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Author Topic: Spontaneous play in on-line MUSH  (Read 2216 times)
AJ_Flowers
Member

Posts: 30


« on: April 29, 2009, 06:11:44 PM »

Hi. I haven't logged in to this forum in a really long time, but hanging out at Forge Midwest inspired me to at least start lurking again.  I notice that my RL name has changed but of course my forum name hasn't - bad side effect of using the name, alas!

I had thought about doing AP write-ups about some of the games we played at Forge Midwest; I don't know how interesting this would be to some but I kind of still want to share my experiences as they stuck with me fairly well.

But in this particular post I want to talk about actual play on-line, in a venue I've been playing at for a number of years, and get some feedback about the system as-is. I'm sharing this in part because I think that, outside the small community of people who do story-based MUSHing, how the gameplay actually works on these games isn't talked about a lot outside of the community, let alone from an academic or analysis standpoint. I'm also sharing because I'm a little dissatisfied with certain aspects of this interaction, and I'd like to get to the bottom of how to get around it, if that's even possible.

A MUSH is a text game which is an analogue to a MUD for narrative people.  Interaction on this game takes the form of "Scenes," where it's to be expected to have maybe one of these a night.  At least where I'm from, players tend to pigeon-hole scenes in to two separate types, "Combat," where fighting is going to occur, and "Social," where fighting does not occur.  I think it would also be useful to judge scenes on a different matrix: Pickup, which are scenes that happen spontaneously, and Planned, which are scenes that are planned ahead of time.

Some other games use published systems like World of Darkness MUSHes, but I have less experience with them. I'd be happy to hear about how things work from people who do have more experience with them.  Generally for the anime/superheroes type communities I frequent it's a narrativist style of gaming.  Our game uses a fairly basic I-attack/you-attack combat system, but some gamism is sort of encroaching on the borders with more complex strategic systems being invented.  I might elaborate on that later but for now it'd be an aside.

Scenes that affect the game's overall "story" are called TinyPlot.  TinyPlot is typically run by the game's overall staffers (I'll just call them GMs).  (Aside... The phrase "TinyPlot" is silly, so while people still say "TP," people kind of gloss over what it stands for. It's because of the TinyMUSH codebase appending everything with Tiny, not because "TPs" are inherently small. In fact, usually they're opposite, and if a game has a big world-changing event you can bet it will be called a "TP." Anyway...)

There used to be a global bulletin board on the game where the GMs would announce "TP scenes," meaning scenes to effect the overall plot.  A few years ago I suggested altering this to "Scene Announcements" instead of "TP Announcements" so that players who were not GMs could communicate planned scenes too. This went over pretty well and is starting to become more standard.

Also a few years ago, the game installed a system which allowed players to make direct requests of GMs. In practice, only the primary GM for our game actually answers the requests, even though theoretically any GM could answer the requests.  Requests are, for example, something in the world you would like to investigate, invent, or do to NPCs, etc, which would be handled by a GM.  A lot of times these things can be handled without any actual roleplay, as they're downtime things, and then the GM just tells you the results.  Players can post to a few different public IC boards (representing news media, or the in-game internet, etc) to communicate what they've done to other players.

Now what I've noticed is this.  Say a player puts in a request to the GM that they want to do something, and that something can't be handled in the background, either because it involves a named NPC, or it involves another player character. So doing that thing becomes an announced scene, where other people can get involved in the scene potentially.

I've noticed that most scenes end up being planned pretty well in advance, with this method.  So, if someone wanted to do something, they'd make a request of the GM, the GM would say, "this requires a scene," and then the GM and player would hash out exactly what is going to happen in this scene. Other people show up to the scene, but most of the time they're like the Greek Chorus, either chattering about in the background or doing battle in the background, without a lot of input in what actually happens in the scene. The events of the scene, /including its outcome/, have already been negotiated with the GM by the major players.  It puts the whole game in to a sort of audience/performer dynamic.

