Sunday, October 24, 2010

Races for Real

Hello everyone,

I've been having trouble building lately because I've been trying to work on the city I want to make into my epicentre of culture, a blend of all races and beliefs in the centre of the world. But it's proven extremely difficult for me to create a city of culture without having a strong idea of the people who make the culture. Which brings us to races which will populate the land.

Our goal is to create a game with a great story which ties everything in it together in a meaningful (though usually hidden and secret) way. It's the formalist in me. It's been the mechanics of going about that which have been hard to nail down. Where to start?

At first we thought about doing something completely new and different from our first mud, DR. But once we got into specifics, we began to realize the extent of the work we would need to do to start from scratch, and decided to use as much of DR as we feasibly could.

Early on, we brainstormed about races. It was an exciting and heady time, because we had finally broken away from DR and were in a place of endless possibilities where we could do and make anything we wanted. But so early on, we -- or maybe just I -- didn't really grasp the scope of just how different we could make things. We worked off of a list of DR races, changing a couple, axing a few, adding a few.

The problem was, I didn't have a good idea of what I wanted to use for a creation story. So while I had a vague idea of what races we would have and what the people of our new world might be like, as I got deeper and deeper into the creation story, the more I began to realize that the races we had picked first would just not work, not as they were. There was nothing to tie them into the story, and too much chance that they would be tied more strongly into other stories, motivating people to bring in mythology from the world outside the game rather than embrace the one we are creating -- something we really want to try and avoid.

But yesterday, Parvi and I sat down and talked it all over: the pros and cons of having standard fantasy races. What kind of players we want to attract: both people who enjoy fantasy, and people who normally avoid fantasy. What kind of races might best attract them: if we want people who don't have a high opinion of fairies and elves, would a mud based on fantasy races repel them? On the other hand, Parvi and I both agree that if we start a new mud as a player, making a character for the first time, we are turned off by a list of races which we don't recognize or know anything about. It's a bit much to expect a new player to read a thick manual about race before picking one, when there are a thousand other muds out there.

The question is how to make a mud that is fresh and new while still retaining the familiarity of what has been around forever -- and of course how to tie the races into the creation story we are writing.

I decided to sit down and go over our race list again. I wanted to make races which new players would be able to recognize, but that I would be able to tailor to the specific story of our mud. I also wanted to make the more generic races have interesting twists to appeal to both experienced and new players, and include radically new and interesting races which play very differently than typical mud races.

After much thought, here's what I came up with:

Human -- default race
Elf ------- quick, delicate, magical
Dwarf ---- short, stocky, iron constitutions
Giant ----- big, strong, intelligent

Tiefling -- warped version of humans
Goblin ---- warped version of elves
Orc ------- warped version of dwarves
Ogre ------ warped version of giants

Garou ----- can shift into wolves at will
Variel ---- can shift into birds at will
Seidon ---- can shift into sea serpents at will

Sprite ---- ephemeral, can neither attack nor be attacked
Dragon ---- start out as human, but gain power and abilities with age

Undead ---- cannot be chosen at creation; can quest to become undead and gain access to death magic

I have them blocked into groups because I think of them in categories. The first group are humanoids, designed to be a reliable choice for players new to the mud: they will play like one might expect, with a few interesting twists. Each of these races will get its own city, with all the appeal of a city, including rooms and houses to rent or buy, but I will come back to that more later. I am leaning towards having these four be the only races which can become embraced.

Tiefling, Goblin, Orc, and Ogre will be our evil races (though I am planning, with permission, to pattern the goblin city and culture on the Goblins webcomic by Tarol Hunt, so they won't really quite be evil...). We need to flesh these out a lot more, but we think there's a lot that can be done here, again offering up that familiarity with a twist for those who prefer to play evil. If the good races can be embraced, maybe something else, new but as powerful, can be done with these ones...hmm.

The next three are all shifter races. Wolves, giant birds, and sea serpents: each will have unique abilities when shifted, such as the serpent's ability to breathe water, which will be a remarkable ability when combined with some of the new redit room code we've put in. I can't help loving the names of them. It's the Rowling in me.

Sprites are a completely new kind of character, at least for us. Sprites will be made of Spirit, and they will be able to wander wherever they want, through any door, see and talk to anyone they like. But they won't be able to pick anything up or carry anything. Creatures of air, they'll have no possessions and nothing to fear. It will, however, be possible to banish a sprite from a room where he may be unwanted. This race is designed to allow players to explore the mud without fear of death or attack, to see what's out there without risk.

