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The Roleplayer's Redoubt

Is there a really place for roleplaying in MMOs? What do roleplayers bring to the table? How can developers foster stronger roleplaying communities? How do traditional concepts fit into the realities of contemporary online roleplaying?

Author: OddjobXL

Creative Vanity: What SWTOR Needs To Know

Posted by OddjobXL Monday July 25 2011 at 7:59AM
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Back when I started this rodeo back in February of 2009, I talked about the keys to immersion.  How to create MMOs that help roleplayers enjoy the illusion that this world, and their characters, are more real than not.

http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/OddjobXL/022009/3374_On-Immersion

SWTOR appears to get as almost much right as wrong but that's a column for another day.   What I'd like to focus on now is the importance of customization and cosmetic elements.  In the terms of my "On Immersion" entry we're looking at an important subset of Control (being able to do things you should be able to do).

Bioware hasn't quite caught on to the idea that player characters belong to players.  Some of this, I'm sure, is part of their fairly aggressive "fourth pillar" approach to MMO design.  They want everything to be perfect so nothing disrupts the stories they want to tell about their, not your, characters.  One gets the sense that SWTOR might well be MMOdom's answer to Auntie Lydia's living room where nothing is ever to be touched or played with.  Only to be gazed upon and admired.

For roleplayers this can present a bit of a problem.  We're fairly aggressive ourselves about wanting our characters to be our own creations, to have their own unique stories play out dynamically, and we tend to be very proud of our own creativity when it comes to achieving those goals.

Among us are those who want to be able to creatively express themselves in music or dance (SWG and LoTRO), to decorate sets/locations to suit our characters or some other personal story related end (SWG), to design adventures using the game mechanics to create story arcs for friends (SWG, CoH, STO and Ryzom).  Roleplayers, at least once they've got a little experience under their belts, are first and foremost creative talents.  We've been spoiled just enough to believe some developers care about our needs and aren't quite as appeased, anymore, by merely sitting around and making with the text chat.

While there are many issues here the basic one, the bellweather, is the need for cosmetic clothing or an Appearance Tab.  This is fundamental.  Roleplayers need to be able to design a unique look for their characters and it can't be dependant on statted items.  It doesn't matter that we can swap out some mechanically good items for some substandard but aesthetically pleasing ones by hand.  We need to be able to establish and define a consistant look.  It needs to be available 24/7.   Ideally we'd have even more than one cosmetic look available as in LoTRO and STO.

Right up there with being able to define the features of a character is being able to describe how he looks on your own terms.  If we're running around in crap we have to wear because it's effective, even part of the time, that's part of the time we're seriously not happy with our characters.  Making us love our characters seems to be Bioware's goal but their error is thinking that only they know best.  That they should define our character's, and companion's, looks and stories from top to bottom.

Actually, my friends, the customer is always right.  We're not all drooling idiots and most of us have been around long enough to know how to ignore the drooling idiots without the oversight of an authoritarian storyteller.  Just don't let people run around in underwear.  Don't make chef's hats.  We'll take it from there.

World o Darkness Online: Commentaries II

Posted by OddjobXL Thursday October 7 2010 at 9:20AM
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Continued thoughts about WoDo taken from my posts elsewhere.

"There's a difference between the role of combat in a somewhat structured tabletop campaign and the role combat would play when driven by players that live for nothing more than combat in an MMO. Developers sometimes imagine rather elaborate ways PvP can help drive a narrative or feel thematic but it always comes down to just a big old football game and little more.

In some ways the struggle between RPers and PvPers is the age old struggle between nerds and jocks. Some folks like geeky things like roleplaying or reading for fun and some folks just like busting heads and scoring points. It's not a perfect analogy, of course. Some of the best hardcore roleplayers I know are active duty military personnel who have zero patience with the behavior of some in the PvP community and some of the best hardcore PvPers are stereotypical pencil-necks who act out their power fantasies through inflicting pain on others in PvP games.

Then there are the PvP-RPers who are pretty small subset but tend to be very cool folks. They just love competition every bit as much as creativity and are willing to put up with stuff other roleplayers simply won't hang around for. Still, they've been the bridge in some games that bring balance. There are just too few of 'em."

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"The usual stuff developers think appeal to female gamers, the Sims aspects for example, also tend to appeal to roleplayers. Solid costuming options, customizable characters and housing, emotes, networking tools to help in-game socializing, etc.

Many of the most important leaders in the roleplaying communities of both LoTRO and SWG are female. I don't know the CoH roleplaying scene well enough to comment there but I wouldn't be surprised if it's the same story."

---------------------------------------------------------------

"How common are roleplayers? Well, I think we're really damn common but MMOs have a pretty bad reputation as crappy places for roleplaying in most communities. Many roleplayers in games like WoW, for example, don't even bother roleplaying. They just play the game straight up.

But here are a couple facts which explain why roleplayers are an important minority as it is:

1) Virtue, Landroval and Starsider. Look at the numbers playing there. They were all named unofficial RP servers before the launches of their respective games. They all are in the top three population wise, have visible cadres of people openly roleplaying, and Starsider is actually the most populated server in SWG.

2) We love stuff. I'll bet if you check on who bought the ten copies that sold of the Eve novel you'll find everyone who bought a copy was either a roleplayer or a member of the author's family. We buy books and comics and posters, we buy knick knacks, we buy extra accounts, we pile into stores for cosmetic items or pets or more storage space. We collect, we horde, and we display our hard won, or easily bought, plumage off for the masses.

