This is Bones' Editorials section, in which articles written by my friends and associates may be placed. Bones Dragon


  Editorial Section

PvP versus Non-PvP (August 4, 1998)

This is actually an e-mail that was sent to me, so I'm quoting it here in its entirety. I'd be curious to see how some of these ideas will work out in other games. I can certainly see the pros and cons of both sides of the argument... So anyway, here it is:

Hiya Bones :)

I know you're not a UO programmer or GM or anything - but I've been doing enough research on UO and the Ultima series that I know you're been one of "The Dragons" for a long time. For that reason I'm pretty sure you know who to send this to... The following "essay" is on one of the MPG-Net games and I thought the people at UO might find it interesting... What prompts me to send this along is what just happened in game. I am a female RPGer - don't care for those "QUAKE type" games, don't like killing other players. I was hunting animals - minding my own business - even leaving the monsters to the others so they could have some fun. Then along comes three "blue" guys - who corner me - all three attack me - then chase me to the other end of the damned MAP!!! This isn't fun... Can't wait for FuSe to be perfected so I can stop paying OSI to waste my time... Would rather stay with OSI but the kids have gotten out of hand... Well, here goes, for what it's worth. I've added a suggestion to the bottom of it too. Although they've probably already thought of it...

The following was written by one of the programmers for MPG-NET, specifically for the Kingdom of Drakkar game. I just thought it was very well written and speaks exactly how I feel about PvP combat. I have taken the liberty of adding a suggestion to the bottom of the page for a possible solution.

I was in the Pub recently and someone asked me why there was no Player Character versus Player Character combat allowed . I responded that it was decided from the beginning that the Kingdom of Drakkar would not allow PC vs PC combat, and that it was the best decision we had made. The person responded with "Would you care to 'defend' that 'best decision'?" I had not thought it was needed but since they asked I'll address this issue as one who both works and plays in an online service.

In this genre, the online industry's goal is to create an ongoing RPG "persistent world" where you can enter and leave at any time, grow your character, meet friends, go on quests, do battle, etc. Games such as Ultima Online, the Kingdom of Drakkar and others expect more people online for longer periods of time. Folks will play a stand-alone title for a few weeks. They may frequent some online services for several months. The online connection to other people makes it satisfying for an extended period. In the persistent world games, this "extended period" is considered in years of play, not just months. In an online role-playing world, some rules of conduct go a long way toward turning a world from complete anarchy to a place where friends meet to play and have fun. Character development is the whole point of a game like this. Why make it possible for one segment of your user base to alienate another segment by allowing unlimited pkilling? The popular argument by pro-pkillers, people who are usually pkillers themselves, says that it is no different to be killed by another player than it is to be killed by a creature in the game. I can tell you from personal bitter experience, that it is very different. In the course of my work I hear the problem calls and the cancellations of newbies beset by difficulties in games, especially those caused by other players. Newbies DO quit because of dying, and more often if they are slain by PCs than if by monsters. The fact that another player can trash your character that you've been working hard to build, that the pkiller can choose when to initiate the fight, when to break it off and that he can almost always avoid any penalty for it makes matters worse. Monsters do not laugh and insult you when they see you later in the game or conference room. Monsters do not exit the game to avoid retaliation. Monsters do not re-roll to avoid retaliation. Monsters have to face their foes on more even terms than pkillers. Personally, I like to play games with monsters in them, I avoid games with rampant pkillers in them. Rules of conduct are a good thing. An online RPG is NOT capable of sustaining the freedom of action of Real Life . There probably is a place for PC versus PC combat if it can be kept within the role-playing aspects of the game. The thing about pkilling is that it is not done in a role-playing sense unless the players are all role-playing psychopaths. There are NO inherent repercussions that keep an online society from self-destructing as Diablo did.

A game with absolutely no chance for PCs to interact hostility would lack a certain edge, but a game with Rules of Conduct is far from what some pkill advocates call a ' chat room'. During travel between towns, there are many hostile and non-hostile computer-run creatures. This provides the depth that many pkill games are lacking even when there are many Player Characters around. Providing a magical world of adventure, without forcing everyone into the 'fight or flight' mode of unbridled pkilling, is essential. Players of online games with rules against pkilling have fun exploring, meeting companions, developing their characters, facing challenges, completing quests and ridding the world of evil minions. The last thing they want is to have a character they've worked very hard to build be jumped and trashed one day by a pkiller who thinks, "this is what role-playing is all about"!

