“Putting the RP back into RPG”

How better to follow on from Nicodemus than scavenging a throwaway line from post? Well, there are probably a plethora of better ways but that’s the one I’m going to use. But this isn’t going to be an examination of what little we the Un-beta’d know about how Tabula Rasa may or may not be providing players with ethical dilemmas in its quest structure nor is it going to postulate as to exactly how a being “shooter” does not necessarily exclude a game from being an RPG. That’s dull and tedious conversation and just needs exhibit A: System Shock and exhibit B: Deus Ex to make the case.

This is about the lack of RP in MMORPG.

I’m not a roleplayer. Actually, that’s not quite true. I’m certainly not a hardcore, walk don’t run, 58 pages of backstory, consistent characterization, “Verily where doth thine will taketh thine good self on this fine morn whence the birds are singingeth and the mead doth flow generously from thine goblet which doth overflow with, um, mead. Forsooth! A kobold! Come, let us put paid to the rascally rascal and claim the bountiful bounty from the good captain yonder! Have at ye, foul egg!” type of roleplayer. I’m more a have an idea for a character and a story and that’s about it. I blame it on my old screenwriting habit. It’s okay though – I’ve got it under control as long as I keep taking the pills.

Where was I? Oh right, not being a roleplayer. That was relevant because? Oh yeah, because if I was, I’d be amazingly frustrated by the lack of RP in self proclaimed MMORPGs. The RP in that acronym, I’m assured, stands for Role Playing. Yet, in my experience, the games that call themselves MMORPGs don’t actually let you RP.

When I first had a crack at World of Warcraft, I figured I’d play safe and so created a human Paladin. (No sniggering at the back there – I was young and innocent.) Now, my understanding of what a Paladin is comes from the days when I used to browse through the AD&D Players Manual, dreaming of the day when I might have some friends who’d be interested in playing the game with me. Paladin: righteous warrior and holy knight. Lawful good alignment, devout and just. Heroic champions: e.g. Knights of the Round Table, 12 Paladins of Charlemagne etc. So I got me a Paladin, gave it a name (Rodney the Virtuous) and set out to right the wrongs of the world of Azeroth.

Eventually, having snuffed out the candles of the kobold miners (because they’re kobolds right and are definitely evil – you can tell by looking) I presented myself for duty at Deputy Willem, a fine upstanding young man with strong promotion prospects. The conversation went something like this:

Deputy Willem: Hello Wodney, how art thou today?
Rodney: Um, it’s Rodney.
Deputy Willem: Whatever! Please go to the vineyards and choppeth off the head of one Gawwick Padfoot, a notowious vagabond and wascal who has wampaged awound the valley causing much twouble.
Rodney: You mean kill him?
Deputy Willem: You’re not as stupid as you look? Yes, that’s what I mean!
Rodney: Couldn’t I just, I don’t know, arrest him?
Deputy Willem: What? Didn’t you hear what I said? I want you to bring me back his head!
Rodney: But surely in the name of Justice and the Greater Good, it would be better if I arrested him and then he could be brought to trial?
Deputy Willem: The decision’s been made. Why are we still having this conversation?
Rodney: What happens if I don’t kill him?
Deputy Willem: You don’t get given the nice shinies and won’t be ready to take on the might of the Evil Horde.
Rodney: So, no justice then. Or mercy.
Deputy Willem: Nope, none. Just his head. On a plate. And hurry up, there’s a queue behind you.
Rodney: By the way, what happened to your speech impediment? You know – the Wodney thing?
Deputy Willem: What speech impediment? Haven’t you got some killing to be doing? Get lost, Justice boy!

Disappointed by the apparent ruthlessness of the Alliance, I logged out and decided to try a Tauren – previously described to me as “Evil Cow Men”. Evil could be good. In fact, it could be fun. A few minutes later and Drakyn “Don’t call me Daisy” Fleshrender, Tauren Hunter, bestrode Red Cloud Mesa. I went to swear my allegiance to the might Chief Hawkwind, proud warrior of the Evil Cow-type people.

Drakyn: Chief Hawkwind, please accept my bow and my blade into your service. I am yours to command. What is thy bidding, my master?
Chief Hawkwind: Good. Your hate makes you strong. Before this day is out, we will crush the kobold menace and drive the centaurs from our lands. Then we will join our allies in the mighty Horde and strike against the Elves and the Humans and those annoying little gnobby garden ornament things. Go forth, cleave their heads from shoulders, spill their blood and let it drench the shores of Kalimdor.
Drakyn: Heads, cleave, maximum blood spillage. Gotcha! When do we start?
Chief Hawkwind: First things first, could you just pop down to the well and check on my mother for me?
Drakyn: …?!