Now we get to the part where I'm not satisfied, and want a better approach.  Either I am important to a scene, and "in on" what's going to happen in that scene, or I'm not important to a scene. In the latter case, what happens then will be a surprise to me, but there's not much I can do to affect what happens.  As far as I can tell, big MUSH scenes are this way a large percent of the time. It isn't that the large game is railroaded, because players can negotiate all kinds of different types of scenes, but an upset /within/ a scene is fairly rare.  There are a few, shining gems where something unexpected happens and people go with it, and a lot of times that's what I hope to get out of scenes, but it's not that common.

I talked to a friend and fellow player about this, and he said that it's that way for a reason: if you don't negotiate what you'd like to get out of a scene, you're bound to walk away disappointed, especially if you prepped your own scene.  It's true that, in the past, since I am such a wide-eyed optimist, I'd organize scenes but NOT pre-determine the outcome. I still have a tendency to want this because pre-determined outcomes make me kind of sad.  But this occasionally backfires.  For example, I once set up a scene where: a heroic group was invading the star base of a villainous group, and the outcome was decided purely by the dice combat; whoever won would keep the base.  The combat system, however, wasn't really strong enough to support this and it washed out in to bickering which left me equally dissatisfied.  I was told then, and often am still told: you have to decide the outcome in advance, otherwise, there's no way to moderate it.

Pickup scenes of course, are totally spontaneous, but don't often have as large an effect on the game world. It's possible to have a pickup scene that does have a large effect, though that has a different downside: it only happens by accident and on a small percent of pickup scenes, so you might log on to a game to find out something fundamental changed last night but, nothing was announced warning you to take part in that.

Thoughts, comments, or suggestions?  I'd give more specific examples of scenes, including the one I was in Monday night that started me thinking along these lines, but I’m afraid I’m already rambling on. My holy grail is to still have scene announcements so people know when to show up, but have the outcomes be up in the air so that showing up is "worth my while" other than to watch a spectacle.

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Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2009, 08:22:06 PM »

Facinating set up!

Maybe it's chumpy of me, but what springs to mind is to have several outcomes determined by you, and each has a points count. The players are told them all (if you must have a secret one, they are told there is a secret one). When a player action would make one outcome more likely to happen, you roll perhaps a d10 and it gets those points and perhaps a bonus on the dice determined by you. Also I'd make the d10 have a single step explosion - ie, roll a ten and the outcome gets say 30 points instead of ten. First outcome past the post of X amount of points is the scenes outcome!

That sounds fun to me, as each outcome builds up. Perhaps everyone favours one outcome, but their actions accidentally support another outcome? Everyone can see the points rising and so the tension rises. Perhaps they want different outcomes and there's conflict there. Or maybe I'm being chumpy and this isn't the done thing.
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AJ_Flowers
Member

Posts: 30


« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2009, 07:24:23 AM »

Hm, I'm not sure what you mean by being "chumpy," here. What you're suggesting would be highly experimental! So, well, no, it's not the way it's done, but it's one possible solution that might be interesting, and the way it is done has gotten old for me anyhow.  I think the d10 idea it might work, but it's something I'd want to playtest it in a situation where the stakes, as it were, weren't terribly high, before letting it loose on the game at large. I think people would be up for it.

I'm mulling over a problem with it: Say the scene is, "We're robbing a train to get the magic artifact being transported," and the possible outcomes are "we don't get the artifact" or "we do get the artifact." In this case all the involved players do want to get the thing.  I think the d10 solution has the problem of, my actions still don't matter per se, all that matters is the results of that one roll, not how clever I was in completing the action or what I did to do it.

But if I envision a scene that isn't binary, where three different groups of PCs all want to get the artifact, but only one can. I have had a lot of trouble figuring out how to do conflict resolution in this situation on this game.  The standard method that is used is: it's already determined who is getting it, and then we move on to "Part B" of the story next time we scene, but... well, and here I've accidentally introduced the metaphor of a train already.

