In Which I Court Controversy Yet Again, Dammit

26 11 2008

Lemme boil down yesterday’s post in a nutshell: It’s not so much FURRY HAET or SUBCULTURE HAET as much as it’s POSEUR HAET of every stripe. That out of the way, time for me to insult a viral game in SL. Which is fun, considering I run a viral game in SL myself, and thus I can be smacked for alterior motives. Hooray! Let doom commence. Although honestly I doubt a lot of players of this game read my blog, so maybe I won’t be torn to bits.

The game, of course, is Bloodlines. Here’s an overview / review of it. Basically, someone bites you, and you get a HUD-based game which measures your blood level (because you are now TEH WAMPEEER) and if you don’t keep going around biting other people to raise your blood level, you die and you’ve lost the game.

I posted my main objections in the comments on the review. In short, as a simple aid, a tool, a sideline app to help you roleplay (in the oldschool sense of “improvisational acting”) I have no problems. But it’s too focused on spreading itself, on harassing people who may or may not actually want anything to do with it, and once you throw the min-maxing RPG gamer mentality nutballs who don’t give a crap about RP into the mix, they’ll do anything underhanded to max out their Blood e-Peen. Never underestimate a gamer’s ability to be a collosal dick when you give them a rating to compare others against and the only way to raise that rating is to involve other people.

Whenever I’ve tried to run pen and paper roleplaying games, inevitably within two sessions we end up tossing out the dice completely. This is a problem I faced when doing my NWN mods, too. I love story. I love narrative. I love acting, roleplaying, really getting a feel for character and speaking in their voice instead of mine. But the numbers, oh the numbers… the numbers have a tendency to get in the way, to make demands of you that go against your desire to roleplay.

They insist you can’t convince other characters you’re right unless your charisma-based stats are high enough — and if they are, you can say any damn stupid thing and the dice roll will Jedi Mind Trick people into agreeing with you. They build in drawbacks for every bonus, to the point where making an intelligent person who swings a sword will result in you being either hideously deformed or have the lung capacity of a flea. Poorly designed number systems are the slavedriver you must satisfy in order to find your fun.

If I ever do join an SL RP community, I’m gonna make a point to design a character that has absolutely no need or no ability to engage in combat. I don’t wanna be defined by my stats. I wanna define myself on my own terms, thank you very much. I’m a writer. Trust me. I know what I’m doing and I don’t need digits to tell me how my words should be crafted.

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29 responses

26 11 2008
andrewe

makes sense to me…
“If I ever do join an SL RP community, I’m gonna make a point to design a character that has absolutely no need or no ability to engage in combat. I don’t wanna be defined by my stats. I wanna define myself on my own terms, thank you very much. I’m a writer. Trust me. I know what I’m doing and I don’t need digits to tell me how my words should be crafted.”
The original intent (although that may be debatable) of stats in an RPG was to model, in an abstract fashion, how your character interacts with an imaginary world and the characters therein.
In SL, you can *see* your character, other characters, and the world — and there are established physics in place to govern the interactions. It’s an ideal place for statless roleplaying.
Just sayin’, it’s a compelling argument.

26 11 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Re: makes sense to me…
Exactly. As a combat simulator, and to an extent as a social / skill simulator, stats based RPGs work. But when you’re actually able to see your character, to speak in their voice without using third person abstractions (“Okay, my high elf ranger is going to ask the king for more money to rescue his daughter…”), stats start making less and less sense.
The good news is most SL RP communities get that, and the stats-driven aspect is kept strictly to combat and nothin’ else, just to fairly determine winners. But even then you’re gonna have some drawbacks to deal with in a numbers game’s efforts to keep you from Mary Sueing it up, and a poorly designed one will go too far in restricting you as a result.
Easier approach: Play a street urchin, a civilian, or otherwise someone who is NOT a badass brawler type. Never get into a fight, never start one, because your character simply wouldn’t be involved. Presto! Pure roleplaying ahoy.

26 11 2008
ninjarat

I posted my main objections in the comments on the review. In short, as a simple aid, a tool, a sideline app to help you roleplay (in the oldschool sense of “improvisational acting”) I have no problems. But it’s too focused on spreading itself, on harassing people who may or may not actually want anything to do with it, and once you throw the min-maxing RPG gamer mentality nutballs who don’t give a crap about RP into the mix, they’ll do anything underhanded to max out their Blood e-Peen.
And therein lies the problem. One of the fundamental tenets of LARPs, Patrol, whatever, in public or semi-public spaces is that you don’t involve anyone who isn’t a consensual player. Don’t freak the mundanes. Whatever you want to call it, you just don’t do it. Period. Based on the review and your comments it seems that the guys pushing this game either forgot that tenet or chose to ignore it. Bad either way.