SWG made some attempt at addressing this with a quest in the Trials of Obi-Wan expansion.

Daarth Revan23: Hello beardy one. I’ve got that Macguffin you sent me after. What now?
Obi-Wan: Well, padawan…
Daarth Revan23: Padawan? I’m only 2 boxes away from Master!
Obi-Wan: 2 boxes you say? Well, don’t get too attached. Always in motion the future.
Daarth Revan23: What?
Obi-Wan: Nothing. Forget I said anything. Anyway, are you going to give me that thing or not?
Daarth Revan23: Well, it’s kinda shiny. And the stats are pretty good. And it would be totally in keeping with my dark side character to not give it to you.
Obi-Wan: Yes, but it would be the right thing to do to give it to me.
Daarth Revan23: Yeah, but I’m kinda like all dark sidey, ya know. I mean I learnt Force Lightning and I got Force Choke down pat. Hell, I even got red crystals in my dual blade lightsabre. I’m bad, dude.
Obi-Wan: If you give me that thing, I’ll give you something in return.
Daarth Revan23: What sort of something?
Obi-Wan: Well, it’s another macguffin but it’s a little shinier.
Daarth Revan23: Oh? Really?
Obi-Wan: Ya, really! And I’ll tell everyone what I good job you did and how much you helped me.
Daarth Revan23: But dude, I just told you. I’m all bad and mean and dark side. I kick light side ass! I’m totally the next Sith Lord.
Obi-Wan: Shiny shiny!
Daarth Revan23: This is so unfair. Okay, here’s the one you wanted – now gimme that. Just please don’t tell anyone I did a good thing, ‘kay?
Obi-Wan: Whatever! It’ll probably get nerfed after the NGE anyway.
Daarth Revan23: NG what?
Obi-Wan: Nothing! See ya round. Force be with you and all that crap – you’re gonna need it!

Richard Garriott is making a big thing about the forthcoming Tabula Rasa giving the player “ethical decisions” to make that will have an impact on future quest chains. Decisions like “Do I let the CIA use my airspace for their Rendition flights in return for future trade deals” which implicitly assume… oh wait, sorry, wrong game.

Perhaps in the future, MMOGs will earn back the right to include the RP part of the acronym. At the moment, if you want a game to react to your decisions, you’re better off exploring the single player world. So go now, walk out that door. Don’t turn around, just dig out that old copy of Deus Ex and just check out your bosses reaction to you investigating the ladies toilets in the UNATCO base. And if Deputy Willem objects to you using the tranq gun on the NSF terrorists, flip him the bird and tell him to Jog on!

10 thoughts on ““Putting the RP back into RPG””

  1. While WoW is anything else but RP-friendly… the Tauren quest lines are fairly consistent, as long as you don’t think of them as “evil cow people,” and instead remember that they are animists, surrounded on all sides by ruthless centaur, bonded to the horde because of aid offered them in their fight against those centaur. It’s all about food gathering, well cleansing, and territorial defense. No head-gathering (some beast-trophy gathering is as close as it gets).

  2. *nods* Player conceptions and alliance propaganda are what disagree with the Tauren roleplaying. Wanting to play an “evil cow” is rejecting the presented role. Still, I do share some frustrations. It’s ridiculous that villains in CoV aren’t capable of *killing* anyone (though you have to give kudos to NCsoft for explaining why defeated foes disappear).

  3. Closest most of us get is ticking off somebody else in a squabble over loot and ending up on an /ignore list.

    Mission: Rescue crazy damsel singing to herself in the middle of the ghosts. Whether you choose to do this quest or not, she’ll still be there in 10 minutes ’til…indefinitely.

    I think that was my biggest issue with NWN2, though, was that some games seem to really reward being ‘good’ over ‘bad.’

    In the twilight state between sleep and wakefullness, I once dreamed I was playing an MMO where everyone starts on the same ‘side’ but based on how you handle quests and how other people rate you, you get sorted into one of two groups in the last few levels and then you can engage in RvR type PvP or do a large series of quests to get switched over to the other side (and switch back later if you want).

    Actually, I think this was prompted by a frustrating night in Anarchy Online where 2/3 of the group ran around ninja looting chests and corpses while the tank and I (healer) were busy fighting the mobs. Let them be forced to join the side of the ninja-loot-whores and those who ditch the group as soon as they got their own mission done and don’t stick around to help the others get theirs done, and see how a faction of selfish and lazy fares against the cooperative and er, pleasant-er, players!