3) We make our own content. There are communities on SWG that are so burrowed in on Starsider, and so tightly, it's going to take FEMA to get them out when that game finally closes down. SWG sucks, in pure game terms. If it were a singleplayer game who'd ever spend time there? But the roleplaying community keeps on rolling with events, storylines, gossip, planning, chatting.

This is why we matter. And at this point in time MMOs still are terrible vehicles for real roleplaying. Imagine what could happen if that changed."

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http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/arch...525.php?page=4

"What this study doesn't show me is the difference on assorted MMOs. On some the proportion of regular roleplayers is likely to be higher than 20% and on others lower. I'd also be curious if the study had asked why the majority of people who weren't regular roleplayers (60%), but had tried it, didn't keep roleplaying.

It wouldn't surprise me if the problems were structural. They like roleplaying but couldn't find roleplaying they liked in the game they're currently in, for example. Roleplaying isn't something most folks just try for the hell of it, usually they like the idea but find it just isn't working the way they thought it should or would or don't know how, or have the time to, find folks with similar ideas and approaches.

Twenty percent is a very big chunk of folks in general though. That's the base of any political party right there."

World of Darkness Online: Commentaries I

Posted by OddjobXL Thursday October 7 2010 at 8:40AM
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These are just a collections of comments yours truly has made in the wake of the announcement of World of Darkness Online.  I'm sticking them here for later reference and for your feedback now.  This has the potential to be a very revolutionary development in MMO design that's to roleplayers and socializers what Eve Online is to PvPers and achievers.  Maybe.  But CCP's flown in the face of conventional wisdom before and White Wolf once overthrew conventional wisdom about what a roleplaying game could be.

-------------------------------------------------

"While it wasn't obvious at the time, eventually, entertainer players (in SWG) ended up being the kinds of players who enjoy being around people and actually entertaining them. So they ended up being the ones who'd organize events, help other Player Associations with their own events, end up as the OOC nexus for loosely organized RP storylines between multiple cliques, and so on.

Some people just like roleplaying or socializing and it's easier to do in an MMO than IRL for many of us due to time constraints or geographical issues. Or they just like the graphical nature of MMOs."

"I can also point to Virtue and Landroval as other examples of servers where the RP/social population was a draw as games aged. These are both consistantly among the most populated in CoH and LoTRO respectively."

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"Permadeath can work but only in a small group context, like a MUD or MUSH, and then it can still be perilous without a consent rule.  On one hand, Permadeath actually can reduce random fighting and silliness because folks often don't want to lose their characters."

"I've also seen grudges play themselves out that decimate entire MUSH populations to the point folks are so pissed about losing favorite characters they just quit en masse. Eventually, consent comes into play which is essentially a rule about character ownership and prop control. You can't do anything to my character or places/items associated with my character without my permission."

--------------------------------------------------

http://www.justinachilli.com/journal/2010/9/29/kindred-and-computers.html

"Now what he could be hinting at would be that the app itself would interact with Facebook or twitter feeds so characters themselves could act through real, existing, social medial outlets as fully fledged individuals.

This I find a little more intriguing. Social butterfly characters could create ads for events on Facebook, people could sign up, Coterie/guild leaders might run twitters for their fellows to keep up with events rather than falling back on old school guild forum portals and the like.

I think that's probably a natural evolution of MMOs and makes sense particularly given the contemporary setting (it seems) of WoD Online. "

-----------------------------------------------------

"This is why I much favor SWG's old Storyteller system (over CoH's Architect) as clunky as it was. Folks could put together adventures that involved much more live interaction and freedom to improvise than the highly scripted, limited and solely combat focused scenarios in CoH's Architect.

Storyteller's interface was, charitably, ass. But folks still grapple with it for the benefits it offers. One other notable advantage is that SWG's Storyteller actually cost time and credits to use. There were no rewards for building scenarios or playing them. So you didn't get the glut of "farming" missions that choked Architect and, to this day, drove many players to revile it so heartily.

If someone was breaking out SWG's Storyteller it was to tell a story or design an event space. Period. It offered no other benefit. That seems benefit enough for the kinds of folk you actually want designing adventures and running campaigns."

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"The question is, can you really translate that fragile and complex web of relationships into MMO dynamics without just creating just another flavor of PvP mosh pit?

How do you get players who, for the most part, aren't going to be all that sophisticated and clever acting like manipulative and wily vampires rather than superthugs with guns and mutant powers and an excuse to use them on each other, lots?

I'm admittedly skeptical about PvP after my experiences with how it impacts and warps the flavor of established IPs. Once you get the PvPers in the forums whining 24/7 about play balance, nerfs and buffs, on that eternal lobbying tear for more PvP oriented gameplay (regardless of at what expense it might come)...other considerations just seem to melt away.

It tore the hell out of SWG as the whole overarching conflict between the scrappy Rebels and all-powerful evil Empire was reduced to packs of gangbangers just running around and blasting each other. In Conan where you'd think PvP would fit the setting, they somehow overlooked the fact that even Howard's characters PvPed for actual reasons, not just sadistic malice or ladder rankings. Only in Lord of The Rings Online, with its monster-play approach (shoving PvP off stage entirely as an optional side activity), did a designer manage to do a decent job of preserving the flavor and identity of its core IP.

