MUsings

On Backgrounds

I haven’t blogged about MUSHing in ages, but a discussion at MU Soapbox was brought up as we were talking about potential CG changes on Blood of Dragons. It concerned whether games should ask for backgrounds or not before letting a character go IC, and the general consensus seemed to be that this is a horrible thing to do (much like anything else that keeps you from logging onto a game and being IC within 5 minutes).

Now, no one can deny that MUSHing is very much a niche hobby today and that it competes with an otherwise rather fast-paced gaming world that offers a lot of near-instant gratification. So, yes, there needs to be quick routes onto a game, such as pre-generated characters. But doing away with any form of background altogether seems like something that would only work for a very limited range of settings where it is enough to say that if you don’t mention any extraordinary events in your background, you’re assumed to have had a normal life up until the start of play. If the setting in question is one where it can be assumed that most players will have a somewhat similar understanding of what a “normal life” would entail, then yes, it works.

That rules out most non-modern day settings (and probably quite a few modern day settings too, depending on location, supernatural elements, etc). After 10 years of running Blood of Dragons, with a background as a mandatory part of CG, we’ve seen that at least 50% of players would come out of CG with some very odd notions about what a “normal life” would have been like for their characters, had we not been able to give them feedback on their write-ups. So, yes, the background is a little bit of a “test”, to see if the player has a concept in mind that will work on our particular game.

I know that some players prefer to “discover” their characters through roleplay and find it hard to settle on too many details before they start playing. While I am the total opposite myself, I know that creativity works differently for everyone. Some plan, some go with the flow. But the approach of seeing where the story takes you is also something that only works in particular settings/genres. Is your game set in a modern-day city where players can arrive IC as they start play, with no ties to anyone? Then that approach can be perfect. There are other scenarios that work too, but they tend to have in common that characters are unconnected to each other and that they can be fresh arrivals from distant places. As soon as your character needs to be worked into a network of other characters, you need to have at least some sense of the character’s past.

When it comes to Blood of Dragons, the setup of the game is such that I would say backgrounds of some kind are indispensable. The setting is not one where we can assume that all or even most players know what “normal” would be for their characters, so they do need some guidance from staff on their concepts (even if they don’t think they do). The kind of characters available (members of noble houses) also rule out concepts such as the mysterious loner with no ties to anyone else. Additionally, CGed characters become part of the stable of pre-gens once abandoned by their initial player, which means that any background or concept needs to be written so that another player—not just the person creating the character—can understand and work with it.

What I have been considering for a while, however, is trying to find a middle ground between a more detailed background (which doesn’t work so well on some types of characters, especially younger ones) and a concept sketch that presents the type of character the player has in mind and includes any key background events, while avoiding a traditional linear writeup. Given that we’ve also introduced an “Events” system that allows players to record significant events by date, any such details can already be migrated out of the background. It might be that moving to more of a concept sketch would both allow more flexibility in how characters are setup and actually prove more useful in helping inexperienced players come up with a playable concept without spending time on padding out a background needlessly.

Looking Back, Part 2

In the first post, I looked only at my years playing Angharad on Tales of Ta’veren, but as hinted at therein characters number two and three made their appearance while Tales still existed. Or rather, characters two and three that really went anywhere. As with my very first attempt at a MUSH, I did try out a few other places very briefly in the 1995 to 2000 span when I was most active as a player. I revisited Riva MUSH (this time with a character that I actually recall the name of, she was called Kelinda after a character in Geraldine Harris’s Seven Citadels series) and also tried out a game based on Feist’s Rift Wars saga, though “tried out” consisted mainly of making a character and not getting much further than that. She was called Rhiannon and by now it should be clear that I always borrow names.

But, I am getting ahead of myself a bit, as character number two did in fact appear as early as August of 1995, which I do believe was well ahead of both Kelinda and Rhiannon.

Looking Back, Part 1

Putting “part 1"in a title is always a dangerous step to take, as it implies a continuation which does not always materialize. I still find myself in an ambivalent relationship with my various blogs; I like having them for the occasional burst of opinions, but I find sustained usage takes effort. I am once again thinking of collapsing a few of them together and removing others, so we’ll see what the new year brings in that regard. For now, however, I did find myself with an urge to muse about my various MU* characters throughout the years.

