Scripting events for MMORPGs

I must be honest to say that I don’t have a lot of experience in making events for mmorpgs as I ave only been doing it for a bit more than half a year. But what I do have is many years of experience of ordinary table top RPG (mostly as a Game Master) and LARP experience (also mostly as an organiser). I’m not going to discuss the dynamics of an event or how to build a story, as there are so many theories and ways of doing this. And mark that I’ll only scratch the surface on the theories of how to script an event.

What makes an event enjoyable for players?

The player must feel that she is a part of the story and can change the course of the story..

The player must feel that the story affects her character..

The main characters must be complex enough to give depth to the story..

The main characters must be simple enough to quickly be defined..

Introduction

A small merchant's event in PlaneShift.

How you introduce the event is crucial to how the players follow, how many will follow and what kind of players you attract. Make sure the main character gives a clear picture of the event that is to come, and if the event is announced in forums or other media, make sure it is written well. If you promise something and does not give it your players will slaughter you and your event. Though you can some times surprise your players too, by saying it is an event about x and serving them y. Just make sure the y is exeptionally fun for the players (see “Surprise” below).

Characters and the story line

As I said in the introduction of this post, I won’t ramble on about dynamics and how to build your story, but I have to say this: Make sure the main characters match the story. They should be well though out and they should all have a very good reason for participating in the story. They should be a natural part of the story so to speak. If you need a character to drop a clue, make sure that character has a reason to do so. This means that you probably have to make more background material than what actually will be revealed.

Challenge

The players should be challenged and so should her character. An event plot should not be easy to solve, it should be challenging. A bad plot will give you two options, if you choose A you loose if you choose B you win. A good plot will give the players several choices, where A will lead to X, B lead to Y , C lead to Z and what ever choice the players take  they should feel that they won. If you mix a moral dilemma in to the choice you will give the players a even harder challenge. They must then decide what kind of moral their character support and players will often end up in a discussion of right and wrong. This is good, because it gives the players the possibility to show the depth of their character or even give the players some more depth to their character.

Surprise

An event should have surprises, but be sure that the surprise is one that brings out more good roleplay and challenge.  Have you ever seen a movie with an extremely surprising ending? When you talk to people about that movie you will quickly see that some just loved it, while others hated it. Those who love it do so because they enjoy change and surprises. They want to be surprised. Those who hate it, hate it because they feel tricked, as if someone stole the ending they expected. This is the reason why you should be careful of the surprises you put in to your plot.

For example: You are making an calm storytelling event, but your surprise is that the nice atmosphere will be broken by hoards of monsters, killing everyone. This will most likely enrage your players unless you make sure that they know that the place this event is held is a dangerous one (then again your surprise is spoiled). So the surprise must still be within the settings of your event. A nice surprise would be for example that the good guy is revealed in the end to be a bad guy. Remember also to give the players a chance to avert or at least reveal the surprise.

Balance

By balance I do not only mean balance when it comes to mechanics, but balance within the role play it self, balance between players choices and the script, the balance between the status of the characters and the story it self. This is is a very tricky part, specially if you don’t know who will turn up for the event. If you notice during the event that the balance is off, you’ll have to do something about it. It is hard to come up with any good tips on this, as it will always depend upon the situation. What I can say is that you have to pay attention to the balance of the plot at all times and do whatever in your power to keep it. If your players are peasants, be careful of introducing an all powerful king to the plot, though some times the king is needed to restore the balance. Your players should not feel too inferior (unless this is an important point to the story).

Be true to the settings

The settings is the world you play in, its history, its society, creatures and races, ideas and philosophies. If you want an event to be true to RP it has to be true to the settings. This means that you have to study the lore of the world before you even write down your basic ideas for an event. Some settings are so huge that is is nearly impossible to keep track of it all, but don’t let this be an excuse not to follow it and do your share of research. If you are not sure if your event follows the settings, ask those who would know.

Community support

Large events need support from the community. Get the players involved at some point in the planning, but do not let them control the planning. Don’t ask them what they want, but tell them what you want. For example if you wanted to make a big festival you would need a large amount of hosts. Some would take care of the food, making it and serving it. Some should take care of security and other would be responsible for the entertainment and community rituals. The more responsibility you give the players the more they will get involved. Avoid using them as “slaves”, rather give them a challenge. Some events demand that you are open about everything, like a festival, while others demand a certain degree of secrecy, like when you add a few surprises. If you keep secrets from the community, tell them that you do and why.

Pitfalls

There are many pitfalls when it comes to scripting events. First off is to make a too predictable story or just a rewrite of old used up stories. There have been so many stories written, not just for events, but in books, novels, movies, television series, comics and so on. Make sure the story you are scripting is not a copy of one, at least not a copy of one that has been used oh-so-many-times.

The second pitfall is scripting an event without many possible outcomes. Players does not always react as you would expect and if your script has only one possible outcome, you might end up being screwed by the players and the story falls dead to the ground. There is a fine balance between controlling the story and giving the players freedom to develop the story. The perfect script would give the players a good start with a nice dilemma/task. But once it is set to life the players may choose any path to the solution of the plot. This is hard to do, and most of the times you will end up with a script with a few select endings. What you should avoid at all costs is a fixed storyline, because that will make the players more like an audience than participants of a role play. Players actions should always affect the outcome of the story, even if you don’t like how it all turns out.