Sure, there's plenty of violence and action in Vampire: The Masquerade. But there's usually not only a point to it but a narrative purpose it serves. PvP rarely cares about such niceties. Words are just words that one fast forwards through to get on to the bashing-each-other-over-the-head-with-rocks portion of the evening.

Eve Online probably had the most meaningful PvP but it also has probably the lowest number of roleplayers per capita of any MMORPG I've ever played. They're good ones but they are very, very, few. I don't think it's just the lack of avatars that's the issue."

Noticed: Terry Gilliam Interview

Posted by OddjobXL Monday December 28 2009 at 8:35AM
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I don't know if anyone's still reading this thing.  I've been very tardy in adding new posts for over half a year now.  Real life's gotten busy and complicated.  First there was a family emergency, very bad news, and then my temporary part time status at work ended and I was full time again, very good news.  Both happened around the same time and have conspired to keep me from posting with the frequency I'd have preferred.

However I saw this interview today and thought it was worthy of Notice.  MMO designers and roleplayers might well enjoy this interview with Terry Gilliam at Salon:

"I suspect Parnassus may be a liar. Maybe everything he says in there is a lie. It's about ego: He and his monks are telling the eternal story that keeps the universe going. It's about him! And then he discovers, 'Oh, other stories are just as important as my story.'

That's all we live on, is story. What is 24-hour news? Most of it is story. It's invented. You have to fill 24 hours of shit, and there just isn't that much news. So you create stories, and they can be anything. That's what I'm trying to say: We live on that. It gives form to our lives. It gives form to everything, whether it's a good story or a bad story. People talk about journalism as factual. I think it's fictional, or at least half of it is."

" To me, telling stories about stories, it's trying to get people to think. At the heart of everything I'm doing is trying to get people to think, and to encourage those who have the capability of thinking to say, "Oh, I'm not alone. We can play in there." Sometimes it happens the first time the films come out, and sometimes it takes years. More often than not my films play better the second time you see them. The first time you say, "What was that?" I'd like to think I'm modern, I'm part of the DVD generation. You can watch my films over and over again and you'll find something new. It doesn't help the opening-weekend box office, necessarily. [Laughter.]"

http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/the_imaginarium_of_doctor_parnassus/index.html?story=/ent/movies/andrew_ohehir/2009/12/25/gilliam

 

Do you think there are "thinking people" out there in MMO land?   Can MMOs wrap gameplay and narrative together in ways that challenge us to think a little bit and have fun at the same time?  Or would any such attempt be doomed to Gilliamism?   If so, is that really a doom at all?

Fallen Earth: FPS MMO Roleplaying?

Posted by OddjobXL Monday May 4 2009 at 8:40AM
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It's been a while.  Being older I find life is full of complications and being a gamer, full of distractions.  Both have been brewing up a storm lately. 

Full disclosure, Wes Platt is a writer over at Fallen Earth whom I've known for over ten years since I created a character for the first "season" of his original RP MUSH OtherSpace.  While I haven't talked to him in years word came out he was over there so I, belatedly, stuck my nose in.  Frankly, it didn't sound all that promising.  Twitch-based gameplay and what seemed like a heavy PvP slant mixed with a generic post-Apocalyptic setting probably wouldn't draw roleplayers.

When I'm wrong I'm wrong.  The first hint something different was going on here was the poll on interest in roleplaying in the general discussion forums: Roleplaying Anyone?.  As you can see the majority of respondents at 59% self-identify as 'prefer to roleplay as much as possible' with another 32% will roleplay occasionally  if they run into a roleplayer.

This seemed to run counter to many of my assumptions, yes?

Then I find Tiggs over there, who was a beloved community relations figure back during the 'good old days' at SWG which, itself, was saturated with roleplayers (and still is - no coincidence that Starsider, the Unofficial RP server, is the most populated server currently).  And then there's PostApocPooka who is a former writer and content developer for White Wolf in the mix.  Lastly, every "meet the developers" interview asked what their favorite PnP (pen and paper or tabletop) RPG is.  While a few have no idea what this means most have favorites or are actively involved in games.

As I read the official fiction and read up on how the setting is being developed I see as much love and interest in this, what some call fluff, aspect as I do the game systems themselves and they're mutually reinforcing:  fiction fits the gameplay which fits the fiction.  This is, to my way of thinking, the main reason to use original settings when designing MMOs.  You can just sidestep the pitfalls that threaten the intellectual integrity of licensed settings.  A character can't die in Fallen Earth?  Because he's cloned!  Hey, if it's good enough for Eve Online it's good enough for Fallen Earth. 

I could spend a good deal of time talking about the game systems or the setting and why it's appealing to roleplayers but for now let me turn you on to two links that will do the job for me (and, hell, I'm still exploring Fallen Earth myself so I can't honestly put an expert hat on here):

Fallen Earth: InfoTerminal is a comprehensive accumulation of knowledge about the game.  It's fan run but it's far more useful than anything on the official site.  Note, the game is in beta currently and information here may change.  But have a look if the idea of combat vehicles or SWG style deep crafting or mutant powers or nice toys appeals to you.