Dragons are also a new character type for us, and one I think is going to be really fun to play. We've decided to make dragons into a player race which begins life as a weak, frail human. For the first ten years of a dragon's life, he'll be weak and powerless in nearly every capacity. The next ten he will be somewhat stronger, and by his third decade he would be on par with a normal adventurer. After that, however, the dragon would begin to grow stronger. In the fourth decade the dragon would gain the ability to shift into the form associated with dragons, sinuous airborne creatures of wing and scale and claw, tongue unfurling a burst of flame, with all the benefits and abilities such a shift grants. Increased age will grant dragons increased power, up to their hundredth year, when they will gain extreme power -- as long as they can stay alive. Dragons will be as immortals, never dying, but if they are murdered, they are reborn as juveniles just on the edge of the fourth decade. We can make this race because of the new system of time which Parvi has made -- it has opened a lot of doors, and this one might be the biggest.

The last race, Undead, won't be available at creation. Rather, characters who wish to pursue death magic will be required, at some point in their training, to make the ultimate sacrifice to their craft. The path to get there, and the reward for doing so, are as yet undecided (though I had one idea about undead status granting immunity to piercing and slashing weapons).

The next thing to do is figure out all the stats for each race, and to build cities for each race, and to write stories for each race. I have a great idea for the dwarves that I am itching to get started on, so I will sign off for now.


PS I am looking for someone who knows how to make a website using Dreamweaver. If you know how and would like to talk to me about either starting up a website for us, or helping me get started with a basic template I can play with, please send me an email at


  1. Dragons are popular among mudders, and they make a good selling point - but if newbies log on and find themselves playing "a weak, frail human", it's going to be a pretty big letdown. It's also rather unusual from a thematic perspective. Why not just start them out as hatchlings? Even if it's just cosmetic, it'll still give them the "coolness" factor.

    There's also the whole "consistent playing experience" thing. If the eventual goal is to shift into a dragon that is played in a very different style (due to its natural weapons, inability to use gear, etc), then players will need to discard much of what they've learned up until that point. From a learning curve perspective, it's easier on the players if they can keep building on what they already learned as a newbie.

    Classes/races that start off weaker but end up stronger will be considered mandatory by the more competitive players - it doesn't matter how long it takes to get there, they'll be judged by their end-game potential. The problem is, if it DOES take a long time to get there, and/or the class/race is really weak early on, players will often get frustrated and quit. So you can end up with a situation where players feel obliged to play something that drives them away from the game. However this may not be a major issue if PK plays only a small role.

    I'm not sure how your aging system works, but if it's based on character creation date and/or online time, you're going to have people idling their dragons through the first four decades.

    You mentioned "undead" as a race, does that mean it replaces your existing race? Wouldn't that mean that giants shrink if they become undead, while dwarves grow, and dragons change shape? Or will "undead" be a separate flag, so that you can play a giant skeleton, or a dracolich?

  2. Hi :)

    You raise a good point about newbies picking dragon and being sorely disappointed -- we had that happen quite a few times on DR when newbies would pick the "Werekin" race thinking they would automatically get a shifting character when in fact they got the same 7% chance as everyone else.

    One idea that could help with that (and which I had been turning around in my mind anyway for other reasons) would be to ask, at the beginning of our inital login/creation, if the player is new to our mud. If so, then Dragon could just not be listed as a possible selection for that particular character creation. I've been thinking about creating separate mud schools for people who have never mudded, for people who have never mudded at our mud, and for our experienced players, so it might be interesting to extend that to the creation process.

    I think having a human as a chrysalis form for a dragon does have a pretty good cool factor :)

    I don't envision dragon abilities as being vastly different from those other players would have, but more as building on, expanding, and magnifying what the player has already learned. Players won't shift into a dragon permanently -- they will gain the ability to shift into one (and back) at will.

    I completely agree that classes/races that end up the most powerful in the game will be considered mandatory. We plan to make it take a very, very, very long time. DR is twelve years old and still going strong even without implementors -- that is the kind of game I want to make, and I want to give players who love our game an epic character if they stay with us.

    Players may get frustrated and quit (especially if their dragon character gets killed a lot), but what I hope to see happen is that they quit playing that character for a while and play a different one. As long as dragon characters accomplish a certain goal (as yet undecided for sure, but one idea is to have some sort of secret/special place which dragons must visit at least once every real-time month, with three months in a row missed meaning the dragon becomes stunted in growth and doesn't continue to progress), they will keep advancing over time. In other words, if people want to idle, they can, but they won't need to in order for their dragons to age. The real passage of time does that. They can accomplish their token monthly goal and then play other characters until the dragon character becomes more appealing to them in terms of power. Or they can use their dragon to RP while they wait, and use those first four decades to get used to PKing with the character with a bit of a handicap, which will make them all the more deadly when they finally develop.