  4. I’d love to see more games include some kind of different quest options that at least have the feel that you’re impacting the game. The instanced storyline quests in LOTRO are pretty good, but they’re just a few in a game with a million, “Go forth and get me a shrubbery” quests.

    Personally I’d like to see someone at least shake up the system – have an NPC who has you kill X monsters, then X of another type of monster, then X of a third type. Only when you come back the third time, all tired out, he’s gone to look for you, or whatever. Then you have to rescue him to get your first reward, plus another reward, plus a tie-in to another quest. Or you can just shrug your virtual shoulders and move on.

  5. Personally, I feel one of the significant hinderances to roleplaying on an MMO is a really major lack of accomplishment.

    I don’t mean XP, or reward items.

    I mean a reason to remember the quest after you’ve finished it. In LotRO, west of Bree, there’s an intrepid little hobbit with a half-built inn. He’s got a half-dozen quests involving paying back everyone who helped him get his roadstop started, (and it is a prime location for folks delving into the old woods) and getting the local bandits off his tail.

    Now, how awesome would it be if, having finished his quest chain, the next time you run through that area, you see the inn fully built?

    We’ve got the technology, just not the perspective. Have quest progress determine what is visible to the player. Just because everybody’s wandering the same world doesn’t mean they’ve got to all see all of it the same.

  6. Or for that matter, patch in the finished inn after 6 months and make new quests there. People that helped build it will remember and others will hear the tale from those that did.

  7. In my dreams, i figure that a good mmo role playing game should just give a healthy kick to xp when killing mobs and and stuff like.
    It should include xp distribution only after an important objective has been accomplished.
    The Npcs, in my opinion, are boring as hell. The “go there, do that and come back so i can send you some other place to do some other stuff” are boring, pale and are not at all about role playing (no matter how many pages of text they have). Maybe if alone side the GMs and the PCs another “guild” would be formed and be called the DMs (dungeon masters) – wich are either employes of the firm or other players that just replacing the boring NPC with a more active individual.
    This way everybody get’s something unique to do, and if they get out of instant ideea a small war or group quest can come in handy and this way every body get’s his share of fun and pasive “experience” learning their characters and interacting with others, finding genuine solutions to the problems imposed.
    And another thing, this way the “13” year olders would have no way to grind their way up to lvl 70 but to grow up, and play the game.

  8. See, to me, that’s the screwiest bit about MMORPGs – while the nomenclature designates a certain set of expectations, they tend more towards being the equivalent of console RPGs ‘writ large’ as were.

    That said, there’s several bits of existing console RPG experiments that really, REALLY need to be shamelessly cribbed for usage in other games. One prime example that came to mind, that I’ve tried to experiment with coding up, involves resolving that annoying problem of ‘every freaking person does the quest and encounters the same NPCs’. To wit – in WoW, at least, when you go someplace and want to save, you talk to the NPC at the Inn, you update your save point, and get back to questing, while it’s still too early to really worry about grinding reputation.

    Supposing you wanted to cut some of the grinding, or make an equivalent, for reputation, to the ‘rested’ bonus of when you don’t play for a while and chill at an inn or capital city for a bit? Give the NPCs a new option – volunteer. When you volunteer, it flags your character for use as an NPC when next you log off, based on your skill level and profession, appropriate to the area. If you’re in the Inn, for example, and have high Cooking, then the game would borrow your name and appearance as a cooking NPC preparing food, even if you aren’t actually SELLING it. If you’re a Warrior, and volunteer with a Town Guard, you become one of the wandering guard NPCs giving directions and defending towns against marauders of the opposing faction.

    Supposing one has a high enough faction reputation, to go with one’s level, maybe more options become available – instead of just being a skill user on display, you can be a skill trainer, with every X amount of money made being converted to reputation gain bonuses. Working as a guard and slaying attackers might garner you a small, reduced amount of Honor, with no loss occurring in the event of death, as well as the bonus to reputation. Donating offline time to be an errand runner might make you fill in for an NPC who normally travels from point A to point B, while giving a vendor time off might earn you small percentages of money based on the raw amount of transaction work completed (selling and buying).

    It would allow for the experience to be different each time someone is out and about in game, and add a new level of involvement in the game, with perhaps even higher level rare ‘NPC Mode’ quests where a character has to put in an application (using the mail system, perhaps?) and where they can supply their own dialog, if selected, so they can contribute a bit more of themselves to lore on the server, or at least local flavor.

    Not that anyplace would be willing to do this…

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