Swinging Open The Doors is something I almost never see:  a "How To Roleplay" guide that's useful and wise and not pedantic.  It's rightly stickied in the Last Haven (RP) forum.  This is a link I'll be bookmarking and sharing with folks even outside the Fallen Earth community.  Even more importantly it links to the kind of background information RPers need. 

Count me in.  I'm still curious how this mix of PvP and RP will work together or the extent to which PvP will really be as central as I assume.  Given how flawed my assumptions have been about Fallen Earth so far...who knows?  This is one saga I need to see play out for myself.

Fooling The Trekkies: RP Resources For Star Trek Online

Posted by OddjobXL Monday April 6 2009 at 8:38AM
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Let's face it.  We're whupped.  Unless we've been following Star Trek all these years or have the free time and disposable resources to acquire and watch all five series collections and the movies, we're whupped.  Unlike Star Wars, which has comparatively little face time on the screen and requires a more generous approach to printed, EU, canon: Star Trek's only canon is what has appeared in the various television series and the films.  And there's a lot of it.

Worse, we're captains in Starfleet, or from the Klingon Imperial alliance, so if we're roleplaying Academy bred captains and captains alone we can't exactly pull a Luke Skywalker and plead ignorance of that big old confusing universe out there.

There's simply no way we're going to be real experts on the setting. 

But the beauty of the thing is that we can fake it enough.  Even the details have a single repository we can keep on hand and refer to as needed.  Generally, the story dynamics of the series and ideally the best roleplaying will have more to do with concepts and personalities rather than the nuances of Federation law or the history of the Telerites.  The who?  Yeah, well, yeah.  I could have said Vulcan but, dude, there's alot of people in The Federation and outside of it.  STO is set in the future, long after Nemesis - the last Next Generation film, and even The Ferengi have joined up now.  The Klingons have absorbed The Gorn and The Orions and the Nausicaans.

Bogglin'?  Of course you are!  Either you know what those names mean and can't imagine how this has happened or you've never heard of them and aren't even sure you want to do your roleplayer's due diligence and research them.  So many names!  And that's scratching the surface.

For people who already know Star Trek I'd recommend keeping up on the Timeline as it progresses on the Cryptic website.  It should explain how we got from here to there:

http://www.startrekonline.com/fiction

For those who don't, there's one great free wiki resource for canonical information organized by subject:

http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Portal:Main

Memory Alpha's articles may link to Memory Beta, which is noncanonical additional information but keep in mind Star Trek really means noncanonical - this stuff is for entertainment purposes only unlike Star Wars EU content which is often treated as essential.   It also links on occasion to Ex Astris Scientia which is another fan run site and which contains canonical and noncanonical information.

Next we end up with Printed Material:

As always the resource of first resort should be the latest edition of the latest version of the tabletop RPG about the setting.  In this case we're looking at Decipher's Star Trek Roleplaying game.  While the rules will have nothing to do with how Star Trek Online will play the "fluff" text should help you learn, or refresh yourself, on ideas about the setting and the technology in general. With this in hand you'll learn all the essentials you'll need. 

The Player's Guide covers the basics of gear, the nature of The Federation and Starfleet.  It discusses a bit of what life on a Federation starship is like.  You'll also find ideas to help you brainstorm a character.  The focus is a bit broader than one might imagine, or generally even want, as it covers many non-Starfleet or military approaches to character creation.  The information on individual alien cultures is minimal but you can always do homework on Memory Alpha or with the Encyclopedia.

The Narrator's Guide covers more detail about the setting, historical detail, possible kinds of stories, the nature of space and how to approach visualizing a campaign and planning for it.   There is useful information here but it's not as fundamental as the information in the Player's Guide.

The Starfleet Operations Manual will be very handy for Starfleet characters.  Diagrams of a ship's bridge and a tricorder are there for your investigation.  Descriptions of alert states and standard operating procedures for away teams or other situations are described.  Many additional Federation races are written up briefly (did I mention Telerites?).  While the list of ships isn't what I'd call comprehensive it does cover the important Federation classes along with what's in The Player's Guide and The Narrator's Guide.   The nature and function of outposts and starbases is also described.

And that's all you really need.  Those three books will give you an idea of what a normal Starfleet Captain might know, at least in part, along with plentiful ideas for roleplay and the rest can be researched ad hoc in Memory Alpha.

However, for completists who really want to fool the Trekkies, I'd recommend the following as well:

The Star Trek Encyclopedia is essentially a "Memory Alpha" that's a book and you can use it to research words or concepts on the fly as you roleplay.  Someone drops a reference to the Lissepians or "osmotic pressure therapy" in a line of dialogue?  Don't tab out and lose your place!  Crack open the Star Trek Encyclopedia!

Okay, you like Scotty.  You really want to be able to drop complicated technical terms on the fly and do it well without having to take notes on over a thousand dollars worth of DVDs.  Hell, you might just plain be curious how teleporters or warp drive works!  You want Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual.  While it doesn't have detailed maps of the Enterprise it does describe all the basic tech which applies to almost all Starfleet vessels.  Keep in mind, though, there is some new technology which has come up since the Borg arrived and was tested in the Dominion Wars.  Ablative armor among other things.  I suspect that information will be in Star Trek: Deep Space 9 Technical Manual.  The TNG Tech Manual covers more subjects more broadly and has more general utility for our purposes.  The rest can be dug up on Memory Alpha as needed.