26 11 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Well, they’d argue there is consent, because you have to click Yes on a blue popup box that says “So and so would like permission to animate your avatar.” But that’s ALL it says. It doesn’t explain exactly what you’re getting into if you click yes, and the real bastards are preying on newbies, people who just signed up to play SL and have no idea how anything works or what’s going on yet. You can hardly call it informed consent.

26 11 2008
jengagne

Re: makes sense to me…
Except that in a game that has no consent rules, all it takes is one Asshat to cruise along and casually kill your random non-brawler in a meaningless griefery way. Or justifies it with the token “cuz he’s EVIL duh” excuse.
If it’s an RPG that doesn’t permanently kill characters (like if they’re just “incapacitated”) without further RP, then perhaps that would be less annoying/problematic.

26 11 2008
jengagne

Does it really ONLY say “animate your avatar” in this case?
I’ve seen vampire-bitey gizmos (perhaps this one) that are more verbose: “So and so is a vampire and would like to drink some of your blood. Is this OK? Y/N”
But even so, yeah, it’s hardly polite to a clueless newbie or to someone you haven’t even spoken with / RPd at first.

26 11 2008
lirazel

Notably, because nowhere in that notice does it say, “If you say “Yes”, you are joining an RP that will require you to become a vampire.”
Of course, if I ever DID SL, I’d probably make an Ent avatar, and no one could bite me without fang breakage.

26 11 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

An Ent avatar would be pretty freaking awesome. :D
I think you might like SL. There’s plenty of normal-type fun you can have there without having to drink blood. If anything Jen and I have been establishing a beachhead of mainstream-ness in Flotsam Beach — if only because I favor the underdog position and being ordinary felt like the underdog position there.
Still, for all the railing we do against people who annoy us with their blatant attention hogging… the VAST MAJORITY of folks we interact with in there are actually pretty fun people and level headed. Even the ones who are elves, faeries, vampires and yes, even furries. We’d never have met super awesome people like Keiko, Jeremy, and the whole 7Seas crew if not for SL. You just gotta ignore (and occasionally rant against) the ones who believe themselves to be the center of the universe.
Of course, I recognize SL isn’t for everyone; it’s just yet another Web 2.0 social networking community to join and I know I’ve reached my saturation point for those already. Just sayin’. :)

26 11 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Re: makes sense to me…
A well-coded combat system in SL should have veto power and combat consent, though… so you can ignore some Darkity Dark McAngrypants Marty Stu who wants to randomly kill you. You aren’t beholden to someone else’s stupid RP unless the coder didn’t bother taking that into account.
One interesting thing in the bloodlines article was this:
the game enjoys a dedicated group of players who pay little heed to these shortcomings and even manage to “role-play around the fact”.
That tells me that the really good roleplayers are the ones who are ignoring the baked-in rules the game is mandating they follow and charting their own course, either ignoring what the numbers say they need to do or taking care of the numbers in an OOC aside before resuming IC. So, they’re working around hinderances in the system through play, like I suggest above for dealing with random Chaotic Stupids.
(Still… if you code your system WELL you shouldn’t have to go ignore the numbers in favor of your writing. The numbers should back your writing, not dictate it.)

26 11 2008
sptrashcan

Poorly designed?
They insist you can’t convince other characters you’re right unless your charisma-based stats are high enough — and if they are, you can say any damn stupid thing and the dice roll will Jedi Mind Trick people into agreeing with you. They build in drawbacks for every bonus, to the point where making an intelligent person who swings a sword will result in you being either hideously deformed or have the lung capacity of a flea. Poorly designed number systems are the slavedriver you must satisfy in order to find your fun.
Roleplaying is in part about assuming the role of a person who is unlike you in some way. Sometimes people who are not, themselves, particularly charismatic, wish to take on the role of charismatic characters, who by their nature should be able to come up with persuasive arguments that the player cannot. Are you saying that a system that allows for this is poorly designed?
Roleplaying is also often about assembling a group of characters with different strengths and weaknesses who, by supporting each other, can overcome problems that they would not be able to on their own. For this reason, even though in real life, some people are endowed with many gifts and others are not so fortunate, in many roleplaying systems characters must pay for their strengths in one area with weaknesses in another. If one were free to create a character who can excel all situations, everyone would do so, and the need for teamwork would be obviated. I actually agree that this is not the only way to address this concern, and there are others I’d like to see tried, but the concern itself is valid. Are you saying that a system that tries to enforce character parity is poorly designed?
RP rulesystems may seem like an unnecessary constraint to you, because you have the intelligence and communication skills to play an intelligent, communicative character, the self-restraint to not bring those assets into play when playing a stupid antisocial character, and the wisdom not to play a golden boy who is perfect in every way. RP rulesystems were not designed for excellent players, because excellent players will play excellently with or without rules. Rules are designed for people who need guidance, support, and restraint, and to the extent that they provide it, they are well designed.
Sorry for the rant, but I do take umbrage at the suggestion that rules that deal with the situations that you describe are an impediment to fun, because I do know some very poor roleplayers who have had a lot more fun than they would otherwise have had by roleplaying in the context of a rulesystem. The vampire game you describe sounds like crap though.

