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DMing a Successful Persistent Online World

Author: 
Interus Drakor

Dungeon Mastering is an art, and to be a successful artist you have to know how to weave an intriguing story, make believable, realistic characters, and keep combat exciting for many more people than you would in a pen and paper campaign. Online DMs find themselves not having to take care of dice rolls or the character acting that is the trademark of a good PnP DM, making life a bit easier. Yet at the same time they lack the same environment that is having 6 people in the same room, sharing the energy, and having the body language to make their whole story believable. Online DMs also have a set world, with a set history and set rules in which they have to work with- the story and mechanics are not entirely up to them. PnP and Online games are far from alike, this is clear.

Yet with so many tools at their disposal DMs simply cannot create believable worlds. In today's large online worlds players largely outnumber DMs, and to make matters worse most quests follow the "Take a big creature, smack people around, die" formula which frustrates most role-players beyond despair. Most of us as gamers are tired of this kind of gameplay and of these kinds of DMs, some of us are looking at small groups; going to the roots of AD&D. At the same time others are looking at the various persistent worlds, and the creation of these is what this essay focuses on. It outlines what to do to make the world you create fun for the players, because that’s all that really matters.

Have DM Friends! Lots of DM friends....

One of the most important things about being a DM for a persistent world is that all players have an experienced DM to make it interesting for them. In all of today's commercial online worlds the few privileged people who are in the right place at the right time are the ones who enjoy the benefit of a special event. The closest most people get to a quest on UO, EQ or AC is going to the Vault Network and seeing the headline about it. This should not be, players should either get "the DM experience" or they shouldn't. The best way to do this is have a high ratio of DMs to players. Simple.

Play a Role

Unlike PnP DMs, whom have the responsibility to create the whole entire world, Online DMs are merely but one in a staff of many in an already created world. These individual DMs should play a role in their world, playing an online DM should be like playing a PC. These DMs should have their own positive and negative traits. Think of the Greek gods, some of the best stories have been created with their array of personalities. This creates a living, fun world not only for the player but for the DM, and lets face it if you don't consider your role as DM fun you should not be doing it.

The biggest advantage to DMs who 'play a role' is that the staff knows that all of their bases are covered if they have their many DMs with set personalities. For every evil tricky DM whom hates honest people and wants to conquer the world, there should a Do-gooder DM that guides the players to the right path. At the same time DMs should be urged that much like a player, their job is to role-play. They should never abuse their powers and they should always keep the game fair and fun for the player- their personality is merely a guide for what type of quests they should run.

Coordinate with your Staff

There is no use of having many DMs if what one does is not in conjunction with the other. Many brilliant stories can be created by two DMs who set their respective groups up for a grand finale. DMs should come up with ideas and brainstorm with fellow DMs every once in a while to create very special events. Basic rules also need to be set such as what the DM can give out, what monsters the DM can place, and other such balancing issues.

At the same time a great quests can be ruined by DMs who don't know what’s happening with the other. Communication is vital because nothing can cause a rift between two DMs than messing with each other's quest without warning. Sure its great to put in that great wand of munchkindom in the player's inventory, but if the other DM does not know about it the results can be devastating to his quest. The Staff should have courtesy and respect for each other.

It's Not All About Combat

A game should never be about combat, combat is the side-order to the main dish that is AD&D role-playing. Look in the rules, it doesn't have specific combat rules for limb removal, or any such realistic combat procedures. It has a simple 'I whack you, you whack me' system. This is because AD&D is about adventure which many times is more about a story than combat, many online DMs tend to forget this. DMs should know that sending out 40 dragons against the players is not all that should be done. It really gets me how every "bad guy" comes charging at you and the only person you ever get to talk to are the bartender or the innkeeper who gives you your fed-ex quest..

DMs should think about the great stories we see in today's novels, TV shows, and movies. The Practice, Ally McBeal, Law and Order as well as all those Grisham books show us how much we all like court cases and the trivialities of the law. Sci-fi movies and shows like the X-files, The Outer Limits and such remind us how we like to see things differently than we do in our normal life. Comedies show us how much we like to laugh. Great movies and stories as diverse as The Matrix, As Good As It Gets and Braveheart show us how we like deep involved characters which are more than they seem. DMs should incorporate all these things into their adventures.

