Persistence of Action and Space
In some MUDs, 24 hours a day, I can walk through the city of Midgaard and encounter the brutish city guards who keep order. If I do something wrong, they're around to beat the snot out of me, until such time as I exceed them in strength and I get the chance to return the favor and snatch their armor and weapons.
Many MUDs enjoy this sort of self-policing aspect, which gives a feeling of persistence, authority and limits for lower-level players: You know you can't get away with something when those guards are around. However, there's an expectation that comes with the absence of those guards. The expectation that you can get away with just about anything.
It's fairly common to find newcomers to a roleplaying game walking through an unlocked door, gathering up items that belong to another player, and then walking out again. When confronted about it, they say: "The door was unlocked. No guards stopped me. If I'm not allowed to do it, I shouldn't be able to do it." To which I reply: "You're allowed to do it and you're able to do it, so long as you call on a staffer to referee the break-in, give the other player a chance to catch you in the act, and accept any negative consequences that might arise from your actions."
New roleplayers must learn that our games rely much less on automated self-policing and more on the effectiveness of IC consequences for IC actions. If you get caught stealing, your character may face criminal charges.
They must learn that they can't assume that just because no players are in a room, then no characters are around. The actual players represent a small percentage of the actual world population. Many intangible characters, known as non-player characters, also must be taken into account.
That goes for crowds on city streets, guards on military bases, starship traffic around a planet: Even if you don't always see it shoved in your face, these elements exist within the fiction of the game universe.
If you break into someone's apartment, expect to have to roll your stealth skill to avoid detection by the NPC neighbors, who might call the NPC cops, who will surely show up to arrest you. That's the nature of the roleplaying beast. But, you may protest, my character's not a thief! Well, I'd reply, your character just entered someone else's home and took someone else's property without someone else's permission. That, my friend, is the definition of a thief.
"But my character didn't take the item. I did!" <-- And here we go, the player failing to distinguish between the human at the keyboard and the character on the screen. Dispute it all you want, but if you're taking a gun from someone's IC apartment and letting your character have the weapon, then your character benefits from the act and therefore should bear the potential consequences for committing the act. In other words, if you steal something, you're a thief. If you're not a thief, don't go wandering into someone's home. Don't take their stuff.
Newcomers also must learn that rooms have size, space, dimension: Just because you walk into a room occupied by another player doesn't mean you magically appear next to that player or that you even notice them. Many times, I've seen a new player pop into a tavern where characters are sitting at a table engaged in their own private conversation and the newcomer just barges into the conversation.
Don't do that.
Instead, first allow the people already in the room to provide you with a scenepose: A pose that illustrates what the characters are doing, whether they're readily visible, and whether it seems wise to approach them.
Then, if they're readily visible and you feel inclined to approach them, pose doing so. Get their attention and proceed. But, remember, as with so many other things in a roleplaying game, your actions may yield unexpected consequences. Be careful who you interrupt.
- Online storyteller Wes Platt runs three games - OtherSpace, Chiaroscuro and Reach of the Empire - under the umbrella of jointhesaga.com. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.