Tools, and not just Beiber.


  • Pitcrew

    So I was having a conversation with a MU associate this weekend (I don't have friends) and the conversation sort of evolved into discussing the state of games and the swelling of some games, the struggles of others, you know the usual sort of banter we get into.

    I made the point of stating that one of the biggest hindrances to the growth of MUs is the lack of activity, whether it is in the form of storytelling plots, general scenes, or simple 'things to do'. This was countered with the statement of how players need to have their own motivation to do things. Round and round things went, as has been hashed by many of us.

    My question is this. What tools would players need to be able to run story for themselves, meaningful story beyond just BarP? I see from some posts and statements that people want to be able to impact the world their characters are in (I see the growth of Legacy boardgames as an extension of this mentality, being able to impact the overall environment). This is what I have so far, I'd love to see some criticism, collaboration, or general ranting/raving in regards:

    1. Easy to utilize 'system' for running stories that includes the capability for the player running to participate as well.
      a) Such a system would need to deal with success and failure. What happens when the players fail to accomplish the goals? Does anything happen? Does that change the world as well?

    2. Pre-written story leads to help start things rolling when there is a lack of organic ideas.

    3. An ongoing measure of impact of player action / inaction. In other words, if players don't do things does the story continue to advance? If the players don't investigate a fire does more shit burn? Is that a beneficial approach?

    With those basic questions, is this an approach to pursue, and if it is, how would one do it? I know I've grown bored with games where I lounge RP around waiting for a staffer to maybe run something, but then gets pissed off if it disrupts their sandbox when you do something on your own.



  • I've always wanted to see something like 'story modules' banked. Like skeletons of plots staff could hand out to willing STs (this idea may have even been batted around on this very board, I know it's been talked about but isn't from my own brain). It'd take a lot of upfront ST work but might save time and stress in the long run. Maybe. Idk.


  • Admin

    @three-eyed-crow The presence of modular plots waiting to be picked up, perhaps so they can be assembled into a whole the individual STs don't need to know about but also as one-shots is an old (ish?) goal of many a game.

    I've yet to see it truly fall into place and be used to create stories advancing the metaplot as a whole. Part of it is due to logistics but I also suspect much of it is because of the work involved; it often takes a lot to do all this on staff's side, so much that they might as well just run it in the first place.

    But it's a great goal.


  • Pitcrew

    Well, let's run with that.

    What is the minimal pieces that a Storyteller or Player would need to have to run a story for themselves and a group? Note, the minimal part.



  • I, personally, like the idea of a game where if something gets ignored or unfinished, it becomes worse. However, in that vein, there's a few things to consider:

    1. Is there an upper cap on how much worse it gets?
      a) You can't launch a world-ending scenario when your PCs are still level 1 and expect them to stymie it.
      b) What do you do if it turns out that the 'big bad' you released just isn't engaging for the playerbase?

    2. How do you gauge to find things players want to engage in?
      a) Same as above, what happens if it turns out no one is interested?

    3. How do you handle PrPs?
      a) How do you handle abandoned PrPs? So often people launch a plot, get one or two scenes in, and then wander away. Or their players wander away. What might you have in place to help players (or STs!) keep their plots moving?

    4. How would you make that impact meaningful? I think this can mean a few things:
      a) Impact on self: It's not always about XP gain. Maybe they earn way into a secret society. Acclaim by surrounding people. Even just emits in certain parts of the grid that represents recognition by the general populace could be cool.
      b) Impact on world: The loss of a beloved hangout spot could have a major impact should people just ignore risk to an area. What, your favorite coffee shop is gone? Well, y'all decided to ignore THE MOLE when he was destroying that block. Too bad, so sad. Or maybe instead of just +request aWeSoMe SeCrEt HiDeOuT, a good plot to earn it that liaises with the right PC and NPC groups.

    But it all ties back into points 1 & 2: what do you do when people lose interest or fall off (/idle out)?


  • Pitcrew

    @auspice

    I think if a system was designed that was handing out story leads, you could look and see which leads were being picked up more than others. It'd actually be a pretty useful tool to determine what the players were currently interested in. You don't have to scrap the other leads but make more of the same vein. So if you had story leads about raiding the Orc camps and Delivering Groceries to the Old Woman, and that damn Old Woman is starving, maybe people like those raiding stories more, so pre load a few more raiding stories. I thin kthat's how you address #2. As for #1, I think that depends largely on the surrounding systems in place of mechanics. The idea of levels and what not might be very pertinent in a D&D styled game. But if this were a more narrative focus then it might entail additional complications developing throughout the game.