This is the part where your solution will work, I think: if it's three different people, and they're all making "get the McGuffin" rolls, the GM adds potentially a small bonus depending on what action they take, or takes away if the action is lame, and... then we have an arbiter to decide who gets the thing, which is visible to all players. The only potential point of quibble is how much of a bonus certain things might be worth.
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LandonSuffered
Member

Posts: 99


« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2009, 08:02:56 AM »


A comment: while I haven’t MUSHed before, my understanding is that it is more of collaborative story-telling than a role-playing exercise.  I say this because the scenes described and their outcomes are negotiated and stories are told through mutual consensus.  There’s no “role” that a particular player has (although there may be “ownership” of a character or characters). 

What you seem to be wanting is for there to be unexpected, random, or unscripted (“impromptu”) outcomes to scenes…you want to be surprised by the turns the story takes, even when the scene is one that you’ve suggested.  I’m not sure that a MUSH is the correct medium for this kind of experience. Like the MMO, a MUSH may be a different animal from a traditional RPG with a very focused creative agenda…um, “story now” for the sake of expedited phrasing. 

Meanwhile, wanting to see “where the world takes you” is kind a simulationist CA, and one perhaps served better in a traditional RPG, even a PBEM or PBP…but you’d want an RPG that allows for more player input…something like Capes Light, perhaps?
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Jonathan
AJ_Flowers
Member

Posts: 30


« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2009, 09:11:32 AM »

There's no 'role' that a particular player has (although there may be “ownership” of a character or characters). 

Not really; maybe I wasn't clear about this.  People do have their own characters, though a person may have "alts," that is, multiple characters. It is my character who wants something and about whom I make a particular request.  Traditionally unless you are GMing a scene, you only control your personal character in that scene. (Again, at least on the games that I play on.)

And of course it's occured to me "this game just won't give you the experience that you want," but I'm trying to see if it's possible to improve the experience that I get regardless. I don't think that wanting the story to have unexpected twists is the same as not having an interest in the story.

I guess this is a broader question: I thought narratism was "story now," ie, the story is decided before play, but there are also aspects of discussion that talk about "story before" as being narrativist. So, okay, what we are doing is, we are deciding out the story before, and then playing it "now."  If I want the story to unfold now without planning the whole thing before, isn't that still narrative of me?
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LandonSuffered
Member

Posts: 99


« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2009, 11:49:54 AM »


Quote
I guess this is a broader question: I thought narratism was "story now," ie, the story is decided before play, but there are also aspects of discussion that talk about "story before" as being narrativist. So, okay, what we are doing is, we are deciding out the story before, and then playing it "now."  If I want the story to unfold now without planning the whole thing before, isn't that still narrative of me?


Sorry, yes…if you want a story to unfold before you (that is, you want the game to address a particular premise in play) then you have a Narrativist creative agenda.

There are several RPGs that have been developed that address this desire to address premise in game play through their mechanics.   While MUSHes have the ability to address premise and thus tell stories “in the now” (rather than, make up a story about the events that happened in game play at a later date and try to figure out what, if any, premise was addressed) they also address your particular creative agenda.  However, they’re not necessarily doing it in the way you’d like.

So to correct my earlier suggestion (somewhat): you might try a more traditional RPG (either in an on-line format or around a table) that has mechanics allowing your play group to address premise and create a story in a way that satisfies your creative agenda in the particular way you prefer.

: )
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Jonathan
Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


WWW
« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2009, 03:43:51 PM »

I'm mulling over a problem with it: Say the scene is, "We're robbing a train to get the magic artifact being transported," and the possible outcomes are "we don't get the artifact" or "we do get the artifact." In this case all the involved players do want to get the thing.  I think the d10 solution has the problem of, my actions still don't matter per se, all that matters is the results of that one roll, not how clever I was in completing the action or what I did to do it.
Well, if your actions add a d10 to the "You don't get the artifact", then they had an effect. Characters can't make mistakes?

Also I was thinking outcomes more like "Does the orc village burn" and "Does the elf village burn". Either way, something happens. Like if you changed the second artifact outcome to "Does the artifact fall off the train, into a nearby town, activate and turn them into zombies" then something happens either way. Not getting the artifact is just...nothing happening.

