has worked out far better for us. Players still get to make their own taskrolls with modifiers (positive or negative) supplied by the referee based on the circumstances. An automated system won't always take into account that Player A is trying to shield himself behind a table or that Player B has fallen flat on his back.

A referee, like an old-fashioned tabletop game master, can do more to ensure fairness, mediate disputes and keep the action rolling in poses and dialogues during such scenes.

Yes, human referees will make mistakes. They'll make questionable calls. But think about this: If the NFL did away with referees, teams would never get hit with penalties. Go ahead, field thirteen, fourteen, even fifteen men. Make a late hit? Why not! Pass interference? Knock yourself out.

Where PK is common and RP is secondary or even undesirable, automated combat is fine. But if you hope to grow a player base for a serious intensive roleplaying game, you must be able to provide a level of comfort to both pure roleplayers and action gamers alike, and find the happiest medium possible.

OtherSpace - and many other games like it without automated combat - isn't "namby-pamby." Actions have consequences. People get hurt. They die. We don't protect people from their character's - or their own - foolishness. Sometimes, our staffers get criticized for being too harsh in doling out IC consequences.

But I've noticed the players on the receiving end of those consequences don't make the same mistakes twice - and may actually serve as object lessons for others.

Wes Platt, known online as Brody, is the creator of OtherSpace: The Interactive SF Saga, which can be found at He is the author of OtherSpace: Revolutions, now available through the Spacers Store at He also moderates the Top MUD Sites roleplaying forum at and the Theater of the ‘Net discussion area at Send email to

Part 18 - Don't Forget the Cat