Friday, August 13, 2010

Alignment in MMOs

I don't play MMO's. I don't think many include a concept of alignment (hell, plenty of D&D players work to discard it). Turbine's Dungeons & Dragons Online does (in a fairly vanilla mechanical version as per 3.5E, noting that Evil alignments are prohibited); the same company's Lord of the Rings Online was originally slated to use basically the same mechanic, but had it yanked out during development. *

We'll stipulate that for most participants in these games, player-versus-player (PVP) combat is undesirable, but some small numbers (I've seen statistics saying 10% or less) do desire it. The major problem is that free-for-all PVP tends to cultivate "griefers" who beat up on new players/customers, take their stuff, and generally befoul the experience.

Let's meld the two issues into a proposed MOO mechanic.

Imagine that an MMO had a simple one-axis alignment; on character-creation, PCs are Lawful. At any point during the game, a PC can opt to switch to Chaotic, but this switch is irreversible. Lawful PCs are mechanically unable to attack other Lawful PCs; Chaotic PCs can attack, and be attacked by, anyone.

Suppose we also say that there's a very low-level spell (detect evil) that "marks" Chaotic characters for some extended time, making them officially open to attack by Lawfuls. Would that be functional? Discuss.

(* Full disclosure: My girlfriend worked at Turbine on the Asheron's Call game. I had an interview there to work on the AO live team at one point, and later I sent an inquiry about work on the DDO team, but didn't hear anything back about that.)


  1. It would make griefing worse. Basically you're proposing that griefers be able to initiate combat anywhere at any time, but non-griefers need a particular spell to initiate combat against a griefer--even if they see somebody who's griefed them a dozen times before coming.

  2. Hey, jamused. Let's call the idea for "alignment status" primary and the idea for "detection spell" secondary.

    What modification to the secondary idea would you suggest? Automatic identification of Chaotic players/characters? A spell that does permanent marking? Anything less strict than that?

  3. Players don't need a spell to spot a griefer when they are attacked by them. Having some means to do so when you aren't being attacked by them wouldn't hurt.

    I'd even go so far as to say evil/chaotic characters don't get the same healing benefits that the lawful/good guys do. Potions and magic only giving them half as much healing. Spells only providing 1/4 the benefit, because the gods of healing favor the good guys. Maybe go so bold as to have half the natural recovery to be diminished because the gods of law/good don't approve of the villains wicked ways.

    One could go as extreme as having magical zone at some guilds and temples where members of a certain alignment simply can't enter or can't enter without losing magical energy/stamina/hp.

    Another mechanic would be earning half the exp for defeating creatures of the same alignment as yourself. Too bad for the griefers if an awful lot of the monsters are their alignment.

    Such a game should be a game about heroes with a universe that clearly favors the good guys to be fair.

    Those that want to be renegade villains may enjoy the challenge. Those that are just in it to make life suck for other people would hopefully be dissuaded.

  4. Maybe those who like PvP could play monsters.

  5. I think that monster play is a good idea, and one that has been used to good effect in two games I can think of: Minions of Mirth, and Lord of the Rings Online.

    For the most part, open-world PvP can be rough. I think that if Lawful town guards attack Chaotic players, then Chaotic people will have to congregate at their own places. That'll make the PvP centered mostly around Lawful vs Chaotic, but with Chaotic also fighting Chaotic.

    Separating people who want to PvP with people who want to do PvE isn't a bad idea, in my opinion.

  6. The play as a monster idea sound fun. I you limit where monster can go to their power appropriate areas it could work. Instead of them leveling up they would become a better monster and be in a new area. The only problem would be if a bunch of monsters ganged together but that could be fixed by some form of limit on the monster such as only so many of a type can be in an area where loners are more powerful and groupers while weaker are more to an area allowing group tactics.

  7. I absolutely *loved* Asheron's Call. I was heart broken when the sequel didn't capture the same feeling as the first.

    I spent an amazing number of hours on that game. I never found another MMO that did for me what A.C. did and gave up on the genre altogether.

  8. I've been wrestling with this too. On one hand, you want people to be able to affect a shared game world, but if you actually let them then everything goes to pot immediately. Imagine a game where you could dig out cubes of the terrain - the starting areas would quickly be mined out down to the impenetrable magma. If you can cut down trees, quickly the world will be denuded of vegitation.

    So it is with PvP. On one hand, it's more realistic to say that any character can attack any character, and include appropriate outcomes for this. But it's much easier to just say that PvP is opt-in or nonexistent.

    I think a more enriching and valuable method would be to allow full PvP, with caveats.

    For one, equipment would have to be easier to acquire, and higher-end equipment is dangerous to wear because people will want to try to steal it. But re-equipping your 5th level Fighter with some Plate and Shield should be pretty easy, getting you back to almost full adventuring effectiveness right away.

    Two, death must have a limited penalty for lower-level and for Lawful characters. That is, if you really are the hapless victim or fighting on the side of Law then death is not such a big deal as for high-level characters and for Chaotics.

    Third, you all start out Lawful. If you attack Lawfuls you edge toward Chaotic. Getting one place toward Chaotic is VERY easy, while getting one place back toward Lawful is VERY difficult. This means you have a few chances before you go Chaotic, but once you breach it you're pretty much screwed unless you wanted to be there.

    So Chaotic characters are effectively "out-laws" and are attackable by anyone. Lawfuls are sort of off-limits from Lawfuls who want to stay Lawful, but Chaotics can kill them. But killing them doesn't set them back weeks or months of gameplay, so griefing is harder to accomplish.

    In Lawful towns you can get a cheap blessing against Chaotics. You also have a wide variety of services and merchants, and the towns are generally pretty well defended. Chaotic towns are out in the badlands where resources are scarce, defense is sparse, cooperation is lacking, and services and merchants are virtually nonexistant.

    In Lawful towns, the NPC guards attack Chaotics on sight. In Chaotic towns, there are rarely any guards, they rarely do anything, and they're as likely to attack a wealthy Chaotic as they are a normal Lawful.

    Finally, no monster PCs. There has been a trend lately in 3E and 4E toward "I want to play a kewl spikey lava evil badass" and it's pathetic. Now if the game focused on actually playing the monster as a monster, that is, a lair-dwelling road-raiding henchman-slapping toady to an evil power, I can get behind that. I just can't stand a party consisting of a Minotaur, a Kobold, a Thri-Kreen, a Flesh Golem, and a Half-Dragon Half-Drider Half-Halfling trying to get a beer in a decent town.

  9. Additionally, of course, specific crimes should be traceable. For example, if you are murdered and revived later, you should be able to post a bounty for the death of your killer. It should somehow be impossible for the killer to acquire the bounty himself! In Haven and Hearth, criminals leave scents that Rangers can track and use as proof of the crime. I think that's a cool idea too.

  10. 1d30, interesting ideas. Agree with the monsters-should-be-Chaotic philosophy.