You might even get players staging character accidents, to get this bad zombie result...which is cool, I think! Characters actually failing and players are happy it happens - plot twists happening! All good! But if your thinking 'No metagame thinking, ever, even if it makes a better story' then I guess that'd have to be scolded.

Quote
But if I envision a scene that isn't binary, where three different groups of PCs all want to get the artifact, but only one can. I have had a lot of trouble figuring out how to do conflict resolution in this situation on this game.  The standard method that is used is: it's already determined who is getting it, and then we move on to "Part B" of the story next time we scene, but... well, and here I've accidentally introduced the metaphor of a train already.

This is the part where your solution will work, I think: if it's three different people, and they're all making "get the McGuffin" rolls, the GM adds potentially a small bonus depending on what action they take, or takes away if the action is lame, and... then we have an arbiter to decide who gets the thing, which is visible to all players.
You'd have three outcomes "Group A gets it", "Group B gets it", "Group C gets it".

I did suggest the GM could add a bonus to the die roll. I'd suggest from 0-10 (or some cap of your choosing, preset). Don't go with negatives. Only possitives - if its a stupid move by group A, then it adds to group B or C's total. That way every roll is leading toward something happening, even if it's not the thing the player wants to happen. I guess I have a bent for always getting closer to something happening, with no 'nothing'/'whiff' results. YMMV.

Quote
The only potential point of quibble is how much of a bonus certain things might be worth.
Gah!

I think this question starts right out in the social contract (then from there, pierces straight into the very moment of play). What have your players agreed to? Is it

A. You call how much an actions worth and which outcome it applies to. Players accept that, even if it doesn't match their idea of sense at all. They are good sports about it if it doesn't make sense to them. But if it does match their idea of sense of how the game world works, everyone enjoys that syncronicity between you. So either everyones fine with you making your call, or their happy! It's win/win! Well, fine/win!

B. They think their actions will get realistic responces. They will get utterly bitchy when your idea of realism does not match their idea of realism. They will say, rather than it being a missmatch, that your idea of realism is wrong. They will harp and moan, particularly if something went against their character, because 'really' this isn't realistic.

C. The have agreed to see the 'rightness' in whatever call you make, and always see it as realistic. I'm watching this in another forum at the moment. I'm not even sure it's possible, but I'm noting it.


If it's A, then you have no problem at all! Go with your heart notion of how the game world works and assign the amount and which outcome it applies to. If you don't know how it'd work, make it up! You have da powa!

There will be no quibble, except perhaps inside your own mind on how much something gets. And I'm sure you can wrap that one up!

If it's B, your doomed. DOOMED. If it's C, I don't get that one and I think it can't work, it always ends up, in practical terms, as either A or, in terrible circumstances, B.

Where do you think you are? And by 'are' I mean in terms of what people have currently agreed to? Cause your not stuck there, as agreements can end and new ones started.
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AJ_Flowers
Member

Posts: 30


« Reply #7 on: May 11, 2009, 09:00:38 AM »

So to correct my earlier suggestion (somewhat): you might try a more traditional RPG (either in an on-line format or around a table) that has mechanics allowing your play group to address premise and create a story in a way that satisfies your creative agenda in the particular way you prefer.

I do. And when I do people generally seem to enjoy it.  So I understand the suggestion of, "if this game doesn't fit your creative agenda, play a new game," but this is the game all my friends play and will probably continue to play for many years, as it's ongoing, so I'm looking for ways to squeeze my agenda in there, in addition.


Also I was thinking outcomes more like "Does the orc village burn" and "Does the elf village burn". Either way, something happens. Like if you changed the second artifact outcome to "Does the artifact fall off the train, into a nearby town, activate and turn them into zombies" then something happens either way. Not getting the artifact is just...nothing happening.

You might even get players staging character accidents, to get this bad zombie result...which is cool, I think! Characters actually failing and players are happy it happens - plot twists happening! All good! But if your thinking 'No metagame thinking, ever, even if it makes a better story' then I guess that'd have to be scolded. 