You like Data and Spock or perhaps The Doctor?  Star Trek Science Logs may be for you.  While it doesn't go into great detail explaining individual events or phenomenon it does look at sci-fi subjects that have cropped up on the shows and looks behind the scenes at real science and speculation around those subjects.  There's another book along these lines, The Physics of Star Trek, which I haven't looked at yet.  It appears to be a more serious look at where Star Trek goes right and wrong with heavier real science content.  More useful to the roleplayer, from what I can tell, are the Science Logs as it could spur some interesting roleplaying ideas with a much broader survey of what's come before.

Oh, you're more of a Sulu or Geordi junkie?  Big on the helm and on where the ship is and where it might go next?  You'll want to look into Star Trek: Star Charts.  This is a pretty neat book for sorting out in your mind where, say, The Romulan empire is in relationship to Cardassia or how a starship captain orients himself to where he is.  Sector 001 may be Sol, and what exactly is a sector anyhow, but the center of the galaxy is the real middle of things and all four quadrants are split up around that.  Are we heading spinward or coreward or rimward?   What's in the middle of the galaxy?  What bounds it?   I know what an M-class planet is.  What are the other classes?  What's a "main sequence" star?  I do put Star Charts last on my list because the basic information here can be gathered from other sources including the Decipher Narrator's Guide or Memory Alpha or The Encyclopedia.   It's likely that STO won't be all that fussy about everything fitting together based on this, canonically derived but non-canonical, book so its utility may be limited.  Still it's pretty and it will help you figure out "You Are Here" when you get lost.

Roleplay In Action: Caoiliann's Way

Posted by OddjobXL Thursday April 2 2009 at 6:17AM
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After reading the discussion in the comments of "Roleplayer as Puppeteer" between Alda and myself about how tabletop roleplaying works and the different sources of, and ways of arranging, story in roleplaying, Caoiliann describes how her group goes about MMO roleplaying.

Roleplay In Action:  Caoiliann's Way

I can't deny that RP within the MMO game world is limiting, in that you can only use and do what's available within the game mechanics. However, I think it's a disservice to act as if our imaginations turn off the minute we turn the game on. The MMO isn't everything and letting it replace authorship as to what is possible or feasible based on in-game limitations is a mistake. It doesn't have to be that way, though.

The way my people and I have always run our game RP is with two somewhat concurrent pieces of the same overarching story going on at once, some on forums and some in-game. Things that are better left to walls of text full of description and action happen on the message boards; the complex conversations and interactions happen in-game. The two parts work in tandem to form the plot and a consistent game world.

They're not always synced up perfectly, but when you have a good group that knows at least the general direction of the resolution of the yet-unwritten parts, it's never been difficult to forge ahead or drop behind the forum's main plot, or to just go on tangential side plots that involve a smaller subset of the actors.

I think that this requires a great deal more coordination than anything that a DM would run, of course. In your setup, the DM sets all the pieces up and then lets the actors go wild exploring it, which has a certain amount of appeal. In our game-related setup, you're sharing authorship with at least one, and usually many, other people for the overarching storyline, where only a point A and point B are established common places for each section to begin and resolve. It's a lot more work for everyone involved, but I have to say that it has been exceptionally rewarding and fun despite its challenges.

It's definitely not the type of setup for a control freak. The ringleader of this three-ring-circus (usually me) can't truly exercise any more control than painted lines on the highway: there are strongly suggested boundaries, and good places to be passing on the left than others, and here's the desired speed limit.

But from there, the control goes back to the rest of the actors, and it's up to them to draw that map from A to B as a collective. I can't control the pace and can't keep them inside the lines. I'm not the DM, just the name on the back of the historical archive of stories.

There is definitely risk involved in that. I have to trust them the same way they trust me to make it work, and we have to be willing to make mistakes sometimes and make allowances for that. We've all retconned a little every now and again or sacrificed what we thought would be the MOST AWESOME IDEA EVAR for our own character for the greater good of the plot.

I'm not sure it could work for every group of RPers - it takes a high level of honesty, trust, and a strong belief in the value of the people in your group, and more than one or two bad apples who are too "me" centered can make it difficult if they're not evicted or successfully written out. We definitely saw those kinds of attitudes aplenty in AoC, which is why things struggled to function. However, in CdIO (and in the "reformed" HC) this has very rarely, if ever, been a serious problem.

It's an art, not a science, and it is far from perfect. I don't think it's ever run perfectly. But the outcome has always been wonderfully, completely rewarding, and it gives everyone a sense of ownership and pride that sticks with us.

That's not to say anything about whether tabletop or DM-run RP is good or bad, but it is honestly my defense about how herding RP cats in my limited MMO world can and does work with the right group of creative, generous people.

The Human Canonball

Posted by OddjobXL Tuesday March 31 2009 at 9:19AM
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As a roleplayer I spend a good deal of my time either studying or trying to replicate a setting.   I've been MIA for a few days catching up on Star Trek.  Lord, I thought Tolkein had alot of time on his hands to make crap up!  Still, it's an interesting setting and one I'd just not seriously looked at before.  Confession, I'm really more of a vicarious swashbuckler so my natural tastes tended to Star Wars, back in the day, or Firefly now.  My tastes are adjusting quickly to this new prospect.

