So, I decided to close my latest attempt at a game. The funny thing is since that time in the last 3 days 4 different games have asked me to look at things for them. I suppose I should be honored. But I keep seeing things that gave me issues. So I thought I’d put together a little post about things I learned from my failed games. For those of you that don't know me from jack. I'll give you a little BG on me to start with
Background: Impster has been running table top games and larps since 85. I start playing games on Compu$erve and GEnie a year or so before that time. These games would come to be known as MUDs. Believe it or not I was playing back on GemStone Ver. I and II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GemStone_IV). I've lived in Oklahoma, Seattle, Florida, and Texas. I'm a Rep for Steve Jacksons Game, AEG, and I used to be part of white wolf (yeah, big deal everyone's a rep for some of these companies ;). I've been involved in national 'fan clubs' from StarFleet To Klingons To the Cam. In most of those orgs I somehow get sucked into local and national leadership positions. Granted I haven’t done any of that for over 5 years. And I've staffed on a handful of games and I've made 2 failed attempts to start my own MU* games. So I've been around a while. And when it comes to games I've been known to cheat. Yes, I fully admit if I sit there and roll dice that comes up and says everyone dies. I will normally ignore the dice if it doesn't make sense for the story. To me the story is the most important thing not what the dice say but by the same token I've been known to adjust the dice against the players because it made sense for the story.
Style: I always tell my players that I will never put them in a no win situation. They will never find themselves in a death trap with no way out. There will always be at least one way out. They may not like what they have to do to get out of it. But at least they will have an option if they can figure it out. Which brings me to the two thing about my games. I hardly ever plot out the story. I have an idea of where I would like it to go. But if someone says, "Hey I think if we do this to the cave of wonders then we could keep the door open." If I didn't think about that option then they may very well change where the story was going. If I wanted to read a book or play zork while trying to figure out the exact command the game expected I'd be doing that and not running a game.
Important Info: I will not spoonfeed RP to players. If they want to sit in their rooms and not do anything that's up to them. I will throw out plot info to various people but if they don't get off their butts and do something with the info I'm not going to drag them into it. I'll normal take the plot info and give it to another player. Just because the players don't do anything doesn't mean the plot doesn't advance. If Luke hadn't gone with Ben do you really think Vader would have sat there and waited for someone to show up?
So I imagine you may be wondering why I'm telling you all this crap. Well it's kind of simple. It seems like I'm seeing some of the same. . well what I consider mistakes that I've made in the past. It's great that you've got a group of people that all have the same idea for a game. And I hope you all make it. Hopefully this message will help in that process. Lastly I'm not even going to pretend theat I'm right in everything I'm getting ready to say, it's just my opinion and you know what they say about those.
Issue #1 Rules:
Here is something that I've seen happen time and time again. Not just in MU* but in the real world, at work, etc. Someone does something stupid. Someone else tries to tell 'em 'don't do that.' Then the first person says I didn't know that I couldn't do that. One of the 'real world' jobs I normally do is network security. I can not tell you the number of times I ask a client if they have an acceptable use policy only to shake my head when they say they don't see a need for it. Having the rules posted of what is expected by the players and what the players can expect from the staff goes a long way towards building trust between those groups. I'm sure we've all seen games or events where it's handled one way for X and then Y does the same thing and it's handled differently. Which can start a rumor war behind the staff's back about why someone was treated better then the other one. If you don't want off-color jokes great. But what you consider off-color may not be considered off-color by someone else. Something I hadn't thought about when I started Arabian Moons. Was a couple of people from the middle east actually logged in and was going to play. But they found the staff naming convention to be rude/off-color cause we used the devil. I hadn't even considered that crowd and what they might find offensive which was pretty stupid on my part. With the president elections coming up I'd be sure to cover that as well. Tell 'em you can talk about politics on or you can't whatever you all want. But you're going to have to tell 'em. All of that can start the wonderful flame wars.