Ok, I see your point. Yeah, I'm only interested in actions where something happens.  Whiff results are pretty boring as a whole.  Even failure should be interesting. 

(This was actually the catalyst for the train example to begin with - a group of characters stole an item from my character, but then made it clear they were just going to hang on to it and do nothing with it, not even try to destroy it! Yawn.)


As a followup to my post, I ran a scene myself on the game about a week ago that was really well-received. I set the scene up as, you get a distress signal from a ship floating in space, and... then what do you do?  I warned people that it was going to be a horror scene so anyone uncomfortable with that sort of thing could back out, but other that that I didn't warn anyone what was going to happen.  As for system, I just narrated the scene without dice, but letting characters play out their particular specializations. Like one character happened to be a homicide cop, so he got more information when checking out the bodies.

Early on in the scene I did get a little bogged-down because the game has a lot of 'hacker' characters, and, to me, it's just boring if a guy spends an entire scene messing around with the closest nearby computer instead of engaging the physicality of the setting.  After using his own computer for three rounds got him not much additional information, I got him to move into a more dangerous/interesting place just by enticing him with the prospect of a better computer at the ship's security station.  Once he got there, he was able to do a scan of the ship for other life-forms and other useful things for the mission. Not that I wanted to make his character useless, you see, but it does get really boring if a character turtles himself in a safe location during a scene and doesn't want to move at all.

I think the scene worked because there was no "player versus player" conflict. It was all a group of characters, working together against the environment (and my character, indirectly, who had set the trap for them). This left less room for conflict about outcome so the scene could become what's happening right now rather than what did we decide was going to happen and how do we get there. 
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2009, 06:39:34 PM »

Ok, firstly, I'd love to hear about your games, more play reports means more theory fuel, which hopefully in turn means better games!

Ok firstly, how about making a rule that the scene may only be sketched out in brief before it is played, to leave spaces for other characters, and certain limits are put in place to stop derailment. In other words you can say "this must happen in this scene", in order to satisfy GM and player, but that must either be expressed as a header on the top (in some kind of shorthand) or as fictional elements within the scene that make it unavoidable. Otherwise it's like saying you left a priceless and fragile yet invisible piece of art on the floor, but people're welcome to come to your house if you don't break it! No wonder people don't dare participate.

For example, I presume that in a standard TP, the end outcome is unknown, but will be within certain limits? The same should be true of player inspired scenes, there should be blank spaces for other people to get involved, and if something is unacceptable, say so!

Now if this works it should lead to "preventative measures" building up in your game fiction, so as to avoid spoiling the surprise of a scene. I can't tell you what they'll look like, because I don't know the players or the setting, but pick a common interference and try to imagine how to stop it with in fiction tools and you'll be there. Hopefully this will make the setting more substantial.

Another step that I value is making players need each other. If two players want different things, you can link those within the fiction so that they have to defeat each other or compromise to get what they want. The more friendly version of this is requiring someone's cooperation for a job because it is either tied to a resource they "own" or requires their skills. This can to lead to resource speculating, where people insure they sit on stuff others will need, but only with more Machiavellian players. This means that the GMs can insure that players plots overlap, without having to do so much pushing.

Another system that can be quite helpful is influence mapping; it generally builds up with the above, as you define what resources and skills are needed for what, but the idea is that you work out what can affect what, and if it has a chance of affecting something a player is interested in you warn that player by private message, either in character as an actual tip off, or as a vague suggestion that you might want to be there. That way world changing events can exist in a hierarchy, where there are those that change your local world, and up and out to the big ones that change everyone's stuff.

I'd recommend implementing the first two, the first as a rule and the second as an occasional suggestion, and then hope to build in the last one at a later date, as it can be automated with softwear if appropriate, but which takes a whole other set of skills about political map building.
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2009, 06:41:25 PM »

Bah, that's some bad text insertion there! I wish I could edit the second "firstly", never mind.
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