For me, perhaps not for every roleplayer, a good deal of the fun is doing my homework.  I'm a loremaster.  I like knowing as much as I can about a place, real or fictional, before I jump into character creation mode.  The more I know the more I can be inspired by.  I can create original characters and interpretations once I understand how the creator, and the fan, visualizes the local reality.

Star Trek Online may suck (I find this highly doubtful based on what we know so far) but I've had fun already just exploring the world and seeing the sights of Star Trek: The Next Generation from the roleplayer's angle:  This isn't just information, not just stories being told to a passive reader or audience, but stuff I may actually use one day.

However, canon can be dangerous to a healthy roleplaying experience as well.  The more you know, inevitably, the less any game can measure up.  There are so many possibilities and variations that a designer has to settle down and focus on central themes and practical gameplay within the constraints of budget, technology and a release date.

When I started playing Star Wars Galaxies, for example, I knew very little other than the original triology so I saddled up and got to work.  Now I probably know more about Corellia's history, freetraders and smugglers than most.  

Heck, in SWG you didn't even have to be a loremaster to see all the missing elements in the original release.  No Jedi, No Space and No Empire or Rebellion (in any recognizeable form) is pretty obvious stuff.  But as a loremaster I came to recognise many additional imperfections and outright errors in design.  I learned about CorSec and Corellia's semi-neutral status from the EU.  Yet, Corellia was a world in the middle of the conflict in SWG and while Corsec, the law enforcement of the world, was present they just sorta sat around and didn't do anything.  Why even have them?  Was it just fan service?  And how are the fans served if something they presumably want to see in the game isn't really fulfilling any kind of role one would expect?

So, the more you know about setting the harder it is to embrace compromise with the often muted or warped representations in a game.   This is why fans of a setting, and roleplayers, will be very vocal about this in forums.  They're not crazy.  They know what they want.  Now, they may not be diplomatic, reasonable or realistic.  Still, a designer should shoot for accurate representations of what they do put in and leave things out entirely if they can't be done accurately, on time or on budget.   The priority should be those elements which reinforce central themes of the setting not the little stuff on the margins no matter how much some players might fetishize a certain narrow aspect.  And certainly not, as Koster did, gameplay elements shoehorned on for the sake of experiment or proving some design theory that don't serve the setting at all.

Alright, that aside, there's another downside to knowing too much canon.  Some players will use their knowledge of canon to intimidate other players.  They'll lecture, berate and mock people who don't know what they do or who "don't play right."  

There is nothing that's more a scourage to a healthy roleplaying community than these folks. 

The way canon works in actual roleplaying is that it gives knowledgable people more details to bring up in /emotes and broader ways, say forum roleplay as an adjunct, to recreate the setting in words.   If everyone knows "the language" of the world, its unique glossary of terms and related ideas and themes, they'll be able to imagine their characters and the world around them much more vividly.  That's how roleplayers achieve immersion.  They're recreating what they've learned, by directed study or by passing interest over the years, in their own way, their own words, to add to the experience for each other.

However, people without that kind of specialized knowledge can have fun too.  They're less picky about words being used the right way or all references to the setting being lined up correctly.  They've got a general idea and they can run with it just fine, thank you very much.  In fact even hardcore roleplayers have characters who probably spend more time as just being people, often with colorful personalities of course, than being people from particular settings dropping glossary terms and references right and left.   Still, the more you know the better you can sustain character and dialogue and stay consistant.

But that incessant lecturing of canonistas can drive people away.   I've seen roleplayers who are hostile to the idea of canon, understanding a setting, altogether because of how some people act.  And that's a damn shame.  Because some people use their knowledge of canon as weapons of intimidation to promote their own lofty status in some roleplayer social pecking order many people are turned off to roleplaying altogether.

Very often these purists aren't really all they claim anyhow, I've found.

My approach is to use canon and be as hardcore as I can in my own roleplay while also adjusting my approach to those I encounter.  If I run across a nonroleplayer I'll drop character entirely to be helpful to that person.  If I encounter someone with more limited knowledge I'll play to a more interpersonal kind of exchange than one that deals with major plot points or obscure references.  I may offer advice, or detail they might have missed from canon, in an OOC /tell but often I don't.  Why mess with someone else's good time even if I mean well?

Now there will be times someone's style just annoys me too much.  Or maybe I'm just not in the mood to be a helpful guy.  Hey, I'm not selfless I'm just a reasonable and sometimes selfish human being. 

Then I ignore what's bothering me and move on to something else.  What you don't do is ridicule them, talk about them behind their backs, or put mocking posts on a forum.  Live and let live.

One day that clueless character who can't even capitalize words or use punctuation and insists he's the king of the universe with x-ray vision whose family was, indeed, killed by The Empire but is secretly Darth Vader's son...maybe one day, he'll be a good roleplayer.  Just give it time.  Don't pound on him.  We all started off somewhere and we all had, and have, a great deal more to learn about how this roleplaying thing works.

Eve Is From Mars, STO Is From Venus

Posted by OddjobXL Thursday March 26 2009 at 8:40AM
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Put down the disruptors and the bat’leths my Klingon friends.  You know this to be true even in your warrior hearts. 

Eve Online is from Mars and STO is from Venus.