26 11 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Re: Poorly designed?
I’ll grant that for players who aren’t particularly charismatic or intelligent already that having a rule-based system to abstract out being charismatic or intelligent makes sense. But in the context of “games I myself find to be fun”, they’re a fail, because I don’t wanna be told whether or not I’m presenting a convincing argument to an NPC — I want to present a convincing argument to an NPC. So yes, for me, they are an impediment to fun. For others, maybe not, but I prefer doing the work myself.
I came to a compromise when I did HeX Coda (the original games, not my online gamer handle) for dealing with speech checks. Often, if you had to convince someone to do something they were iffy about, you had MULTIPLE options to pick from — and some of them were harder Persuasion checks than others, yet you the player didn’t know which one was harder and which one was easier. To use an extreme example,
NPC: “I’m not sure why I should give you this sword for free.”
PC: “[Persuasion] I’m gonna use it to kill the guy who’s stabbing you right now. Makes sense to me, how about to you?”
PC: “[Persuasion] The sword belonged to my ancestor, and by all rights should belong to me.”
PC: “[Persuasion] One day the world will crash into the sun and all our efforts will be meaningless, therefore there’s no point in you having any material posessions anyway.”
Here, I don’t give you the numbers, but astute players will pick option #1 (the easiest; NPC kinda doesn’t want to die) and dumb players will pick option #3 (the hardest; but if you’re VERY CHARISMATIC you may sway the NPC to adopt nihilism). Other options are to present options based on things you may have uncovered about the NPC’s background, letting a little research go a long way to easier convincing, or to allow bluffs and threats which varying difficulties depending on how good a lie it is or how threatening your character looks.
So for non-DMed, non-LARP type games, I feel a hybrid works best. Something so the player isn’t just doing These Aren’t The Droids You’re Looking For and rolling the die, but isn’t totally reliant on putting together a stunning oratory moment themselves. For live games where you are talking through your character to other players, I myself prefer to do my own speaking and convincing.

26 11 2008
scottcrawford

I’ll put it in even simpler terms than you did: this thing sounds like another one of those annoying zombie pirate ninja vampire werewolf apps from Facebook. You know, the ones I have blocked? Yeah, those. It’s really just spam that increases the developers’ e-peen (and AdSense number, probably) more than the userbase’s.

26 11 2008
tozetre

Apropos of nothing, the Wiki article on SL has a picture of “a female neko avatar” right at the top. Heh.

26 11 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

No doubt added by the person who took the photo (and that person is the owner of the avatar in question, from the click-through description). Nothing says attention whore like editing yourself into the main page about Second Life itself to represent all avatars in existence.

26 11 2008
jengagne

As far as I know it doesn’t require that, though…
But anyway. Yeah, I would be much amused to see vampires trying to bite an Ent, a robot, a vaporous cloud, etc. :D

26 11 2008
jengagne

Re: makes sense to me…
Agreed of course; you and I have had enough experience with MU* stats in this regard…
That’s one thing I liked about NS’s stat system. You didn’t HAVE to use it at all (unless you were asserting your ability to do something really improbable.) Most combat scenes were negotiated out privately and RPd aloud. If you wanted to run a stat comparison, you even got to decide whether to agree to compare stats. Etc.
I have to admit though, I can’t (offhand) picture a method to design a full hit point etc. system that has an Ignore Idiot’s Actions function without that also becoming a potential e-peen-waving cheater/griefer tool. Along the lines of “Ha you attack me and I clicked ignore! Ha! Now I attack you again!”

26 11 2008
tozetre

Internet famous!
.^ o^`

26 11 2008
lirazel

“Suck SAP, fang-boy! Hoom, hom, hoom!”

26 11 2008
aj_hyena

There are Ents. I’m pretty sure. Grendel’s has ’em somewhere. Giant trees, right?

26 11 2008
schadrach

Re: Poorly designed?
In systems like D&D, you usually account for that kind of thing by adjusting DCs or applying bonuses/maluses as appropriate.
Personally, there’s a P&P roleplaying game system that I think would work for you, once you decided how you wanted to play it — FUDGE, the Freeform, Universal, Do-It-Yourself Game Engine. It mostly amounts to a dice mechanics, a handful of terms and a bunch of examples which do not necessarily have to be followed. It’s almost a sort of meta-system, a system by which to design games than by which to play them.

26 11 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Yeah, the walking trees from Lord of the Rings. Doesn’t surprise me in the least to hear Grendel’s Children has some avatars of them; VERY amazing stuff for sale there.