  • Admin

    @bobgoblin said in Tools, and not just Beiber.:

    Well, let's run with that.

    What is the minimal pieces that a Storyteller or Player would need to have to run a story for themselves and a group? Note, the minimal part.

    I would say:

    • What to do ("It's about reveling who the bank robber was").
    • What information the ST has to disperse to the players ("Fingerprints were left at the scene and he dropped his zippo light")
    • What is out of scope ("Don't mention any ties to the Big Criminal Organization some PCs are part of")
    • What difficulty is expected for it/what the risk level is ("There may be a shoot-out, so run it as Risk 3: Lethal damage. But try to not kill anyone.")
    • What can be rewarded other than XP ("A Contact/Ally point in the local PD is available to anyone who contributed")

  • Pitcrew

    I feel like some past games I've helped run have had some luck with encouraging player run plots. I think a few things have helped.

    • A theme in which the space for relatively stand-alone plots consistently presents itself. I've run.. gosh, three games now. Where the characters did jobs, and those jobs were short plots. The ability to run a plot that is limited to 2-3 scenes is REALLY helpful for new GMs, or even just people who don't have the time and energy to commit to something that might spiral into long and complicated. It's lower effort, lower risk. This structure also really helps with ideas, as it presents a straightforward framework for the sorts of plots that fit easily into the game AND a straightforward reason for most, if not all, characters to participate. It's PRP'ing on easy mode, which I think is super important for giving people confidence, especially if they've never GMed before.

    • A culture where PRPs are regularly and clearly asked for. Not just encouraged in a theme file, but a post saying 'hey, is anyone willing to run something this month?' Sometimes even saying to a particular person 'would you be willing to run a scene?' Sometimes people need to be asked.

    • A clear method for running plots. Do you have to take everyone who wants to come, or can you limit numbers? How do you resolve conflict? What rights do you have as a player GM to make things up? How are off-camera actions handled? What needs to be RPed vs not RPed? I think a clear game philosophy to GMing helps with this, too. Does your game trend toward letting players succeed, or do you rely on dice, even when they're brutal? Is your system the final decision maker, or can GMs say 'no, you aren't really knocked out, let me undo that, it was stupid'?

    • A game commitment to supporting new GMs. One of the best things for this, in my opinion, is to team up for a PRP. An experienced GM, or even staff member, and someone who's new to it. Brainstorm together, outline together, run scenes together. I've run a LOT of plots, and teaming up is still my #1 favorite way to do it.

    We've tried other things, like idea banks and story ideas, and they have been minorly helpful, but I think those things are mostly only helpful when you already have culture aimed at supporting and developing GMing ability and confidence in people.



  • Running combat scene boot camp on F&L was pretty helpful, as a number of folks were happy to run plots but terrified of fucking up potential combat scenes. So we ran folks through scenarios and explained step by step how to do this and what that meant and so on. It helped push some folks past that initial nervousness and hesitation.


  • Pitcrew

    @BobGoblin You have some good points here. Lack of activity is a killer for MUs. I don't care how many characters you have connected, if I can't actively find RP, you're MU isn't active. I also think you hit on the heart of the matter when you say, "I've grown bored with games where I lounge RP around waiting for a staffer to maybe run something"

    I think this is largely because players do not have easy access to plot. In many cases, they may not even know what plots are happening on the game. You need to have an easy way for players to see what's going on and to get involved in it. I love Arx's +plot system as a basis for this. Arx has several other commands that give players easy ways to get involved with and interact with plot that are also worth looking at.

    Conversely, if you depend on Storyteller driven plot only, there will come a day when things grind to a halt, and return to what you're discussing above. Relying on ST-driven plot is inherently unsustaiable. The plot needs to derive from the game itself and have conflict as part of the system. Your game needs a way for players to drive their own plot, so that it bubbles upwards from the bottom and is not always imposed topdown. For example, coded blood scarcity on a Vampire game can give players something to spin their wheels over while waiting for the next plot action.

    I do not believe that a module-plot system will resolve the issues you're talking about, because in the end, the players are still waiting around for someone else to do a thing.

    A few other things:
    1 - MUs do not give people reasons to interact. When designing a game, I think you have to think hard about what you're doing to push players towards each other and how they will find each other. Downtime costs, unique roles, factions, territory disputes, etc. All play into this.