    We haven't fleshed out the undead race completely yet (read: not at all beyond the initial idea), but what I have in mind is that Undead will be a unique race which will carry over some characteristics of existing races when they are made, such as size, stats, shifting abilities, etc. These things may be modified by Undead status (for example strenth might go down, constitution might go up, AC might be affected, they might become immune to piercing weapons, etc.) For example, an Elf Rogue who pursues death magic will become an Undead Rogue, but will retain his high dexterity and small shape, whereas a Giant Mage who becomes an Undead Mage would keep his high int and huge shape. So yes, you will be able to play a Giant skeleton, and have that still make sense in your stats.

    No dracoliches though -- dragons are immortal :)

    Thanks for the ideas :)

  3. Sprites sound like my kind of class, even if I guess they're designed to hardly be a class at all. Just chillin' out with the players and seeing the world. Will they at least have illumination for dark areas (or, perhaps, completely benign magic as utilities?)

  4. The way we see sprites working, they will innately be able to see in the dark and fly, and will be unaffected by underwater and heat conditions.

    In addition to this, I'd like to see them able to do things like look into containers (unless they've been warded by a player) to see what's inside. The concept is for players to be able to see the world without really being able to touch it.

    I'm not sure what you have in mind regarding benign magic, but we are definitly open to ideas and suggestions :)

  5. benign magic -> spells or skills that don't actually do anything horrendously useful (think on the usefulness scale of DR cleric's continual light). Of course, I understand they're an almost entirely hands-off class.

    I am eager to play one, though, especially if they can still talk/interact/roleplay with other players. My first character thought, shockingly, is NOT "annoying little pest". Okay, maybe a little.

    Here's something you said in this same blog post:
    "I completely agree that classes/races that end up the most powerful in the game will be considered mandatory."
    Isn't it a better idea to make every class/race the most powerful instead of some classes being "mandatory"? I really don't think "time spent playing" is a very fair way to balance power, it teaches the wrong lessons... ('Well to win I guess I gotta hope he takes a break for a few years' vs. 'He was more skilled and simply outperformed me')

  6. Sprites will have their own magic which will help them observe the world (and definitely communicate with it). One thing we're thinking of for them is an enhanced invisibility effect which only certain other players will be able to detect, making sprites excellent spies.

    Every race will be powerful and will have its own perks, but dragons are designed to be special. I think most players have a lot of characters, but these characters have relatively short life spans. They are made, levelled, equipped, guilded, and put on the shelf when the player wants to try a new combo, try a new guild, try a new role.

    It's rare to see someone play the same character for all the years they play a mud, but we think that's something worth encouraging. Dragons will be "mandatory" in the sense that hopefully every player will have one in their repertoire -- not to replace all the characters options they might try otherwise, but to be played alongside those characters through a period of years. We want players to invest in the game, and this is how we plan to encourage it.

    I do want to clarify that we aren't going make dragon growth depend on how many hours in a day a player spends with that character logged in, but rather how many days in a week (or a month or a year) the dragon appears and whether or not it is being actively played (as opposed to idling).

    I don't think it teaches the wrong lesson to reward long-term, committed characters with power. I think (hope) it will encourage players to stick with one character through the years, to develop that one character, to make it into an importand person in the game world, both in terms of PK and RP.

    Yes, dragons will be powerful. You will probably not be able to slay an ancient dragon with a human who has just gotten his first quest weapon. But how would it make sense if you could? If you want the power to take that dragon down, play the game and figure out a way to do it. You could gather together an adventuring party and plan a course of action. You could seek out a different ancient dragon and try to sway him to your cause. You could search for ancient artifacts of power to do your work for you. Or you could bide your time and wait until your own dragon develops.

    I really don't think that in order to have a balanced game, all possible characters should have equal power. The point of a multiplayer game is to collaborate with other players, after all, whether that be as harmless sprites or as a party of adventurers out for dragon blood.

  7. "I don't think it teaches the wrong lesson to reward long-term, committed characters with power..."

    But this is only for dragon. No other class seems to get stronger just by its nature. You even said in another paragraph you hoped it'd be 'mandatory' in the sense everybody would have a dragon alt that would grow for them. I'm sorry, but "everybody should have a dragon alt they grow since they'll become really powerful" doesn't strike me as a whole lot of fun, for many reasons.

    Why should dragons be 'mandatory' through this, and no other class be as such? Why can't every class grow and be ultra-powerful with dedication? I'm fine if this is, in fact, the case and a sufficiently knowledgeable elf or something can take on a dragon with a good chance (I'll even put my foot in my mouth and stop posting), but I hope you understand that when my first impression was "Dragons rule, no saving throw", it feels like railroading-by-design and a bit of a turn off.

    ...Then again, what do I know? I'm brainstorming personalities for the non-combatant race versus everything else. Oooh, they're gonna their own magic! I can't wait!

  8. It seems like we're getting hung up on the word "mandatory". All I mean to say is that I hope every player cultivates one dragon character. I also hope they try out all kinds of other characters, and that the appeal for those characters equals the appeal of a dragon character. Hopefully we can get it right and it will be :)