PvP is the bloody beating heart of Eve Online.  Eve is where the libertarians and survivalists and neoconservatives go.  Dog eat dog.  Capitalism is the only true system of economics and trade makes the universe go 'round.  The universe is a hostile place so one must be willing to preempt, to walk "the dark side", to be wary of intruders.  Shoot first.  Never apologise.  They'd do it to you if you didn't do it to them first.  If someone trusts you, you're doing them a favor by screwing them over as it teaches them a lesson they'll learn sooner or later anyhow.  Don't fly anything you can't afford to lose.  Pod pilots are the superior, immortal, race above humanity that will rule its destiny.  Theology is merely a tool for war.  Liberal cultures are corrupt and hypocritical and prone to disintigrate without an enemy to rally them.  Never trust CONCORD (Eve's equivalent of the United Nations).  They're up to something.

PvE will be at the core of STO.   STO will be where you'll find idealists, scientists, socialists and diplomats. The Federation welcomes new ideas.  It never shoots first.  We almost all will belong to it (Over 70%, in an informal poll, wish to be Federation and nearly 60% PvE Federation alone).  The most innovative systems in the game are procedurally generated missions and worlds for PvE, along with competative PvE in the Neutral Zone, and we're promised violence will not always be the answer to resolving situations.   The Federation thinks of capitalism as a quaint phase in human evolution and has solved the problems of inequality and hunger through replicator technology (if not, perhaps, on the colonial frontiers).   Crafting may well take the shape of tinkering on and improving one's own starship rather than grinding out mass quanities of goods for resale.   Every player will have NPC crewmen, the bridge crew/away team, to cultivate and nurture.   There may be multiplayer ships eventually, if not at launch, further stressing cooperation and mutual dependance.

Yes, Eve has some PvE content but it's as limited as I suspect STO's PvP (consentual PvP in the Neutral Zone and isolated FFE PvP areas in 'deep space') will be.  An option, a break, from the central flow of the game. 

STO also has avatars and ground combat where Eve's promise of Ambulation is likely as far off as STO's release if not further.

As a roleplayer I find both, to quote a pointy-eared fellow who's not an elf, "Fascinating." 

Eve's player driven dynamism is indisputable and the systems very much reward PvP play with depth of design, tactical options and strategic planning and considerations.  Roleplaying flows naturally from the gameplay whether or not players intend to be roleplaying.  The game is the setting, the setting is the game.  However, PvP is not always fun.  To play the 'real' game takes a huge amount of commitment and focus though casual gamers don't even have to log in to level what they play tends to be a small role on the fringes as hunter-gatherers or prey.

Star Trek Online's approach seems to be really about recreating the 'adventure and exploration' heart of Star Trek with a side helping of DS9 flavored strategic conflicts.  Big ships, big crews and going places no one has seen before (because they're being created on the fly).  The cooperative nature of The Federation and PvE style gameplay should create a much cozier, looser paced, atmosphere for roleplayers to do their thing especially as the avatars for characters and NPC crew alike will be highly customizable.  Invent your own race, if you like, and then play with variations on that template to create many individuals of that race if you like.  When ship interiors arrive, and at least the bridge and the captain's quarters have been all but confirmed, they too will be customizable (likely within limits) which gives us player housing of a sort. 

I think STO, delivering a strong sense of Star Trek (unlike SWG does with Star Wars) and strong PvE gameplay (unlike Eve Online) along with many roleplayer friendly tools like highly customizable housing and avatars (which SWG does and Eve may do) will steal away not only Trekkers but curious PvE gamers in general looking for non-scripted, less repetative, content that's not PvP only and plenty of roleplayers in general.

If it delivers, I'm ready for a little Venus myself.

Roleplayer As Puppeteer

Posted by OddjobXL Wednesday March 25 2009 at 8:33AM
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After visual design and modest biographical detailing, the techniques an MMO roleplayer can use to help express a character, widen the immediate effect of the character's persona in the moment, are dialogue and emotes.

Dialogue could be a blog post in itself.  There are entire books written by smarter people than myself about how to create dialogue for characters, and how that dialogue creates the characters themselves, in fiction.   My cheat sheet for dialogue is this:  Figure out how your character speaks and stick with it.  If your character is a formal fellow or well educated, avoid contractions (can't, I'd), if she's female avoid using "I" often and find other ways of framing a line,  if you're trying to use an accent trim it down to only some words otherwise you'll be incomprehensible.  That last is important and learned from experience.   What sounds good in your head sometimes sounds like white noise when a nonpsychic tries to translate it on the screen.  Sometimes just mixing up grammar rather than distorting words will do the job.  Or, to put it another way: "The job's done, betimes,  not wi' words themselfs but wi' where fall th' words do."  Yarr.

Emotes come in three flavors in MMOs.  Animated, basic and freehand.  If dialogue is what your character says the emote is what he does.  Animated emotes are gestures or movements or facial expressions that get picked up and displayed by the character model.   Basic emotes are simple words or phrases that are expressed as text on the screen.  Example, I'd type /bye and the game might say, "Mandash wishes you well and hopes to see you soon" or /smile and you'd get "Mandash smiles."  