    2 - Games are designed in such a way that discourages activity. OOC Rooms, while popular, incentivize sitting OOC, by making social interaction available while doing so. They also disincentivize going IC, because doing so means players miss out on essential community building and social interactions. Chatting OOC is very important to your game, but don't let it get in the way of RP. Allowing people to make more alts than they can keep moderately active fills +who and +where with characters sitting idle and obscures where RP is to be found. This creates a culture of sitting idle, even among players with only 1 or 2 alts. Allowing players to accrue too much XP creates a game where a character can feasibly do all the things themselves and doesn't need to go to other characters. Limiting XP encourages specialization and keeps dinosaurs from souring the game for new players.



  • @lisse24 said in Tools, and not just Beiber.:

    OOC Rooms, while popular, incentivize sitting OOC, by making social interaction available while doing so.

    I think you're mistaking the chicken for the egg here.

    The very nature of the MUSH interface means that character bits always need to be present in "a room". If you force people to be IC or log off, you'll just see people idling in private rooms while chatting on channels, or being on the grid but "not really here". This has been the case for 30 years.

    OOC Rooms aren't the problem. The "problem" is the trend of players with limited free time choosing to wait around for "something good" or "something specific" as opposed to just going IC and taking the first random scene with strangers that comes along. And I use air quotes deliberately there because I'm not personally convinced that's a bad thing.


  • Pitcrew

    @faraday said in Tools, and not just Beiber.:

    @lisse24 said in Tools, and not just Beiber.:

    OOC Rooms, while popular, incentivize sitting OOC, by making social interaction available while doing so.

    I think you're mistaking the chicken for the egg here.

    The very nature of the MUSH interface means that character bits always need to be present in "a room". If you force people to be IC or log off, you'll just see people idling in private rooms while chatting on channels, or being on the grid but "not really here". This has been the case for 30 years.

    OOC Rooms aren't the problem. The "problem" is the trend of players with limited free time choosing to wait around for "something good" or "something specific" as opposed to just going IC and taking the first random scene with strangers that comes along. And I use air quotes deliberately there because I'm not personally convinced that's a bad thing.

    I have to disagree with you. Yes, players have to be in a "room." However Arx, and Firan before it, had that room be a void. Players couldn't see who else was there, and they certainly couldn't chat. When the room that players sit in waiting for RP also doubles as a community hub, players will eventually have to face the choice of either going IC to hunt down RP and miss out on on the fun chatter or stay for the fun chatter (which is guaranteed) and miss out on potential RP (not guaranteed).

    I'm not saying that OOC rooms are the sole reason for inactivity, but I do believe that they help reinforce it by imposing a punishment (missing out on social activity) for doing what we would like players to do (go IC and hunt out RP).It also blurs the lines of who is and isn't available for RP. If someone is connected and sitting in the OOC room, are they available for RP, or just chatting? If I page them, will they be down for doing something?



  • @lisse24 I've been on plenty of games where - yes, people hang in the OOC lounge while not available for RP or waiting for something, but as soon as something they are interested in comes along they hop IC immediately and go play. The key is that interest, not the room. We can agree to disagree; I don't pretend that one solution fits all games. I'm just saying that my experience does not match yours, so I see a different root cause of the problem.



  • Very, very much what @faraday is saying. And even just not that.

    As someone who loves to run plots (/PRPs), I've found the issue is often just finding willing participants.

    I see a lot of complaining (sometimes even on the games I run on) of 'no one wants to run plot,' but the true complaint is often 'No one who holds the reins for metaplot wants to run plot where I get to decide the specific outcome.'

    I've had situations where Staff will hand me a specific snippet of metaplot (Faraday herself did this on BSU a couple times! And thankfully there was a great playerbase there, but it happened on other games, too, with less-than-stellar players) and a goal for a scene. Situations like: go to this location, have this happen, and let the players discover that thing.

    I'd be lucky to have two people show up. And Staff would be handing similar scenes out to two, three other willing STs to lighten their OWN scene-running load because if THEY ran a scene? They'd be overwhelmed by how many people would appear. Us STs would be lucky to have anyone show up (1, 2, 3 players) while a Staff-run would have 10+ players. Staff would even advertise that hey, these are the approved STs with metaplot scenes going on.

    But still, crickets. And players complaining on channel of lack of plot, lack of anything to do, how the game was 'dead' despite multiple ST-run scenes per week.