I logged into my first MUSH sometime in August of 1995. I had obtained Internet only some months earlier (this was pretty much right when dial-up was launched in Sweden) and largely for the purpose of checking out this MUD thing I had read about in the second issue of Sweden’s first Internet magazine. I’d been interested in trying out role-playing for some time, but I knew no one in RL who played and I was (am) a bit of a shut-in, so on-line seemed like the perfect solution. MUDs ended up entertaining me for a couple of months, but the whole levelling up game was never really a good fit for me. After going on vacation during the summer and falling way behind those I had played a bit with (no such thing as mobile access, of course), I drifted away from MUDs and stumbled on my first MUSH. Riva MUSH, based on David Eddings books, was huge and empty. I wandered about for a bit but never got into any roleplay. Instead it was Tales of Ta’veren, the first Wheel of Time MUSH, that had the dubious honour of being the first game where I actually went IC.

Trolls Just Never Learn

A bit of entertaining stupidity arrived by email earlier today. It seems the bottom feeders over at WORA renewed their fascination with Blood of Dragons and, as usual, a few particularly spectacular trolls have surfaced with more and more amusing claims.

Before I get into addressing some of those, however, lets just clear one thing up for those who doubt that we actually have approval for Blood of Dragons from George R.R. Martin and/or imagine that we only have some kind of very superficial connection to him. The situation, in brief, is that since contacting GRRM in 1998 to ask for permission to run Blood of Dragons, our connection to him has changed from “just” fans running a site to helping with fact-checking of the last two novels and finally to actually collaborating with him on a book. We take the restrictions he asked for when he first approved Blood of Dragons very seriously not only because we respect an author’s right to his intellectual property but because he is also a colleague and a friend.

Mission Accomplished

Mission accomplished, with minimal effort. Now if our plans for Blood of Dragons 2.0 would be coming along just as smoothly, I’d be feeling even better. Just what I need since work has been kicking our butts with vigour since before Christmas.

Now, back to The World of Ice and Fire. Which may include some 2.0 musings on the side; I am so looking forward to working in all the new history, even if it will mean a lot of restructuring too.

It’s Troll Season

It appears we have acquired a particularly dedicated troll on WORA, a bold hero determined to continue his epic struggle to inform the world of the horrors of Blood of Dragons. And the horrors of Firan, too. Somehow he has managed to lodge two sticks up his ass at the same time, a pretty impressive feat I must concede. Apparently he has a habit of randomly dragging BoD into all sorts of topics, just to demonstrate how very unhappy we’ve made him. I was pointed to some choice quotes and one of the most recent was the most amusing, since it referenced a discussion on the Public channel that I witnessed around a week ago. That means that our troll—who signed up to WORA in 2011 and has been bitching about us with some regularity since then—is still on the game. Masochist, much?

Some of my favourite claims follow:

MUSHing and Fanfiction

There have been questions raised now and then how it is that we can run a roleplaying game set in Westeros when we strongly condemn fanfiction set in Westeros. The latest iteration of this question coming up made me decide to write something more in-depth about the matter. It may have something to do with procrastination from other work, but hey, that’s always a good reason, right?

First of all, let us establish what we mean by roleplaying in this case. We are talking specifically about on-line, text-based roleplaying in real-time using a MUSH or MUX server and we are talking about the logs of such roleplay sessions. We are not talking about table-top roleplaying or forum roleplaying.

More MU* Writing

With a bit of time on my hands following the end of my literature class and the submission of my application for the doctoral program, I’ve really been diving into writing more material for the MUSH. We have a fabulous core group of roleplayers but we are also getting a lot of newbies who love A Song of Ice and Fire but aren’t used to MUSH roleplay or even roleplay at all. Hence the new Style Guide.

MU* Renovations

A day or two ago, one of our staff told me that he couldn’t quite believe how long he has actually played on Blood of Dragons, because he still thinks of it as his “new MU*”. I can only agree, it does not feel as if we had our beta opening in 2006 and our full opening in 2007.

But, its true enough. It also shows in some aspects of the game which have become a little worn down over the years. Not to mention the grand plans that were never fully realized… So, with the second season of “Game of Thrones” coming up, we’re focusing on a lot of improvements and additions over the next few months. The problem is just deciding what to do; our todo list is a few miles long and its not easy to pick the things that will benefit players the most.

We have settled on a few things, however. We are getting more articles up, such as Can I Play A… which tries to help prospective players by outlining available, difficult and unavailable concepts. The other key area we’ll focus on is establishing a better framework for political roleplay. We have some interesting ideas that we hope players will find very helpful.

Work is definitely never completed with a MUSH. But, that is part of the fun. Sometimes it is just a bit overwhelming.

Why Full Consent?

