In planning the creation of this game, we have theorized that several elements play key roles in the life of any story, especially those that happen to also be a cooperative gaming environment. The storyteller’s style, the believability and sense of realism of his story, and the depth of the characters who play the parts all contribute to the story’s power and effectiveness.
In that light, we’ve come up with a list of guiding principles that can help when making design decisions about the game.
Story Comes First
The first of these principles is that we wish the world of FaerieMUD to be a world of story. We are no longer entertained or challenged by online games which cast the character in some sort of mercenary role, in which, no matter one’s profession, the only way to succeed in the game is to run about murdering everything. There is no heroism in pointless bloodshed, especially for something as trivial as “experience points”. That’s not to say that there won’t be murder and conflict, but it must be possible to adopt a policy of avoiding such conflict and still be successful in furthering your character’s agenda in the world.
To accomplish this, we’ll need to rethink the entire mechanism of what it means to progress and develop, and follow some heuristics when coming up with the mechanisms of gameplay:
- Mechanisms that contribute to the story-worthiness of the world should be preferred to those that make the game easier to play, make it more accessible to casual gamers, or are prerequisites of any pre-existing financial model.
- Prefer systems which reward players that contribute back to the Story through good roleplaying, creativity, and orthogonal thinking.
- Resist any mechanism that detracts from the malleability and impermanence of the world. A story is an artifact of the world changing over time in reaction to the events which occur within it.
Maintain Suspension of Disbelief
Part of a story’s appeal is its power to transport the members of its audience to another reality, and FaerieMUD should be no different. Any story which seeks to do this must, at all times, maintain the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The game will need to present a compelling, immersive environment, with as few reminders as possible that you’re interacting with a computer.
As a part of this immersive environment, there will be no view into the internal mechanics and calculations of the game from within it at any time. This means that there will be no score, no “hit points”, no character attribute lists, no friend lists, and generally no visible statistics of any kind. This doesn’t mean that it will be impossible to track your progress or monitor your health. It means that you will have to rely on your own skills or the skills of others to do so. To accurately assess your health (beyond how your character feels, that is) will require the advice of a physician or healer, unless you yourself have such skills. To measure your improvement in swordsmanship (beyond simply observing your increased success), you must seek out the advice of a mentor or trainer, who has learned with the mastery of her art how to comparatively gauge the skills of those who use it.
Limits Are Interesting
In support of both the Suspension Of Disbelief and Story Comes First principles, the game world will not take for granted the removal of limitations imposed by reality, as such limitations are often important contributing factors to both realism and interesting stories.
An example of this is the lack of unlimited omniscient communication. In many online roleplaying games, the player has access to a set of ‘channels’ which can be used to communicate among characters from any location in the world. Communication is vitally important to almost every aspect of a game, and to allow it to be taken for granted not only makes it more difficult to suspend one’s disbelief in the world and communicate as players, but also eliminates a game dynamic which leads to much more social contact and roleplaying.
This is not to say that communication over distance is disallowed. Magical (telepathy, projection), physical (flags, smoke signals, drums, messengers, carrier wyverns), or other realistic means of long-distance communication should definitely be possible, but with all the cost, risk, and potential for miscommunication that go along with them.
The lack of resources like food, water, shelter, tools, and other such things which are usually taken for granted by other games should not be glossed over, either. The dearth of these were what caused our forefathers to gather together in groups, pooling their resources, and it’s what led to language, ethics, philosophy, religion, justice, war, and hundreds of other social conventions and mechanisms which are the core elements of nearly every story ever told. Stories themselves began as a mechanism for passing institutional knowledge to future members of one’s tribe, so to remove the need for social institutions is to deprive the game of the very reason for its existance.
Another thing that will distinguish FaerieMUD from other games is limited character control. Characters in our world will not be mindless automatons; they will be only mostly controlled by the player who is at his controls. Characters will be affected by emotion, fatigue, injury, and even their own moral dilemmas, all of which have the potential for causing the character to do something other than what the player has commanded. For instance, a character may flee in terror instead of holding his ground, refuse to harm someone he is charmed by, or spontaneously kiss someone he is attracted to, or burst into tears when he is frustrated. This will mean that a character’s attributes will not just be a simple measure of how competent she is at combat, but also how well she can control her reaction to events around her, how well she can craft new items, and how affected she is by her internal emotional state.
Everything Obeys The Rules
As part of the Suspension of Disbelief principle, our world must maintain a self-consistent environment. The world must have basic laws, and that it must rigidly follow those laws which govern it in every detail of its existence. Every object in the world must be a real object, not just a footnote in the description of another object. If you are in a meadow, and you see a rock, you should be able to pick it up, examine it in detail, write a message on it, and then bring it with you to some other place.
An example of where this will be used is in the modelling of magic. The land, and every object in it, will be capable of containing magical energy, and magical effects are generated by harnessing and altering this power through rituals. There will be room for many different kinds of magic, each with its own philosophy of how magic should be used and accessed, but they will all be governed by the same metamagical rules. These rules allow the construction of spells which are deterministic, built out of components of action which serve as a kind of magical vocabulary. This will allow the modification of existing spells and discovery of new ones by experimentation, and will also serve to assure that magical systems remain balanced.
Everyone Is A Participant
Online roleplaying games have, for the most part, relegated the game’s creators to purely administrative roles. This, in our experience, leads to creators who are out of touch with the their creation, and who are generally unsympathetic to the plight of players with mere mortal characters. In order to avoid this, content-creation will be integrated into the player experience from the beginning, and creating parts of the world will also be part of the world’s story. Creation myths are, after all, an important part of religions and societies. Players who progress far enough will perhaps gain abilities which cause them to be regarded as immortals or deities, but their status as such will in no way hinder their ability to interact with the world in whatever way they choose, and hopefully thereby be a better contributor to game play.
Immortals will not be omnipotent, however, because absolute power tends to breed tyrants (and Limits Are Interesting). All immortal actions will be governed by the same skill system as other players, albeit with a larger set of skills to choose from. Players who have become immortal will have new commands at their disposal, but like the mortal abilities, they are subject to the same chances for failure, require the expenditure of energy, and improve with use.