I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels, and I'm not the only one. I've been asking other people what I can do to stay engaged or what the point is to my playing, and they tell me that I can increase my skills. That is what I've been doing: Pushing my skills towards 1000. And after that? I guess I can go for 3000 and then 5000. What I get in exchange for that is a feeling of achievement, but advancement in CLOK is so painfully slow that it isn't efficient. It also really discourages casual play since if you don't invest a lot of time into CLOK then you aren't going to progress. If all CLOK has to offer is a feeling of achievement from increasing numbers or finding a new zone and socializing with friends, I would be better off playing WildStar or a similar game which is better at generating that feeling.
But that isn't what CLOK specializes in, so this isn't an appeal to make advancing easier. It's simply an explanation as to why expecting players to stay engaged simply because they can increase their skills is bound to fail.
CLOK is a roleplay-enforced MUD, so I think it is safe to say that all of us (or at least most of us) play for the RP. Yet that is falling flat for the simple reason that nothing changes. To quote Rias from the Razing Emleth thread:
Here's our typical invasion scenario: Mass of badguys moves in, player characters rally, badguys are cleared out within about 30 minutes to a few hours, and things go back to normal like nothing really ever happened.
The players and the GMs both know this is a problem, but what can we do about it? The GMs have pointed out a few times that resolving problems like Tarueka means that we're out an entire hunting zone, and CLOK doesn't have that many to spare. It certainly can't afford to flush however many hours of building and code, so we have to suspend our disbelief concerning these problems that never go away because a total victory would actually diminish the game. Similarly, trashing a town when the PCs totally fail also diminishes a game. The game world is going to be static as we generally want it to get larger and not smaller.
What I think gets overlooked and is an even bigger problem is that characters are mostly static. We have nothing to shoot for except increased skills and guild ranks, and guild ranks and abilities cap out eventually. It's probably why so many people have so many alts. The treadmill is a chore. Our guilds forever treat us like mere grunts or children, we're doing the same things all the time with nothing to show for it, and on the occasion that we do come up with some way to amuse ourselves for a bit or a GM does run an event there are almost no lasting effects. "Things go back to normal like nothing really ever happened."
I want to quite Rias's entire post from his "Very impressed with many people. Also: Grr, alts!" because I think it is so relevant:
The GMs are frustrated because they want to get characters involved but the characters vanish or start playing alts. I want to say that's because the players are frustrated since it seems like nothing they do matters so they either stop playing completely or roll an alt for a bit of novelty since that's all they can do. I haven't seen big plots go down that really highlighted a particular character. I can't think of a single example of a player who has somehow managed to distinguish themselves inside their guild and risen above the rank of anonymous task henchman who usually can't even get the time of day from their leadership. There are veteran players that seem to embody their guild yet seem to be nobodies.Rias wrote:The GM team recently had a meeting, and one thing we talked a lot about was how excited we were about several characters that have been around lately. Some are fresh off the turnip farm, some still fairly new, some older whom are now focusing on a single character and really developing that character, and some oldies that have recently come back after an absence. We're super excited! We're hoping to give people their chances to get involved in greater things, and all that fun stuff. Some have already started!
Now, let me bring up something I've grumbled about before: alts. Grr! Several of us in our meeting said things like "Oh yeah, I really like [character]!" and then another says, "Yeah, but they've started making alts, and they're not on that character much anymore." Blah!! We get that it's fun to try new things, and take a break from your norm sometimes, we totally do. But still, please try to pick a character and settle on them! We can't do much with characters that get abandoned for alts, or characters that are on once in a blue moon because they have too many alts to rotate between. It's frustrating when we start to get invested in a character and start thinking of ways we can get them in on things, and then they drop off the face of Arad (and a new person mysteriously arrives in the Lost Lands). And frankly, if we know that a character is just one of a zillion alts, we're far less likely to invest time into them, because it so often ends up being time wasted on a character who's never around.
So play around with your alts, find your groove, and then consider really sticking with one character! You can even send us an email (email@example.com) if you've settled on a specific character out of your alt army and really want to focus on them. Then we know, and we can start scheming- errr, plotting- errr, conspiring- ... ehem ... then we can start deciding how we can get them more involved in the bigger things going on in the Lost Lands!
Pretty please, with sugar and chocolate sprinkles!
I don't think Elystole is at that point, but I'll use him as an example of some of the little things that I think matter: Elystole came back from hiatus (because I was getting frustrated with spinning my wheels), saw that things were a mess, and decided to make up for lost time by working his way up the blacklist. I've said this flippantly to a few people, but I meant it: He's dropped half a dozen Corvites, including Public Enemy #1 (maybe #2), and no one's even bought him a shot. He has received no feedback on his activities or his roleplay whether that be good ("Nice job tracking that Corvite clear across the Lost Lands.") or bad ("Attacking someone in a tavern? Good initiative, poor judgement."). So why bother? Why take risks and make enemies when it apparently accounts for nothing? And why should I hold my breath for some big plot when I don't even see the little things?
I think that applies not just to Elystole but every character.
And since I don't see anything happen with something as central to a character's identity as their career, it really makes me question the point of most anything else. I probably need to do a better job of portraying it, but Elystole takes the Immortals seriously and has some strong thoughts and feelings about being Undying. I'm not sure how much to pursue that since so much other stuff gets overlooked. Elystole would like to remodel his house to better suit his RP. Is that possible? Again, I don't know since I don't see it happening. I would guess not.