Suggestions: Perhaps a guild system like UO has and the ability to turn combat on and off even if you belong to a guild - that way each guild can have selected "soldiers" who are the pvpers. Also - the only characters able to steal inside a building or around the banks should be GM thieves, period, and they only get one shot at it. If they make the second attempt within a given period of time they should get caught by the guards or at least their odds drop sharply. That would cut down on the population round those areas. Thieves that you witness or "catch" should remain "gray" to you until they raise in karma - regardless of the death of the character. Your dexterity and intelligence should determine your ability to avoid being pick pocketed and in catching the thief.

Jacquie Gower
Tia on the Chesa Shard


The Man Behind the Curtain (By Designer Dragon, May 11, 1998)

  Most of our citizens actually lay eyes on their officeholders and the hopefuls thereto about as often as they see circus elephants and with the same lack of intimate contact. A man behind the footlights on a platform is a little bit unreal; he might as well be a movie.
  But the people... are still interested... to have one show up at the front door is as delightful a novelty to most of them as would be a chance to ride that circus elephant. That unreality, the candidate on the platform, on the billboard, or in the newspaper, suddenly becomes warmly human and a little more than life size.
  In addition to being a novelty... [it] is a flattering compliment... the idea will be kicking around in the back of [the voter's] mind. "Here is a man who really seems interested in us ordinary citizens..."

Ask any old Usenet hand: things have gotten worse. There's more people. And they are ruder. They are cruder. They flame more. The signal-to-noise level has been falling for years now. And it's all your fault.

"Yours," that is, assuming that (as is statistically likely), you're not one of the old Usenet hands yourself. Chances are you aren't--the explosive growth of the Internet has meant a shattering of the old sense of community that used to exist. Once upon a time, the Internet was the playground of the few who had the technological savvy to reach it, the fortune to be somewhere that offered access, and the knowledge of its mere existence. In other words, an audience that was extremely selective: generally highly educated, and working in either academic or high tech fields.

These days of course, these folks are feeling very much pushed out of their old playground. Now that the cat is out of the bag, the Internet is forever changed. Many of them are looking forward to Internet 2 as a salvation, but the fact is that the sense of small, insular, familiar community that those people knew is forever gone, simply because people will know about Internet 2. Cyberspace is no longer a well-kept secret. And that means really fundamental changes in how the Internet community evolves.

Back when Robert Heinlein wrote today's opening quotation in Take Back Your Government!, his manual on practical politicking, he probably had no idea that someday they would be quoted in a discussion of virtual communities. On the other hand, he probably would have been tickled to see the book used thus. Old hands in cyberspace have been quoting Heinlein for a long time; his libertarian politics found a friendly reception among the well-read science-fiction readers who populated the early Internet, and it's not uncommon to see quotations from his writings as Unix messages of the day or the like.

The thing that led to the frustration many old-time Net hands had with the arrival of the mass-market Internet is exactly what Heinlein is describing: the personal touch. In general, human beings tend to react better to personal contact than to impersonal interactions. We'd rather talk to a real person over the phone than to a machine. We'd rather get a personal letter than a form letter, and failing that, we'd prefer a form letter that at least pretended to know who we are. And when we are not known, we are psychologically disinhibited, and act out more freely. To maintain tight community, everyone must be known.

This, of course, flies in the face of the inevitable anonymity that the Internet provides. Distrust is therefore rampant. And it creates a real problem for the administrators of a virtual community as well, because they are in a position worse than "might as well be a movie," as Heinlein puts it. You see, they are supernaturally powerful. And if there's something that we tend to fear and distrust more than someone we don't know, it's someone we don't know who has power over us.

This dilemma isn't going to go away ever; when it boils right down to it, we're always going to have someone out there who has the power to turn our virtual world (which we may well have come to value deeply) off. And that's assuming that no in-game administration is required. But of course, it is.