    Sometimes the issue is the playerbase being picky.

    I've talked about this with a few people over time. I think @faraday has provided some stellar tools with Ares. The scene system and FS3 make things easy so that just about anyone can pick up and 'run.' If you have ideas, if you want to run, you can. You don't need to know a complicated TT rules system. You don't need to learn a lot of code. I've personally run combat scenes for 12 players and done it in just a few hours. The open sheet system lets you custom tailor things so that you can make sure to involve everybody and work in challenges and experiences so that everyone gets something to do. I appreciate her regularly for that.

    The tools are there.

    That leaves it to STs to design the stories, the puzzles, etc., to present to the players.

    The final step is the hardest. It's on all of us as players to participate. To stop just sitting around and waiting for the 'next best thing.' No, Bob-the-ST isn't staff, but what's to say his event isn't one handed to him by Staff? Or that Staff isn't planning to weave it into the metaplot? Or why should we risk discouraging him to begin with? He might be an awesomely fun ST! I've played with people who are just downright fun to play with. Who run shit so enjoyable that I don't even care if it's part of the metaplot or not, it's just fun.



  • One recurring issue on the part of the players that I have seen on many games (not so much on my current one) is that players tend to like scenes that are dropped in their lap but rarely do a lot of follow-up.

    Specifically relating to that, detective-style plots, which I think a lot of STs lean on (and that I personally do like), seem to not be as popular nowadays as I think they used to be, except for on specific games (Arx seems to be doing ok with them) where I think the player base self-selects toward it.


  • Pitcrew

    @faraday That's exactly what I'm saying. Having the OOC room encourages waiting for something that they're definitely interested in instead of being proactive.

    Maybe I'm wrong. But if I am wrong and people listen to me anyway and get rid of chatty OOC rooms, the worst that will have happened is that games will have gotten rid of what is often a troubled part of many games.



  • @lisse24 I find that they're useful for folks to chat, and then RP, with folks they might not have approached otherwise-- if your OOC community on that game is friendly.

    Fortunately horrormux is, so it works out fine.


  • Admin

    The other factor in order for PrPs to happen is that they need to be valuable. Just what adds value to them depends on the MUSH, though, and very much also on the perspective of the PrP runner.

    Other than coders Storytellers/DMs are by far the rarest resource. It's however the only true way metaplot can scale on a game other than artificially limiting its playerbase; in other words as your MU* grows you'll grow unable to offer enough plot for everyone unless you actually stop it from growing.

    For Storytellers to run things the circumstances must offer them the incentive to do so. I'm not talking about XPs (which is the usual carrot) but reasons to actually invest that time.

    For instance:

    • STing is a very creative task, so they need to have some freedom to enjoy it - and too many limitations get in the way of that.

    • They need to be able to affect day to day RP. If all they can run is mundane events on a game with dragons or spaceships that's not much fun.

    • Players must be rewarded for their investment too, and again, I'm not referring to XPs alone. Did you help kill that big ugly? Then the King should know about it - as opposed to every NPC outside the plot being completely unaware/uncaring of what you did since it didn't 'count' as much since it wasn't staff-ran.

    And so on.


  • Pitcrew

    I think that the crux for me with being a story teller is that there's this sense you can't participate. Good story tellers end up being pseudo staff telling stories for everyone else and never getting anything for themselves



  • @lisse24 said in Tools, and not just Beiber.:

    Maybe I'm wrong. But if I am wrong and people listen to me anyway and get rid of chatty OOC rooms, the worst that will have happened is that games will have gotten rid of what is often a troubled part of many games.

    I first created an OOC lounge on one of my games some 20-odd years ago after noticing a trend of people idling on the grid when they weren't available for RP but still wanted to be online to chat/do jobs/check mail/whatever. You'd see people IC, get all excited, go to join them, only to be met with crickets chirping (because they were AFK) or "Oh sorry, I'm not really here" when you tried to engage them with RP. That stuff was far more annoying to me than having folks in the lounge. But obviously YMMV.

    I'm not actually opposed to muting the OOC room and forcing people to chat on channels. It's something I've considered anyway for Ares for other reasons (channel abuse tools, engaging people on the web portal, etc.). But I have zero expectation that it will encourage people to RP more. People will RP or they won't. Having the ability to chat while they can't builds community, but it doesn't keep people from RPing.


Log in to reply