Since the beta opening of Blood of Dragons, we have had a few prospective players question our decision to a) use a tier-based system and b) require anyone wanting to apply for the higher tiers to be a ‘friend’ of ours. A few have even suggested we abandon this system as it is ‘unfair’. Now, we have no plans to change the system (though there’s always room for refining it—that’s why the MUSH is currently in beta), but the questions raised have still prompted me to once again ponder these issues—fairness vs unfairness, application processes, etc—quite a bit. This is the result.
To begin with, a clarification of the system we’re using is probably needed. Characters on Blood of Dragons belong to a Type (Open, Restricted, Limited, Elite, Feature or Closed) and a Tier (V, IV, III, II or I). The Tier relates to the CharGen setup (the higher the Tier, the more points the character gets) but it is actually the Type that determines the kind of application needed. We decided on this separation since there are quite a few characters who are important enough ICly that we want more control over who gets to play them but who still shouldn’t have an extraordinary CharGen setup.
The majority of all characters are intended to be Open. These can be of Tier V or IV, where V is considered average and IV is considered Good. Vs are intended for players who have never MU*ed before and would like to try out a more basic concept for a while to get their feet wet. They’re not intended to be played for a long period by any one player and the plan is to fully precreate a number of these to have available as ‘stepping stones’ on the way to a regular character. IVs, on the other hand, should be characters who—in line with our philosophy that PCs are never average, that’s reserved for the unnamed masses—are fully capable of successfully getting involved in politics, combat, etc even though there are more ‘powerful’ characters on the game.
Restricted characters can be of Tier V, IV or III. These are intended to be a fair bit rarer than Open characters and the application for one needs to include logs. We also expect a bit more from the concepts put forward, but I don’t think this differs too greatly from, for example, applications for various IC leader positions on other games. On the other hand, yes, we do treat the next few Types a little differently than most. Limited characters, which can be of Tier V, IV, III or II, are intended to be quite rare. The application is much the same as for Restricted characters, but we also add the limitation that applicants must be known to us or recommended to us by two people known to us. Note, though, that the key is ‘known to us’. Not ‘friend of us’. Granted, we probably won’t approve someone we really hate for a Limited character, but the issue is not whether we like someone. Its whether we like their roleplay and whether we know that we can trust them with an important role.
Elites (Tier V, IV, III, II or I) are not available for application but awarded by the Admin. They’re in some ways equivalent to Elendor’s Features (for those unfamiliar with Elendor, it uses a system where Features cannot be applied for but are awarded through a nomination and vote process) since our own Features (defined strictly as characters named by GRRM) are not available as PCs at all. Instead they are intended to be temporarily played by the Staff or, occasionally, by players rewarded with the chance to run a Feature for a scene or two.
One might wonder why we decided to go with this kind of system. We decided pretty much from the start that we did not want a system where all characters start out perfectly equal. We have had plenty of experience of such systems on other games and found them quite lacking.
On Elendor, for example, everyone within a race starts with the same allotment of points and everyone starts more or less from scratch when it comes to weapon training. So whether you start your character as a 15-year-old or a 40-year-old, you’re going to have the same setup. That, for us, was far too simplistic. Elendor also has the issue that if someone is Featured (the system allows a non-Tolkien character to be promoted to being a Feature, a so-called non-book Feature) their stats and training suddenly increase quite a bit. Of course, this is a system that is 15+ years old, so one has to forgive it for being less than ideal. Still, nothing we wanted to emulate.
The two Wheel of Time games we have played, Tales of Ta’veren and Cuendillar, both ended up using the same system (Cuendillar originally used another, but took over the CharGen from Tales when it closed) and it is a system designed to be as fair as possible. It does take age into account when allotting skill points, but other than that it suffers from the problem that if you, for example, want to play a good warrior, you’ll not be able to be good at much anything else. Fair, perhaps, but not very realistic or very flexible. One side-effect of the system (especially on Tales) was that Aes Sedai tended to take a heap of physical flaws to balance out the channeling-related assets that they needed. We saw just a few too many midget Aes Sedai, for example. The system could no doubt have been refined to discourage or disallow some of the poor usage that we saw, but it still felt like a bad idea to us to try so hard to level the playing field.
Instead, we decided that we wanted to be able to give good roleplayers the opportunity to play characters who were more important and/or powerful ‘out of the box’. After all, if we look at the books, inequality is certainly not unthematic. But, having said that, we also wanted to make sure that the differences between characters of different Tiers would not be so great as they are between non-Features and certain book-Features on Elendor. It may be thematic in Tolkien’s world for Aragorn to easily handle 10 orcs, but GRRM has made it pretty clear that even the best fighters aren’t so far above the rest that they can afford to be sloppy or to charge in against overwhelming odds.
So far, I don’t think we’re doing anything too unusual or controversial. Yes, we have had players suggest that it would be better if everyone started off on equal footing, but I hope that we will be able to show (once the coded systems that take advantage of stats and skills are in place) that the differences aren’t as great as some might fear. We also do try to stress, at all times, that stats and skills are not the focus of the game. I suppose it is inevitable that it is always cooler to play someone who is really good at something (I am certainly ‘guilty’ of that weakness myself), but we want to work hard on making sure anyone, regardless of the Type or Tier of their character, can get involved in anything they want to be involved in and have a good time.
However, what has upset a few prospective players is our requirements for Limiteds and how we handle Elites. Its unfair, they say, that we have to be ‘friends’ of yours. Now, as noted above, that isn’t really what it is all about. But yes, we don’t approve strangers for Limiteds or award them Elites. However, we feel that what we are doing in stating this is simply handling openly what a lot of games handle secretly. How many games do you know of where you can log on to apply for an important IC leader and get approved for the role without the Admin knowing anything about you other than what was in your application? I think they are pretty rare—and I think that is probably generally a good idea.
We didn’t want to go out and say that we’d be perfectly fair and unbiased because a) we don’t think its a good idea and b) we don’t think it would work. The Featuring process on Elendor may be relatively fair in that no one can request a Feature (though Admin are allowed to take up any vacant role that they want) and in that the Admin are expected to review both comments from other players and logs before making their decision, but even so it is not free from personal bias. Still, the system of Local Admin that handle each culture and game-wide Admin that handle such decisions means that there’s generally less personal involvement and more chance for the evaluation to be based on the candidate’s roleplay and nothing else. But on a small game that is just starting out this could not be replicated. If one looks to individual cultures on Elendor, hidden unfairness and favouritism is far from unknown. And our experience with other games has been much the same, except a bit worse. They have tended to publicly stress fairness but privately allowed Staff and friends advantages and exceptions.
So, in short, we wanted to be upfront about the fact that it does matter whether you are a known or an unknown entity. If we know that someone is a good roleplayer, that will matter to us. Its not favouritism for the sake of favouritism. Its simply a matter of wanting the best roleplayers in the best roles. And if you know nothing about a player, its hard to say whether they do match the criteria you have decided on.