Issue #2 Chargen:
What do you use for Chargen? Do you need one? I was looking through ftp.pennmush.org and I see there’s a couple out there. I’m just going to pick the d6 system there. I'm not say the d6 system you all got from the pennmush ftp site is a bad system. I've never used it. But here's the main issue I see with it. West End Games (WEG) re-published the d6 system under the name D6 about 2 years ago I guess it was. Is this d6 based on the new system or the old WEG Star Wars version of the system? I can't answer that but it does make a difference. If the people who are running your stories haven't used the system then they may want to get the rule book for their own use. But which version do you get? Someone out there is going to have used whichever system this is based on and try to min/max their sheet. It always happens. And the rule lawyer will know all the ways to squeeze the points. And if you're doing something different then the rules they'll point it out. And it's really bad when staff is trying to run something then has to wait for another staffer to show up to ask how do we handle this as far as the 'system' goes. Of course this gets back to being consistent in how things are handle for your player. Based on what I've seen chargen is what's going to cause you to miss the opening date you're wanting. And it takes time to code up a chargen system from scratch if you want the players to stat themself. I'd say chargen system like what you all have from the d6 code would take at least a month to code up assuming that's all a coder was working on.
Here's the other problem with using a chargen system you're not familar with and I've done it twice. It's part of what killed Arabian Moons. The FUDGE system looked great on paper. But until you've actually played the system and created about 20 characters you don't see possible problems with the system. Once you do start seeing problems in the system and go 'Gee.. I want to do that in a different way' you've got players on the grid and you have to figure out what to do with the existing characters. Do you let them keep the stats and the problems? Do you make 'em go through chargen again? There was a trek game I used to play on. The first headwiz had RL come up and gave the game to another guy. First headwiz was using a WoD type system. New guy didn't know it. He had me help him code up a new chargen system for a game system he never had played. Made everyone re-gen. Got 2 months into and didn't like. Had me build another. But the time he finally figured out he didn't like stats at all there were only 3 players left and we'd gone through 4 different systems.
I would /strongly/ suggest that everyone sit down and talk about the system and what they expect from the system. Which takes me to the next topic.
Issue #3 Communication:
So, I just decided to close Arabian Moons like Monday night after fighting a loosing battle. So some of these wounds are still kind of fresh. This is one of them. When I started Arabian Moons I was actually thinking about a wild west game. But someone suggest an Arabian Nights type game. The game we were playing on was dying and it sounded like an interesting concept. I actually went out and bough arabian nights and actually tried to read the book to get a feel for the type of stories. And after you've gotten this far you may think Damn this Impster guy likes causing conflict. Actually I'm pretty bad at and my wife says I'm passive aggressive. To me things are either black or white. Everything's fine or I can't stand the person. There's no middle ground. And that's part of the problem I had on AM. I had one vision of what the game should be other staffers had a completely different idea of what the game should be. Looking back on I should have been going over every NWS file with fine tooth come and saying this is great information but it doesn't really fit the idea I had for the game. Instead I was just thrilled to have help building the game! After my first attempt where I created 3 staff alts and would have 'em all logged in just to make it look like I actually had a staff :p. The other problem we had over there was I'd say something like, "I'm shooting for opening the game on x day do you think we'll be ready? I'd get a response back like, do we have to wait that long? Then 6 months later they're going, "We opened too soon. We weren't ready." To which my response is "You know, this is good information to have. Except you’re to late. Why didn't you say this 6 months ago?" AM has been sitting on it's current server for like.. oh.. 35 weeks. And there are /still/ rooms that need to be @desc'ed Rooms that were built before the place opened.. And there are /still/ jobs on our job board that people have never touched. If /you/ as a staffer see a problem or a concern. Don't think that 'Oh they'll figure it out.' Whoever's in charge of that issue may not even know! You need to be sure to make sure you make your concerns known. And I would suggest posting it to the bb or the +todo or whatever you all use. If you just say it on a channel people tend to forget and then it scrolls off the screen. You should put it somewhere there's a permanent record.
