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The Role of Clans in Driving the Game
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Post Posted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 6:03 pm      Reply with quote

There was an interesting conversation on the Chat today; I thought I’d capture some thoughts and share them here for a more extended conversation.

[TLDR: Player leadership to help generate vision, mission, and goals for IC groups is the key to breaking stagnation; it gives the staff things to support and work with.]

Definition of Terms

I’m going to use three terms – Ends, Ways, and Means. You can look them up, but for us, I’ll apply them this way.

Means: This is stuff. Stuff you use to solve your problems.
Ways: This is how you use the stuff to solve your problems.
Ends: These are what you’re solving. Your goals, vision, mission, objectives. What is important enough to your group to expend your blood, sweat, and treasure (Means) to achieve it?

The Role of Staff / The Role of IC Leaders

Many of the things that the staff can do on a MUD are to about Means. We create scavenagable areas for you to get stuff. We make crafts for you to turn it into better stuff.

Staff also create challenges that make you work to get the stuff… we put monsters on the map, we make challenging terrain, we add weather constraints, we do things that create obstacles between you and the stuff you gather. You overcome these obstacles, and the reward is stuff.

Why is this important? Because Stuff is a Means, not an End.

The Ends are defined by the players. For the Big Ends, the goals that drive the game, they are defined by groups of players that we call Clans in the RPI MUD universe. Every IC organization needs to have clearly established ends. They need clear goals that describe what they are about, why they’re doing it, and how people can join their cause. Then, they need strong IC leaders who can help develop the Ways to get the Means, and then the Ways to use the Means, to reach those Ends.

It is this continual process that brings meaning and purpose to the game. Your group has a goal, and the players motivate towards that goal. You don’t scavenge to get materials, use those materials to get armor and weapons and stuff, only to have stuff. You get those things because there’s something you want to achieve.

But Wait! This is a SURVIVAL HORROR Game!

First, I'll say that Atonement RPI was a beautiful and wonderful experiment with a story-driven game that existed nowhere else in the RPI community as far as I know. It intended from the beginning to move through a progressive story, where the ship, then the crash, then the launch, then the exploration, and the eventual end of the story all had clear Ends defined by a gifted storyteller, objectives established by staff with major story scene events associated, and a regular grist of survival-horror in between.

If Parallel RPI is designing to create a persistent moon world colony without that story-in-motion concept, it is a fundamentally different, and more traditional, RPI MUD game.

Survivability is usually the first goal. Many MUDs will skip this but Atonement RPI (and presumably Parallel RPI) do not. In a gritty survival-horror game, being able to continue living when the environment itself is working against you is one End within the game.
  • You need food-paste to survive. To get food-paste, you have to be able to hunt.
  • To be able to hunt, you need weapons and armor. To get those, you need scavenge the wilds.
  • Once you have food, you may want quality food. For that you need flavor. To get flavor you need herbs (plant compounds) and chemists. To get herbs you need to again scavenge the wilds and understand the ecosystem.
  • In Atonement, you needed other things to make this happen – stable electric power, clean water from the pipes. The world worked against you and Entropy was a law. For those you needed to maintain the infrastructure of the town with Electricians and Mechanics.
  • Then you may desire specialty things… you get into robotics, or biology, etc. Better stuff.

Eventually (and sometimes it doesn’t take long), you have enough weapons, armor, food, and luxuries. At that point, you need groups that give you purpose. Survival Horror is a baseline. Either you rely on the staff to keep upping the ante and making life harder so that you need to get better means to meet it, or you find new Ends beyond survival alone. Many MMORPGs rely on the former model – once you level up your gear and skill, they push you to a new area of the game world where things are harder to kill. Again, and again, and again.

This is different in an RPI, where you keep one consistent game world and look to roleplay and storytelling to make the difference. It is up to the players, self-joined into clans, to make the difference.

Using the Clan-based Concept to make the difference

Clans have goals, and those goals are to change the game world in a fundamental way. Often these goals have competing interests, desiring the change the world in ways that the other group would not approve of. This creates natural objectives:
  • Get the stuff to achieve my clan’s goal.
  • Find Ways to use that stuff to achieve my clan’s goal.
  • Find Ways to use that stuff to stop the other clans from achieving their competing goals.
  • Find Ways to protect my clan’s plans from being stopped by other clans.

Stuff finds purpose in your clan’s master plan. Characters find purpose in supporting getting and using the stuff in support of that plan. Players find enjoyment in their characters taking actions that support real change in the game world. Clan-based dynamics around these plans support the development of an intense roleplay experience which is the hallmark of an RPI.