Often simple emotes and animated emotes work together so that a /bye or a /smile in Star Wars Galaxies would animate the avatar even as it expressed the associated text.  Galaxies also, and some like this better than others, will pluck words from dialogue to animate a character.   If Grim says "pleasure", as in "the pleasure be mine" out loud he'll bow unless I've disabled that function.  In other cases it's more of a problem.  If he says, "Late I'll be ter th' rendezvous, I fear" the tough old captain will start shaking like a little child on a cold winter's day with his arms wrapped over his chest.  It's fear!  *goes to options and disables automatic animations*

Freehand emotes are the most important of all.  This is where, along with dialogue, you get to show your roleplaying chops.  You're simply writing out an emote.   Examples:  /em shakes his fist at the heavens.  "Damn ye, Star Wars Galaxies, I ain't a'feared o' yer cheesy animations!"   Or, in MUSH style, :shakes his fist at the heavens...etc.  True MUSH style also includes ";" for possessive poses as in ;'s wrathful voice echoes throughout the blog post.  This is painfully lacking in SWG and most other MMOs as well.

The secret to freehand emotes is context.  Know where you are, what's going on and try to imagine every little detail about your character and his environment. 

We all fall into habits and common expressions and that's actually a good thing to an extent.  Players really tend to be most focused on their own characters so repetition of certain key phrases or words that make your character stand out, over time, helps people remember who he is and what he's like.   For example Grim will almost always "amble" or "meander" when he's moving.  Sometimes he'll "stride" or "stalk" if he's in a black mood or feeling particularly energetic about something.  I don't even bother looking for other words.  This does the job for that. 

But don't, I plead with you, fall into the habit of creating macros for long poses.  There are players who delight in creating long "stock" emotes and unleashing them on the unsuspecting public over and over (the public doesn't stay unsuspecting for long).   This gets in the way.  It's lazy.  It's not responsive. And it's often spammy as hell since the player's not having to actually think or write but hit a single key on his keyboard to unleash a torrent of disconnected creative typing.   They pour over their favorites like Gollum with his ring.  They'll sometimes even warn you ahead of time in an OOC chat or /tell:  "Check this out.  I just made this one!"  This is solipsism not creative, immersive, interaction with other players.

Now when I say to imagine your character and your environment I'm suggesting you really think about him in that moment and what, or who, is around him.  The more stuff you can put into poses, over time, that make your character seem distinct while also showing you're aware of what's around the more immersion you're creating not only for yourself but others.   In general, don't show it all off in one pose.   Keep them short, usually, but with a telling detail here or there.   Idly scratch an itch, adjust a gunbelt while eyeing the Dosh by the bar counter.  Amble, and/or, meander to a corner table.  Grin wolfishly as you slump down onto a creaking chair.

Why keep poses short if more detail means more immersion?  There are four reasons.  Two are technical while the other two are psychological. 

One technical reason is that often you're around a bunch of other characters.  Big poses can fill up a bit chunk of the limited space in the dialogue box.  You might have just shoved dialogue, or poses, other people are still reading and trying to react to clear off the screen.  Yes, they scroll up but that's an immersion breaking pain.   This is more true in crowded situations than in smaller interactions but be mindful that you're not the star.  You, like everyone else, are a supporting actor.  The scene itself is the focus.  Don't overwhelm it.  Insinuate yourself into the fabric of it.

The other technical concern is the ability to interrupt.  If you have a penchant for extended poses or long speeches other players have to sit there passively.   They can't really interact or insert their own contrary ideas before your character's finished his monologue and set down Yorick.  This busts immersion.  Now if your character's an entertainer telling a story or a politician giving a speech, don't sweat it.   Otherwise remember your character needs to breath, to pause and ponder, and other characters need an opportunity to interject, to counter or to agree.  Besides, long poses take a long time to write.   Roleplaying isn't  a spectator sport.   Few are happy about waiting on someone else and most will simply keep on going unaware of the brilliant storm of rhetoric you're brewing up.  By the time you're done the moment may well have already passed.

One psychological reason to stick to shorter poses is that you safely avoid looking like a show-off.   A big, fancy, pose filled with allusions and flourishes and so on in the middle of a terse discussion can send the impression that you're trying way too hard and likely looking for attention. 

The other psychological reason is that you can overwhelm other players.  The goal of detail breeding immersion is to help other players get deeper into their own characters and the moment as much as you into yours.   While your pose is entirely an IC, or in-character, act there is an OOC reaction too.  You might inadvertantly dominate a dialogue by having your character forcefully, and at length, make a point.    Dialogue and posing in roleplaying isn't a game of ping-pong you're trying to win by slamming that ball so fast the other player can't hit it back.   You want to measure your responses and sometimes even bunt to give the initiative to your opposite numbers.   Quite often less is more.  The absolute least, the much maligned "..." is actually a very handy tool.  It lets other players know your character is paying attention but is either shocked or at a loss for words without putting too much english on a pose.  It gives other players permission to interpret the moment as they want to.

Edit:  Related to this last consideration is that posing a character's thoughts is generally seen as poor technique.  It's internal, meaning other characters can't react to it, so it's aimed at other players by default.  That's bringing OOC into IC for them.  If they can't do anything with a pose other than be amused or offended by this as players then you've moved from IC roleplaying to emotional manipulation of another player even if you don't realize it.  I know, it tickles some people to pose characters thoughts and witty thoughts can create warm chummies, but it's more effective to have your character accidentally think out loud even if quietly.  This gives other players the option to interact with the pose with their characters.

Hopefully this is the discussion Tychus was looking for.  If not I'm certain he'll let me know here or elsewhere.  But preferably here.  Sakky, Scotland Tom, Vox and Neopythia:  the courtesy of a response is requested.  Same with everyone else!