But it does mean that the in-game admin faces a bizarre problem. He is exercising power that the ordinary virtual citizen cannot. And he is looked to in many ways to provide a certain atmosphere and level of civility in the environment. Yet the fact remains that no matter how scrupulously honest he is, no matter how just he shows himself to be, no matter how committed to the welfare of the virtual space he may prove himself, people will hate his guts. They will mistrust him precisely because he has power, and they can never know him. There will be false accusations galore, many insinuations of nefarious motives, and former friends will turn against him. It may be that the old saying about power and absolute power is just too ingrained in the psyche of most people; whatever the reasons, there has never been an online game whose admins could say with a straight face that all their players really trusted them (and by the way, it gets worse once you take money!).

There isn't very much that can be done about this, particularly as your virtual world grows. Many a mud has found that the feelings of intimacy and of trust faded as the playerbase grew, just as those early Netters found their once-civil newsgroups devolving into endless flamewars. But it does mean that admins must at some point relinquish the role that they once held among the playerbase. When the game is small, they are able to talk one-on-one, soothe hurt feelings, resolve problems using personal judgement, and adjudicate delicate issues such as one player's accusation of cheating against another. But as all large companies know, as government knows, and as online worlds are coming to learn: the bigger you get, the harder it is to know your audience that well, and the less trust they will give you. And the problem becomes exponentially worse over time. The only solution is to not put your admins in the position of judging unverifiable facts, or else they will abdicate all pretense of fairness. They will, in fact, be acting unfairly, because there is no way of knowing the circumstances.

What does this have to do with practical matters? Well, let us consider this list of possible actions that a Killer might take against another player in UO if it had no combat system at all, or did not allow player versus player combat.

They could kill the victim's pet. They could kill the victim's intended target mere seconds before the victim gets to. They could steal all the loot off of the corpse of the victim's target before the victim gets to. They could release a tame dragon near the victim. They could stand in front of the victim's desired destination, blocking access. They could do all of this without even saying a word, so that the issue of verbal harassment never arises.

You see, it is axiomatic that as your virtual world becomes more malleable and more versatile, that players will find more and more ways to, well, screw each other over. What's more, there are thousands of them for every one of you. You will not be able to keep up with their ingenuity. (A designer should never underestimate the amazing ability of players to come up with new means to do each other harm). UO happens to have features that because of their newness and uniqueness, open up more ways for players to do harm to one another via indirect means. And as virtual worlds develop, matters will only grow worse--consider the day when you get the ability to dig trenches

In a world without any playerkilling, you as the victim actually have no recourse whatsoever except an admin. Who is someone you don't trust, cannot know if you made up the situation (consider how most of the above actions are extremely difficult to detect via automated means), and who is going to have to take one person's word over the other.

This is not a situation in which admins are likely to become more trusted. And it effectively renders admins useless as judges of human behavior as the game grows.

Growth is never an easy thing to cope with. And the new breed of virtual spaces are facing issues with scale that are new, and often new solutions are required. In yesterday's essay I spoke of the traditional administrative model for a virtual space as essentially peternalistic; this isn't meant to serve as an insult against those who inhabit the space, but rather to describe a system whereby groups are essentially governed via the charismatic personal contact of an authority figure. Just as in the real world, this system falls apart once larger bodies of people need to be governed or administered or taken care of. There is a reason why we evolved away from a tribal structure in the real world as our cultures grew; the same will--and must, really--happen in virtual spaces like Ultima Online.

At the last player lunch, a fellow told me that he was fascinated by how UO had recapitulated European history from 800AD to 1200AD in six months of existence. He commented on the parallels between marauding bandit gangs, the enclaves of feudal systems building secure spaces and leaving the wilderness to the less civilized people, the eventual overcrowding as villages covered the available building space. He also shrewdly guessed the character of our next set of changes based on historical precedent: house ownership and limits.

We, as humans, have been here before, over and over and over again. Just as the Internet grew and Usenet habitues no longer knew every poster; just as tribal leadership gave way to more organized and (yes) less personal forms of government; and just as Heinlein's book on politics is now sadly dated (when was the last time a precinct worker rang your doorbell?), virtual worlds are now getting large enough that older solutions to administration no longer function. The importance of personal contact has not diminished in the least; but the difficulty of providing it has grown, and will continue to do so. Many of the choices made in UO regarding playerkilling toggles, safe worlds, and the like were made in light of this fact.

