Imperium Romanorum Project: Part II (Narrative, Community, Administration)

Submitted by Tyr on Fri, 2011-07-29 12:02

This is the second post in what will hopefully continue to be an ongoing series dealing with the development of ''Imperium Romanorum'', the MUSH I'm currently working on. Part I was an overview of the project. This will deal with narrative and RP, the community features that hopefully will enhance the experience of playing the game, and the administrative structure and techniques that will ideally avoid the pitfalls that have faced game admins in the past. A quick note on terminology: HC means Historical Character, and OC means Original Character.

Although the MUSH server can be used as a platform for pure social interaction (M*U*S*H, BrazilMUX, Gateway/OGR, and PuggyMUX come to mind as examples of this sort of "game"), it is perhaps most commonly used to create roleplaying games. As the raison d'être of these games, encouraging, supporting, and developing RP is the central focus of admin activity. Some games have attempted to maintain their players' interest in continued participation by running story-arcs and attempting to tie others' activities into these arcs (or vice versa); OtherSpace comes to mind as an example of this strategy. Other games have taken a more lasseiz faire approach and simply allowed the players to RP as they see fit without attempting to connect anything into an overarching plot. Nearly all have some sort of admin-run plots which, although not necessarily connecting to an overall storyline, can be said to form one with their corpus.

On Imperium Romanorum, I will attempt to do something like what OtherSpace is doing. I chose the setting because I believed that the historical situation came with certain conflicts—which are, after all, what drive stories—already present that I hoped would drive the players of the HCs. However, at the same time, most of the population was not directly involved in these conflicts, and so there is plenty of room for play that needn't be incorporated into the overall story-arc. Mid-12th-century Europe, while arguably not as violent as the preceding century or two (historians often speak of "feudal anarchy," which, although contested—quite apart from the fact that, as scholars, historians love to argue, the inherent bias in the narrative sources we possess makes it difficult to state definitively that the period was any less violent or chaotic as the preceding or succeeding centuries—reflects a certain preoccupation by tenth- and eleventh-century authors with what they understood as an outbreak of violence and chaos following the breakdown of the Imperial state), was nevertheless a period in which arbitrary authority and large-scale violence were commonplace, and the leaders were violent men. Furthermore, given the lack of recognized and authoritative institutions for arbitrating disputes, particularly among the upper ranks of society, violence was often the most efficacious means of settling a dispute, and the feudal nobility was nothing if not disputatious. The rebellion in the previous century by secular princes, assisted by radical prelates (and the papacy itself), was effectively overcome, but the Crown had not been able to destroy its opponents; instead, it was forced to compromise. Even though the assent of the princes was required for the designated heir to succeed, this was mostly a formality; where there was no designated heir, they would choose someone who was related closely by blood to a previous King. Anyone contesting the succession was in a dangerous position. However, even if the magnates in question were not actively maneuvering for the Crown, they could contest its authority over them, and their peers' position within regional politics. The authority of the magnates themselves was often challenged by up-and-coming noblemen who, through strategic marriage alliances and diplomatic maneuverings, could build a sufficient power bloc to pose a threat to the authority of their more powerful peers within the local aristocracy. The Church, as a participant in the governance of the medieval world (indeed, clerics performed many essential governmental functions because of their education and training), was often entangled in these conflicts, and the great bishoprics and abbacies, richly endowed with land by generations of Kings and nobles, often found themselves the target of this violence. I'll deal more with the specific situation with which the PCs will find themselves confronted in a later post, but suffice it to say, the tensions this created should provide rich material for conflict between noble PCs.

So while there is a sort of over-arching plot, its exact outcome is in question, and subject to influence by the PCs. There are also a number of sub-plots which provide ties for lesser nobles to interact with their senior peers, as well as with one another. Hopefully, as players research their characters, they'll discover potential plots of which I am not aware; and players are welcome to spin their characters based upon reports or rumors from the period, or later historians' attempts to explain their motives and deeds. However, the over-arching plot is primarily of relevance to HCs, and mainly major HCs at that (I'll deal with who are major and minor HCs in a later post). Players of OCs are still going to be creating narrative, even if they're not necessarily participating in the grand game (although a significant number of OCs, mainly knights, will be, if only as bit players).

But what is narrative? Basically, when I speak of "narrative," I mean story-telling. Roleplay MUSHes are part improvisational theatre, part interactive fiction. Players tell stories about the characters they play through their roleplay, observing certain conventions (which are quite weak in MUSHes). Narrative is basically sequential, offering the audience a series of interrelated events which culminate in some sort of resolution, ideally making clear the causal and temporal relationships between those events. Because of the size of the IC grid, which will initially encompass an area located in southeastern France, western Germany, and northwestern Switzerland, it is not expected that events will be played in the sequence in which they are intended to occur; details on the specific areas encompassed, and the way I propose to get around the problem of geography, will be offered in a future post. In concrete terms, players are encouraged to work out in advance what they want the outcome of plots or RP sessions to be, possibly as well major events occurring therein. Players should act as if they are involved in an ongoing dramatic production, the script to which has not yet been written.

To keep players interested, I'll offer the following features: (1) A wiki, which will contain the majority of the game documentation (some will be offered on the game itself, but PennMUSH textfiles are very limited); (2) A bulletin board where players will be able to converse, submit original fiction, non-fiction, artwork, or other compositions (such as music), and roleplay logs; (3) hopefully, RL events such as get-togethers.

This is the hard part. Essentially, I intend to let players run their houses as they see fit, with a minimum of oversight, unless it comes to my attention that they're being abusive or are failing to take action to deal with abusive players within their houses. Players who occupy senior positions will be expected to generate roleplay for their followers. In addition, quests will be created, possibly including crusades, and a few players will be tapped to work with other players to create these as well as other tinyplots.

The game staff proper will primarily be devoted to maintaining the game server and code, including building.