Make Stories with Moral Backgrounds

The good vs. evil plot is overdone and is only seen in fairy tales and children's books. All grown-up books have a moral background as to them. Not all good people are completely good, and not all evil people are absolutely evil. The most basic example of this is how the Elf that kills all people who enter his forest is seen as a ruthless barbarian in other's eyes, but in reality he's just tired of people chopping his trees down and burning his lands. This is a simple cliché that should always be considered by every DM- Every action has a positive and negative counter-action.

Do Not Give Yourself Away

One thing that really kills it for most people is the loss of the magic of a story. RPGs are all about this magic of telling stories. DMs possessing creatures should never say 'Hi this is Foozle, I’m a DM!' or shout 'Hey there’s an evil super powerful NPC thief about to assassinate the mayor'. This may seem silly but you see it in every mud or online game in some form or another. Things like this should meld in with the world not be the center of it. The minute this break from belief happens players will be more likely to not role-play their character, pkill randomly and in general not take part in the magic that is online role-playing done right.

NPCs do not all have our western language and philosophy

There is a reason why there are different races. If Gary Gygax wanted us to have a world full of humans, he would've made the only playable race humans. I’m not saying NPCs should be ultra-realistic super-scripted code-beasts that have a keyword response for everything, but if you are going to create a simple multiple choice system (ala BG/Planescape) you might as well make the characters diverse. There are two ways to diversify NPCs:

Language: One of the main problems I had even with EQ (which is basically all about fighting factions) was how NPCs did not speak differently. They all had the same speech patterns, even NPC Ogres rarely talk as they should. If your world is stock AD&D, dwarves should speak your Scottish 'Aye' type language, Elves should speak in soft poetic words, gnomes should speak quickly and incoherently... it creates an example. You can't possibly expect your players to speak role-playish if the NPCs you create don't do it either.

Philosophy: Language is but a superficial trait, the philosophies of the races and cultures are what can really add flavor. The races are diverse- barbarians might be impatient and savage, cultured folk of rich lands might be snobby and demeaning, while folks under an evil lord might be untrustful and quiet, your dwarves might be loud and obnoxious, while the elves might be peaceful and careless. Not every NPC has to follow a prototype, you need to take these things into consideration when creating an area. You need to think what the purpose of the NPC is in the area, what you need it to say, and how it would say it- if at all.

NPCs without the above diversities are oft dismissed as just NPCs, when they could be so much more.

Use The Story Around You

It is absolutely true that the DM's imagination is limited by the persistent world around him. In a PnP session if a DM needs flying beavers to pop up for some odd reason he will do so, but if in that specific world flying beavers do not exist then he is limited by his setting. Regardless, the persistent world around you can also be used to your advantage. DMs should be acquainted with the world and use it to their advantage- If Orcs are the silent murderers that left behind blue shoes every time they killed somebody and ravaged the world but were wiped out 100 years ago, the DM could create his story about the reintroduction of these monsters by leaving a big pair of blue shoes on the ground at several murder sites. If it wasn't for the world history about the orcs the story would just be about a pair of blue shoes on the ground and a bunch of orcs, see the difference? This applies to terrain, items, people, etc. If this mountain was where Bob the Great died 3000 years ago killed by his own mother it would mean a lot more to the players than it just being a mountain. One has to think about what they have to work with and not what they don't.

Involve the Player in the World

This is a very general suggestion and can be interpreted and implemented in several ways, but AD&D PnP is all about the player's being the hero or villain of the day. No online world gives players the opportunity to dictate the course of the world. And if they do, it'll most likely be A or B. "If you kill this dragon you win the war, if you don't you lose, yay". Things should be a lot more involved than this. Now there is no one way to do this, and this is where smart design comes in. Persistent Worlds makers need to realize that this is one very important way to keep the players excited and that is making them feel special.

Afterward

This is merely the tip of the iceberg guys, Persistent Worlds are far from what they will be in the future. Much like the original Quake and its mod community, with NWN we have the power and the tools to show the big companies how we want our games done. We are the future, lets show them suits what we got people!

Interus Drakor,

NWDL Project Admin

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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