This doesn't mean, of course, that players cannot start ringing doorbells themselves. As the overall administration grows more distant, the local one becomes more important. And, in many ways, more powerful, as it understands its local circumstances and may obtain the power to modify its local laws. This was the point of Heinlein's book--that politics that matter are actually at the local level, and this is where you can make a difference. You do not expect your nation's leader to fix your streets or solve the local bank robbery--that is what the City Council is for. And in UO we are embarking on the experiment of exactly that: providing local empowerment to the playerbase. Perhaps Enshu Ponfar's City of Yew does not see itself as a symptom of the sweep of history--but by these lights, it is.

In the end, it boils down to the fact that the best government is the one that you can trust, which will be the one you know personally: the people close to you in your virtual community, who are held accountable precisely because of community ties. Your best government is going to be each other, because the man behind the curtain isn't going to know you any more than you know him. Consider what Heinlein said:

  An adult is a person who no longer depends on his parents. By the same token a person who refers to or thinks of the government as "They" is not yet grown up...
  There is more cynicism in this country than there are things to be cynical about. The debunking exceeds the phoniness. There is more skepticism than mendacity... [The skeptics] are around us, busy belittling and sneering and grinning at every effort to make of this country what it can be. What it will be.
  For you there is the joy of being in the know, of understanding the political life of your country, the greater joy of striving for the things you believe in, and the greatest joy of all, the joy of public service freely given... there are no words with which to describe nor any way to convince you of its superiority to other joys; it is possible only to assure you that it is so.

There have been many skeptics on Usenet about these essays; Heinlein also says, "Don't argue with a hard case." But for those now posting about townstone systems and methods for player militias to jail offenders and the like--hang in there. If we keep recapitulating European history at this rate, we'll be at the Magna Charta soon--and won't that be interesting!

In the meantime, consider a quotation by a different author, Heinlein's longtime colleague in science-fiction, Isaac Asimov. It may as well apply to playerkillers, who are as we've discussed those who "don't get it," those who fail to see it as Real. "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." And who else are playerkillers but those who are socially incompetent in this new virtual community?

-Designer Dragon


A Community Cookbook, or How to Make Your Guild/Town/Roleplay Group/Tavern Stronger (By Designer Dragon, May 8, 1998)

In all the talk of what a virtual world administrator or designer can do or cannot do in terms of setting the tone and enforcing etiquette within a virtual community, we've sort of left behind the community itself. So today, let's talk about things that you, your friends, your township, your roleplay buddies, or your guild can do in order to be become a stronger (and more fun!) virtual world community.

The first thing if of course communication. If your guild doesn't already have a web page, a bulletin board, and an email newsletter or mailing list, you are missing out on the most important factor in building community ties. A very good tactic is to choose the person who is always first with the gossip and put them in charge of running the newsletter. The great advantage to a newsletter or email list is that it isn't passive--it seeks out the community member and it draws them in.

Make a point of showcasing the contributions of members in whatever forum you have, be it web page or newsletter or in your in-game tavern. If you have a regular who is a good roleplayer, encourage them to put their stories in in-game books you keep laying around the tavern. If you have someone artistic, try to get a new character portrait on your township's web page every week. Song lyric recitals in the taverns or in the town square can be great events and you can also make them competitive, if you wish. Until such a day as UO supports compising music and drawing pictures within the game (which is indeed a design goal), you'll have to do this externally, but you can still provide pointers to web pages from in-game books and house signs.

If you're maintaining a web page, it's a great idea to build up more than just a roster. A roster in itself does not present your group to others very well. A roster wih character histories--be they RP histories or not--will create a shared history for the group, and help newcomers get into the context of the community. If you want to foster this, try giving out awards within your group for the best profile or best addition to the "group history" that week. So much of the great roleplay in UO is told only in ephemeral media such as the web boards, when it really needs to be building up and enriching the context of the world. (Hey you guys over on the Crossroads of Britannia Tales board--do you make a point of making an in-game version of each of your poems and stories?)