26 11 2008
faerie_h

n Ent avatar would be pretty freaking awesome. :D
Now if only you knew a friendly faerie who could help grant your wish.
Because if you did ask – she could help (and they are freaking awesome).

26 11 2008
faerie_h

Did you ever read my ‘revenge’ story?
http://community.livejournal.com/second_lifers/838743.html
I also read that now the makers of Bloodlines have made a free “garlic necklace” which if worn will prevent Bloodliners from harrassing you.
A nice try but I don’t want to have to wear something of theirs just so I aren’t harrassed by their stupid system in the first place.
Bloodlines was also discussed on the New World Notes site:
http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2008/10/bloodlines-vira.html

27 11 2008
raigne

Re: makes sense to me…
That is exactly the type of game I like playing. I’ve been playing Vampire: The Masquerade with a group on Sundays for about 6 months now, and we’ll we switching up who GMs for the next game. While the guy who’s doing it now isn’t bad at it, I kind of wish there was a lot less fighting than there is. There is so much room for a really rich experience, and invariably there’s no point in putting points in any of the non-combat stats, because he ignores them.
Which means I am usually at a disadvantage because I don’t make brawlers. My characters typically know how to use one weapon well and their strengths lie in other areas. The one I’ve been using for our most recent story is skilled at lying, charming, convincing, provoking etc. She’s a master manipulator. The first night, the big fight our GM had planned was completely aborted because the 8 guys with bats/pipes approached, my character told them to walk away and intimidated them so badly that they turned around and ran away. On the other hand, the first time she had to fire a gun at someone she almost blew her own hand off. Because that just wasn’t the way I built her.

27 11 2008
raigne

Re: Poorly designed?
I think if you have a group of intelligent and imaginative players, saying to hell with the rules can be a good thing.
I tend to like having some rules, if only to keep the GM in check. A good GM has to be prepared for things not following the master plan, and the GM mentioned in my other post is not terribly creative and often afflicted with a desire to roll god dice when I want to do something my stats say I should be able to do. I sort of have two characters, but one is controlled mostly by the GM, and he’ll ask me if something is within the character’s nature, etc. Unfortunately this character is also human, and ended up getting knocked out with a single sneak attack in the first three encounters we had, which started to piss me off, so I pumped up all the stats that dealt with that situation to force the GM to come up with some other way to get the character away from the fight if he didn’t want him there.

27 11 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Re: n Ent avatar would be pretty freaking awesome. :D
Thanks for the offer, but I’ll stick to my usual rather than wear a tree. :) It actually took weeks of painstaking work looking for parts that I’d feel comfortable with using on a male avatar. I’m quite happy with the end result. (It’s a lot easier for me to design various female avatars, but once I start making a dude, I need to be PRECISE and match my tastes perfectly. Guess because it’s closer to home.)

27 11 2008
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Re: Did you ever read my ‘revenge’ story?
Yeah, I really feel games like these need to be OPT-IN, not OPT-OUT. Even if I have to click confirmation prompts to get chomped I’d still like to never get those prompts in the first place. And garlic is definitely the opt-out solution, since you have to go out of your way to track it down and activate it just to avoid the annoyances.
It’s just poor game design, without an eye for the far-reaching implications of their decisions. A lot of folks wonder why we don’t implement X or Y in the 7Seas game, and the reason isn’t because we don’t know how, it’s because we considered X and Y and after a lot of thought realized they’d be bad for the game, our players, or SL in general. You gotta think bigger when you’re making these projects, think ahead.

28 11 2008
vulpisfoxfire

Re: Poorly designed?
This I can see to an extent–the idea is to use a median, rather than the extremes of ‘Pure Role-Play’ and ‘Pure Roll-Play’. As sptrashcan above points out, part of the reason for stats is in order to model a character who has very *different* traits than the player, either physically, mentally, socially, or all of the above. Buuuut…they also shouldn’t be the end-all of things either. Role-play should be a part of it as well. And as you point out–given that a setting like SL involves a visual avatar, some of those stats could be altered a bit: the physical ones would become part of the system, the social ones would probably be very reduced in effect or eliminated to be replaced by role-play–though I’m not sure how you’d deal with a character who’s supposed to have better charisma/social skills than the player. Mental stats would probably stay in place, though possibly altered to be more like a ‘luck points’ system–if the player can’t solve a puzzle, and the character is supposed to be smarter than they are, they can use the stat to ‘roll’ a chance to solve the puzzle anyway. :-)

28 11 2008
vulpisfoxfire

On an only vaguely related note…I was re-reading one of Twoflower’s ollld FWLS stories about hapless redshirts a while back (ie, the kinds that would fall prey to these vampire hordes)…and today I stumbled across *this* video that’s rather appropriate to go with it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3cL1Aofy90 :-)

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