So, there are two approaches here, and this came up in the chat conversation.

Persistent Clans:
If we code static, stable, long-lasting clans as part of the game world, then they need to have long-term non-perishable Ends which can be supported over an extended period of time – perhaps a RL year or two. Goals cannot be unachievable – if your group is bent on breaching and raiding the BioDome, you cannot make the BioDome unassailable. Eventually through extensive work and numerous plotlines, the group needs to KNOW that this COULD be accomplished. The End Goal needs to be lofty for a persistant clan, but supported by a wide array of intermediate steps and near-term objectives that clan leaders can strive for and achieve on at least a monthly basis. This often also equates to stable NPC leadership as well, with a requirement for staff direction to come down to PC leaders, outlining what the (monthly) near-term objectives and options of the clan are. Because the clans are stable, there is a challenge to PCs when it comes time to change IC leadership within the clan, or when players want their characters to go join other clans to get a different experience.

The Open Sandbox – Changeable Clans:
The alternate model is to create an environment which is player-driven. Players can come up with their own Ends and attract other players to them, forming grassroots clans. Minimal staff support hooks them into the systems of the world, and the clans rise or fall based on the effort that the players put into them. If a clan stagnates, the other players abandon it for a different group. If a clan prospers, then it achieves more of its objectives in the game world. This eliminates problems of stagnant or absent leadership, rewards player initiative wherever it occurs, but creates a difficulty for new players entering the game… they need to tag onto a changeable map of concepts, groups, and goals where static clans let them plan to join up front the start.


Now its time to brainstorm and answer this question for your clans in your game.

What are your ends? How does your clan desire to change the gameworld in a fundamental way? What options are they considering pursuing in achieving it?

If we can answer this for each of the clans in the game, clearly and articulately, then you are on good footing. If you then have active PC leadership who work IC to move players towards these ends, then stagnation is a thing of the past.

(End note: I just realized I said “we” for how staff behave… this is because I’m talking from experience being a staffer and game developer elsewhere. I’m not staff here at this time. I am legacy staff from Atonement.)

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Post Posted: Wed Sep 18, 2013 12:45 am      Reply with quote

This touches on something I’ve been mulling over for a while now, I was actually going to post what I’m about to say here on Bartleby’s thread about RP and stagnation, but this seems a more appropriate place.

Ends are vital. They lend meaning to everything you do, and without meaning there is no quest, mob, or material sink that will do anything more than temporarily distract from the real problem of stagnation, which is a sense of purposelessness.

The question I have been struggling with lately is how to develop compelling ends.

I’m good with the small stuff. I can (and have) come up with myriad little projects to use up our Stuff and keep people busy. There’s plenty to do, there just isn’t a particularly captivating reason why.

When I first started playing in the clan that I’m in Survival alone seemed like a pretty ambitious goal. We wanted to do Something Different, and leapt in, bound and blindfolded, willfully gimped in the Stuff Acquisition game. As was pointed out, however, survival is everyone’s first order of business, and once you have that in the bag you need to move on to other goals. I guess I thought it would take longer, and I now find myself at a loss.

I could answer easily for the other two “persistent” clans in regard to at least some potential Ends, but I’m stymied when it comes to my own. We flourish when weathering hardship, but that quality goes flat when faced with neither adversity nor adversaries. Survival is still a concern, but it’s not -enough- of a concern that players feel particularly engaged by it.

I tend to suspect a design issue. One clan was provided with the game’s biggest MacGuffin, right out of the gates, which I don’t take issue with in and of itself, but it does leave me feeling (to paraphrase Hugh Laurie) a bit like I’m playing tennis with a salmon instead of a racket.

I realize the importance of a unifying vision, and a meaningful endeavor that players can work toward, the problem I’ve been having is how to create that something, as a player, in such a way that -other players- would find it meaningful and compelling (while still maintaining canon).

Suggestions welcome. If they’re specific to me or my clan or are otherwise not forum safe I would suggest PM, but the question as intended is really more of a general one, about developing and promoting Ends that other players feel inspired by. I’m not without some irons in the fire... they just aren’t very interesting irons. Bonus points for discussion of how to use those ends to motivate players from other clans as well (even if they are just motivated to try and thwart your every move.) I don’t mean to derail from the original intent of the thread, but in trying to answer for my own clan I’ve been coming up empty handed, so, for me at least, solving that issue seems step one.