And of course, once there is a stronger sense of a group to belong to, some form of "tribal marker" helps a great deal. UO guilds picked up on this very early, with color-coordinated outfits. Now the guild system supports displaying guild abbreviations over the name as well. Make use of both of these as much as you can--even if it is just a single spot of color on one small piece of clothing--because they serve as instant identification of friends and foes alike. If you wish to go further, create ritual greetings, passwords, etc, the equivalent to "secret handshakes."

You definitely need to have functions of leadership within the group. But as UO groups differ significantly in organization and in type, I can't really describe too many specifics. One of the great joys of UO is seeing the different social structures that have developed. Whatever structure you end up with, however, it is important to somehow mark out the people who have leadership roles. The guild system allows for the use of titles, of course, but for those groups not suited to guilds, perhaps an item of clothing that only that one person usually wears could serve as an identifier. A great way to discover leadership potential is to ask people to help with the recruitment and mentoring of new members.

It's really important for your group to have a mission statement, a code of conduct, a reason for being, and a method for resolving conflicts. A lot of guilds fall apart because of unclear chains of command, differences over the core philosophy of the guild, and other such problems which can usually be avoied with a strong leadership structure and a strong group identity. You do however also need to make sure that your structure can evolve. Provide mechanisms for your members to change the rules.

Something that is extremely valuable, as those who run Fight Nights know, is periodic events. If you have a guild that plays regularly, or a tavern that is open every night, and you're not doing something like this, you are missing out on a great opportunity. Some of the perfect things to do:

  • Taverns can hold recitals, pun championships, board game tourneys, storytelling, concerts, etc, on specific nights each week. There's a reason why bars do this in the real world! An open mike poetry recital every Thursday night can be a powerful draw.
  • Combat-oriented guilds should make a point of specific adventures on specific nights. There are any number of activities a guild can do that can work, from training sessions to competitions to more complex things. There is a guild that organizes "running man" competitions, where one person is designated as the "prey" and the rest of the guild must hunt him down and kill him. If he lives out the time limit, then he gets a prize.
  • Townships can try for weekly trade fairs, parades, civic events such as elections, town meetings, candidacy speeches and the like. As many have discovered, communications crystals make for a very effective PA system.
Don't neglect the value of contests and competitions--the winners feel great, of course, and it gives you yet another face to put on your webpage and another name or story to put in your newsletter, which builds even more community ties. And of course, if a player comes to your group suggesting a possible event, work with them to try to make it happen!

Alongside this, rituals are very important. UO guilds have come up with some really great initiaion rituals in the past (staged lighting of candles in order in a dark room, inspection of uniforms, ritual speeches...). But there can be many more forums than just that. Consider the Beefeater rituals at the Tower of London, with keys presented at a certain time and so on. There are things like that that can be done for townships, and so on. Be sure to have a ritual to confirm the new mayoralty once an election is over! And if you are able to this far, try having crafting guild initiations in your town when a community member reaches some skill mastery goal that they had been working towards.

A very important ritual if of course holidays. Celebrate them! Don't feel that you should be limited to only the real world ones, either. There are some holidays defined in UO that show up as events on the calendar. But you are not limited to observing only those.

Nor should you, even if you are diehard roleplayers, only acknowledge in-game events. A birthday is an opportunity for a rite of passage too--throw a party when someone's player gets married, has an anniversary, or has a birthday. Give in-game gifts as well as your best wishes out-of-game. Any roleplayer worth his salt can come up with a fictional reason that can coincide with the real world date.

These are just some ideas for ways to make your particular group stronger. As your group, guild, town, tavern, or whatever grows, be sure to publicize its existence, and send in your events and major news to the news sites and to the official Events Calendar. The strength of virtual worlds lies in the interaction, and people need to know about you to interact with you in any meaningful way. Start up webrings of like-minded sites, and if you can, offer to host character pages for group members. And form ties with other groups both on your shard and elsewhere, as you may be able to share ideas and resources.

It takes some work, but you'll find that the ties you form are very real, and that the fun factor goes way, way up. Enjoy.

-Designer Dragon



= Ed T. Toton III / NecroBones Enterprises /
(Copyright 1997, All Rights Reserved)