Issue #4 Backup Backup Backup:
This is another one that hit home. So my staff over on AM said they wanted a softcode news/rules/theme and I fought 'em tooth and nail. It was all about control. I wanted to make sure those types of files had to go through me. I don't know why cause I wasn't doing any edits on 'em and fixing them to be more in the theme I had in mind. But back in Aug. I had a heart attack. I'm 37 and could have died. (If anyone really wants to read about it then checkout the blog on http://www.myspace.com/impster667). I was away from the computer for awhile and didn't really have the strength or energy to do things. Luckily I had decided about 3 months earlier that I needed a co-head wiz just to bounce things off and to play the bad cop to my good cop cause I didn't like being the bad cop. I wanted people to like me :D. Because I had done that, because she had all the passwords, because we had a softcode system for news/rules/theme. They were able to make changes and not waiting on me to hack the hospital's firewall to upload files or restart the game. It was a life saver. But be sure this is someone you trust! If you give them the keys to your server they can wipe out your game in a couple of seconds. Or take over your game and kick you out. It kind of gets back to who do you give a wizbit to? If they get mad do you worry that they're going to wipe out your database? If so then they shouldn't have a wizbit. But Backup is not just about taking care of your data. Backup is taking care of your sanity when you can't be there. It's trusting that if there is an in game issue they'll make a decision similar to what you would have made. It's also some one to grab you by your shirt and shake you when you're screwing up. I'd say a game needs to have at least 2 people in different locations who have access to the server. Living in Oklahoma all I need is a tornado to wipe out my city and kill the internet for a week.
Issue #5 SoftCode:
So I keep hearing that SGP is old. Not Support. Has Security issues. Does it? Maybe I code enough to get myself in trouble. Looking at code and going that's insecure is not my specialty. But it is old and I have had issues with it myself as far as breaking. But I am also lazy and if I can find something that does what I want without having to lift a finger. I'll use it. What I've seen seems to be two school of thoughts. Some want a bunch of code and combat and everything. Ooh! And that Shiny Space System I read about and Oh! You know that Impster guy? I heard He managed to hook Myd's BBS and softcode news/theme/rules into the website So whatever got added to the mush was automagically put on their website! And Ooh! What about . . well you get the idea. The problem is you get a new patch level and your game might break. Suddenly your combat system quits working and the game grinds to a halt. Now the Devs at pennmush are great and I don't think I've ever seen them release a patch that actually broke any code that I used. But I may have been lucky. The more code you put in your game the more potential you have for something to break. The more code you use that you or one of your staff didn't write the more chance you have to say WTH? Why is it doing that? I had code that @hook'ed into name to update the website so if someone changed their name it changed the login to the forums. It took me like a month to realize why it kept changing /my/ name on the web. It just wasn't important I knew it was happening and I could fix it. But I knew it was happening cause it affected me. Now if I hadn't made the code. It could have gone .. well 35 weeks I guess and done who knows what to the SQL DB. And combat systems. . . Some are going to want to slap me but I /really/ think they're bad ideas. 'Pecially one where everyone has a gun object and a PDA object and a compin and a GPS tracker and god knows what else. Yeah I know realistically that's only 4 or 5 objects times your player base. Realistically I'm happy if the game has 20-30 players object who log in on a regular basis. But if you've got 5 objects you've just gone from 20 objects to 120 objects. And then someone quits and you've got 6 objects to get rid of instead of just one. Again I'm lazy. If you want coded weapons or such. Fine.. make a parent object and have anything it needs to store go into an attrib tree on the player. That way if you want to backup the player before you nuke it you don't have to worry about their objects too. And if they come back you can dump it all back in instead of recreating the objects.
I also dislike combat systems cause I tend to forget to do things like +wear armor. Now my character should be able to go, "Funny, I feel like I lost 20 pounds. Oh crap! Armor!" Or "Gee, i'm not sure why I can't cut this guy. My sword is sharp. Oh Crap! Where is my sword?!" +wield sword! My opinion is it's ROLEplay not ROLLplay. I'd prefer to keep the dice out of it unless it's needed for randomness.
A final thought about softcode. DOCUMENT THE CODE! I'm really bad about throwing something together and then going back 3 months later only to wonder why I did something. And if you use some generic globals package like SGP. Take out the extra stuff you're not going to use. Cause someone may decide to use it and not tell you like +snote. Then you’re asking why didn’t you record they were Darth Vader’s father? I put it in the +snote! We don’t use +snote! Oh.. oopps.
Issue #6 Staff:
Hopefully this won't become an issue but. . as the size of your staff grows then so do the chance for misunderstandings. You all may be great friends but there may come a time when two staffers disagree about something. Believe it or not it does happen ;). When it does someone may have to say something along the lines of 'that's nice but i'm in charge.' So you want to make sure there's a chain of command for just such issues. That being said if the low man on the totem pole has a great idea you don't dismiss it just cause of their position.
So I'm sure a lot of this goes without saying. But I figured I'd say it anyway. If I think of anything else I'll add to this.