I’ve previously posted about how one of the common complaints raised against Blood of Dragons is our applications process, or rather the fact that we have one at all, even with all the streamlining we’ve done over the years. The other common complaint we get from people who either never check the game out at all or log off as soon as they find this out, is that we’re a full consent game.

Now, many players simply prefer one to the other and spend all their time on either full consent or non-consent games. That’s a reasonable preference, either way. But when some players insist that a setting like A Song of Ice and Fire cannot be used for a full consent MUSH or that we’re ruining the opportunity given to us by having GRRM’s approval for the MUSH, then it goes beyond a matter of preference.

Of course, one could just settle for saying that we’ve definitely proven that its wrong to claim full consent doesn’t work for an A Song of Ice and Fire game—Blood of Dragons has been running since 2006 and while we have had some slow periods, we’ve done very well this year. Could the game be better? Of course, and we’re always working on it. But our consent policy is not a weakness, its a strength. So, in the hopes of scaring off less prospective players as soon as they see the words “full consent” we’ve updated our FAQ entry on this issue. Perhaps it might help players see that the policy is something we’ve carefully considered and which has a proven track-record on the game.

Race in Westeros, Part II

As so often happens when I write something longer, it changes shape along the way. Given some of the feedback (thoughtful feedback too, much appreciated), I have split off my comments on the casting and focused this piece on the MUSH. That said, the casting piece does depend a bit on the book facts presented in this piece.

Not surprisingly, the first post on this subject led to accusations of racism (and misogyny). The really fun ones even decided to go “OMG, she said purity. That’s what Hitler said too.” Never mind that I was talking about setting purity, not racial purity… However, given that the same group of people have also said that they thought Xaro Xhoan Daxos was supposed to be black in the books and didn’t realize that the Lyseni were uniformly described as blonde and blue-eyed, I don’t give a lot for their reading comprehension.

We Have a Winner!

For funniest comment from a Guest in a long, long time, that is:

<Guest> Dragon Guest using mushclient telnet prompt_newlines has connected.
<Guest> (Admin) Nymeria says, “Hi, Dragon Guest. You can use +g

to speak on this channel, and please let me know if you have any questions at all. :)”
<Guest> Dragon Guest says, “wtf”
<Guest> Dragon Guest says, “where is the graphics all i see is black screen”
<Guest> Dragon Guest has disconnected.

I guess it confirms that some (many?) of the Guest connections that end in a disconnect only seconds later are people thinking that the text-based game will have graphics once they log in.

The next mystery I want to solve is whether those who finish their character setup and promptly disconnect, never to return, also expected graphics to magically materialize at that point.

Race in Westeros

The question of race in A Song of Ice and Fire came up during the initial airing of Game of Thrones and, more recently, with the casting of actors of completely incorrect ethnicities for various roles for season two. My stance is that of a pretty hardcore purist: you don’t change a character that radically. Yes, you can’t get actors that look exactly right, but colour-blind (or for that matter, gender-blind) casting is not something that should be practised when adapting a book. As I have said more than once more, I find it particularly aggravating that it seems very likely that it was done because a few PC critics whined that the show was too white during the first season. Which, of course, lead to complaints about the books being too white. I don’t personally think this is a relevant complaint (it makes perfect sense that Westeros, which is the focus of the story, is a very white society—with the exception of Dorne, of course) and regardless of that the show shouldn’t be trying to correct a perceived error.

But what does all of this have to do with MUSHing in general and Blood of Dragons in particular?

An Epic Evening

Four hours of epic combat on Blood of Dragons, accompanied by all three CDs from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. That’s what I call a really entertaining Sunday evening. We had so many players that we didn’t quite expect showing up that we had to whip up quite a few extra Dornish NPCs to face all the PCs on Daeron’s side.

Its funny, really, because I don’t care greatly for battle scenes in books. Oh, there are some very nicely done ones, and if I am really invested in a particular character I will tensely read through them, but they don’t get my adrenaline going quite as much as roleplaying a scene out. Or just watching a scene play out, as in this case, since I didn’t have a character in the thick of the fighting. It makes me sigh wistfully for the glory days of Elendor and the many fabulous battles in Rohan and Gondor. Unfortunately, epic battles aren’t likely to be happening during Baelor’s range, but at least the lead-up to Daeron’s death will have been suitably grand.

Ahh, text-based roleplaying. So much more fun than fancy graphics.

Entitlement Issues

I continue to be amazed at the way some people approach MU*ing. Its a hobby, yes, and it shouldn’t feel like work…but when options are offered that don’t involve so much (or any) work, why complain about the options that do involve some? Lets start with the background, and then I’ll dig into today’s little mini-rant. ;)