Controlling the crowd

A bit larger merchant's event in PlaneShift.

The main problem when it comes to hosting large events is lag and server crashes. This means that you will need a way to control the masses of players and stop them from gathering all at the same place. To do this you can spread the event over a large area, make things happen in several places at the same time. For example in a festival event you could have several “stations” spread out within a city, like it would naturally in a real life fair. Because of this problem GM events are best run in games with fewer players. But sometimes even small events get too crowded and then you will have to act quickly so the event isn’t ruined by lag or a crash. The best is absolutely to find an IC reason to disperse the crowd, but if that fails you’ll have to resort to OOC means, like telling the crowd to disperse or simply teleporting players out of the area (If you are a GM with such powers).

Words and expressions used

RP – Role play. To define role play is like defining the word God. But take a look at this article to get an idea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roleplaying

IC – In Character. Everything that your character does within the settings. As opposed to Out of Character.

OOC – Out of Character. The real world is OOC. Anything that has no relation to the settings is OOC.

GM – Game Master, those who organize the event and play the “main” characters of the story.

GM char – Characters in the story played by Game Masters.

Mechanics – The rules of the game, the mechanics that makes the game it self. Including but not limited to Stats, skills, combat system, etc.

Inspiration and resources:

http://www.fantopro.com/blog/2009/11/go-farther-mmos-as-caracters.html#more

http://www.mmorpg.com/showFeature.cfm/loadFeature/3354/Another-Perspective-on-Live-Content.html

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LARP vs. MMORPG

I have been a LARP‘er for many many years, and have been opposing MMORPGs for almost just as long. But two years back I discovered PlaneShift, a free online game. I decided to put away my dislikes for MMORPGs and give it a try. I registered and account, downloaded the game and logged in. And the big surprise was: I liked it!

Soliders from Malderia. Photo by Elin K. Nilsen

Social

LARP is much more social than any MMO because you meet actual people, you can stare in to their eyes, shake their hands and interact in a physical way. I’m not saying that MMOs aren’t social, because that would be wrong. Through MMOs you meet people from all over the world and you can interact as much as you like, and when you are tired of being social you can just go solo, do some quests and bash some monster skulls.

Practical

Attending a LARP demands a much greater effort that a MMO. You need a costume and you must attend preparation meetings. You’ll have to travel to the location of the LARP, and some times the location is far off into the wilderness. This means that you also need a certain minimum of gear and survival skills. To join a MMO all you have to do is download/purchase and go.. Of course you can prepare to a greater extent, like making a solid background for your character, researching what game suits you best and so on, but this is things you’ll have to do before a LARP anyway.

Me immersed as the oh! God of Science

Immersion

There is no question about what gives the greatest immersion experience! In a MMO you are constantly diverted by the mechanics and your surroundings. All you have to do to break the immersion is to look up from your screen. In a LARP you don’t have all these distractions. You physically in the world and so is every one else around you. This makes it all feel as real. I’m not saying that immersion is impossible in a MMO, but it is certainly much harder to obtain.

Griefers and trolls

In a LARP you meet the actual people while in a MMO you have no idea who they are and where they are from. Anonymity is the main problem for any MMO, as this makes people idiots. In any MMO you’ll have a chance to meet a griefer around every corner, while in a LARP the griefers have already been denied access to the game or they just don’t grief because every can see your face. In my 15 years as a LARPer I can’t remember anyone griefing others in a game, but online I meet griefers every week.

Conclusion

To be honest, I still favour LARP. As an actor and storyteller I feel that I can use my skills to a far greater extent than in a MMO. I have seen and been in great stories in MMOs but the greatest stories I have experienced for “real” in LARP. The biggest difference is that in a LARP you feel to a much greater extent that what you are experiencing is real, immersion is the key, while in a MMO you can be part of awesome stories but still not be totally immersed. Still I’ll keep playing online, as the preparations are so much easier and the fun much more accessible.

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Game: Planeshift

Latly i hav been dug in deep into a quite different project. PlaneShift is a MMORPG with emphasis on the RPG part. It is free and all of it is created by volunteers like most open source material. I started playing this game a bit more than a year ago, and yes i know i have said that i never would involve my self with an MMORPG.. Beacuse it it just a huge time consumer.. But i could not resist. Now I am a part of the PlaneShift team as a Game Master. That means I am moderating the game, writing and organizing events for the players. And to be perfectly honest, I find that more fun than just being a player. No surprise there.. I have had the same feeling when it comes to ordinary RPG and LARP too. I guess it is in my nature to always be on the organizer part of projects.

To join this team has been great fun for me, and the best thing is that I can use my experience from RPG, LARP and of course all I have learned from being a story teller. Well it all comes back to that fact that telling stories is perhaps what I do best and enjoy the most, no matter the medium and techniques used. Since I joined the PS team i have written over 40 events and I am quite sure there will be more..

The miner complains about his boss, in the taver Kada-Els.

The miner complains about his boss, in the tavern Kada-Els.

Here is a screenshot from an event I organized yesterday. This was a fairly simple event, based on a conflict between a miner and his boss. I won’t tell more about the event it self, as it might be done again in the future. But I can assure you we had all lots of fun. The players discussed the conflict with eagerness and solved it all with the oldest trick in the book: Bribery.

I guess you’ll all hear more from the world of Yliakum in later posts.. And if you really want to learn more about this strange and wonderful world, it is free to download and register!

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