I think there are a few reasons why this happens, and they are pretty good reasons. We don't have a lot of GMs, so any suggestion that is essentially a plea for the GMs to get more involved isn't going to work. And the GMs that we do have are busier than they used to be which kind of sucks for CLOK but is very good for them. I don't think anyone, much less those of us who have been unemployed, are going to begrudge Rias a job. If they do, they need to reassess their priorities. But I think it is to say that because of the changing situation that the way things used to work isn't going to work anymore.
Part of the problem is the Rias/Jirato bottleneck. When you only have two people who can code or have finally approval authority over changes, there's going to be restrictions on how much gets done. It used to work alright when both of them have more time, but they're both busier now and I think we are starting to see the strain.
Part of the problem is the overarching guru system. When GMs have spheres of influence that only they are allowed to work on, things come grinding to a halt when that GM isn't available. You could have a character with a legitimate emergency trying to reach someone in their guild, but if their guru is offline or busy then that character is out of luck even if there's another GM who is available and would like to help.
Part of the problem is that we simply don't have that many GMs and the GMs that we do have are busy.
So I think that on the GM-side of things that reassessing the current organizational model would be a good idea. Maybe switch from a system of approval to veto where anyone can assist, but gurus can veto another GM's actions within their sphere of influence. Ideally, people keep better notes so that vetoes aren't necessary. When I GMed ElseMU* I had to almost sign-out NPCs and leave a quick note about what I did with them when I was done. You just have to trust people enough to do the right thing with the game even if it isn't the perfect thing.
But I think an even better, more important suggestion is to delegate. Give some of that "work" to the players and it not only lifts some of the burden off of the GMs but gives the players the real sense that they are an active, contributing part of the world. Start putting PCs in positions of leadership based on their RP and empower them to handle the day-to-day affairs of their guilds. I think about some of the other MU*s where guilds are almost entirely player-run and how much more invested players are in their guilds. It can get pretty crazy and even incestuous at times, so I think it is a good idea keeping guild leaders and either top-tier members as GMPCs, but surely some player-involvement is better than none, and the general abilities are going to provide a fantastic opportunity.
With general abilities, we can have a effective, powerful characters without ever joining a guild, so there's not really a penalty for not joining a guild right away. You can still learn to ride, shoot, and track without ever becoming an Outrider. You can learn to fight without ever joining the Mercenaries. You can learn bushcraft and archery without becoming Udemi. Also, since we all get the same point pool at the same time and both our general and guild-specific abilities draw from that pool, I don't see why we'd keep guild ranks. Your ability to grind tasks does not reflect how well you really perform your duties. Your RP does.
What I suggest is taking one or two stellar PCs from each guild and giving them an RP promotion to a rank that actually matters. These are established characters who stick around and embody what the GMs want to see for that guild. It makes sense for the GMPCs to promote them to a position of leadership and responsibility. Give these PCs the ability to induct new members into their guilds and eliminate the ability for people to walk off the street and join. Occasionally a GM might need to step in if there's a scheduling problem or something, but for the most part you want people to RP their way into the guild and you want the existing guild members to be the gatekeepers. You want people to be more invested in their guilds than what it takes to type "guild join" and with general abilities they are still viable characters.
And while we're at it, give the leadership PCs the ability to award guild resources. All that stuff we can just buy with recognition points? Now it's awarded to you by leadership. Throw in some stuff that has no purpose besides separating out ranks and commending people for doing a good job. Make screwing up hurt because you lose it. It sounds silly or even petty, but there's a reason the military has rank insignia, hands out medals, and fights over who does or does not get to wear a particular hat. "I have what you don't, and I freaking earned it. You want this? You have to earn it too."
If I were to do it with the Outriders, it'd probably look something like this.
- Characters interested in joining the Outriders are called "boots," "greenhorns," "frogs," or some other quasi-demeaning term for "new guy." They haven't even joined the guild yet, but they aren't penalized since all of the Outrider abilities are general abilities. They just don't get the title and calling yourself an Outrider before you are one is a real quick way to piss everyone off.
- It isn't until a character gets their first kill, thereby becoming "blooded," that they are invited to join the Outriders. You've spilled blood by our side, and there's no going back. Our enemies are now your enemies and you've proven your commitment, so you're one of us. New Outriders are awarded the crossed pistols and horseshoe badge identifying them as full-fledged Outriders.
- Outriders who perform meritorious service or otherwise distinguish themselves are awarded a pair of spurs. Maybe they have a mechanical benefit. Maybe they're just freaking cool. Whatever the case, if you see an Outrider wearing spurs, you should probably move to one side.
Things mean so much more when you earn them. Ever wonder why Elystole doesn't ride one of those spiffy Morgan horses you can only get in Shadgard? Because there's a story behind his generic, dusky gray warhorse that you simply can't replace by dropping 20,000 riln (or 20,000 recognition points) on something. Abolish recognition points. Think of the stories that will come out of "Where did you get spurs?" or "What's that feather mean?" or "How did you join your guild?"
Make it fun. Rule of Cool some stuff. And get players involved in their guilds in such a way that they have something to show for it besides abilities. I would think that being able to approach your leadership PC and ask them for help - and have them able to deliver it - is infinitely better than our current system of "Send a letter to your guild leader and wait a month or two for a reply (if ever)." Let the leadership PC be the gateway to the guild leader so that most requests are handled by players and only the really hard stuff gets handed up to GMs. Let the GMs focus on stuff that only GMs can do so that it can be awesome.
I'm starting to ramble, but I hope I conveyed the point. I think you'll see more and better RP because it matters, more people sticking with their characters because that's how you build a reputation, and people coming up with some really unexpected but cool stuff to inject life into the game. And I think that effect will radiate out from guilds to other facets of life.