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Post Posted: Wed Sep 18, 2013 8:31 am      Reply with quote

Thanks for the affirmation, Blue. The conversation on chat highlighted this issue for some other players, and this thread is essentially my attempt to address the problem of the Stagnation thread in a positive and proactive way from my perspective in game design. You aren't derailing anything - I encourage discussion of specifics about the clans and their documentation so we can come up with actionable ideas that players and/or staff can use.

Observing from the Outside

I'm blissfully unhindered, at the moment, by any in-game experience. Smile As a new arrival, I've looked at the documentation, listened to current player opinions, and taken a look at the character creation process. Here are my observations -

The "Recruit for" roles which are posted for new players say nothing about the clan flavor or goals. They talk generically about your low status within the clan (as I'd expect for a 0 RPP role) but present nothing to help me choose between them. Coming at it from a "log in and play" perspective, I'm left to choose randomly between them.

I had a hard time finding the documentation... the floating "Navigation" link on the left threw me. I'd recommend putting the "Universe" pages prominently on the front page of the game.

Once I looked at the documentation, I see the following Ends stated for the groups:

The Red Company: "They are united by their desire to conquer the Hyperion Platform and bring the Moon under the rulership of a single authority, but they have not yet amassed the power to do so."

Niners: "Block Nine is a gang of hedonistic punks... most are lax and unruly. They prefer to put their minds to the present and enjoying life's pleasures... they are a nuisance for other denizens to be around."

The New Guard: "Though they once, a few decades ago, tried to seize control of the neutral market and claim governorship of all of Rust, they failed and have since turned their focus on business and posturing."

If the game is going to enforce static, stable clans, then I recommend that those clans need to have clear ends. The Red Company goal is solid - they want world domination and unification - and the other groups would object. The New Guard once had a goal but gave up on it since then.... their goal is now "business" which is another way of saying "acquire stuff" or as defined in my original post, no goal at all. The Niners exist to be a nuisance to the other clans... while this provides some roleplay hooks, it isn't sustainable, imho. Worse than an goal to achieve something themselves, this goal turns to destroying other's goals, which is a recipe for eventual player frustration.

What Can The Staff Do:

I agree, based solely on the documentation, that these are stagnant entities. If they are going to be static and persistent clans, they need long-term goals that players can rally around and work with.

The other option is to go to the sandbox model. Let these clans be the static status quo, but make it clear that they can rise or fall based on player effort. State a policy that allows switching clan allegiance IC, and make players free to begin new clans. Let players have the "sandbox" approach, and as staff, provide support to enable the environment's changes.

What Can The Players Do:

The game world of an RPI can and should change based on character effort. It is good to have a "feel" or "theme" posted for a clan which new players can attach to when they arrive. It is bad for that game documentation to stifle activity by the players. If game events evolve the clan, then players should submit edits so that the webpage documentation can be revised. This "living history" over time shows that the game is evolving and gives new players a sense of the flow, which encourages them to join all the more.

On the forums, we can posit game documentation changes that ret-con the clan documentation a bit and give them a clear long-term goal. Or, we (staff and players together) can make a decision at the game-design level to embrace a full or limited sandbox approach regarding the clans.

In the game, characters can and should discussion the vision and direction of their groups with other characters. Try to arrive at goals and objectives organically via roleplay.

Both of these can be done simultaneously.

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Post Posted: Wed Sep 18, 2013 10:08 am      Reply with quote

Learning more as a read... these answers from HAL have bearing on this conversation.

If the PCs are the total leadership, then they are totally responsible for fixing the lack of Ends or Vision themselves, and their developments within the game world should be supported and reflected on the webpage documentation.

If there is canon describing the rise and fall of many smaller gangs, that supports at least a partial-sandbox approach.

Q. Was there ever a family that controlled the Southside?

A. In the next Wilderness, you will likely see many unfamiliar-looking gang-marks. Over the course of 120 years, there have been hundreds of small gangs and families that have risen up and taken control of different parts of Rust. No doubt there have been Families in the southern slums, though not near as old or as powerful as the main 3 families, which, through luck or otherwise have managed to last for well over fifty years.

How do the goals of the various families PCs align with the actual family lines?

A. Well, this is an interesting question. Fundamentally, our PCs that you see IG are the leadership of a family, from top to bottom. There are no other groups around above them. That isn't to say there couldn't be. As PCs have full power, there is nothing stopping them from requesting the formation of an NPC council to help them run things and maintain clan direction. I'm sure some of the old leadership is enjoying retirement somewhere in the slums, and could be brought back if needed. But, they'd need to be asked.

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